Brief Overview of Kabuki


Japan's Traditional Performing Arts developed in Samurai Period
"Kabuki" is a theater peculiar to Japan, and is one of the traditional performing arts. It is designated as an important cultural property of Japan and UNESCO World intangible cultural heritage. It is also designated as the first World Intangible Heritage in September 2009. The etymology of "Kabuki" is said to be the continuative form of the archaic Japanese verb "kabuku," which is equivalent to the present Japanese word "katamuku" (lean). Strange acts and clothes were called "kabuki," and a man of these features was said to be "kabuki-mono." This background partly explains why the real pleasure of kabuki is said to be "Keren (theatrical) staging." And so, the Chinese characters "歌舞伎," that reads "Kabuki," are merely the phonetic equivalent, but nevertheless, "歌" (ka) means "singing," "舞" (bu) means "dancing," and "伎" (ki) means "performances (or performers)," so the characters are appropriate for expressing this performing art.

Famous Play Scene of Kabuki in Minami-za, Kyoto
Traditional Play of Kabuki in Minami-za, Kyoto
Date Kabuki play in Tokyo
Date Kabuki Play in Tokyo
Traditional Kabuki make-up 'Kumadori'
Traditional Kabuki make-up 'Kumadori'
Famous Kabuki Theatre 'Kabuki-za' in Tokyo
Famous Kabuki Theatre 'Kabuki-za' in Tokyo
Must See Videos
Video Contents
Documentary of Kabuki Art (24:22)

History of Kabuki

Historical Picture of Kabuki

Kabuki was delivered by a Shrine Maiden in Kyoto
Kabuki is said to have originated from "IZUMO no Okuni," who delivered a performance at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine in 1603, and thereby gaining a good reputation in Kyoto. Some say Okuni was "miko" (a shrine maiden), while others say she was a derelict, but neither of them is sure. Okuni showed the dance matched to popular songs at that time, wore men's clothes, and adopted the act of Kabuki-mono, thereby creating the cutting edge entertainment in those days. Around that time, Kabuki was performed on a Noh stage or the like, and "Hanamichi" (a passage running through the audience to the stage) of the present Kabuki theater seems to have its origin in the Noh stage, including the details, such as the structure of the left side of the stage "Hon-hanamichi" (the main hanamichi) and the right side of the stage "Kari-hanamichi" (the secondary hanamichi). As Okuni became popular, many imitators appeared, including "Yujo-kabuki" (courtesans' Kabuki, or women's Kabuki), performed by "yujo" (prostitutes) & "Wakashu-kabuki" (young men's Kabuki), performed by boy actors who did not undergo genpuku (the coming-of-age ceremony for boys) yet. But the former was banned in 1629 for the reason that it corrupted public morals, and the latter was also banned in 1652 because the Kabuki groups which also engaged in the business of male prostitutes were rampant, so Kabuki became the style of "Yaro-kabuki" (men's Kabuki) that has continued until today. And so, in Kabuki, both the male's role & the female role are acted only by men.

During the Edo Period
Kabuki was sophisticated and completed in the mature culture during the Edo period, and it now forms its peculiar world of beauty. Kabuki is said to be classified according to its formation process into "Kabuki Odori" (Kabuki Dance) & "Kabuki Geki" (Kabuki Drama). Kabuki Odori lasted until the time of Wakashu-kabuki, and it showed dances matched to the popular songs of those days; Wakashu Kabuki is said to have shown even acrobatics. In some cases, Kabuki Odori also includes the program focusing on dancing created after Wakashu Kabuki; please refer to the article of "Kabuki Buyo" (Kabuki Dance). Meanwhile, Kabuki Geki was produced for the common people during the Edo period, and it sometimes became the drama, just as it is today, possessing the factor of Japanese dancing. Before banning Wakashu Kabuki, the Tokugawa shogunate ordered them to play "impersonation & 'Kyogen' (Noh comedies)," and this also encouraged the development of Kabuki as a drama. In short, the Tokugawa shogunate regarded the performances that centered on dancing as undesirable, since they were accompanied by male prostitution and other undesirable activities.

Historical Picture of Kabuki

The content of the drama came from historical facts, fiction, events and other topics, and the drama was called "Kabuki Kyogen." This served not only as the equivalent of today's movies & TV dramas, but also as entertainment like a daytime TV variety program to satisfy people's curiosity with its visual & auditory effects. This was not irrelevant to Kabuki's facilitating transition to the theater specialized for Kabuki, what we call the Kabuki-za (Kabuki theater). Through the staging of separating time using a draw curtain, the time flow was naturally introduced into the story, and this enabled a complicated play to be developed. And Hanamichi, the passage running through the audience on which Kabuki actors enter on and depart, provides the audience with the two-dimensional image (or depth) that cannot be experienced in other kinds of theater, and "seri" (a trapdoor) & "chunori" (a flight on wires from the stage over the heads of the audience) provide the audience with the three-dimensional image (or the height), thereby upgrading Kabuki to the higher level of theater.

Until the middle of the Edo period, Kabuki Kyogen created in "Kamigata" (Kyoto and Osaka area) weighed so much. This is indicated, for example, by the number of programs at the time where stories came from "Ningyo Joruri" (traditional Japanese puppet shows) which were mainly played in Kamigata. Afterward in the Bunka-Bunsei era, "Nanboku TSURUYA" created many works of Kabuki Kyogen in Edo. And from the last days of the Edo period to the early Meiji period, "Mokuami KAWATAKE" did the same as Nanboku. This suggests that the Edo's relative position as the cultural center in comparison with Kamigata was raised during and after the later Edo period. These Kabuki Kyogen were simply called "Shibai" (play) during the Edo period. And until the Edo period, Kabuki was strongly believed to be a profession occupied by the people of the discriminated class, and the discrimination against them remained deep-rooted.

