Traditions frozen in time in a snowbound mountain village
The small village of Hinoemata is about 150.km north of Tokyo, in Fukushima Prefecture. It is surrounded by mountains over 2,000 meters high, and is the gateway to a famous nature preserve called Oze, Japan's largest alpine marshland.
The snow begins falling around October, and doesn't melt until April the following year. In this part of Japan the snow piles up high, sometimes to more than 2 meters. The snow used to cut the village off from the outside world for four months of the year. That was until the 1960s, when the road system was improved. In the old days, even getting to nearby villages was often difficult.
The villagers here developed a rustic variety of Kabuki theater. Perhaps because Hinoemata was so isolated, the traditions did not change during the 200 years they were passed down from one generation to the next.
Hinoemata Kabuki was apparently started by villagers who went to Edo (present-day Tokyo) to see the sights or make money. They saw some plays there, picked up the acting style, and then began their own theater after returning home.
Since then, the roles, theatrical mannerisms and traditions were passed from parent to child within individual families. They practiced at home when they could get away from their work in the fields, and after the farming season was over the entire group got together and rehearsed. Plays were presented during festivals and other occasions.
In the early 1900s, village performers founded the Chiba-no-Ya Hanakoma-za Theatrical Group. It is now headed by Hoshi Masanori, the 8th person to hold the position.