Photo/IllutrationKobikicho Square, located on the second basement floor of Kabuki-za, is a shopping mall. The large paper lantern hanging from the ceiling is a popular photo spot. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Holy moly! I love it when Tokyo unveils to me what I should have anticipated, but hadn’t, especially when I least expect it.

I received, as I always do around this time of year, a packet in the mail reminding me to get an annual health check. I flipped through the directory of clinics and opted for one located, according to the address in the booklet, within the Kabuki-za premises in Higashi-Ginza since I often zoom by it on my bicycle.

The first Kabuki Theater was built in 1889 with, somewhat ironically, a western-looking facade. Twenty-two years later, it was replaced with a structure reminiscent of a Japanese castle, which makes more sense since Kabuki is quintessentially Japanese.

That structure was destroyed in a fire 10 years later in 1921, and during its rebuilding, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923 and the incomplete building burned down. The Kabuki-za was again ravaged in 1945 during World War II bombings, and the reset button needed to be pressed once more.

I vividly remember the opening day of the fifth incarnation of the theater in 2013. It was drizzling that day, and a famous Kabuki actor gave a speech that alluded to the weather. He said something along the lines of: It’s actually a good sign that the auspicious day was rainy because people would “furikomu” or flood en masse to the theater.

As a person whose mantra is to turn all negatives into something positive, I nodded in agreement with the kindred spirit.

Behind and connected to the Momoyama-style Kabuki-za is the imaginatively named Kabuki-za Tower, a modern 29-floor building that harmonizes well with the vintage look of the theater.

It was inside this tower where I got my annual physical.

As I left the building, I happened to notice a sign pointing to Kobikicho Square. The word "kobiki" means sawyer, as in Tom Sawyer. In the Edo Period (1603-1867), many sawyers lived in this area.

I decided to take an adventure and follow the arrows. Wow, was I in for a surprise!

Of course, I knew the theater had shops that sold souvenirs and food, but the scale and the variety of its offerings blew me away. Just about anyone’s “omiyage” gift-shopping needs can be fulfilled here. From “dashi” soup stock in Kabuki-motif boxes to “kanzashi” hair ornaments for traditional Japanese hairstyles, quality items that won’t break the bank are all stocked here.

If you’re a Tom Sawyer, try the “agemaki sofuto,” a soft-serve ice cream topped with crumbled sweet-and-salty Kabuki-age rice crackers.

The unexpected little adventure after getting my physical was a treat. I never knew ... Live and learn.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the July 1 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.