Kabuki Old Image

During and after the Meiji Period
During and after the Meiji period, Kabuki was still quite popular, but it also began to be criticized from intellectuals and others as inappropriate content for a civilized country. Movements calling for innovation of Kabuki emerged from the inside & outside of the Kabuki community, and the form of the performances was transformed as the time went by. Criticisms were that the plots were absurd and premodern-style, and that the visually eccentric choreography (what is called "Keren"), such as "chunori" (a flight on wires from the stage over the heads of the audience) & "hayagawari" (a quick change of costume), were not orthodox, and so on. Under these criticisms, a reform campaign of the style of Kabuki, which is called Theater Reform Campaign, was advanced during and after the Meiji period. Politicians became involved in this campaign, because the campaign coincided with the Meiji Government's purpose of establishing a theater suitable for the upper & middle classes of a civilized country to watch. This campaign achieved one good result, the opening of the Kabuki-za (Kabuki theater), which impacts today's theaters. And the establishment of a new styling Japanese theater, called "Shinpa-Geki" (a New-School Play), can be said to be another good result.

Afterward, under the influence of Theater Reform Campaign, many works, called "Shin Kabuki" (New Kabuki), were born from the Meiji period to the prewar age of the Showa period. During the Taisho period, old Kabuki works were re-evaluated through, for example, the revival of hidden classics by the second "Sadanji ICHIKAWA," and the completion of wagoto, the performances in a love scene by the first "Ganjiro NAKAMURA" in Kamigata. During the Showa period, many great actors were active, such as the sixth "Kikugoro ONOE," the first "Kichiemon NAKAMURA," the fifteenth "Uzaemon ICHIMURA," the second "Enjaku JITSUKAWA" and the third "Baigyoku NAKAMURA," and they had a great impact on today's Kabuki. However, as the Pacific War intensified, Kabuki performances became difficult owing to the authorities' regulations, such as the closure of theaters & the restriction on performance programs, and casualties & property damages in the Kabuki community, such as the theaters' burning down by air raids, piled up. And then, after the war, the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers began to regulate Kabuki for the reason that it was feudalistic and not suitable for democracy. But Faubion Bowers, a Japanophile & the adjutant of Douglas MacArthur, made every effort to protect Kabuki, so Kabuki passed the crisis. The revival of Kabuki was symbolized by the event in November 1947 at Tokyo-gekijo Theater, that is, the presentation of a whole play of Kanadehon Chusingura, in which all major Kabuki actors in Japan appeared.

From postwar Showa Period to Today
kabuki Taisho PeriodIn 1950s, as Japanese people became better off, their recreation began to be diversified. The professional baseball & the leisure industry became popular, and the development of the movies & the television broadcasting began to be seen, so Kabuki slipped out of the central part of recreation that it occupied in the past. And the transformation age of the Kabuki community started, which was symbolized by some incidents, such as Kabuki actors' going into the film world, the slump of Kabuki in Kansai area, and the disappearance of the low-class theater. Under such a transformation, Kabuki's popularity took a turn for the better when the heir succeeded to the eleventh "Danjuro ICHIKAWA" in 1963. Besides Danjuro, many actors were active, such as the sixth "Utaemon NAKAMURA," the second "Shoroku ONOE," the second "Ganjiro NAKAMURA," the seventeenth "Kanzaburo NAKAMURA," the seventh "Baiko ONOE," the first "Hakuo MATSUMOTO," the thirteenth "Nizaemon KATAOKA," the seventeenth "Uzaemon ICHIMURA." Kabuki performances in Japan became active again, and were also carried out in European and American countries.

From 1960s to 1970s, when Kabuki was in its postwar prime, new movements emerged one after another. Especially, recognition of the importance of the original Kabuki style spread, which tended to be underestimated during and after the Meiji period. In 1965, Kabuki received the overall designation as an important intangible cultural property, whose holder is the Organization for the Preservation of Kabuki, and National Theater opened, and moreover, performances, such as the whole play of revived Kyogen, went well. After that, there was the opening of the Osaka Shochiku-za Theater in Osaka, which was remodeled from a movie theater, and the Hakata-za Theater in Fukuoka, so Kabuki performances became more prosperous. And moreover, the third "Ennosuke ICHIKAWA" energetically performed revived Kyogen, into which he fully reintroduced the factors of Keren that were once despised; Ennosuke sought to improve Kabuki as the theater, so he tried a much more boldly staged Kabuki, called Super Kabuki. Recently, some trials were also made, such as Cocoon Kabuki by the eighteenth Kanzaburo NAKAMURA, the performances of Heisei Nakamura-za Theater, and the Kabuki revival project in Kansai area by the fourth "Tojuro SAKATA" and others. We could say these activities also pursued the original style of Kabuki & its modern innovation at the same time. Kabuki performances today are not entirely the same as those during the Edo period, which is simply exemplified by the theater facilities in each time. Under this change, the Kabuki community continues to try performing Kabuki as a modern drama while placing the long-established traditional performance style at its center. These performance activities earn Kabuki a good reputation as the traditional performing arts living in today's world.

