Japanese Kabuki Theatre Overview

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10 Questions

What is the literal translation of the word 'Kabuki'?

The art of singing and dancing

What is the origin of the term 'kabukimono'?

It referred to those who were bizarrely dressed and paraded on the streets

Which of the following is NOT a feature of the Kabuki stage?

Revolving stage

What is the purpose of the Hanamichi in Kabuki theater?

It is a walkway for dramatic entrances and exits

Which of the following statements about Kabuki theater is NOT true?

It is performed exclusively by female actors

What is the significance of the Kogakudo stage in Kabuki theater?

It creates a bond between the actors and viewers

What is the most important direction in Kabuki theater?


What is the significance of the term 'kabuki' meaning 'to lean' or 'to be out of ordinary'?

It suggests that Kabuki theater is unconventional and bizarre

Which of the following is NOT mentioned as an element of Kabuki theater in the text?


In which direction do all characters enter and exit the Kabuki stage?

East and West

Study Notes

Kabuki Makeup and Costumes

  • Rice powder is used to create the white oshiroi base for the characteristic stage makeup.
  • Kumadori enhances or exaggerates facial lines to produce dramatic animal or supernatural character.
  • Costumes are often symbolic, such as fans representing wind, a sword, a tobacco pipe, waves, or food.
  • Female characters generally wear an elaborate kimono and obi.
  • Pleated hakuma trousers are worn by characters of exes.
  • Actors playing both sexes often have a supported midriff because a straight and curveless figure are regarded as the essence of beauty.

Kabuki Play Structure

  • The play occupies five acts: jo, ha, the third act, the fourth act, and kyu.
  • Jo is an auspicious and slow opening that introduces the audience to the characters and the plot.
  • Ha speeds up events, culminating in a great moment of drama or tragedy in the third act.
  • Kyu is a short and satisfying conclusion.

Kabuki Stage and Props

  • The stage features include a revolving stage (mawaro butal), a platform that rises from below the stage (suppon), and a walkway that cuts through the audience seating area (hanamichi).
  • Props are often symbolic, such as flowing water represented by fluttering rolls of linen.
  • Props can also include creatures like insects and foxes.

Kabuki Categories and Elements

  • The three main categories of Kabuki play are Jidaimono (historical or pre-Sengoku period stories), Sewamono (domestic or post-Sengoku stories), and Shosagoto (dance pieces).
  • Elements of Kabuki include mie (actor holding a picturesque pose to establish his character and his house name) and yago (the name of the actor's house).
  • Actors are separated into two main categories: Onna-gata (female roles) and Aragoto (male roles).

Kabuki Performance and Tradition

  • Kabuki is a traditional Japanese drama with highly stylized song, mime, and dance, performed only by male actors.
  • The performers immediately move to the center north upon entering the stage.
  • All characters enter from the east and exit from the west.
  • The audience is always seated south of the stage, making north the most important direction.

Learn about the traditional Japanese art form of Kabuki theatre, its makeup techniques, and the structure of a Kabuki play with five acts. Discover how rice powder and kumadori are used in Kabuki makeup to create striking stage characters.

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