Cho Kabuki: Hanakurabe Senbonzakura


Yoshitsune Senbonzakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), one of the most popular kabuki plays, and Senbonzakura, a “Vocaloid” song launched on the Japanese video-sharing website Nico Nico Douga that became a major hit leading to live stage performances and novels, creates a new collaboration - Hanakurabe Senbonzakura, an original and first-time “New” kabuki for Chokaigi. The key term “Senbonzakura” bridges the “past” and the “present,” and the elaborate collaboration unveils a miracle.


Nakamura Shido / Hatsune Miku

How to Enjoy Cho Kabuki

The Title 今昔How to Enjoy Cho Kabuki

Kabuki titles are frequently written in Japanese characters that have underlying meanings but do not correspond to the title read out - in this case “Hanakurabe.”

“今昔 Konjyaku” (present and past) refers to the fusion of modern technology and kabuki, a traditional theatrical art form. “饗宴 kyoen” changes meanings according to the characters; apart from “饗宴 banquet” referring to people coming together to attend the kaigi (meeting), there is “共演 to perform together” and also “競演 to compete.” “Senbonzakura” (One Thousand Cherry Trees) refers to the “Vocaloid” song of the same title and the kabuki play, Yoshitsune Senbonzakura.

Story Setting

The story is set in three different time periods: The year Taisho 100, Heian (Tadanobu and Mikuhime’s era), and the Age of the Gods. According to the period, the two characters change: from Hatsune Miku (Taisho 100) to Mikuhime (Heian and Age of the Gods), and from Seine Kaito (Taisho 100) to Sato Tadanobu (Heian) to Byakko ‘white fox’ (Age of the Gods).

What is Kojo?

When the tricolour (black/persimmon/green) kabuki curtain opens, Nakamura Shido and Hatsune Miku appear dressed in traditional formal attire called kamishimo. They announce a ceremonial greeting called kojo in kabuki. It is a staged performance to address the audience not playing a character role, but in their natural personality. The kamishimo have designated colors and a crest or symbol associated with ones heritage or family.

What is a yago?

In kabuki there is a tradition to call out the family ‘shop’ name, or nickname, called yago, in praise of the actor’s performance. The audience is allowed to do this at any particular moment that he or she feels appropriate. Please enjoy calling out the yago for Shido, “Yorozu-ya” and “Hatsune-ya” given to Miku on this special occasion.



Taisho 100: Kaito sacrifices his life to protect Miku - Despair
It is the year Taisho 100 in the capital Okyo. Hatsune Miku is fighting Kagetsuki under the Senbonzakura. Seine Kaito saves Miku but he suffers a fatal blow. Miku suddenly has a flashback, from the shock of witnessing Kaito being attacked, to a similar scene from her previous life.



Heian Period:
Tadanobu (Reincarnate of Byakko) and Mikuhime - Reunite

Once upon a time, Kaito was Sato Tadanobu and Miku was Mikuhime. During this period, the Senbonzakura was withered and did not blossom for many years due to a particular incident that occurred during the Age of the Gods - Tadanobu recounts the story.


Age of the Gods: Seiryu defeats Byakko - Recollection

During the Age of the Gods, Tadanobu was a white fox, Byakko, and along with Mikuhime they served the beautiful Senbonzakura. But the evil Seiryu (blue dragon) appeared and a battle ensued - the white foxes are defeated and the Senbonzakura’s flowers are taken away.


Heian Period: Return to Byakko and Mikuhime - Reunite

Hearing Tadanobu’s story, Mikuhime remembers the Age of the Gods and the two dance under the Senbonzakura in reminiscence. Suddenly Seiryu’s voice roars and Tadanobu returns to his fox form and fight the attacking avatars of Seiryu.


Heian Period: Mikuhime and Seiryu’s Courageous Battle

Mikuhime rushes to aid Tadanobu but she is intercepted by Seiryu. Seiryu tries to use his evil powers to make Mikuhime take his side, but she sees through this and fights Seiryu.


Heian Period: Byakko and Seiryu’s Grand Last Battle

Mikuhime puts up a good fight against Seiryu but eventually she is overpowered - suddenly Tadanobu’s powerful voice is heard. He challenges Seiryu and his avatars to revenge what happened during the Age of the Gods. And finally the Senbonzakura shows its miraculous powers…


First time in history to live stream kabuki!!

