The World-Renowned Japanese Kabuki

The World-Renowned Japanese Kabuki

While honoring history, we also eagerly embrace the new. The one and only art form that is the result of such a fusion of tradition and innovation! That is "kabuki."

Kabuki, which in the past was merely a pastime for the common people, has grown into a traditional art form that is now performed all around the world. However, it is also a fact that its unique worldview makes it difficult to get familiar with.

In this article, we will unravel the appeal of kabuki from a variety of different angles. If you read this article before seeing kabuki with your own eyes, you will be able to enjoy it a hundred times more on the day of the performance!

A Repeated History of Flourishing Glory and Failure

Kabuki has its roots in "Kabuki Odori.'' It was an innovative dance that represented the misfits of the times with their unconventional and eccentric clothing and dance. It has been reported that around the 17th century, Izumo Akuni, the founder of Kabuki, performed this dance in Kyoto, and it rapidly spread among the general public.

Once Kabuki Odori became popular, many female performers began to imitate it on stage, and "Female Kabuki," which added musical elements to the dance, became a popular topic of conversation in many parts of the country. However, it became the target of a government crackdown for the corrupting of public morals...

But, this kabuki will not end just like that. From the young boys was born the "Wakashu Kabuki.” This too, caused a huge boom, but like women's kabuki, it was considered provocative and eventually banned....

In the end, only adult males remained. Having no other choice, the present Kabuki, with performers consisting entirely of men, was born! Kabuki had previously emphasized performance in the form of singing and dancing, but it began to take on a more theatrical aspect with an emphasis on structure and plot, and gradually developed into a performing art form.

Despite a number of setbacks, the kabuki that we have today was formed as a product of repeated attempts and innovations to entertain the public.

The Fascination with Kabuki

Kabuki continues to break down our stereotypes and evolve to provide entertainment to the public. The fascination of kabuki is so wide-ranging, from the play to the dance to the music, that it is impossible to describe it in a few words! Here we will introduce some of the unique appeals of kabuki that deserve special attention.

A Distinctive Stage Design

Kabuki has a special stage layout designed to expand the scope of the performance and to draw the audience's attention to the stage. There are many elaborate mechanisms, but here we will introduce some of the most famous: "hanamichi," "mawari-butai," and "seri."

First, the "Hanamichi." It is a corridor connecting the lower part of the stage to the main stage. When the lower part of the stage curtain opens and the famous actors appear on the Hanamichi, the audience is filled with joyful shouts. Once a performer steps onto the hanamichi, about 70% of the way from the start of the hanamichi to the main stage, make sure you don't blink! In that spot, known as the "Shichi-san," the actors will perform some kind of action, and kabuki fans who are acquainted will gaze at them with intense anticipation while holding their breath.

Moreover, the center of the stage has a mechanism that allows it to rotate horizontally! This structure, called a "kawari-butai," enables the stage to be changed quickly. This contraption, which originated in kabuki, is still being used in theaters around the world today.

In addition, there is a mechanism called "Seri," which moves the center of the stage up and down. It allows for large stage sets and actors to appear from below the stage, or conversely, to be dropped from above the stage; making it possible for spectacular stunts that will astonish and delight the audience.

The Subtle and Elegant Sound Effects

Kabuki is not only an art form for enjoying the performance, but also for enjoying the sounds. When the kabuki performance begins, pay close attention to the different sounds that can be heard in various locations on the stage!

When you hear the "Chon-chon-chon," this high-pitched percussion sound is a signal called "ki." It indicates the beginning or end of a play, or the timing of a scene transition.

Also noteworthy are the "tsuke" sound effects, which represent the sound of the protagonist's footsteps and the sound of objects being dropped. "Tsuke" is made by banging wood against a board, and is an indispensable sound in kabuki that adds a sense of realism to the performance.

Besides these sounds, music played on taiko drums and flutes enhances the kabuki performance. Enjoying the story as well as the sounds is a more sophisticated way to enjoy kabuki!

The Way You Enjoy Is Entirely Up To You

In this article, we have introduced the history and appeal of kabuki.

You may find it a little difficult to understand what is being represented in kabuki, as the ideas and culture differ from those of today. However, there are endless ways to enjoy kabuki, from its acrobatic movements and spectacular dances to the pleasant music, vibrant costumes, and surprising stage tricks! There is no doubt that you will find your own way to enjoy it.