Advertisement of Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Danjuro in Edo Period
Advertisement of Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Danjuro in Edo Period
Kabuki-za Theater in Edo Period
Kabuki-za Theater in Edo Periodo
Advertisement of Kabuki Actor Nakamura Somenosuke in Edo Period
Advertisement of Kabuki Actor Nakamura in Edo Period

Elements of Drama in Kabuki Kyogen


Kabuki was influenced by Ningyo Joruri
Kabuki Kyogen programs, created during the Edo period and handed down to the present, are roughly divided into two categories, those borrowed from Ningyo Joruri (also called "Bunraku") & those created as the original Kabuki Kyogen. Kabuki Kyogen, with stories that came from Ningyo Joruri are called "Maruhonmono" (doll theater); in many cases, they are also called "Gidayu-kyogen," but "Gidayu-kyogen" is the name of the Kabuki which uses "Gidayu-bushi" (the musical narrative of the puppet shows), so it differs a bit from Maruhonmono. "Geza" (sound effects in Kabuki) basically produces the atmosphere of the original Kabuki Kyogen. Kabuki Kyogen is classified according to its drama content into some categories, such as "Jidaimono," which dramatizes the historical facts, and "Sewamono," which portrays the social conditions at the time, and Sewamono is equivalent to today's TV dramas of commercial broadcasting. And there existed some rules called "sekai" (world), which set the basic framework of the stories constituting the background of the program. For example, there existed some sekai, such as "Taiheiki no sekai" (The World of "Taiheiki" [The Record of the Great Peace]), "Heike Monogatari no sekai" (The world of "Heike Monogatari" [The tale of Taira Clan]), "Gikeiki no sekai" (The World of "Gikeiki" [A Military Epic About the Life of Yoshitsune]), "Soga-mono no sekai" (The World of "Soga-mono" [the tale of Soga Brothers]) and "Sumidagawa-mono no sekai" (The World of "Sumidagawa-mono" [the tale of an apostate Hokai]). Even a first-time spectator knew well about the characters of the story, their mutual relations and other details, so spectators found pleasure in how the writer of the popular story developed the drama.

Kabuki was once a All Day Long Performance
kabuki theatreDuring the Edo period, the performances of Kabuki Kyogen were under control of the authorities, so they obeyed the rules set down by the Tokugawa shogunate that all of the performances should be finished within the daytime; the shogunate was afraid that a gathering of a mob after sunset could develop into disorderly political activities, they say. Therefore, many of the programs created at that time were relatively long, though the time of intermission for rest & stage change was deducted. And so, Kabuki Kyogen was an all day long entertainment even for the audience. Under the circumstances, various spectators began to want the performances of Kabuki Kyogen to satisfy their own tastes, such as one for Jidaimono, or one for Sewamono. And so, many had a complicated story that alternately showed, for example, Jidaimono & Sewamono in a single program, with an intermission in between. Incidentally, it is not common today to perform the whole Kabuki Kyogen program. The performance of the popular scene extracts from the program is called "Midori-kyogen," which is said to have come from the Japanese noun "Yoridorimidori" (being at your choice). The performance of the whole program is called "Toshi-kyogen."

Kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro
Kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro
Roots of Kabuki, Okina Hoyo in Kasuga Shrine
Root of Kabuki, Okina Hoyo in Kasuga Shrine

Music of Kabuki

Music of Kabuki

Kabuki Music is prepared for each Style of play
In Kabuki, various kinds of music are used. As is mentioned above, Kabuki is the general term for various genres of stages, such as the program created as the drama from the start, the program whose story comes from Ningyo Joruri, and in addition, the program of dancing. Each of these fields has its own favorite music. Music of Kabuki is roughly divided into song "Nagauta" and the narrative "Joruri" (the dramatic narrative chanted to shamisen accompaniment).

Nagauta"Nagauta" is the music that was developed as an accompaniment of Kabuki. It is often played in the dancing dramas and in dances, such as "Kanjincho" (The List of Contributors) & "Renjishi" (Lion Dancing), and it is sometimes played in Kabuki Geki, such as "Kuruwa Bunsho" (Love Letters from the Licensed Quarter). The players are in charge of background music, and they play the accompaniment & the sound effects in the area (called "Kuromisu") specially set up on the left side of the stage. Their music is called "Kuromisu Ongaku" (Kuromisu Music), or "Geza Ongaku" (Geza Music). They create various sound effects with their instruments, for example, a sound effect of water with a drum, or a sound effect of a temple bell using a gong.

Gidayu BushiThe dramas of Ningyo Joruri progressed in accordance with the performance of Gidayu-bushi (a kind of Joruri), so the programs of Kabuki whose stories came from Ningyo Joruri (for example, "Yoshitsune Senbonzakura" [Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees] & "Kanadehon Chushingura" [The Treasury of Loyal Retainers]) are similarly accompanied by Gidayu-bushi. In Ningyo Joruri, the lines of the characters & descriptions of situations are all given by "Tayu" (a narrator) of Gidayu-bushi, while in Kabuki, lines are basically given by actors and Tayu only describes the situation. And so, Gidayu-bushi in Kabuki is occasionally called "Takemoto" (also called "Chobo") to make a distinction between itself and that in Ningyo Joruri. Gidayu-bushi in Gidayu-kyogen is mainly played in the area (called "Yuka") specially set up on the right side of the stage.


