Kabuki Overview

What is Kabuki?

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese performing art.
In 1965, it was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property, and in 2005, UNESCO declared it one of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" and designated it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Its declaration as a masterpiece by an international organization has made Kabuki more famous overseas as well.
Nowadays, when people think of Japan, many foreigners think of Kabuki.

The Origin of the Word Kabuki

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese performance art and a unique form of theatre in Japan.
The etymology and origin of the word "kabuki" dates back to the Edo period.
The word "kabuki" (歌舞伎) is a noun derived from the verb "kabuku" (傾く, to tilt).
The original meaning was "to tilt one's head" but it came to mean "out of the ordinary" or "strange."

The History of Kabuki

Kabuki was first performed in the Warring States period.
According to historical documents and other materials, kabuki was performed in 1600.

The origin of Kabuki is said to be a woman named "Okuni."
This woman, also known as Izumo no Okuni, dressed in flamboyant costumes and performed the basic elements of Kabuki.
Later, many women wore similar costumes, and it became very popular among the common people.
At the time, dancing in flamboyant costumes was called "Kabuki-odori," and the dancers were called "Kabukimono."
Later on, women who were kabukimono came to be called kabuki-hime (kabuki princess) and kabuki-hi (kabuki queen).

Kabuki became popular among the common people, and it gradually came to be seen in teahouses and other places of gathering.
Many kabuki names, such as "Otowaya" and "Narikomaya" were named after the names of the teahouses where people performed kabuki at the time.

Kabuki Performances

Today's Kabuki performances are largely divided into Kabuki Kyogen and Kabuki Buyo.
Kabuki Kyogen is divided into jidaimono and sewamono.
Jidaimono are plays depicting events before the Edo period.
On the other hand, sewamono are mainly about the state of affairs in the Edo period.
In addition, plays depicting family turmoil at the time are called "Oiemono" (御家物), while plays depicting the events of the Meiji period and beyond are called "Katsurekimono" (活歴物).

Kabuki Buyo is an established genre of Kabuki.
This combination of theater and dance is a fascinating sight to behold.
"Onnagata no Buyo" (女方の舞踊) depicts the mindset of women in that time period.
"Tachiyaki no Buyo" (立役の舞踊) depicts the customs of the Edo period and has a rich repertoire.
"Danjo no Buyo" (男女の舞踊) depicts lovers.
As you can see, there are many different types of kabuki.

The Kabuki Stage

Each part of a kabuki stage has its own name.
For example, the main stage is called the "honbutai" (本舞台), while the left side of the stage is usually called the "shimote" (下手) and the right side is called the "kamite" (上手).
In the center of the stage, there is a large scale mechanism that is used for changing scenes by rotating the stage.
There is also a "seri" (迫り, trapdoor/elevator) in the middle of the stage, which can be moved up and down, and is used for scenes in which actors appear on stage.
The path from the stage to the audience is called the "hanamichi," (花道) and it is used to create excitement in the audience.
In addition to the stage, lighting, music, and the familiar black, green, and orange curtain are also used to create a more atmosphere for the audience.

Name Succession

The origin of kabuki name succession comes from Ichikawa Danjuro of the Meiji period.
Ichikawa Danjuro is famous in the world of kabuki, and this name has been passed down for generations.
In the world of kabuki, a stage name is called a "myoseki" (名跡).。
Passing on these names from one generation to the next is called "shumei" (襲名).
Normally, names are passed down to an actors son, but they can also be passed on to an apprentice, in which case the apprentice is referred to as a "geiyoshi" (芸養子, roughly "adopted apprentice").
In the world of kabuki, taking on a name is a way of gaining public recognition and being considered an A-list performer.

Modern Kabuki Performers

The most famous young kabuki actors in recent years have been Ichikawa Ebizo and Nakamura Shido.
They have appeared in dramas and TV shows and are essentially celebrities.
Despite being A-list performers, the attention does not affect them, and they remain very down to earth.

Besides these actors, Matsumoto Koshiro, Nakamura Kanzaburo, Ainosuke Kataoka, Ennosuke Ichikawa, Baijaku Nakamura, Nakamura Kichiemon, Ichikawa Somegoro, Mitsugoro Bando and others have also appeared in many TV dramas as actors.

Kabuki Has Continued to Evolve Throughout History

For years, many people have been working hard to preserve the traditional culture of kabuki.
Some kabuki performances are based on anime and other popular works.
The popular Japanese anime "ONE PIECE" and the world-renowned Ghibli movie "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" were both performed as kabuki in the past.
Kabuki is also popular for its traditional content, but new kabuki plays are being performed, leading to the growth of the traditional performing art.
The Organization for the Preservation of Kabuki also exists, and those involved in kabuki are working hard to ensure that future generations can enjoy the art as well.

Where to Watch Kabuki

There are generally four theaters in Japan to watch Kabuki.
They are: the Kabuki-za Theatre in Tokyo's Higashi-Ginza district, Shinbashi Enbujo (also in Tokyo), Shochikuza Theatre in Osaka, and Minami-za in Kyoto.
In addition to these, kabuki performances can be seen at theaters and halls all over Japan!
Tickets can also be purchased online, over the phone, and at the theater's box office.
Prices vary by venue and performance, so be sure to check them out before visiting.