Discovering Traditional Japanese Kabuki in Kochi

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July 21, 2016


Once a year on the third weekend in July, the sleepy town of Akaoka comes to life with thousands of visitors to its famous Ekin Festival. Many stalls line the town’s streets, selling food and drink; there are games for children to enjoy and a beer garden with live music. Akaoka is a small town with many traditional buildings, situated on the east coast of Kochi, and facing out onto the Pacific Ocean.


This annual festival is held to celebrate the work of renowned painter Ekin, who was sent to live in exile after being accused of forgery. He spent his remaining days living in Akaoka, where he converted his aunt’s cellar into an art studio, creating intricate hand painted screens depicting dark and sometimes grotesque scenes of famous kabuki plays.


Kabuki is a traditional kind of Japanese drama, known for its elaborate makeup, costumes and dancing. The kinds of performances range from historical plays to dramas and dance performances. Although kabuki used to be performed predominantly by women, these days all parts are played by men. Many kabuki actors often follow in their father’s footsteps, with generations of kabuki actors hailing from the same families.

Over the course of the festival, visitors can experience watching a kabuki performance for free at the Bentenza traditional wooden theater. Although the plays are in Japanese, you can still try to follow the story through the dramatic performances and marvel at the costumes and makeup.


I arrived at the theater in time for the 6pm performance. Inside there were two floors of seating, the majority being on the first floor. Seating was Japanese style, with square cushions placed on the wooden floor in rows. The stage had a long walkway off to the side, which looked like a kind of catwalk down to the main stage. This walkway is used primarily for actors making their dramatic entrance into the play.

Usually kabuki plays are performed in two or three parts over a day, although the performance I saw was a kind of introduction to kabuki, only lasting 45 minutes in total. However, due to the rather cosy seating arrangements this was a good amount of time!


After the kabuki performances ended, lanterns began to light up the evening sky outside the theater, and Ekin’s famous hand painted screens were placed around the town. Viewing these screens at night created an eerie kind of atmosphere as they were lit up by a single candle. After exploring the streets of Akaoka, I stopped in the beer garden for a drink, some delicious yakisoba noodles and karaage, Japanese fried chicken.


Even though the Ekin Festival is only held one weekend a year, you can visit the museum and theater all year round. To get to Akaoka from Kochi City, take the Gomen Nahari train to Akaoka Station. The trains run around once every hour and cost 660 yen per person. The journey time is 35 minutes, and the theater is a ten minute walk from Akaoka Station. Allow around half a day in total for a visit including travel time. After stopping by the museum you can visit the beach or go for lunch at nearby Ya-sea Park, five minutes by train from Akaoka.




Address: 795 Akaoka, Konan City, Kochi Prefecture

Hours : 9:00 - 22:00 (on days with no performances scheduled, Bentenza closes at 17:30)

Ekin Museum

Address: 538 Akaoka, Konan City, Kochi Prefecture

Hours : 9:00 - 17:00(Closed Every Monday)


Tanja Warwick

Tanja moved to Shikoku from London in 2015 where she worked in tourism marketing. With a degree in Japanese and journalism, living in Japan allows her to combine her love of travel, writing and studying Japanese. When she’s not working, she can be found hunting down the best cafes around Shikoku!

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