Benshi (Silent film narrator)
The benshi's seat was located at stage right for easy reading of subtitles. Several 'house' benshi belonged to the same motion picture theater. At the beginning of the program, the least distinguished of the benshi started with the news or an animated film. Afterward, each benshi worked in reverse order of rank, until the most distinguished master benshi appeared only to perform the final climax of the main attraction. Depictions of long motion pictures over an hour in duration performed by a single benshi were reserved for special occasions. Usually two or three benshi split the responsibilities for the beginning, middle and end parts.
Benshi used to greet the audience before screenings to give descriptions of the work to be shown. However, toward the end of the silent film era, these introductions were omitted and replaced by a simple format in which the benshi entered quietly from in back of the benshi seat when the lights went out, and left the stage immediately after the film ended and before the lights went on again. The style shifted this way as benshi who could make the audience forget they were the medium between them and the film, i.e., those who could create the illusion that the voices were coming directly from the screen, as they would in the "talkies" soon to come, were considered the most skilled at their craft.
Andon ("Now Playing" sign)
A sign containing the name of the benshi and the film being shown. The andon was placed in the theater and lit by light bulbs from within so that the audience could read it even when the film was in progress.
A gakudan was a musical group working for a motion picture house. A special characteristic of these gakudan, was that although there were slight differences in instrumentation and number of musicians among different movie houses, they always consisted of both Western (piano, violin, trumpet, etc.) and Japanese (taiko drums, shamisen, etc.) instruments. The choice of which instruments to use for which piece was made at the conductor's discretion.
Since the sight of the musicians emerging from the orchestra pit evoked the image of individual jintan, a popular Japanese mint, coming out of their box, the silent movie gakudan picked up the nickname, "jinta."
At the better theaters, gakudan entertained the audience with mini-concerts of classical music during the intermissions.
According to the Motion Picture Rules and Regulations promulgated by the National Police Agency in August 1917, audience seats were divided into separate sections for men, women and children with parents. Unmarried young men and women were not allowed to go out to see a movie together.
Nakauri (Snack Vending)
During intermission, voices yelling "How about some delicious caramel, ramune (drink similar to lemonade) and peanuts?" could be heard. Vendors carried rice crackers, caramel snacks, ampan (bean-jam buns), ramune, noshiika (flattened dried cuttlefish), milk and other goodies in sacks they carried on their backs. In the summer, they also sold ice cream, and in the winter added peanuts and mikan (mandarin oranges) to their menus.
Rinken (Inspector's seat)
The inspector's seat was set up behind the audience seats. A police officer was assigned to this seat in order to keep a watchful eye and ear on the conditions inside the theater and to make sure that the benshi didn't make any objectionable statements. He also made sure that the men and women were separated and no indecent activities were going on. When the inspector detected such a problem, which was not infrequently, he would say, "Benshi Wait!" and stop the film.