Cho Kabuki Hanakurabe Senbonzakura will be performed five times across two days. Each performance will be live streamed on Nico Nico Live Broadcast! This is the first time a kabuki play is broadcasted live on Internet.

If kabuki is representative of low-tech entertainment, Nico Nico Douga is the complete opposite, digital entertainment. To be honest, our initial thought was that these two forms would never mix. But it turns out that in Hanakurabe Senbonzakura, the two opposing worlds fit like Yin and Yang and resulted in this incredible production. Kabuki evolved by incorporating new elements throughout its course of history. We see this project as a challenge, for traditional art to enter the new generation. This project shall become the pillar of theater and entertainment of the future.

Shochiku Co. Ltd.

Kabuki staged with the newest digital technology

How does Hatsune Miku look so realistic on live stream?
In the auditorium she is projected three-dimensionally and her performance is enhanced by virtual speakers. For the live stream, augmented reality is used in particular sections for higher definition. Not only from camera positioning and zooming in and focusing, but with special technology developed by Dwango, the lighting on stage is also synchronized to the staging - this lighting enhances the image of Hatsune Miku.

How can I be a part of the stage if I’m watching the live stream?
The great thing about kabuki is that the audience can participate by calling out the yago during the performance. How can you be a part as a live stream audience? This is Nico Nico Douga - you can post comments!

What is “Kirari!” developed by NTT?

The avatars of Tadanobu
The avatars of Seiryu traps Tadanobu at the end of the hanamichi-runway but Tadanobu also conjures his avatars to fight against his enemies. By using “subject image extraction technology,” the image of Tadanobu is extracted and projected in three-dimension to a different location. And this life-like image can be seen and heard from any seat in the audience.

The avatars of Tadanobu
The avatars of Seiryu traps Tadanobu at the end of the hanamichi-runway but Tadanobu also conjures his avatars to fight against his enemies. By using “subject image extraction technology,” the image of Tadanobu is extracted and projected in three-dimension to a different location. And this life-like image can be seen and heard from any seat in the audience.

The Creators of Cho Kabuki

The core of the project are the two stars from two different genres collaborating for the first time - kabuki actor Nakamura Shido and virtual singer Hatsune Miku. And several talented staff came together to conceive this project.

Since the beginning of kabuki over 400 years ago, it has always been the innovator in entertainment. It incorporated current trends and also became a trendsetter, and continuously evolved throughout its history. I have no idea what kind of chemical reaction will take place by mixing with the latest digital technology but I am very excited. And it’s thrilling to think how many people will become interested in classic kabuki by watching the live stream. Of course I have to create a show that is appealing particularly to the younger audience - my yago is “Yorozu-ya” so please shout and post comments and I will reciprocate your enthusiasm.

Nakamura Shido
Kabuki Actor

Kabuki staging, choreography, and music directed by Fujima Kanjuro

The acting, dancing, and music are key components of kabuki and this is directed by the eighth head of the Fujima School, Fujima Kanjuro. From generation to generation his family has choreographed kabuki dances, and his artistry premieres this project to show the world the next stage in Japan’s traditional theater.

When I was first told about the project, it felt so vague and unfeasible. I had no idea how to “choreograph” something like this, the terminology used by the two groups had no commonality, and kabuki relies on bright lighting and elaborate costume so it was very difficult to assimilate this to a projected image. And it worried me that the venue was different from the theater in every aspect. But with Hanakurabe Senbonzakura, it worked because kabuki and digital technology stepped up to each other. Kabuki is the people’s theater, where the audience freely react to the performance by clapping, calling out, and commenting, so I hope you enjoy being a part of the show as well.

Fujima Kanjuro
Kabuki choreographer

I am very honored to have the opportunity to present Hanakurabe Senbonzakura at Niconico Chokaigi 2016. This cross-generational collaboration between Senbonzakura, created by KurousaP and several ‘users’, and the leading Japanese traditional art form, kabuki, is bound to become a historic milestone. The staff and I, through several trials and errors, aimed at how to retain the essence of kabuki for this particular audience, and how to actually create the world of Senbonzakura. This project started in the summer of 2015 but the actual production period was less than 2 months. We are grateful for the support of NTT Corporation, Shochiku Co. Ltd., Crypton Future Media Inc., and several other companies involved in this project. Internet and reality, digital and analogue, current technology and traditional art, all of these components are combined in this new Cho Kabuki that ‘users’ are able to be a part of - please enjoy!

Daisuke Yokosawa
General Producer