Utagawa Kunimasa IV (1848-1920), 1886. More kabuki prints on our new acquisitions page: https://tinyurl.com/ya34zy9j
Interior of Chitose-za kabuki theatre in Tokyo, showing the various stages of a play with a flip-through inset featuring six scenes. The theatre opened in 1873 as the Meiji theatre, re-opened and renamed in February 1885 as Chitose-za.
The theatre is filled with visitors. The audience is crammed together in the spectator boxes. Two kinds of seating were available: on the floor direct in front of the stage (these were non-reserved seats) and more luxurious seating to the side of the stage which one needed to reserve.
It was customary to eat, drink and talk through the plays and it was noisy, crowded and lively. Famous moments or lines were met with loud applause.
To the left one of the key features of Kabuki: the hanamichi (flower path): the walkway from the back of the theatre, through the audience towards the stage. This was used by the actors to make their entrance upon the stage.
Prints showing the interiors of theatres were an established genre since the 1780s. It allowed artists to design prints with a strong perspective (uki-e). Some were single sheets but also many triptychs were designed. In some cases, as is shown here, the center of the print would have several scenes pasted over each other. The same was done with the heads of actors and when viewed quickly after each other one could see the change of expression on his face. Prints with these multiple prints pasted over one another were called shikake-e.