Kabuki is thought to have originated in the very early Edo period, when founder Izumo no Okuni formed a female dance troupe who performed dances and light sketches in Kyoto. The art form later developed into its present all-male theatrical form after women were banned from performing in kabuki theatre in 1629. Kabuki developed throughout the late 17th century and reached its zenith in the mid-18th century.
In 2005, kabuki theatre was proclaimed by UNESCO as an intangible heritage possessing outstanding universal value. In 2008, it was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The individual kanji that make up the word kabuki can be read as "sing" (歌), "dance" (舞), and "skill" (伎). Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as "the art of singing and dancing". These are, however, ateji characters which do not reflect actual etymology. The kanji of "skill" generally refers to a performer in kabuki theatre.
As an art-form, kabuki also provided inventive new forms of entertainment, featuring new musical styles played on the shamisen, clothes and fashion often dramatic in appearance, famous actors and stories often intended to mirror current events. Performances typically lasted from morning until sunset, with surrounding teahouses providing meals, refreshments and place to socialise. The area surrounding kabuki theatres also featured a number of shops selling kabuki souvenirs.
Although kabuki was performed widely across Japan, the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres became the most widely known and popular kabuki theatres, where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held.
The famous playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, one of the first professional kabuki playwrights, produced several influential works during this time, though the piece usually acknowledged as his most significant, Sonezaki Shinjū (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), was originally written for bunraku. Like many bunraku plays, it was adapted for kabuki, eventually becoming popular enough to reportedly inspire a number of real-life "copycat" suicides, and leading to a government ban on shinju mono (plays about love suicides) in 1723.
The shogunate, mostly disapproving of the socialisation and trade that occurred in kabuki theatres between merchants, actors and prostitutes, took advantage of the fire crisis in the following year, forcing the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za out of the city limits and into Asakusa, a northern suburb of Edo. This was part of the larger Tenpō Reforms that the shogunate instituted starting in 1842 to restrict the overindulgence of pleasures. Actors, stagehands, and others associated with the performances were also forced to move in lieu of the death of their livelihood; despite the move of everyone involved in kabuki performance, and many in the surrounding areas, to the new location of the theatres, the inconvenience of the distance led to a reduction in attendance. These factors, along with strict regulations, pushed much of kabuki "underground" in Edo, with performances changing locations to avoid the authorities.
The theatres' new location was called Saruwaka-chō, or Saruwaka-machi; the last thirty years of the Tokugawa shogunate's rule is often referred to as the "Saruwaka-machi period", and is well known for having produced some of the most exaggerated kabuki in Japanese history.
Saruwaka-machi became the new theatre district for the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres. The district was located on the main street of Asakusa, which ran through the middle of the small city. The street was renamed after Saruwaka Kanzaburo, who initiated Edo kabuki in the Nakamura-za in 1624.
Despite the revival of kabuki in another location, the relocation diminished the tradition's most abundant inspirations for costuming, make-up, and storylines. Ichikawa Kodanji IV was considered one of the most active and successful actors during the Saruwaka-machi period. Deemed unattractive, he mainly performed buyō, or dancing, in dramas written by Kawatake Mokuami, who also wrote during the Meiji era to follow. Kawatake Mokuami commonly wrote plays that depicted the common lives of the people of Edo. He introduced shichigo-cho (seven-and-five syllable meter) dialogue and music such as kiyomoto. His kabuki performances became quite popular once the Saruwaka-machi period ended and theatre returned to Edo; many of his works are still performed.
Shūmei (襲名, "name succession") are grand naming ceremonies held in kabuki theatres in front of the audience. Most often, a number of actors will participate in a single ceremony, taking on new stage-names. Their participation in a shūmei represents their passage into a new chapter of their performing careers.
Closer to the cultural epicenter of kabuki in Edo (later Tokyo), commoners had other methods to enjoy performances without attending the shows. Bunraku (文楽, puppet theatre) was type of performance in Tokyo, but unlike kabuki, it was shorter in length and more affordable to the common class. Bunraku performances were often based on plots used in kabuki, and the two styles shared common themes. Kabuki shinpō (歌舞伎新報, "Kabuki news") was another popular medium for kabuki consumption among commoners and elites alike. During the course of its publication, this magazine allowed those unable to attend performances to enjoy the liveliness of kabuki culture.
