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Behind the scenes of Kabuki at Hakataza

June Grand Kabuki is in full swing at Hakataza this month! The eye-catching, vivid costumes and makeup, and the almost lyrical intonation of kabuki should be experienced at least once. But what exactly is kabuki? Click here for an overview. Then to further understand the more technical parts including categories of performances, stage setting mechanisms, character types, music, and more, read on below.

We also have report by Fukuoka Now interns who experienced a recent matinee show. Click here.

Kabuki categories

1. Jidai-mono
A play which deals with stories for the period before the year 1600 and mainly features ancient legends, aristocrats in the Heian period (8th-12th centuries), samurai in the Kamakura period (12th-14th centuries), Buddhist monks, and so on.

2. Sewa-mono
A play that deals with stories featuring the lives of commoners in the Edo period (17th-19th centuries).

3. Buyo-geki
A play featuring the kabuki dance with Shamisen (strings) and songs. One of four kinds of music genres called nagauta, gidayu, tokiwazu and kiyomoto is used in buyo-geki. The buyo-geki in which nagauta is used is called shosagoto, while the buyo-geki in which gidayu, tokiwazu and kiyomoto are used is called joruri.

4. Shin-kabuki
A play featuring stories which incorporate ideas and techniques from western countries.

Stage setting mechanisms

1. Mawari-butai
A revolving stage which carries actors and various pieces of equipment. This has the effect that a scene changes to another scene smoothly and a shift of scenes and situations stands out.

2. Hanamichi
A passage which runs on shimote (the left of the stage as seen from the audience). It is effective in order to bring the audience and actors closer.

3. Kari-hanamichi
A passage which runs on kamite (the right of the stage as seen from the audience).

4. Seri
A device on the mawari-butai which raises and lowers actors and stage equipment automatically.

5. Suppon
A device which is located at three-tenths of the hanamichi from the side of the stage and raises and lowers actors.

6. Yuka (Chobo-yuka)
A place inside which the string players play the strings and narrators narrate.

7. Kuro-misu
A black room inside which instrument players perform an accompaniment to the kabuki play.

8. Joshiki-maku
A formal curtain colored black, yellowish red and dark green.

9. Age-maku
An entrance curtain.

A visually eccentric choreography in which an actor who plays the role of a ghost or a specter is hoisted with wires hanging over the stage so that the actor can seem to be flying in the air.

Unique traditions

1. Shumei
It means that an actor succeeds his predecessor’s name, most often that of the actor’s father, grandfather or teacher. When the shumei is done, a performance commemorating his succession is performed. The performance includes kojo.

2. Kojo
A verbal message delivered when an announcement of shumei is made. In kojo, main actors in a suit with a family crest called Kamishimo make a congratulatory speech with the main actors lined up on the stage.


1. Hime
A princess who is cute and elegant. A male actor plays the role of hime as well.

2. Oiran
A courtesan who is beautiful, intelligent and cultivated.

3. Yurei
A ghost who appears with creepy music.

4. Hero
A champion of justice who appears and defeats bad fellows.

5. Dorobo
A robber. However, robbers in the kabuki play such as Ishikawa Goemon are often cool!

6. Uma
A horse, performed by two actors. Horses in the kabuki play range from fine horses to draft horses.

Kabuki terms

1. Mie
It means that an actor stops his movement for a moment and then looks daggers at somebody. This behavior is conducted when the emotion of a character reaches its climax.

2. Roppo
An actor moves his hands and feet dynamically in six directions including up, down, east, west, south and north. This behavior shows the forcefulness and the climax of the emotion of a character.

3. Koken
A member of staff who helps an actor change clothes and gives the actor props inconspicuously. He wears black clothes normally but wears a wig and a suit called kamishimo consisting of a sleeveless jacket and a separated skirt in a particular play.

4. Kuro-go
One of the koken who wears black clothes. The black color means “nothing” in kabuki. The kuro-go is supposed to be invisible to the audience.

5. Matsubamemono
One of the plays which incorporate the style of noh (the Japanese classical performing art) into the kabuki play. In matsubamemono a plate on which a pine tree is drawn is located at the front of the stage.

6. Tsuke
Sound effects which are generated by hitting a plate with a wooden clapper. These sound effects emphasize the mie and footsteps.

7. Ki
Wooden clappers which are beaten shortly before the kabuki play starts and when the play ends.

Kumadori (stage makeup)

1. Beni-guma
Stage makeup with red stripes over a white foundation. This makeup style symbolizes virtue, bravery or youthfulness.

2. Ai-guma
Stage makeup with blue stripes over a white foundation. This makeup style symbolizes something weird, a great evil or an enemy.

3. Taisha-guma
Stage makeup with dark brown stripes over a light brown foundation. This makeup style symbolizes a supernatural monster such as a ghost or a demon.


1. Nagauta
The music style most often used as background music in buyo-geki and other kabuki plays, which mainly deals with the description of visual scenes. This music style comprises shamisen (strings), small and big Japanese hand drums, flutes, and so on.

2. Gidayu
The music style originated by Takemoto Gidayu, a famous joruri chanter. This music style is often used in a puppet show and deals with the description of deeds or incidents. A broad-neck shamisen is used.

3. Tokiwazu
The music style which was popular as music used in buyo-geki. It has flowing melodies and a lighter rhythm than that of gidayu. A medium-neck shamisen is used.

4. Kiyomoto
The music style of joruri which came about in the late Edo period. It is often used in a dance performance. In this music style, high pitched voices and sensual melodies with complex melody lines are used. A medium-neck shamisen is used.

Click here for the June Grand Kabuki matinee and evening shows at Hakataza.

Art & Culture
Published: Jun 11, 2018 / Last Updated: May 27, 2019

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