An introduction to the wonderful world of Japanese Kabuki theater

Kabuki Japanese theatre

Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical form of Japanese theater. The heavily-stylized performances, the glamorous costumes worn by performers, and the elaborate kumadori makeup worn by some of them are all characteristics of kabuki theater.

Kabuki is thought to have begun in the early Edo period when founder Izumo no Okuni formed a dance troupe in Kyoto. Women were forbidden to perform in kabuki theatres in 1629, and kabuki subsequently evolved into its current all-male theatrical form. Kabuki flourished in the late 17th century and reached its pinnacle during the mid-18th century. Kabuki is among Japan’s three most distinguished classical performance art forms, noh, and bunraku being the other two

UNESCO declared kabuki theatre as an intangible heritage with outstanding global significance in 2005. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

Kumadori Makeup

 Kumadori makeup is the theatrical make-up one can see actors wearing. The idea being that the colours of the makeup indicate the type of character an actor is playing. Red signifies passion and strength. Dark blue or black is usually worn by villains or demons and stands for evil and fear. Purple indicates nobility and Green the supernatural.

The Kabuki Stage

Kabuki theatre involves dynamic stage settings, such as revolving platforms and trapdoors, allowing for a scene’s instantaneous transformation or the appearance and disappearance of characters. Another characteristic of the kabuki stage is a footbridge (hanamichi) that leads across the audience, allowing for an impressive entrance or exit. Live music, performed on traditional instruments, creates an atmospheric setting. These components work together to present a spectacular and enthralling show.

The Plot or Story

Although a few theatres offer translations and even headsets during a performance, often it’s wise to read a little about the play and its larger story before one attands.

Kabuki plays are often based on famous historical events, moral dilemmas, love stories, tales of tragedy and conspiracy, or other well-known narratives. The events that occur during a kabuki performance are often only a fraction of a larger story (usually the most interesting portion). In order to maximize enjoyment, one should familiarize oneself with the plot of the play before attending.

What to expect at a Kabuki performance

Kabuki plays usually have plenty of interactions between the actors and the audience. Actors frequently pause the performance to speak to the crowd, who in turn react with the proper amount of praise or clapping in the proper manner. In addition, the crowd will usually even call out the names of their favorite actors as the play progressed. Kabuki actors have an hereditary stage name or yago which is connected to their theatre group. Actors often stem from a long line of actors and it’s not unheard for actors to tace their family back in the same theatre group for generations.

Kabuki and dance

Dancing is probably the best-known feature of Kabuki. Almost all plays will have some form of dancing, from very pronounced male posturing to graceful movement of the onnagata. While the acting is also very stylised the two can often become one and the same flow between the two within a performance.

Kabuki is a form of Japanese classical theater that developed in the 17th century. Performances are performed in traditional Japanese theatres and the actors are still highly trained and stylized. While Kabuki is a very unique form of theatre, it has a long and interesting history and is still popular today.

There are also many different types of Kabuki, each with its own history and personality. Kabuki’s history can be traced back more than 1,000 years ago. In feudal Japan, Kabuki was the most popular and recognised form of theater and it played an important role in the social and political life of the country. The traditions of Kabuki and the actors who perform it have remained largely unchanged throughout the years.

However, with the modernization of Japan and the advancement of other forms of entertainment, Kabuki is not as popular as it once was. The old theatres with wooden floors and cushions still remain but rarely serve as a performance venue but exist to enable visitors to experience the feel of an authentic Kabuki theatre. These days more performances are in modern theatres with western seating. If you’d like to attend a performance most of the big Japanese cities still have performances.

Spending some time in Tokyo? Check out our guide to some of Tokyo’s finest galleries and museums

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