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The History of Kabuki (1) / Female kabuki

The history of kabuki began in 1603 when Okuni of Izumo, possibly a miko of Izumo Taisha, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. Female performers played both men and women in comic playlets about ordinary life.

The style was instantly popular; Okuni was even asked to perform before the Imperial Court. In the wake of such success, rival troupes quickly formed, and kabuki was born as ensemble dance and drama performed by women -- a form very different from its modern incarnation. Much of its appeal in this era was due to the ribald, suggestive performances put on by many troupes; this appeal was further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution. For this reason, kabuki was also written "歌舞妓" (singing and dancing prostitute) during the Edo Period.

File:Okuni kabuki byobu-zu cropped and enhanced.jpg
(The earliest portrait of Okuni (1600s) / Image)

Kabuki theatre was first credited to a woman named Okuni of Izumo who performed this new and exotic dance in the Edo period of Japan in 1603. Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate, enforced by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ruled with shogun of the Tokugawa family. The name of the Edo period is derived from the Tokugawa regime having relocated the capital city from its former home in Kyoto to the city of Edo. Edo is known in the present day as Tokyo.

(Okuni Kabuki / Image)

Kabuki was a wild, new form of entertainment in the ukiyo, or Yoshiwara, the registered red-light district in Edo. Kabuki was an extravagant social setting. A diverse crowd gathered under one roof, something that happened nowhere else in the city.
The variety of the social classes which mixed at the kabuki performances was what irked the shogunate. Kabuki theaters were a place to see and be seen. Kabuki featured the latest fashion trends and current events. The stage provided good entertainment with exciting new music, patterns, clothing, and famous actors. The theatre was an all-day event; the performance went from morning until sunset. The teahouses surrounding or connected to the theater provided meals, refreshments, and good company.

(Okuni Kabuki / Image)

The area around the theatres was lush with shops selling kabuki souvenirs. Kabuki started Japanese pop culture and maintained a devise for social inclination. Not long after the original performance, word traveled fast, and kabuki became tremendously popular. The shogunate was never partial to kabuki theatre and all the mischief it brought. Kabuki went through tremendous leaps, trying to appease the harsh restrictions by the government. Women’s kabuki, called onna-kabuki, was banned from the stage in 1629 for being too erotic.
Following onna-kabuki, young boys performed in wakashu-kabuki, but since they too were eligible for prostitution the shogun government soon banned wakashu-kabuki as well. Kabuki finally settled with adult male actors, called yaro-kabuki in the mid 1600’s. Male actors played both female and male characters. The theatre was as popular as ever, and remained the entity of the urban lifestyle even until modern times.
Although kabuki was performed all over ukiyo and other portions for the country, three kabuki theatres set themselves apart from the rest and became the top theatres in ukiyo. The Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres are where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held.

(Okuni Kabuki / Image)

In kabuki's nascent period, women were the only performers in the plays. Soon women began attracting the wrong types of audiences and gaining too much attention from men. This type of attention raised some eyebrows and officials felt as if women were degrading the art of kabuki. In 1629, women were banned from appearing in kabuki performances.

By T.S. on May 26, 2010
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tag : History of kabuki (1603–1629) / Female



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Author:T. SATOH