Kabuki (Japanese traditional theatre)
Update: 22 March 2016

Kabuki (Japanese traditional theatre)

Kabuki is one of the representative traditional arts of Japan. It is a human-interest play performed with vivid makeup and striking clothing. The posing called "mie", where the actor stops his body movements to express intense emotions, is the highlight of the play.

Characteristic makeup and clothing

The actors wear characteristic makeup called kumadori, which represents blood vessels and muscles on the face with white, red, blue and brown. Different colors are used for each role, for example the leading role might wear energetic red while the villain wears cool blue. Kabuki costumes are more showy than ordinary kimono so as to stand out on stage. Clothing for female roles are creatively made to reflect each part, for example a red kimono for the princess and a flamboyant kimono with extravagant embroidery for the prostitute.

Kabuki was originally started by a female

Kabuki which only has male performers, is said to have been started by a woman called Izumo no Okuni. Later on, kabuki performed by women and boys became popular, but the shogunate at the time, stating that it was too stimulating, banned women from performing it. That is how kabuki played only by males was established.

The stage of kabuki is characteristic

The kabuki stage has a very different structure from the stages of other theatres. The most particular feature is the "hanamichi" which runs through the audience and connects the stage all the way up to the back of the theatre. It is used for a dynamic performance such as the actor running onto the stage, and showing the mie. There is an underground space called naraku (named after the hell of Buddhist cosmology) under the stage and hanamichi, where the actors also sometimes appear from.

Kabuki actors are based on the hereditary system

The names of kabuki actors are passed down from parent to child. Not everyone who aspires to be can become a kabuki actor. Some famous names are Ishikawa Danjuro, Onoe Kikugoro and Bando Hikosaburo. The child will gain skills on the stage before he gets recognised by the parent to finally inherit the name. Furthermore, every line of actors has its own speciality stage act, which is called "ie no gei" (the repertoire of the family).

Spectators are allowed to call out at kabuki

At kabuki, spectators call out toward the actors mid-performance. It aims to arouse the audience with enthusiasm when the actor strikes a pose or when the story reaches its climax. The shouts are generally the name of the actor, but sometimes there are messages such as "Best in Japan!" and "We've been waiting!". Normally, it is done by a regular male spectator with a nice voice.

Modernistic "Kabukiza Theatre"

There are several theatres where kabuki is performed in Japan, and the most famous one is Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza, Tokyo. It is a historic theatre with more than 100 years of history, and with its renewal in 2013, Ginza Kabukiza tower was newly built behind the theatre. With the Kabukiza theatre before you and the tower behind, it is a Japanese collaboration of tradition and technology. In the new Kabukiza theatre, there are souvenir shops with products associated with kabuki, as well as Japanese restaurants.

Try kabuki when in Japan

There are no dress codes at Kabuki, and anyone can watch if they book tickets. There are many theatres with audio guides in foreign languages, so please enjoy the theatre at ease.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

Share this article.

If you liked this article, follow us!