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Facts of Japan - Kabuki art of singing and dancing

Updated on June 1, 2011

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance - drama. It translates to art of singing and dancing. The history of Kabuki traces back to Edo period, in between 1603 to 1629, when Okuni of Izumo started it with an all new style of drama. It became popular instantly and so many other groups formed and began performing Kabuki throughout Japan. Most of the performances were given by women and it was so successful because many of the women who performed this art were available for prostitution at that time.

During these times such a diversified crowd gathered to watch Kabuki in one place. The theatres went through interesting changes that reflected the past and current trends in music, clothing and current events. Since Kabuki was performed from morning till sunset, the tea houses around Kabuki theatre introduced refreshments, meals etc. In a sense, this was the art that influenced Japanese pop culture later.

Play of kabuki around 1860.
Play of kabuki around 1860.

The Shogunate though not averse to this art, ultimately banned the women’s Kabuki, called Onna-Kabuki. It felt it was too erotic. The period was 1629. Following the ban on women’s Kabuki, young boys continued with the performance. It was called Wakashu-Kabuki. But this again was subjected to prostitution and the Shogunate banned this too. It was only after this, adult males started giving Kabuki performances. That Kabuki was called Yaro-Kabuki. In that male performers played both male and female characters. So Kabuki continued to exist and gradually became so popular in exhibiting the urban life style.

During the Genroku era, Kabuki got a lift and the play was formalized. The styles got a clear definition as well. It was in this period, the bunraku, a puppet theatre came to be associated with Kabuki and both these art forms influenced the other retaining their special qualities.

Kabuki lost its grip in Edo period as it was banned inside the city. When the Shogunate fell apart in 1869, after the Meiji restoration it flourished once again. And it was when Kabuki became quite radical That was the period that Kabuki went under great change with actual happenings like elimination of Samurai class, opening up to Foreign influence etc. bringing in many changes.

After World War II was Kabuki almost dead. It was Tetsuji Takechi’s sincere efforts that revived Kabuki in Japan. Today, Kabuki is the popular art form and there are many big and small theatres available for this art throughout Japan. Some Kabuki groups use women for onnagata roles. In between, even an all women Kabuki was also formed but well, it lived shortly.

Kabuki-za in Ginza, one of the Kabuki theater in Tokyo.
Kabuki-za in Ginza, one of the Kabuki theater in Tokyo.

The Kabuki stage is an amazing combination of art. The stage of Kabuki features a kind of projection and it is called Hanamichi, which actually means a flower pot. It is merely a walk way and it extends into the rows of audience. This is being used for entry and exits. Important scenes are played in the stage. The stage had its growth like revolving stage and quite interestingly the trap doors were introduced almost during the 18th century itself. Many stage tricks were also employed.

Mawari-butai means revolving stage. It went through many transformations to reach its present stage where great techniques are used to present a wonderful transformation.

Seri means stage tricks like lowering the actors and raising them again etc. Similarly, Chunori also got into Kabuki. It means flying in the air and this was accomplished by wiring the costumes of the actors and letting them fly through the theatre.

There are three categories of Kabuki play available. Jidai-mono is historical, Sewa-mono is domestic and Shosagoto is dance pieces.

Kabuki is still offered as a full day programs apart from some shorter versions. It in fact is the mesmerizing art form that is theatrically spectacular with its style and make ups and sounds and clothing. Kabuki is truly the great art of Japan.


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      Jbuchs 4 years ago

      Sum ting wong?

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      talhyn 5 years ago

      thank god you're here i needed info and you gave me exactly what i needed you rock and i love the photos and vids

    • loonyBG profile image

      loonyBG 6 years ago

      Thank You CMHypno, I'm happy You like it :)

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for the fascinating hub on Kabuki, as it was not something that I had ever read about before. The pictures and images are great as well!