Edo-Tokyo Museum 江戸東京博物 2012年08月30日

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater 中村座 歌舞伎

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater in Tokyo

The Nakamura-za Kabuki theater in Tokyo

The art of kabuki, a type of stylized Japanese dance-drama, is a fascinating reflection of Japanese culture. Although it started out as a type of dance, kabuki eventually evolved into a full-blown type of theater, where its performers wear elaborate costumes and apply elaborate makeup to tell a dramatic story.

Kabuki originated in 1603 when a woman named Izumo no Okuni began performing a special new style of dance that she had created. Kabuki caught on almost instantly. Women began learning kabuki dances and performing them for audiences. Kabuki had a large impact socially as well. The dances themselves were very suggestive and, even though it didn’t start out that way, many prostitutes began learning the dances so they could attract customers. The performances started attracting bad crowds. In 1629, the government stepped in and banned women from performing the dances.

Male dancers then took over. Known as wakashu, these men were typically young and effeminate. As such, prostitution wasn’t stopped as the men were just as available as the female dancers. In 1652, the government banned young males from dancing as well since it became very common for brawls to break out at performances over them.

Kabuki really came into its own during its “Golden Age” which lasted from 1673 to 1841. The dances really began to have a formal structure and kabuki theaters began to catch on. Unlike most plays, these lasted all day from sunrise to sunset. Many theaters were destroyed again during World War II and the forces occupying the country banned kabuki. The ban only lasted until 1947, but the damage had already been done. As Japan tried to rebuild itself after the war, it began rejecting its “old ways” and kabuki was almost abandoned. However, a director began producing plays that revitalized kabuki and it remains popular today.

The male dancer hero known as wakashu 若衆

The male dancer hero known as wakashu 若衆

Female hero and the bad one...

Female hero and the bad one…