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An introduction to Kabuki theater

Kabuki actors Nakamura Nobuzo II and Nakamura Nosho II in a theatrical scene, by Katsukawa Shunei (Japanese, 1762–1819). Woodblock print, ink and colors on paper. Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.55.

Kabuki actors

​Kabuki was one of the three most popular dramatic forms of Japan, the other two being Noh drama and puppet theater (bunraku). Singers and an orchestra of drums, flutes, wooden clappers, and samisen (a stringed instrument similar to the banjo) accompanied the highly stylized dialogue, lively and often violent action, and captivating dances of Kabuki. The plays were all-day entertainments that included lunch and tea.
Audiences in Edo (present-day Tokyo) were delighted by these powerful performances, and admiring merchants and artisans became the actors’ patrons. Even today, in a culture saturated with entertainment, Kabuki continues to flourish.
The art form has its origins in comic dances performed in the early 1600s by groups of women on a bank of Kyoto’s Kamo River. Kabuki grew into a colorful theatrical art form in both Edo and Osaka. In 1629 the government accused these women of being prostitutes and banned all women from performing the dances. Male actors began to play both male and female roles.
Edo’s three Kabuki theaters—Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, and Morita-za—were located in different areas of the “Low City.” In 1842, after a fire had destroyed much of the city, all three theaters were relocated to the Asakusa area near the new pleasure quarter.

Kabuki theater facilities

Theaters housing Kabuki performances consisted of a hall with stage and audience areas; the stage was separated from the audience by a curtain drawn to the sides. Characteristically a runway, connected to the back of the stage, passed through the audience. This “flower way” (hanamichi) was so named because it originally served as a passage for audience members to present flowers to actors on stage. By the 1730s the hanamichi had developed into a supplementary staging area.
Signboards featuring current programs were hung above the eaves of theaters’ central entrances.

Kabuki makeup

Kabuki actors wore thick makeup designed to express the characters they represented. Red stripes around cheeks and eyes signified power and youth, and indigo blue signified a negative attribute.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Lelouch vi Brittania
    In the third paragraph You said that the government quote "accused these women of being prostitutes and banned all women from performing the dances." To my knowledge this is untrue, in fact if they did not perform before "The Act", and just rushed into things they would be ridiculed. I was wondering if my thinking was incorrect or if this is simply a error on your part, and if so in order to keep the users better educated i hope you change it soon.
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  • duskpin tree style avatar for user Elizabeth
    Do Kabuki actors wear white face paint
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    • hopper jumping style avatar for user Ashton
      Kabuki makeup, provides an element of style easily recognizable even by those unfamiliar with the art form. Rice powder is used to create the white oshiroi base for the characteristic stage makeup, and kumadori enhances or exaggerates facial lines to produce dramatic animal or supernatural masks. The color of the kumadori is an expression of the character's nature: red lines are used to indicate passion, heroism, righteousness, and other positive traits; blue or black, villainy, jealousy, and other negative traits; green, the supernatural; and purple, nobility.
      (3 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user 24adorairaj
    why is kabuki important
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    • aqualine seed style avatar for user Clarissa.SippleAsher2018
      It gave the people of Japan an opportunity to see theatre tailored specifically to them, it was expressive without being (too) disruptive. Eventually, especially during the Edo period, it took on a satirical and mocking approach, especially to 'hero's' of the time, lightheartedly poking fun at them through over exaggerated costumes and characteristics. It was basically just a new way to reach the Japanese commoner.
      (This isn't everything, i'm sure there's more to it, this is just what is important to me).
      (1 vote)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user CHRIS CHEW
    Does it mean Kabuki considered as a geisha?
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user garciaestrellaw
    What is this thing about kabuki acting
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