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Traditional Performing Arts

Kabuki is a traditional form of theatre that originated in the Edo Period. In Japan, it is recognized as one of the three major classical forms of theatre including noh and bunraku.

Kabuki has captured the hearts and minds of audiences since the beginning of the 17th century to present day. It is an art form rich in showmanship.

It is renowned for its appearance involving impressive costumes, striking makeup, eccentric wigs, and not to mention, the exaggerated actions performed by the actors.

Music and dance are skillfully applied, bringing life to the characters from Japan’s past, both real and imaginary. Plays can range from realistic tragic dramas to thrilling adventure stories. Plots are usually based on historical events, moral conflicts, love stories, warm hearted dramas, tales of tragedy or conspiracy, and many other well known stories.

The Kabuki is staged is equipped with dynamic gadgets such as revolving platforms and trap doors, used for actors to appear and disappear. Additionally, the Kabuki stage has a footbridge (hanamichi) that leads into the audience allowing dramatic entrances and exits.

Kabuki theatre has important characteristics like its own music, costumes, props and gadgets, and uses specific language and acting styles. All of these elements combined produce an astounding and captivating performance.

Originally, kabuki used to involve both male and female actors and was popular among common people.. However, later during the Edo Period, Tokugawa Shogunate restricted women to participate. Since then, all the actors are played by men, a tradition that has remained till present day. Therefore, there are male actors that specialize in playing female role (onnagata).

All the actors play the roles of warriors, thieves, as well as respectable ladies, and prostitutes. They have always been worshipped by an adoring audience who may shout out the actors’ names while on stage. All kabuki actors have a hereditary stage name (yago). It is an accepted practice for people in the audience to shout their favorite actor’s names during critical and appropriate times to show support.

Stagehands called kurogo will sometimes appear on the stage, usually dressed in all black. Their role has no direct connection to the story, they are there to assist actors with props or other help to make the act appear seamless. They are treated invisible or non existent to the audience.

Mainstream kabuki use to be performed at selected venues in big cities like Edo (present day Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto in the olden days.

Today, you can enjoy kabuki plays in selected theaters with Western-style seats. There are even earphones provided to listen to an English translation.

Through all these modern developments in the past century, Japan’s culture from the past has not been lost. Buy tickets to enjoy a rich play with a one of a kind venture to the past. There are well-known venues located in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, and more.

Kabuki is the most popular traditional style of Japanese drama. It has been named as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

photo of Kabuki traditional performance