Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater with its origins in the Edo period. In contrast to the older Japanese art forms such as Noh, Kabuki was the popular culture of the common townspeople and not of the higher social classes.
Kabuki plays are about historical events, moral conflicts, love relationships and the like. The actors use an old fashioned language which is difficult to understand even for some Japanese people. Actors speak in monotonous voices accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.
Kabuki takes place on a rotating stage (kabuki no butai). The stage is further equipped with several gadgets like trapdoors through which the actors can appear and disappear. Another specialty of the kabuki stage is a footbridge (hanamichi) that leads through the audience.
In the early years, both men and women acted in Kabuki plays. Later during the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate forbade women from acting, a restriction that survives to the present day. Several male kabuki actors are therefore specialists in playing female roles (onnagata).
The best place for tourists to see a kabuki play is in the Kabukiza Theater in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Here, it is possible to rent English headphones and see just one act of a play instead of sitting through a whole performance, which often lasts more than three hours.
Note that during kabuki plays, it is common for fans in the audience to shout the name of their favorite actor just in the right moment during short pauses.