Kabuki is one of Japan's
traditional stage arts along with Noh, Kyogen and
Bunraku. It is said to have originated in the seventeenth
century when it was first performed by the female
dancer Izumo-no-Okuni and her troupe in Kyoto.
The kabuki stage is equipped with various mechanical
contrivances for dramatic effect. One of these is
the Seri, a platform that can be raised and lowered
from below the stage to make actors appear and disappear.
Nowadays, this is motor-driven.
Kabuki is characterized by its stylized acting,
its gorgeous costumes and its spectacular scale.
However, the features which spring most readily
to mind in connection with kabuki are probably the
mawari-butai, or revolving stage, the violent makeup
of the aragoto actor, and the oyama, or female roles,
played by male actors.
Mawari-butai: a revolving stage used
to shift scenes Hanamichi: an aisle stage running from
the stage to the rear of the theater through
the audience Kakiwari: Painted scenery and props
is a kind of stagehand who sometimes appears
on the stage to help the actors but has no
direct connection with the story. By convention,
he is treated as invisible by the audience.
Chanting or shamisen music is
performed on this upper stage, called the
degatari-dai, which revolves and carries the
performers away and out of sight when they
Some of the most beautiful sights in kabuki
are provided by the costumes and make-up of
the oyama, or female roles.
In early times, women who were also prostitutes
played female roles, but this was prohibited
during the Tokugawa shogunate on the grounds
that it would harm public morals. Since then,
female roles have been performed by male actors,
with the unexpected result that the beauty
of oyama has been produced.
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