"Tokiwazu-bushi" & "Kiyomoto-bushi"
"Tokiwazu-bushi" & "Kiyomoto-bushi" are both a kind of Joruri. In contrast to Gidayu-bushi that developed in Osaka, they developed it in Edo, so they are called "Edo Joruri." Compared to the profound Gidayu-bushi, their characteristic is the witty and polished style of art, and Kiyomoto-bushi additionally possesses a sensitive flavor. They are played in dancing dramas and in dances.

Kabuki Band with Kabuki Performance
Kabuki Band with Kabuki Performance
Traditional Kabuki Theatre Kanamaru-za in Kagawa
Traditional Kabuki Theatre Kanamaru-za in Kagawa

Kansai Kabuki (Kamigata Kabuki)

kabuki actor

Kansai Kabuki is a Kabuki developed in Kyoto and Osaka
Kamigata Kabuki is the collective name for forms, technique, direction, performing method, program, theatrical world and other aspects of Kabuki that have been developed centered on Osaka and Kyoto. It is often mentioned as an art comparable with Edo Kabuki (Kabuki of old Tokyo). Since the Meiji period in particular, it has been used as an expression to mean daikabuki (Kabuki performance or troupe) in the Kansai region. After World War II in particular, the number of kabuki actors in Kansai gradually decreased, and it became impossible to organize multiple troupes in this region. Inevitably (except when making guest appearance in Tokyo), leading actors were obliged to build a troupe together. This art form is called Kansai Kabuki in contrast to the Kikugoro troupe, Kichiemon troupe and Ennosuke troupe.

Together with Edo Kabuki, Kansai Kabuki is one of the two main schools of Kabuki, and in contrast to Edo Kabuki, which created valiant performances called aragoto (Kabuki play featuring exaggerated posture, makeup and costume), formed gentle and tender performances called wagoto (the production style of a love scene). Around the 18th century Kamigata Kabuki was more advanced, as evident from the fact that stage setting mechanisms such as mawari-butai (revolving stage) and seriage (stage elevator) were invented in Kamigata. Many scripts called maruhonmono (Kabuki dramas of joruri (puppet-play) origin), which are ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) arranged for Kabuki, and other scripts such as Goemon ISHIKAWA that deal with family feuds in which villains seek to take over the entire country, play important roles. The plots are complicated and contain comic-like elements. Generally speaking, the plays are rich in variety but lack originality.

Generally speaking, the plays are rich in variety but lack originality. After Gohei NAMIKI, who lived in the latter half of the 19th century, no excellent script writers comparable to Nanboku TSURUYA and Mokuami KAWATAKE of Edo Kabuki appeared. Consequently Kabuki kyogen plays performed today do not include many works that originated in Kamigata, except maruhonmono. Only a few remain, such as "Kari no Tayori (Letter)" (by Ryugyoku KANAZAWA), "Iseondo Koi no Netaba (literally, Ise Dances and Love's Dull Blade)" (by Tokuzo CHIKAMATSU) and "Katakiuchi Tengajayamura (The Revenge at Tengajaya)" (by Kamesuke NAGAWA). After this period, Kamigata Kabuki drifted from the center of the Kabuki world, coinciding with the development of Edo Kabuki in conjunction with the dissemination of culture from Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area) to Edo.

History of Kansai Kabuki (From Edo to Meiji, and up to World War II)
Samurai carrying WakyuIn the Genroku era (the latter half of 17th century), Tojuro SAKATA I (shodai) completed performances of wagoto in cooperation with Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU. "Yatsushi" in which a person of high rank disguised as a poorly dressed townsman meets a familiar harlot was a typical pattern. In the same period, famous actors such as Sanemon ARASHI I (shodai), Ayame YOSHIZAWA I (shodai), Jinzaemon YAMATOYA and Tatsunosuke MIZUKI I took active parts. Kabuki theaters were centered on Minami-za in Shijogawara in Kyoto, and in Osaka many theaters were concentrated in Dotonbori, where playhouses such as Dainishi, Naka, Kado, Kadomaru, Wakadayu and Takeda stood side by side. Among them were Naka and Kado, which were high-class oshibai (a licensed theater in the Edo period), while others were hamashibai (nakashibai, or small theaters in Dotonbori in the Edo period) where plays could be enjoyed with low admission charge. Both were symbols of Kansai Kabuki. Minami-za still maintains the old traditions by carrying out kaomisekogyo (the season's first performance with the new company) at the end of the year, but almost all the playhouses in Dotonbori have disappeared.

As the 18th century commenced, Kabuki lost its popularity to ningyo joruri, but many scripts of ningyo joruri such as "Kanadehon Chushingura" (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers), "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" (Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy), "Yoshitsune Senbonzakura" (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees) and "Meido no Hikyaku" (Courier to the Hell) were arranged for Kabuki. They are called maruhonmono (Kabuki drama of joruri (puppet-play) origin) and had a major influence as an important repertory of Kabuki on later generations. At the beginning of the mid-18th century, Kabuki was revived with completion of shosagoto (dance in Kabuki) by star actors for female roles such as Kikunojo SEGAWA I (shodai) and Tomijuro NAKAMURA I (shodai), the restoration of forgotten wagoto performances by Kichitaro OGAWA and the creation of excellent scripts and improvement of stage installations by Shozo NAMIKI I in cooperation with Utaemon NAKAMURA I (shodai). In the latter half of the 18th century, Gohei NAMIKI as a Kabuki playwright and Hinasuke ARASHI I, Kikugoro ONOE I (shodai) and Sojuro SAWAMURA I (shodai) as actors went up to Edo and had a major influence on Edo Kabuki.

