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Japan's famous Kabuki theatre, which has now been rebuilt four times, re-opens with fanfare
Members of the press visit the recently rebuilt kabuki art theatre in Tokyo on March 25, 2013. The theatre in the upscale Ginza shopping district, which will open to the public at the start of April 2013, will let audiences use portable monitors to read subtitles to explain the sometimes difficult to understand art form. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO.
TOKYO (AFP).- The curtain went up once more at one of Japan's most important theatres on Tuesday after the famous playhouse, dedicated to the centuries-old kabuki performing art, was rebuilt for the fourth time.

An elaborate ceremony involving incantations and large "taiko" drums was held as a big digital countdown clock, installed six months ago, ticked away the last few minutes ahead of the official opening.

The theatre, called Kabuki-za, was first established on the site in 1889, but has now been rebuilt four times, this time as part of a 29-storey office block.

The previous building, erected in 1951 to replace one heavily damaged in World War II, was demolished in 2010 due to worries over its ability to withstand earthquakes.

Despite cold rain, more than 100 people, many wearing full formal kimono, queued up for seats on the top balcony to watch a single act, paying 2,000 yen ($22), against about 20,000 yen for the highest grade seats.

Breathless television reporting showed the scenes inside the four-storey venue, where visitors walked across ornate carpets on their way to stock up on the delicate "bento" lunch boxes that are customary during a performance.

The 2,000-seat theatre -- akin in cultural significance to Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London -- is the spiritual home of Japan's indigenous kabuki, a highly stylised art in which all-male casts perform in extravagant costumes and mask-like facial makeup.

As well as the latest anti-seismic reinforcements, the new theatre, in Tokyo's upscale Ginza shopping district, makes use of technology to offer audiences a helping hand in understanding the sometimes esoteric performances.

Individual monitors installed on seats will provide subtitles and explanations of some of the symbolism employed, the theatre said last month, adding that foreign language subtitling was expected to begin soon.

The new theatre boasts a pit below the stage, which at 16.45 metre (54 feet) deep is nearly four times what it was. The pit allows for props, actors and scenery to emerge from the bowels of the building.

Despite the high-tech fixes, the theatre retains many elements of the original interior as well as the facade, which evokes medieval Japanese castles and temples with its curved roofs and red paper lanterns.

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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