Japan As They Saw It

At the theatre

    I reserved my evenings to the various places of amusement, in which Kioto is so rich. On the very night of my arrival I went with my young guide to one of the larger theatres of the place. ... The house was well filled; there may have been about 2,500 people in the pit. The pit is divided into compartments, six feet square, which are numbered, and measure exactly two mats each. The single compartment is meant to hold four persons, but often six at a time crowd into one of them. Here and there a number of compartments are taken by a large party who have come to spend the day together and to make a picnic of it. Apparently they bring their luncheon baskets with them, for eating and drinking and merry-making soon begin. Between the various compartments, which are merely separated by partitions one foot high, runs a rail a few inches wide, along which the visitors walk going in and out and in getting to their places. Barelegged servants rush to and fro, bringing tea from the neighbouring tea-houses, and providing the pit and the boxes with the unavoidable tobacco-bons. We soon had our kettle on the boil over a portable brazier and were provided with sundry delicacies from the tea-house. Smoking is universal in the audience. Wherever one goes in Japan, into the theatre or tea-houses, to visit a merchant, or to call on a State official, everywhere the tobacco-bon is brought out, while a friendly “ippuku” (“please have a smoke’’) greets one. The tobacco-bon is a small lacquered wood box, which contains besides a bamboo ash holder a china vessel which holds a burning piece of charcoal under its white wood ashes. Just as in China, both sexes smoke, and use the small Chinese pipes with their miniature bowls, which have to be filled afresh after each whiff. The emptying of the ashes causes a constant tap-tap of the pipes on the bamboo ash-holders, which noise accompanies the performance without interruption all day long. ...
    The music is sometimes very noisy, as likewise is the audience. There is never a quiet attentive listening on their part to what is going on on the stage; there is a continuous coming and going of theatre servants and tea-house messengers, there are orders given and executed, conversation is going on, children are laughing and playing, and above all there is the continuous and universal tap-tap of the pipes on the bamboo ash-holders, while from behind the scene one may hear a hammering and knocking which tells that they are preparing the decorations for the next scene on the other half of the turn-table.

A. H. Exner, Japan As I Saw It, 1912

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