Kabuki and its painted faces

Kabuki is a traditional classic Japanese form of theater with its origins in the Edo Period. Based on the individual kanji characters, Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing. In contrast to the other older forms of Japanese performing arts, such as Noh, Kabuki was initially popular only among the common townspeople and not among the higher social classes. Today, this form of theater has permeated Japanese society and has become an essential part of Japanese culture. Kabuki theatre commonly known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Kabuki plays are predominantly about moral conflicts, love-hate relationships, historical events and the like. The performers adapt an ancient language which is difficult to understand even for some Japanese people. The lines are spoken in a somewhat rather monotonous tone while being accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.

Kabuki takes place on a rotating stage (kabuki no butai). The stage is further equipped with several gadgets like trapdoors through which the actors can appear and disappear. Another specialty of the kabuki stage is the hanamichi (flower path), a walkway which extends into the audience and via which dramatic entrances and exits are made. In Osaka, one of the most well known and popular kabuki theatres is the Osaka Shochiku-za. The theater underwent major renovations which were completed in 1997. Preserving its characteristic front exterior walls, called the Arc de Triomphe of Dotombori, it is now a new theater with two stories underground and eight stories above ground, all designed to handle a wide range of programs making full use of the latest stage equipment, including Japan’s fastest revolving stage, a suspension rail attached to the ceiling, and an elevating stage but still maintaining the traditional dignified stage layout of Kabuki. Three to five different Kabuki performances are put on here annually, including the Shinshun Dai Kabuki (New Year’s Great Kabuki).

Interesting fact: In the early years, both men and women acted in kabuki plays. Later during the Edo Period, the Tokugawa Shogunate forbade women from acting, a restriction that survives to the present day. Several male kabuki actors are therefore specialists in playing female roles (onnagata).


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