Kabuki never used to be performed in August at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo, but in 1990 two of its late, great actors, Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII and Bando Mitsugoro X, instigated the staging of short programs during that sweltering month to help expand the audience.

That practice has continued, with the first of this year's three programs daily featuring versions of two classic works: Chikamatsu Monzaemon's "Komochi Yamanba" ("Yaegiri's Talk about the Pleasure Quarters") from 1712; and "Gonza to Sukeju" ("Gonza and Sukeju"), an early 20th-century comedy by Kido Okamoto.

Then, the day's second program includes a brand-new version of Jippensha Ikku's early 19th-century comic tale "Tokaidochu Hizakurige" ("Yajirobe and Kitahachi on the Tokaido Highway") based on a synopsis for dramatization by theater director Kunio Sugihara, whose staging of "Kurozuka" ("Black Mound"), a new play by Kyoto's youthful Kinoshita Kabuki company, was a tremendous success last year in Paris.