Kabukiza Theatre, an easy walk from Ginza, is Japan's largest and most famous kabuki theater. It has been rebuilt several times since making its debut in 1889, with the most recent version, completed in 2013 and adding a 29-story tower, thankfully preserving its eye-catching Momoyama-style facade (influenced by 16th-century castle architecture). Like all kabuki theaters, its stage includes a revolving circle in its center, a platform that can be lowered below the floor level so that actors magically appear and disappear to dramatic effect, and a runway that extends into the audience. In the lobby, stalls sell bento lunch boxes and souvenirs (you’re welcome to eat at your seat during intermission).
On the fifth floor is a roof garden and the Kabukiza Gallery, where you can get a close look at kabuki costumes, stage props, old posters, and such daily from 10am to 5:30pm; admission here is ¥600 for adults, ¥500 for children. It’s a fun way to spend 20 minutes, especially if you aren’t able to see a live a performance (the museum shows kabuki videos).
There are kabuki productions most months of the year, with each production running from about the first or third of each month for 25 days. Generally, each production consists of two shows, with matinees staged from about 11 or 11:30am to 4pm and evening shows starting at around 4:30. Of course, you won't be able to understand what the actors are saying, but kabuki plays, all written before the 20th century, have plots that are easy to follow, with love, duty, and revenge popular themes. Furthermore, because kabuki developed as a form of entertainment for commoners in feudal Japan, it doesn't have any of the highbrow seriousness attached to, say, Noh, which was popular among the aristocracy. In fact, one of the things I most love about kabuki is the level of spectator engagement, with fans shouting out approval during particularly good performances. And of course, one of the most interesting things about kabuki is that all roles are played by men, even the female ones.
Luckily, English-language translation tablets (¥1,000) provide information about the plot, music, actors, and other aspects of kabuki so you can follow what's going on. Tickets can be purchased at the box office in Basement Level 2 from 10am to 6pm and from automatic ticket dispensers. You can also make advance reservations by phone (tel 03/6745-0888) or online.
Because programs often run about 4 hours, you might want to buy tickets for only part of a production. Or, if you think one act (makumi) is enough and you don't mind being up in the balcony (on the fourth floor, a bit far from the stage), you can save money by buying single-act tickets. A single act lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours. These tickets, sold to the left of the main entrance (no credit cards accepted), go on sale just before each act and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Everyone in your party must be present and stand in line (that is, no substitutions and no one holding your place). Note that only 96 seats are available, with another 60 spaces for standing room only. You'll be assigned a number and allowed into the auditorium accordingly. There are no assigned seats, but by your place in line they’ll be able to tell you whether you’re standing or sitting. If you wish, you can buy tickets for consecutive acts as well. English-language tablets here for one act cost ¥500, plus a refundable deposit.