The Ginger Ninja

I’ve had quite a cultural weekend, one way and another.

I went to Kyoto because I had a ticket to see a kabuki play at the Minamiza theatre, which is the home of kabuki.  It’s a wonderful old building, which has been hosting kabuki performances for 400 years –

– and I was pleased to learn that it was renovated and made totally earthquake proof last year.

Kabuki is a type of stylised drama, where specific actions are used to depict specific emotions, and there are very elaborate costumes and make up.  It always been considered the theatre of the people, and not highbrow like Noh theatre.  But the play I went to see wasn’t at all traditional – it was brand new and based on a very famous manga character, a ninja called Naruto –

As you can see from the poster, he has unusual colouring for a Japanese, and that’s because he has half a fox sealed up inside him, giving him strength and cunning.

Mind you, he wasn’t the only one with unusual colouring; the girl Ninja has pink hair – and there was no mention that she had part of a flamingo secreted in her large intestine –

– and several of the other characters had obviously been reading Hairdressers’ Weekly, which has been advising its readers that aqua and pewter are the summer shades for 2019.

Anyway, it was a jolly good show, with lots of ninja acrobatics and wizardry, culminating in a fight under a huge waterfall, the full height of the stage, which was pouring out gallons of water per second, and the actors got utterly soaked as they wrestled and splashed – all very thrilling and dramatic.

With typical Japanese efficiency, foreigners can rent an audio guide which somehow gives a recorded commentary in English that keeps pace with the live action on stage – all very clever.

It’s a long show – nearly four hours with two intervals – and the timings for each act are clearly shown on posters, and they are accurate to the millisecond.

You can buy bento boxes to eat during the interval, which looked delicious and definitely an improvement on the bag of Maltesers that’s usually on offer in an English theatre.  There’s plenty of comfy seating for the intervals, and you can sit there and wield your chopsticks until it’s time to go back for the next act.  All in all, it was a very civilised experience.

My other cultural experiences this weekend were fortuitous rather than planned.  As I walked around Kyoto castle, I heard bells in the distance.  When I went to investigate, there was a whole procession of men doing very manly skipping with an enormous pole –

Some had a better technique than others –

– and I had to jump out of the way at one point when one of the poles started swaying dangerously.

Each group was wearing its own uniform, and some were a little more unusual than others –

The crowd all clapped politely as each group lowered the pole at the end of the skipping, and I wished I knew what they were doing.

At the Daitokuji temple in the afternoon, there were also strange happenings.

I saw lots of monkishly dressed men hurrying along the paths –

And there was a young chap standing outside one of the temple buildings waving a vicious-looking sword –

And something was definitely happening in the main hall of the temple –

– and I wasn’t the only one on the outside, trying to see what was going on.

In another part of the temple complex there was chanting and dancing –

With their acrobatic moves and vivid hair colour, I wondered if they might be related to the ginger ninja –

But then disaster struck, and I realised they weren’t –

– even in the toughest battles, the ginger ninja’s hair always remained firmly on his head.