JAPANESE IDEA OF A THEATRE TODAY'S JAPAN HAS TWO TYPES OF DRAMA: the classical and the "new." The classical theatre includes the No, the Comic Interlude (no kyogen), the Puppet Theatre (joruri) and the Kabuki. The "new" theatre was created in the early twentieth century on the model of modem Western drama and has developed under the influence of Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Chekhov and Strindberg. Naturally the Japanese idea of a theatre is far more manifest in the former type, although it has entered into the latter, too, with some subtle modifications. In the following pages I shall try to outline this Japanese concept of a theatre as it emerges from the remarks of some prominent actors and playwrights in the past. It will center upon five major issues of dramatic art: 1) life versus drama, 2) affective response of the drama, 3) two major dramatic forms-tragedy and comedy, 4) internal structure of the drama, and 5) the use of drama. What is the relationship between life and drama? The professionals of classical Japanese theatre unanimously answer that drama "imitates" life. "Imitation is the essence of our art," says Zeami (1363-1443), the foremost actor and playwright in the formative years of the No. "Generally speaking," he adds, "the aim is to imitate all objects as they are, whatever they may be." okura Toraaki (1597-1662) says the same thing about the Comic Interlude of which he was a master actor: "More than anything else," he affirms, "the Comic Interlude is an art of imitation." "All puppet plays," observes Chikamatsu (1652-1724), a most successful playwright in the prime days of the Puppet Stage, "present facts as they are." "A Kabuki actor," remarks Sakata Tojiiro (1647-1709), himself an expert Kabuki actor, "should singlemindedly try to copy real life in performing whatever role he is cast in." Characters in the play are imitations of real people, and aCtors on the stage duplicate the speech and deportment of men and women in real life. An actor performing a courtier's role should faithfully copy the ways in which a real courtier speaks and behaves; an actor impersonating a drunkard should carefully follow the ways of real drunkards. There are a number of anecdotes describing how hard some Japanese actors tried to do this. Tojiiro, once cast in an adulterer's role, schemed to become an adulterer in his real life so that he could understand the psychology of illicit relationship. Another Kabuki actor of his time tricked his fellow actors into getting drunk in his dressing room, thereby teaching them how to perform a similar scene in a play. 348 1967 JAPANESE IDEA OF A THEATRE 349 One factor essential to "imitation" in drama is the dissolution of the personal self on the actor's or playwright's part. A dramatic character must be an integrated, self-contained whole. The Japanese are especially insistent on the actor's responsibility to dissolve his ego and become at one with the object of his imitation. "Imitation" approaches "identification" in its ultimate form. "In the art of imitation ," Zeami says, for instance, "there is a realm called 'non-imitation .' If the actor pursues the art to the ultimate and truly grows into the object, he will not be aware of his act of imitation." Toraaki arrives at a similar conclusion: "An actor expert in the Comic Interlude enters into the object smoothly and without effort." Toraaki has also composed a didactic poem on this for the benefit of beginning actors: Let your soul be As shapeless as water. Whether round Or square, leave to your container The forming of its shape. In the Kabuki there are some examples in which an actor carried his dramatic "container" even into his private life. One eighteenthcentury actor, noted for his skill to impersonate a woman (as classical Japanese theatre permitted no woman to perform on the stage), once when he was offered a man's dish at dinner, declined to eat it. T6jur6 is said to have treated Kabuki female impersonators as real women in everyday life. It is, of course, no easy task for anyone to completely identify himself with something which he is not...
As part of its program to promote democracy in Japan after World War II, the American Occupation, headed by General Douglas MacArthur, undertook to enforce rigid censorship policies aimed at eliminating all traces of feudal thought in media and entertainment, including kabuki. Faubion Bowers (1917-1999), who served as personal aide and interpreter to MacArthur during the Occupation, was appalled by the censorship policies and anticipated the extinction of a great theatrical art. He used his position in the Occupation administration and his knowledge of Japanese theatre in his tireless campaign to save kabuki. Largely through Bowers's efforts, censorship of kabuki had for the most part been eliminated by the time he left Japan in 1948. 2b1af7f3a8