From the 19th century to the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, famous actors such as Utaemon NAKAMURA III, who was called "kaneru (to serve concurrently)" and an all-round excellent actor, Nizaemon KATAOKA (nanadaime), Nizaemon KATAOKA VIII (hachidaime), Kichizaburo ARASHI II (later, Rikan ARASHI I (shodai), Tamizo ONOE II, who was famous for keren performances and Gakujuro JITSUKAWA II, who was good at wagoto performances, all played an active role. On the other hand, many actors such as Kodanji ICHIKAWA IV, Utaemon NAKAMURA IV (yondaime) and Shikan NAKAMURA IV (yondaime) went up to Edo and gave outstanding performances, and the level of actors was not inferior to that of Edo. However, the difference in quality with Edo Kabuki was reversed as actors of oshibai performed in lower-ranked hamashibai, decreasing the dignity of the plays, and capable Kabuki playwrights did not appear, which resulted in the rewriting of titles with same content and representation of popular plays of hamashibai, and originality was lacking as revue-style plays emphasized variety. I believe the causes of decline of Kamigata Kabuki were theater audiences that thought it was enough if the play was interesting and not expensive and the fact that all of Kabuki playwrights, actors and theaters lost moderation with respect to Kabuki as a drama."("Kamigata Kabuki no Fukei (literally, landscape of Kamigata Kabuki) by Yoshikazu GONDO, 2005, Izumi Shoin)

After the start of the Meiji period, however, the great promoters Sanei and Daisei produced successful plays in Dotonbori. There were many great actors such as Enjaku JITSUKAWA (shodai), who was the top performer of Kamigata wagoto, Udanji ICHIKAWA I (shodai), who excelled at keren and Sojuro NAKAMURA I, who aimed at new Kabuki. Their activities resulted in unprecedented prosperity. Around the end of the 19th century Ganjiro NAKAMURA I (shodai), whose existence was decisive for Kansai Kabuki, entered the picture.

kabuki and samuraiEra of Ganjiro
From Meiji to Taisho, the art of wagoto reached the height of sophistication under Ganjiro NAKAMURA. In addition to innate good looks, a strong desire to learn as seen in his effort to learn performances of various actors both in the east and west including Enjaku I and Danjuro ICHIKAWA IX (kudaime) and gorgeous performances full of efforts to please the audience, made Ganjiro the king of Kansai Kabuki. Similar to today's teenage stars, young girls rushed to the stage yelling "Ganjiro-han," and goods bearing his "ibishi (diamond shape formed with katakana "I") family crest fast-selling items. He did not end as a mere teenage star, however, and his numerous excellent stage appearances became legends and still have a great influence on present Kansai Kabuki. Popular plays that are performed today such as "Shinju Ten no Amijima - Kawasho," "Futatsu Chocho Kuruwa Nikki - Hikimado," "Tsuchiya Chikara (Chikara TSUCHIYA)" and "Tojuro no Koi" were originated by Ganjiro. His performance was acknowledged not only by audiences in Osaka and Kyoto, but also by audiences in Tokyo, leading to Ganjiro Nakamura being regarded as a synonym for Kansai Kabuki. Other actors who flourished in Kabuki roles included Enjaku JITSUKAWA II (nidaime), Nizaemon KATAOKA XI (juichidaime), Baigyoku NAKAMURA II (nidaime), Jakuemon NAKAMURA III (sandaime), Usaburo ONOE II (nidaime), Tamizo ONOE III (sandaime), Gansho ARASHI and Rikan ARASHI IV (yondaime). Each had the ability to establish his own school, but they could not compete with Ganjiro both in popularity and awareness. Such was Ganjiro's outsized influence.

The way the promoter Shochiku ran its performances to center on Ganjiro, however, created various biases and distortions. Capable rivals such as Nizaemon KATAOKA XI and Enjaku JITSUKAWA II were treated coldly and forced to shift their field of activity to Tokyo. The Kansai Kabuki environment, in which awareness of family performance was low, was not active in fostering successors and the situation of Ganjiro sweeping the board continued. People involved in the Kabuki business did not take any measures to prepare for the post-Ganjiro era, however, and Ganjiro died in 1935.

