I honestly had trouble coming up with a title for this article, because there’s no simple way to describe the performance I witnessed. Sakura – Japan in the Box, was an amazing hour long performance completely representative of why Japanese culture is so interesting to me, and so many others.
Tickets for SAKURA – Japan in the Box stage show
Whether you’re an expat, or simply in Japan for a short visit, have no fear, the creators behind Sakura have made a real effort to make it as foreigner friendly as possible. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can download an App which can sync with the show giving you limited information such as translation, but you need to read along with the songs. Honestly though, reading the translation completely distracts you from the actual performance, so it was turned off almost immediately. The show is almost completely an instrumental musical and dance performance anyway, so translation isn’t really a requirement. Plus, in this day and age, we experience far too much through the screen of our phones as it is, so just take this 60 minute break (worry not, Facebook will still be there when you get done) and enjoy the performance of these amazing women.
A solemn demonstration of traditional Japanese dance
Male Kabuki Dancer
The performance itself is an amalgamation of many aspects of Japanese culture. The most noticeable influences being Anime, and traditional Japanese theater. The Anime influence is pretty heavy on cliche throughout, starting with Sakura, a cute and innocent high-school girl, her iPhone glued to her hand, suddenly being transported to another world.
In this world she’s confronted by the white fox spirit Kitsune, along with four spirits, each representing a different season, and each contributing to Sakura’s personality. Miyabi [Spring], Choco [Summer], Rin [Autumn], and Setsuna [Winter], each represents different acts within the performance, and each showcase a different style of dance and music ranging from traditional to modern.
The show starts with a video playing of Sakura going about her life when she wanders into the theater (the same theater you’re in) and is seemingly distressed by something. They then show her running through the doors of the stage room, and this where the actual show begins, because, as she runs through the doors in the video, the same actress runs through the doors to the stage and meets our loveable Kitsune, the white fox.
Kitsune with Sakura as she is magically transported
Sakura being transported to the new world
After receiving a pouch from Kitsune, and receiving a message from the spirit of Sakura (Cherry Blossom), Sakura is pulled by dancers into the new world. The music and dance in this section are very modern and confusing; presumably to represent the confusion Sakura is feeling at this time. I would say that this particular section is the most forgettable, and the only part of the show I didn’t have much interest in. I became worried about what the rest of the show would have in store, but my fears were quickly assuaged during the first real act.
Miyabi giving Sakura her gift
The first spirit we encounter is, Miyabi, the spirit of Spring. She is introduced through an Anime cutscene which plays in the backdrop of the stage. Her Anime cliche appears to be representative of the beauty of spring, and is thus portrayed as a beautiful and graceful young woman. As if you needed more of a reason to enjoy the coming of spring, right?
During her act, Miyabi dances and sings in front of a withering cherry blossom tree, representing challenges but also hope and beauty. By doing this, she is helping to calm a confused and scared Sakura, while also opening her heart. She then gives Sakura a paper fan, representing the wind of hope, and directs her to follow the white fox.
The start of a paper fan dance
One of the beautifully choreographed sections of the dance
As she leaves the stage, dancers in yukatas and large paper fans take the stage and begin what I believe was the most memorable performance of the night. A mix of old and new, the performance was an energetic and beautiful demonstration of precision and timing, as, during the dance, many different variations of famous Japanese art was animated in the background. Then, with perfect choreography, the dancers quickly open their fans and position themselves in such a way as to become canvases for projections of beautiful art. I truly didn’t want this act to end, as I really felt moved by the performance, but the show must go on, and so we move on to Summer.
Sakura meeting Choco
Next was Choco, spirit of summer (who somewhat annoyingly, can only say her own name) who teaches Sakura how to be genuine and have fun. The Anime archetype for Choco is definitely the overly hyper and mischievous little girl, who never takes anything serious.
The coolest part of this act was that the first half was a Bon-Odori (Summer festival) event, with taiko drums and street dancers. This again was very energetic and fun, really giving the audience the feel of excitement which surrounds these Japanese festivals.
Passing the balloons with Choco
After this, the group suddenly seems to go underwater to dance with jellyfish and whales, because, why not? There are some pretty great performances during this section, including dancers in large rings suspended high above the stage, and an admittedly…interesting section including fitness balls, and someone taking a running dive across them. Yup, it’s even weird to type that sentence. Even the audience gets to join in the fun with Choco by knocking around giant balloons dropped from above.
Rin being introduced on stage
Sakura being protected by Rin
Third was Rin (my wife’s favorite part of the show). Rin, is a stoic samurai, who is completely devoted to her duty. This was probably the most important encounter for Sakura, as she learns to set aside her hesitations in life, and to always move forward. They seemed to put more emphasis on this spirit than the preceding ones.
During this act, Sakura is set upon by ninjas (representing fear), and is protected by Rin. During this entertaining battle, Rin is injured, but before being struck down is saved by a group of her fellow Samurai (representing courage and faith). At the end of the encounter Rin gives Sakura her Wakizashi (the smaller sword Samurai used for close quarters fighting) as a symbol of her overcoming her fear.
Rin’s Samurai coming to the rescue
Setsuna performing a beautiful solo
The final spirit was Setsuna, the spirit of winter. For Setsuna, life isn’t always beautiful (spring), fun (summer), or solemn (autumn). There are always some challenges that you will encounter. Life is a cycle, and doesn’t always have happy endings.
Setsuna represents the motherly figure among the spirits. Confident and reliable, she is the force which brings balance to all the seasons and teaches Sakura that even through life’s challenges, there can still be beauty, and the promise of better days. This is the final lesson which gives Sakura the confidence to fulfill her destiny.
A slow, simple, but bewitching dance representing the coming of winter
For the finale, we were witnessed to the coming of the spring and the first bloom of the cherry blossoms. This blooming represents new beginnings, as well as a celebration for Sakura, who finally accepts her new role as the spirit of the cherry blossoms. During this performance the audience is showered with “Sakura petals” (pink confetti) which really added to the spender of the moment. As well as making me feel sorry for the cleaning crew.
The blooming of the cherry blossom tree
Sakura as the spirit of the cherry blossoms
Sakura – Japan in the Box, is showing until March 31, 2017. If you are visiting Japan during this time, I wholeheartedly recommend experiencing it. The regular ticket price is only 6,000 yen, which is very reasonable compared to overpriced tourist attractions such as the Robot Restaurant, in Shinjuku, which starts at 8,000 yen per person, and honestly, isn’t as much fun as it’s made out to be.
Japan in the Box is also quite family friendly, so feel free to bring your children along. That said, there is one scene which may be rather frightening to younger children, as well as sudden loud noises, and flashing lights, but it only seemed to frighten one child in the audience during our visit.
Overall, Sakura Japan in the Box is a great show and one shouldn’t be missed while traveling in Tokyo around February and March. It’s held in Meijiza Theater (a minute walk from Hamacho Station), which is one of Tokyo’s oldest theaters. Originally built in 1873, the theater has been destroyed and rebuilt many times due to fire and war. Don’t expect a modern movie theater like setup. The look and feel inside feel more like a theater out of the 40’s or 50’s, which I found actually refreshing.
Every show is usually pretty full, so it’s highly recommended to get your tickets in advance to ensure prime seating. We obtained ours via Voyagin. A ticket from them is only 4,800 yen (42.5 USD) as opposed to walk-in rate of 6,000 yen.