Uchiko-za Kabuki Theater
The extraordinary enjoyment of watching a performance while surrounded by the warmth of the wooden interior
Nestled at the heart of Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku, the town of Uchiko was made prosperous by the production of raw silk and Japan wax. It was the dream of the townspeople to built a theater for the performing arts, in order to be able to enjoy performances to their hearts' content during the off-season for farmers. At last, they made use of the wealth that they had amassed and were able to build a kabuki theater. Its name was Uchiko-za and the year was 1916. The theater was a wooden building with two floors and a thatched hip-and-gable roof, and could hold 650 people. The diverse range of performances included kabuki, puppet shows, and rakugo (traditional comic storytelling), and the members of the audience crowded together during the interval, to eat bento boxes that they had brought with them.
Over time, it became dilapidated and there was talk of pulling it down, but the enthusiasm of those who wanted it to survive won through, and it was refurbished in 1985. The revolving stage used for performances, the naraku (Hell-the pit below the revolving stage), the hanamichi (runway), the sajiki-seki (gallery), and the masu-seki (box seats) are all as they were when the theater was originally constructed. The structure is such that proper kabuki performances are possible, and it is used for a variety of performances even now, with the theater attracting audiences totaling almost 20,000 people annually.
On days when there are no performances or events, the theater is open to the public and visitors can view the rotating stage mechanism, as well as other apparatus for raising and lowering the stage, such as the rokuro pulley system and the suppon trap door lift. The theater is the oldest wooden playhouse that still exists in Ehime Prefecture, so it has been designated as a cultural asset by the town of Uchiko.
Address: 2102 Uchiko, Uchiko-cho, Kita-gun, Ehime
Hours open to visitors: 09:00-16:30
Directions: (Train) 12 minutes on foot from Uchiko Station on the JR Yosan Line (5 hours from Shin-Osaka Station, or 1 hour 40 minutes from Tokyo (Haneda Airport) to Matsuyama Airport, or 25 minutes from Matsuyama Station). (Car) 5 minutes from Uchiko-Ikazaki Interchange on the Matsuyama Highway.