Samurai on the horseback with yumi

Kansai Kabuki before World War II (Big Three Era)
After Ganjiro's death the big three, namely Enjaku II, Kaisha NAKAMURA (shodai) and Baigyoku NAKAMURA III (sandaime), became the driving force of Kamigata Kabuki. Moreover, Kabuki performance itself was popular, and as far as tateoyama (the leading Onnagata actor) is concerned, Kansai was superior. Baigyoku often came to Tokyo and showed his unrivaled performance in role such as Sadataka in "Yoshinoyama" and Tamategozen in "Gappo Anshitsu (Gappo's country hermitage)", and was appreciated highly by Kabuki fans in Tokyo. Nizaemon KATAOKA XII (junidaime) moved to Tokyo to cover the shortage of tateoyama in Tokyo. Performances by the big three - Enjaku the amorous tachiyaku (a leading male-role actor), Baigyoku the classic tateoyama and Kaisha the technical actor - showed unique characteristics and their level was comparable to Ganjiro I. In supporting players as well there were many versatile actors such as Ichizo ICHIKAWA IV (yondaime), Hakotora ICHIKAWA I (shodai), Kichisaburo ARASHI VII (nanadaime), Enjo ICHIKAWA I (shodai), Okuzan ASAO IV and Kasen NAKAMURA II. These actors transferred from Tokyo and promising young actors joined as well, which strengthened the lineup of actors. New efforts such as joint performances with Shinpa-Geki (a New-School Play) were also conducted. For theaters, Kabuki was performed in Minami-za in Kyoto and at Naka-za, Naniwa-za, Osaka Kabuki-za and Dotonbori Kado-za in Osaka. However, both promoters and audiences pursued the illusion of Ganjiro NAKAMURA I and demanded Enjaku perform Ganjiro's star role, which had an poor result that did not take advantage of the actor's characteristics. Despite difficult wartime conditions in which many theaters and shibaijaya (restaurant attached to a theater) were closed, kabuki centered on the big three achieved wide-spread popularity in Kansai. In defiance of air raids, Kabuki performances were conducted even in the closing days of WWII.

kabuki and Osaka castle at nightFrom the End of WWII to the Present
Kansai Kabuki declined rapidly after WWII. The main theaters except the Minami-za in Kyoto and Osaka Kabuki-za in Osaka were destroyed by fire in air raids, resulting in great damage to the world of Kabuki. In addition, following the death of Kaisha NAKAMURA from war injuries in March 1945 and the unexpected death of Nizaemon KATAOKA XII in 1946, Baigyoku NAKAMURA died in 1948 and Enjaku II, who was called "the last actor of Kamigata," died in 1951. Within only 15 years after Ganjiro I's death, the four leading lights were lost. In 1948 the Naka-za was restored. Kado-za and Naniwa-za were converted into movie theaters, however, and one after another the kabuki theaters with long history disappeared from Dotonbori in Osaka. The remaining successors to Kansai Kabuki at this time were Ganjiro NAKAMURA II (nidaime), Gato KATAOKA IV (later, Nizaemon KATAOKA XIII (jusandaime)), Jukai ICHIKAWA III (sandaime), Jusaburo BANDO III (sandaime), Tomijuro NAKAMURA IV (yondaime), Minosuke BANDO VI (rokudaime) (later, Mitsugoro BANDO VIII (hachidaime)), Mataichiro HAYASHI II, Roen KATAOKA V (later, Gado KATAOKA XII; after his death, posthumously conferred Nizaemon XIV), Fukusuke NAKAMURA V (Takasagoya), Enjiro JITSUKAWA II (later, Enjaku JITSUKAWA III (sandaime)) and Naritaro NAKAMURA II. In addition there were young actors, such as Tsurunosuke BANDO IV (later, Tomijuro NAKAMURA V (godaime)) and Senjaku NAKAMURA II (later, Ganjiro NAKAMURA III and Tojuro SAKATA (yondaime)). Furthermore there were many supporting actors, starting from Kasen NAKAMURA who was acting before World War II, and including Shojaku NAKAMURA, Kichisaburo ARASHI VII (nanadaime), Sanemon ARASHI XI (or X) (juichidaime), Hinasuke ARASHI X (judaime), Ainosuke KATAOKA V (godaime) and Kikujiro ONOE IV (yondaime). Among them, Jukai, Minosuke and Tomijuro were born in Tokyo and Gato, whose style of performance was modest and reserved, was not a pure actor from Osaka. Although Jusaburo was born in Osaka, the quality of his performances was not suitable for wagoto. Because Enjiro, Senjaku and Tsurunosuke were not sufficiently experienced, the only pure actors from Kamigata were Ganjiro and Mataichiro, his younger brother. Mataichiro had a delicate constitution, however, and only Ganjiro could lead the next generation.

Ganjiro himself was in extreme slump under the pressure of expectations from his surroundings and acute awareness for his great father. In terms of age, Jukai and Jusaburo were leaders. However, although both were very good actors, they lacked the skills to lead the industry. At the promoter Shochiku, after Matsujiro SHIRAI's death, management power shifted to his younger brother (who he had adopted as his male successor), Shintaro SHIRAI. He too, however, had too little ability to revive Kansai Kabuki,, which was already in its period of decline. In addition, because Osaka's economy declined after World War II, sponsors who had supported Kabuki successively relocated to Tokyo. Following World War II, Kansai Kabuki had no strong leader or support and appeared set to collapse at any moment. Immediately before and after Enjaku's death, however, Kansai Kabuki exhibited renewed vigor for a short time. The first stage began with the "two ju era" by Jukai and Jusaburo. With youthful performances, Jukai established a new art that had never been seen in Osaka kabuki. Jusaburo also had been showing such ability in Shinkabuki (new kabuki) as he was called "Sadanji in Kansai," and, gradually his skill in maruhonmono, which was his weak point, began to improve. He came to be recognized as the next generation leader of Kansai Kabuki. "Takechi Kabuki" was started by Tetsuji TAKECHI, who ushered in a new phase in Kansai Kabuki, which had stagnated, through his method of working with young Kansai Kabuki actors and concentrating on staging that emphasized the original work. From among such young actors, Senjaku and Tsurunosuke distinguished themselves and established the "Senkaku Jidai" era. In particular, Senjaku was enormously popular for his tremendously successful performance of "Sonezaki Shinju," and he obtained nationwide awareness that spread beyond the bounds of Kabuki. In 1953, a toshikyogen (performance of an entire play) of "Kanadehon Chushingura" (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) was staged at Teikoku-Gekijo Theater in Tokyo by all-star performance by Kansai Kabuki, including Jukai and Jusaburo. Also, in December of the same year the kaomisekogyo (the season's first performance with the new company) at Minami-za in Kyoto was conducted centered on actors in Kansai. Although such events made it appear that young skills had been nurtured, it proved to be the last flickering of the stage lights just before they burned out.

