Every month, the Hakataza Theater plays host to a range of different performances, from kabuki to musicals to plays. As the largest theater in Kyushu, it draws audiences from all over western Japan. To accommodate various types of performances, the theater has been outfitted with a revolving stage, a runway, side runways, an orchestra pit, a naraku (an under-stage pit with a trapdoor used in kabuki) and a toya (a small room at the end of the runway used in kabuki). In fact, Hakataza is only one of a few theaters in Japan with this much equipment.
This May, the Yukigumi (“Snow Troupe”) of the all-female Takarazuka Revue will perform at the theater. The leader of the troupe was born in Kyushu, so you can expect her to put on a fantastic show for the hometown crowd. June marks the return of the Grand Kabuki, which has played at Hakataza every year since it opened in 1999. Before the show, the kabuki actors ride in boats down the nearby Hakatagawa River—an event that has fast become one of Hakata’s early summer traditions.
The Nakasu-Kawabata neighborhood where Hakataza is located has been the city’s entertainment center since the Edo period. Back then, there were no permanent playhouses; instead, makeshift structures were erected on the grounds of temples and shrines or next to rivers. Kabuki and jōruri (puppet theater) performances were held at Kushida Shrine and Daijo-ji Temple, and sumo matches and plays were held in Hamashinchi, the district on the north side of Nakasunakashimamachi.
Later, in the Meiji and Taisho periods, permanent playhouses with names like Kyorakusha, Eirakusha, Meijiza and Taihaku Theater started to appear in the area. In 1910, Otojirō Kawakami, a famous Hakata-born actor, built a western-style theater on what is now the site of Higashi Park. He called the two-story, 1,000-seat theater Hakataza—which is the namesake of today’s Hakataza Theater.