enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Kabuki” traces its history back to 1603, when a troupe led by a woman named Izumo no Okuni staged dances in Kyoto. These dances were called “kabukiodori”. “Yujo” (遊女) and female artistes imitated Okuni’s “kabukiodori”, and their performances became known as “onnakabuki” (女歌舞伎; woman “kabuki”). Likewise, boys who had yet to come of age started performing “wakashukabuki” (若衆歌舞伎; young boy “kabuki”). Each of these dances proved popular but they were all banned by the bakufu government, which feared they were deleterious to public morals. Consequently, “kabuki” began to be performed by young men with shaved fringes (symbolising their adulthood). By the mid-17th century, such performances were formalised and became known as “yarokabuki” (野郎歌舞伎; man kabuki). In the years that followed, “kabuki” developed from a simple revue that cherished appearance into a more sophisticated art performed by thespians.

“Kabuki” employs a number of ingenious techniques to create a flamboyant spectacle that transports the audience into a world of fantasy. These innovations include the actors’ striking makeup, costumes, and wigs. Other elements are found in the stage design, including a stage-passage called a “hanamichi” (花道), a revolving stage called a “mawaributai” (廻り舞台), and stage traps called “seri”. There are various other elements too, such as dancing to the accompaniment of the “shamisen”. A particularly famous attribute of “kabuki” is that the women characters are played by male actors called “onnagata” (女形/女方), who specialise in female roles.

Originating as a form of mass art at the dawn of a new age, “kabuki” continues to draw in crowds today. Having spread quickly throughout the country at an early stage in its history, “kabuki” begat local amateur theatre productions. “Kabuki” will continue to refine its content and art in line with the changing times, and it will surely be preserved by successive generations as one of the leading forms of Japanese classical theatre.