kabuki in showa

Jusaburo BANDO III died on September 24, 1954. One view considers Kansai Kabuki to have collapsed at this point. Ganjiro and Tomijuro, who had not been given important roles and had been treated coldly in the shadow of the popularity of "soju" and "senkaku," were smoldering with dissatisfaction. Shochiku took only temporary stopgap measures, such as making Jukai perform the star role of Ganjiro I, for example, which injured Ganjiro's pride and showed a lack of consideration for the proper successors of Kansai Kabuki. It was under such conditions that Jusaburo, who played the role of mediator to some extent, died suddenly. Already on September 1, before Jusaburo's death, Tsurunosuke had withdrawn from Shochiku. In April 1955, Minosuke brought accusations against the management of Shochiku at the Regional Legal Affairs Bureau, alleging that the problems with respect to Tsurunosuke constituted human right violations. In addition, within a period of slightly more than six months a series of problems occurred, including the decision by Ganjiro and Senjaku, who were father and son, to join the cinema world. Under such circumstances, the number of theatergoers fell drastically as a matter of course. At this point, the decline and collapse of Kansai Kabuki became clear to all. Jukai, who was comparable to Jusaburo, held the important post of chairman of the Kansai Kabuki Actors' Association, and with his great personality had become the greatest kabuki actor both in name and reality because of his improvement of the level of performance. Because he had been born in Tokyo, however, and partly because of the negative impact of Shochiku's above-mentioned policy of overemphasizing Jukai, no one supported him. As top stars were lost and the number of performances dwindled, actors worried about their future and lost their motivation. Some left Kansai Kabuki and others grew discouraged, and many left even though they continued to be actor.

kabuki and Osaka castle at nightRehabilitation of Kansai Kabuki
In August 1958, Nizaemon KATAOKA XIII held a "Shichinin no Kai" in Osaka Mainichi Hall. This was an independent performance with a lineup of the seven kabuki actors Nizaemon, Ganjiro, Gado KATAOKA (jusandaime)(posthumously, conferred Nizaemon KATAOKA XIV), Mataichiro, Enjaku, Senjaku and Fukusuke NAKAMURA (Takasagoya V) and produced by Koichi YAMAGUCHI. The group performed three times until 1961. It disappeared because of financial reasons, but the performances themselves were successful and served as a motive for rehabilitation of Kansai Kabuki. Despite every effort by people in the business, no kabuki performance was conducted in Osaka in the latter half of the 1950s. As kabuki continued its internal discord, audiences in Osaka looked the other way and flocked to cinema, shinkigeki (new comedy) and popular song shows. Although kabuki was performed at the Shin Kabuki-za Theater to celebrate its grand opening in 1958, the theater came to be used for performances by actresses and entertainers and kabuki was performed only once a year or not at all in certain years. Furthermore, in the latter half of the 1960s the theater was used for kabuki only for performances given in commemoration of actor's succession and memorial performances. On the other hand, kaomisekogyo held in Kyoto at year-end was well rooted among local citizens as a seasonal event and attendance never fell. At one point, however, Osaka's theater was renamed Tozaigodo (literally, east and west jointly) and the number of performances of Tokyo-style kabuki increased. The winter of Kansai Kabuki continued.

Reviving Kansai Kabuki (Nizaemon Kabuki)
kabuki in showa"Nizaemon Kabuki," which was an independent performance by Nizaemon KATAOKA, XIII, commenced on August 19, 1962. Nizaemon, who had taken part in a spectacular show announcing the succession to Danjuro ICHIKAWA XI in Tokyo Kabuki-za in January 1962, also experienced the small audience for the performance at Minami-za in April and was shocked at the depressing conditions of Kansai Kabuki. As he described in his autobiography, he was recommended to move to Tokyo and he considered leaving Kansai and moving to Tokyo He also wrote, however, that "If I gave up Kamigata in its present state, I would not have any excuse not only to the ancestors of the Kataoka family but also to my predecessors who had built up shibai (drama) in Kamigata up until now. By all means, I had to protect Kamigata Kabuki shibai." ("Yakusha nanajunen (literally, seventy years as an actor)" by Nizaemon KATAOKA; published by The Asahi Shimbun Company), and his heart-felt sorrow for kabuki and his thoughts for his ancestors instilled in him the tragic but brave thought that "If failed, I will die with kabuki."(ibid.). Thanks to the cooperation and understanding of his family, Nizaemon started his activity toward independent performances. As a result of his efforts to hold his own press interview to explain his wish and energetically meet with various persons asking for support, the performance held in Bunraku-za Theater was a great success. With the basic policy of an inexpensive admission charge and toshi of Kamigata kyogen, performances were given five times until 1967. Each performance was completed satisfactorily. It had proven that kabuki can also be performed in Osaka, and the last flame of Kansai Kabuki was maintained. Afterwards, together with his son Nizaemon held kabuki kyoshitsu (kabuki classroom) for high school students and continued his effort to foster fans for kabuki. Many kabuki actors actively engaged in kabuki today entered the kabuki world after becoming interested in kabuki through Nizaemon's kabuki kyoshitu. Even in the long history of Kansai Kabuki, the role played by Nizaemon KATAOKA XIII is extremely large.

