Kodomo kabuki (“children kabuki”) performances are the highlight of the festival in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture.
Every year on April 15th, children perform theatrical plays in public. They appear in several points in town on movable stages installed on a huge festival floats called hikiyama.
Like in real kabuki theater, boys perform both male and female roles and like in real kabuki, they fully engage in their acting. They even have a loud claque (大向う) applauding their appearances and poses.
In 2013 four classical plays were played by boys from 6 to 12 years old.
It is worth mentioning, that the performances deal with no laughing matters. Children appear in the same plays as adults do and scenes include things like killings, head viewing, and another creepy topics. Nevertheless in a real Japanese fashion such “heavy” events are usually explained between the scenes.
There are 12 platforms with kabuki stages in the town of Nagahama. During the festival four platforms are used for the performances. A single neighborhood participates in Hikiyama Matsuri every three years.
One neighborhood has a special platform called Naginata-yama which is not used for theatrical plays. Instead the group re-enacts a historical warrior parade to the Hachiman Shrine.
On the main event day, April 15th, the festival starts with the historical parade to Nagahama Hachiman-gu shrine. Each team playing kabuki also starts with their first performance in the shrine. Then they proceed to otabisho staging the play twice in the shopping street to end with an evening performance in front of the mikoshi in otabisho.
The castle town of Nagahama was developed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he was granted land here in late 16th century. His castle stood here for about 20 years, but was dismantled in early 17th century and its materials were used to expand nearby Hikone Castle.
Nowadays in the place of Nagahama Castle there is a historical museum in a castle-like, concrete building. It offers a nice view and information, but the building itself has no historical value.
If you came to Nagahama specifically for Hikiyama Matsuri, skip the festival museum, it doesn’t really add anything to real experience.
- The official site of the Hikiyama Matsuri
- The official site of the Hikiyama museum
- A nice reportage from the 2010 on Stefans Blog
- A few beautiful photos from the 2011 festival on Trek Earth website
More about kabuki
If you are interested in kabuki theater, please check my short article about Kaomise Kogyo kabuki performance in Kyoto.