Renowned Kabuki Theater, Okinaza

Hello there everyone! This is Mary, back with another entry in my JOGE blog series. Joge is a small town in northern Hiroshima where the charm of traditional Japanese lifestyle, architecture, and hospitality abounds. It is my hope that by writing English content about Joge, many people will come to know and love this town like I do.

Back in October, when a group of local guides took my friend and I around Joge, we briefly visited the famous kabuki theater, Okinaza. Over my three years living in the area, I had been to Okinaza many times, but I wanted to learn more about the historical and cultural significance of this building in Joge and in Japan. My friends Mr. and Mrs. Morimoto, leaders in the town of Joge and in the preservation of Okinaza, kindly agreed to give me a more comprehensive tour so that I could dedicate an entire blog to the playhouse.

During the Meiji period, Joge’s local theater had grown old and difficult to use. This was unfortunate by all standards, but especially since, in those times, there were few entertainment venues in town, and the poor road quality made it difficult to travel elsewhere.

In 1925, Joge’s wealthy barons banded together to fund the construction of Okinaza. The local carpenter charged with leading construction travelled all the way to Kyoto to study techniques at the famous Minamiza Kabuki Theater. When he returned, he manned the ambitious project, which took four years to complete.

Mrs. Morimoto’s mother when she was 13, participating in a kabuki show at Okinaza. She remembers the script of the performance even today!

People began traveling from around Japan to perform and attend performances at Okinaza. There was kabuki, dance, and plays. Professionals and locals alike used the stage to exhibit their prowess or progress in the arts. Okinaza became a hub for both wealthy barons and common folk alike to gather, relax and have a good time.

As the Morimoto’s fondly recounted stories of performances past, it became easy to imagine the atmosphere. Okinaza’s original floor was made of dirt, so families and groups of friends or coworkers sat picnic style on blankets. They either brought their own food and drink, or purchased tea, sake, or sweet dumplings in-house. If a popular performer came to town, the 500-person capacity building would overflow with some 700 people! When patrons were pleased with the performance, they would toss money onto the stage, sometimes wrapping it in Japanese washi paper.

There are some features of Okinaza that make it truly unique among Japanese playhouses. The stage curtain, decorated with a sea bream or tai fish symbolizing celebration, opens from right to left, which is highly unusual.

The bamboo framework above the stage served as a platform for stagehands to drop petals or faux snowflakes over performers, enhancing the scene. As someone with a fear of heights, I mentioned to the Morimoto’s that I would be terrified to go up there, but they assured me that bamboo is quite sturdy.

There is even a manpowered rotating platform to add variety and drama. In this photo, you can see a wooden mechanism in the hole below Mr. Morimoto that a few men would use to physically rotate the stage.

Okinaza also has a second floor, reserved for wealthier patrons, which features a double railing as you can see in these photos. Apparently the theater staff would actually crouch in the space between the railings to dole out drinks and snacks to their customers. Again, due to the real possibility of toppling to the ground floor, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to work at Okinaza back in the day!

The Morimoto’s made sure to point out the impressive, graceful curve of these railings, which weren’t carved but rather pulled into shape using pressure and heat. Like with the rest of the structure, the railings were all handmade, as there were no machines available at the time.

Finally, there is the unique, arched roof, curved on the sides to improve acoustics. There were no microphones or speakers back when Okinaza was built; thanks to this roofing style, more typical of shrines and temples, those sitting far away or on the second floor could hear performances clearly. Crafted using yakusugi from the renowned lumberyards of Kagoshima, this expensive roof was a status symbol, illustrating the affluence of Okinaza’s wealthy funders.

After our tour of the building, I asked the Morimoto’s about Okinaza’s more recent history. During World War II, most of Japan’s playhouses were destroyed in air raids. Professional artists and actors flocked to countryside theaters untouched by the war, including to Okinaza. The facility was also used for cultural festivals, comedy shows, and film showings. There was even a time in Okinaza’s history when the floor was outfitted with movie theater-style chairs for film screenings!

Video 1

Today, the locals continue to hold occasional events at Okinaza. For example, when groups of foreign tourists come to town, they are invited to Okinaza for kimono photo shoots, kagura shows, or even ninja workshops. My favorite anecdote was when an educator from the UK  performed an impromptu performance of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 on stage! Local witnesses talk about the occasion with fondness even today. I wonder if the wealthy barons who funded Okinaza could have imagined such a beautiful cross cultural moment occurring in their own theater.


Due to tightening fire safety laws, Okinaza is becoming steadily more difficult to use for these types of events. This wooden building—the last remaining wooden playhouse in the Chugoku region of Japan—is molding and warping. The family that used to tend to the structure’s upkeep has grown too old to continue, so the local people are seeking funding from the government to maintain and update the structure in adherence with modern day earthquake and fire safety guidelines.

Mr. and Mrs. Morimoto guiding myself and foreign tourists through Okinaza


Okinaza is a true treasure – this type of playhouse cannot be recreated by modern construction techniques. The Morimoto’s and many others in Joge care deeply about preserving it for future generations. Mrs. Morimoto’s mother used to perform in kabuki plays at Okinaza and Mr. Morimoto, who volunteers to clean the building, helped to host movie screenings there. In a town with a dwindling population, the locals are determined to share the charm and magic of Okinaza with generations to come. We hope you will come visit, and experience the magic of Okinaza for yourself!


Okinaza Theate
A National Tangible Cultural Property and one of the most renowned wooden playhouses in the Chugoku region. You must be accompanied by a local guide to enter (reservation required).



Mary Popeo has lived in Hiroshima Prefecture for four years, three of which she spent in Joge. She is passionate about sharing the magic of the Japanese countryside with people from around the world. Mary currently works at a peace education nonprofit in Hiroshima City, and collaborates with Fuchu City and the Joge Town to plan programs for inbound English-sp
























































以前、ツアーで参加されたイギリス人男性が舞台で即興で『ウィリアム・シェイクスピア ソネット18』を披露したという逸話も私のお気に入りです!