An introduction to the world of Kabuki

Japanese traditional culture

Hello. I’m Yuko.

It’s been cold every day, but today February 3rd is “Risshun(りっしゅん)” which is a turning point from the peak of cold winter to spring. Warm spring is just around the corner!

By the way, I went to see a Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo this New Year’s vacation.

Bando Tamasaburo is a living national treasure with a female figure carrying the Kabuki world.
He’s a 71-years-old guy but he is a totally woman in his performance no matter how you look at it!

The standing behavior was very beautiful and made me think a lot about “femininity”.

I like Kabuki and today I would like to talk about the introductory part of “Kabuki”.

The world of Kabuki is very difficult to understand from the outside, as there are many Kabuki actors and many names.

It is a narrow and dark world where everyone can become relatives if they trace their origins.
However, only the order is clearly fixed, and the family, blood relations, and achievements are intricately intertwined.

Ichikawa Soke (Narita-ya)

The first thing to remember is “Ichikawa Soke(The family of Ichikawa)”.

In the world of Kabuki, there is no absolute standard for judging the good or bad of art. So, when rating, one criterion is “how many years the family has been running”.

Narita-ya, the genealogy of Danjuro Ichikawa, first started the style of gathering customers in the Edo period (1695) and showing them the arts that pleased them.
The Ichikawa family is the origin of Kabuki and is called Ichikawa Soke.

Ichikawa Danjuro is the head of the family. The name is taken generation to generation. However, “Ichikawa Danjuro” is currently absent.

Ebizo Ichikawa(The name one below Danjuro) was scheduled to take the name of Danjuro Ichikawa in 2020, but the name succession was postponed due to the situation of COVID-19.

(When the new Danjuro Ichikawa is born, kabuki performance will be held in various parts of Japan for about two years. It was postponed as many customers get together in the hall.)

So who is the current top of the Kabuki world while Danjuro Ichikawa is absent? The heads of the other prestigious families such as Kikugoro One, Koshiro Matsumoto, Nizaemon Kataoka, and Kichiemon Nakamura, are now the major figures.


And the next topic is “Yago”.

Each Kabuki actor has a “yago”. It is a title name given to the family based on the characteristics of the family. There are examples used in Japan and Europe.

In the Edo period, surnames were not allowed except for samurai, so it is said that actors may have come to use the family title name as well as merchants and large farmers.

Famous yago are “Naritaya” which I told already. And “Otowaya”, “Koraiya”, “Nakamuraya”, “Narikomaya” and “Matsushimaya”.

This yago is uttered in a loud voice from the back of the audience seats when Kabuki is being performed on the stage, and the stage is lively.

This vocalist (the other side) exists as a job only for vocalization.

How was the introduction to Kabuki?
It’s a deep world, but if you take a step forward, you may discover something new!


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