Enter the Tanuki: HKT48 Opens “Sashihara Rino Zachou Kouen” at Meiji-za (Part 1)!

Enter the Tanuki: HKT48 Opens “Sashihara Rino Zachou Kouen” at Meiji-za (Part 1)!

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HKT48 opened their first stage production, “HKT48 Sashihara Rino Zachou Kouen”, at the historic Meiji-za theater in Tokyo on April 8th, making them the first idol group to do so in its more than 200-year history. The play titled “Hakata no Okuni no Tanuki Gouten”, focuses on Sashihara as Kinuta, a tanuki (racoon-dog) who befriends Okuni (Sakura Miyawaki), a human who is a member of Hakata Okuni Ichiza, a theater troupe similar to HKT48.

Sashihara admitted that she had only seen stage plays twice in her life and declared that, “my acting is so bad that this might be the first and last time that I get asked to do this”. Wishing Minami Takahashi, general manager of all of AKB48 a “Happy Birthday”, Sashihara promised that she had a special song during the 2nd half of the show just for her. While the mood was light, many of the members seemed to be nervous about performing in such a revered theater.

Sashihara continued by saying that the group would take responsibility if the shows didn’t sell out but, that she would take all the credit if it was a hit. She joked that Nako Yabuki would take the blame later. Mio Tomonaga, who was said to have been the worst at keeping a straight face, tried to deliver one of her lines but ended up cracking up. She promised that it would be different during the play which was only a few minutes away.

As many of the audience members who would likely be attending the play would be doing so because they are fans of HKT48, there was a short introductory lesson given by two of the main actors with the assistance of Anna Murashige and Mina Imada dressed as kuroko on how to enjoy the play and support the actors.

Although penlights and standing are not allowed during the performance, the raucous yelling encouraged when the actors would strike poses signaled by the sound of the hyoshigi, could have been an early precursor to the calls heard at idol events. An actor in the role of a lost audience member wandered on stage holding a penlight (which was on sale in the lobby), reminding the audience that there would be one part of the play where “they would know” when to use it.


The play opened with a cat running down the hanamichi before disappearing into a trap door on the stage as Kinuta (Sashihara) emerged holding a bag, which she had stolen. Accidentally dropping it in the hands of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the famous samurai and politician of the Warring States Period, she escaped from her pursuers. Reuniting with her younger sister Ohagi (Nako Yabuki) and awkwardly reclaiming her stolen goods from Toyotomi, Kinuta made her escape.

Next to be introduced was Okuni (Miyawaki) who was the center of Hakata Okuni Ichiza. She and the other members of her troupe performed “Kibouteki Refrain” wearing outfits that looked like they came from Takarazuka with all the feathers on them.

Having witnessed the performance, Kinuta’s head was spinning and she talked about wanting to be part of that glittery sparkling world. She watched in horror as Toyotomi appeared before Hakata Okuni Ichiza as shy and as nervous as a first-timer at a handshake event, yet using his authority to get Okuni to call him “Hide-chan”.

The rest of Kinuta’s tanuki family, lead by Oguro (Aika Ota) used their magical shapeshifting abilities to lure humans into traps so they could steal their money. Kinuta could talk of nothing but the performance she saw, telling her tanuki sisters that they should try to do something similar to make money instead of robbery.

In an unrelated scene, Chihiro Anai was rescued from female gangsters and ninjas by a very handsome Haruka Kodama in “danso” (a female crossdressing as a male). Like many of the HKT48 fans who would be going to see “HKT48 Sashihara Rino Zachou Kouen”, we were not familiar enough with Japanese theater to understand why this part was put in but, it was really cool to see the ninjas flying all over the stage as “Haruppi” (Kodama’s nickname) defeated them with her sword!

As there were so many amazing pictures taken during the opening day performance of “HKT48 Sashihara Rino Zachou Kouen”, look forward to the second part of the photo report coming soon! This might just be the most amazing and extravagant stage production ever put on by a “48 group”! Check back for part 2: “Tanuki Soup”!

HKT48 Official site:

Photos by Yosuke Mochizuki

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Related Artists : HKT48
Kai Okudara
Kai Okudara

Writer, researcher, photographer, foodie, KSDD

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