kabuki in showa period

Rebirth of Kansai Kabuki
Although Kansai Kabuki emerged from the crisis of its collapse thanks to Nizaemon Kabuki, the end of the slump in Kansai Kabuki was not seen in the 1960s and 1970s and conditions of great distress continued. Kabuki was performed sporadically in Dotonbori or Shinkabuki-za but did not last. People in the business were seized by a sense of helplessness, but were unable to take any measures. Kamigata Rakugo (traditional Japanese comic storytelling performed in the Kyoto-Osaka region), which like kabuki had been in slump after World War II, was restored around 1970 and an unprecedented boom in manzai (standup comics) occurred around 1980. Kabuki, however, was still treated as behind the times in Kansai and the desired growth in new fans could not be realized. Under these circumstances, Tojuro SAWAMURA II in Tokyo established the "Kansai de kabuki wo sodateru kai" (Association to Foster Kabuki in the Kansai Region) as an independent performance. It was said his sense of responsibility was roused by the fact that because of the slump in kabuki performance, the Shinkabuki-za in Osaka decided to withdraw from kabuki performances following the final show to announce the succession to stage name for him and his elder brother Sojuro IX. Persons involved in kabuki in Tokyo also harbored a considerable sense of crisis that the decline of Kansai Kabuki might result in the decline of the entire kabuki world. Because of the enthusiasm of people who sought to restore Kansai Kabuki, a subsidy from Osaka City and cooperation from Minrokyo (liaison conference of private sector labor union), the promoter also got moving. In May 1979, the first performance was given in Asahi-za and Funa Norikomi (Kabuki actor on board greets fans on the bank of the river) was conducted for the first time in fifty-two years. This performance was repeated for ten times until 1989. In addition to Sojuro and Tojuro brothers, the father and son actors Kanzaburo NAKAMURA XVII (junanadaime) and Kankuro NAKAMURA (present Kanzaburo NAKAMURA (juhachidaime), Baiko ONOE VII (nanadaime), Danjuro, Kikugoro, Kichiemon, Koshiro and Tomijuro took part from Tokyo. From the local area, Nizaemon KATAOKA XIII, Gado KATAOKA XIII, Ganjiro NAKAMURA II, Takao KATAOKA (present Nizaemon KATAOKA (jugodaime)), Gato KATAOKA, Hidetaro KATAOKA, Enjaku JITSUKAWA III (sandaime), Tokusaburo ARASHI VII, Senjaku NAKAMURA (present Tojuro SAKATA) and others participated. Every year the performance was a major topic, and from the second year it was also performed at Naka-za. In Dotonbori, a sacred place for Kansai Kabuki, banners of kabuki actors lined the street and the performance became a regular annual event for the summer in Osaka. Ennosuke ICHIKAWA III learned from Enjaku JITSUKAWA III and introduced keren staging into his super kabuki. Keren, which had been disdained as a cheap gimmick, found a new lease of life and provided a tailwind for the rehabilitation of Kansai Kabuki. Thanks to efforts of many individuals, kabuki enjoyed a boom with the change from the Showa to Heisei period in 1989. In Osaka the number of young fans of Kabuki also increased when Senjaku NAKAMURA succeeded Ganjiro NAKAMURA as sandaime (III) in 1991. Sadly, however, Enjaku died in the same year, just before the rehabilitation of Kansai Kabuki. In addition, Ganjiro NAKAMURA II died in 1982 and Gado KATAOKA XIII died in 1992, and Nizaemon KATAOKA XIII, who made a major contribution to the rehabilitation of Kansai Kabuki, died in 1993. Here too surged a wave of generational change.

kabuki in postwar period

Kansai Kabuki of Today
Today performances of kabuki well-rooted in Osaka and Kyoto are carried out as seen in the "Kamigata Kabuki Juku (literally, cram school for Kamigata Kabuki)" operated by Shochiku and in "Wakaayu no kai (literally, party of young sweet fish)," which is an independent performance by young actors. Well known names in Kansai Kabuki, such as Kanjaku NAKAMURA V (godaime), Senjaku NAKAMURA III (sandaime), Ainosuke KATAOKA VI (rokudaime) and Kichiya UEMURA VI (rokudaime), have been succeeded by young actors. Plays such as "Kagamiyama" and "Kanadehon Chushingura" are performed after Kamigata-style staging, and in 1998 the Landmark near Ebisubashi was completed as a theater dedicated to theatrical arts. In 2006 Ganjiro NAKAMURA IV succeeded Tojuro SAKATA, which is a legendary name in Kamigata, as yondaime (IV), and talk including revival performances of old program increased. Compared to earlier periods, Kansai Kabuki has revived to certain extent as seen in the increase in the number of performances, fostering of human resources and improvement of staging equipment. Today kabuki performances are held at Osaka Shochiku-za and Kyoto Minami-za several times each year at intervals of a few months.

Minami-za Kabuki Theatre in Kyoto
Minami-za Kabuki Theatre in Kyoto
Shin-Kabuki-za theatre in Osaka
Shin-Kabuki-za theatre in Osaka
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Encyclopedia of Japan