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Kabuki is one of the traditional theater forms of Japan.
"Ka" means "to sing", "bu" means "to dance" and "ki" means "to perform".
In the literature, Kabuki actors perform and dance to songs on a stage.

History of Kabuki

Kabuki is believed to originate from a play performed by Okuni who is a female attendant of Izumo Shrine and a traveling dancer.
She first presented her unusual play in Kyoto in 1603.
In the play, men played women's roles and women played men's roles with showy gestures.
This eventually developed into today's Kabuki, which is played entirely by only men.

Since Edo period (1600-1867) Kabuki had been the popular entertainment in Japan.
In Meiji period (1868-1912), Kabuki was polished up as a world-class art. So the Kabuki-za Theater was built in 1889 exclusively for Kabuki performances.
Since the 1960s many overseas performances are held, and recently some new performances are held by eminent drama directors.

Elements of Kabuki

Performance and plays

 One performance of Kabuki contains 3 to 5 plays.

2 or 3 plays of them are dramas.
They are historical dramas or narrative dramas, and take about 1 to 2 hours to play each drama.

Other plays are dance performances or short stories, and take 15 to 30 hours to play.

Of course, only one long drama is sometimes performed with divided 4 to 5 plays.

Between plays, there are 15 to 30 minutes break times.
So one performance takes 4 to 5 hours a day.


 Stage of Kabuki has various devices.

There are certainly a revolving platform in the center of stage.
It makes transition in dramas easy.
Some parts of stage floor are made like elevator, and actors appears on it from below of stage.
The revolving platform has also a big elevator, and large props like a house are lifted up and down.
A runway is set up from the stage through the audience.
And on the ceiling there is the device to raise an actor for playing to fly in the sky.


 Kabuki actors are all males. They also play women in dramas.
Most Kabuki actors are the members of some families. Famous family names are Ichikawa and Nakamura.

In some plays a child also perform.
Usually the boys in such families plays on stage from 4 to 5 years old.


 "Kumadori" is specific stage makeup worn by Kabuki actors.
It is exaggerated makeup of blood vessels and muscle of the face.

 Red kumadori expresses power, courage or youth, so hero or handsom wears.
Blue kumadori expresses evilness, so bad guy or ghost wears.
Brown kumadori also expresses evilness, so bad enemy or personification of evil wears.


There is a room where the Kabuki musicians play at the side of stage.

Shamisen of plucked string instruments, tsuzumi and taiko like drum, and fue like flute are played there.
There are singers in this room.
Sound effect like wave or wind are played at backstage.

Shouting applause from audience

When the leading role plays at the climax, certainly some audiences shout applause to the actor.

But the word is not "Bravo!".
We must use the fixed name of the actor's family.

There are many names, because some actors lived away from their parents give new name.
You may hear, "Narita-ya!", "Narikoma-ya!", "Otowa-ya!" and so on.

Seeing Kabuki

In Kabuki-za in Tokyo, we can see Kabuki throughout the year.
(From 2010 to 2013, it is rebuilding. So this theater is closed now.)
In National Theater of Japan in Tokyo, we can see it for 4 to 5 months of the year.
In Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka Kabuki is sometimes given a performance.

National Theater of Japan
Tokyo Kabuki Guide : Providing you all information about Kabuki in Tokyo, and helping the guests to enjoy Kabuki.
Kabuki 21 : Great website about Kabuki by a foreign Kabuki fun.

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