Photo/IllutrationVisitors can take pictures dressed as cats at the Kaho Gekijo theater in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Masahiro Kakihana)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

IIZUKA, Fukuoka Prefecture--Suspend belief for a second and imagine that cats from all over the world have taken over a playhouse to celebrate the traditional Hina Matsuri doll festival.

That's the premise behind an event now under way at the Kaho Gekijo theater here on the sidelines of the city's Iizuka Hiina no Matsuri festival.

The theater was designed as a Kabuki playhouse from the Edo Period (1603-1867). Cat-themed dolls and decorations created by contemporary artist Masaji Sonoda, 59, adorn the stage and wings.

Visitors are asked to imagine that cats living in the neighborhood have transformed into “hina” dolls for an evening and pull out all the stops to throw a raucous party, an annual event where attendance is open to all.

The revelers end up making such a racket that it awakens a legendary white cat from its 100-year sleep. Thrown into the mix is a feline known as "Nekozabeth II," a thinly disguised Queen Elizabeth II of England perhaps who appears in the form of an Egyptian deity, and a gun-toting "Al Nekome" to mimic famed U.S. gangster Al Capone. They are there simply to join in the fun.

Famed Kabuki actor "Nekoemon" turns up from Tokyo to liven up the proceedings.

The cat figures are placed on a large tiered display. The central cat figures in the back row tower 3.2 meters over the audience.

And in a nod to hina doll tradition, the display features an emperor and empress, three court ladies, five male court musicians and Ministers of the Right and Left.

“I hope visitors enjoy being with the cats and share enjoyment with their family by taking pictures and posting them on Instagram," Sonoda said.

Other spectacular decorations include a “maneki-neko” cat extending greetings from the stage wing that stands 3 meters high and a white feline that stands 2.5 meters tall and is 3 meters wide.

The event runs until March 26. The venue is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 400 yen ($3.60) for visitors aged 13 or older, 100 yen for children aged between 3 and 12 and free for children aged 2 or younger.

For more information, visit the theater’s official website at (http://kahogekijyo.com/).