Key Kabuki Words Key Kabuki Words
Kabuki is spectacular and you don’t have to know anything to enjoy it. But a little bit of information about a few of the terms and the plays makes it even better.
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Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura / 助六由縁江戸桜
—Sukeroku, Flower of Edo—

"Sukeroku" was first staged in 1713 starring Ichikawa Danjuro II. Although it takes the names for the roles from a Kansai love suicide play, the contents are totally different. The great handsome lover Sukeroku is supposed to actually be the bombastic aragoto hero Soga no Goro. But the play is mostly a pageant of Edo culture and the splendor of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. The costumes for Sukeroku are models of chic fashion, the robes for the courtesan Agemaki are the most lavish in kabuki and even the villain Ikkyu has a handsome and heavily decorated kimono.

Also see "Larger-Than-Life Heroes" in the 2014 season.

Nemuru ga Rakuda Monogatari / 眠駱駝物語
—Rakuda—

"Rakuda" is a relatively recent play, having premiered in 1928, but it is based on a very famous Rakugo comic story. In the program, this play is an example of the care that goes into costuming sewamono plays about ordinary commoners. The clothing that was once available easily is now very difficult to replicate and often, kimonos that look drab from the audience are full of rich color when you look at them close up. The color is necessary to give the costumes impact when seen from a distance.

The story is about a gang member named Rakuda who is disliked by everyone around him. One day, he dies from fugu blowfish poisoning and his fellow gang member Hanji has to find a way to bury the body. He forces a passing wastepaper collector named Kyuroku to help him. Kyuroku is very timid and Hanji forces him to go to the neighbors and the landlord to contribute money to bury Rakuda. But no one wants to do that because everyone is just happy that Rakuda is dead. Hanji forces Kyuroku to carry the body and make it dance to the song "kan kan nou." The other residents of the tenement not only give money, but contribute food and sake for Rakuda's funeral. But as Hanji and Kyuroku drink, gradually the timid Kyuroku gets more and more aggressive until in the end, he's pushing Hanji around.

Honcho Nijushiko – Okuniwa / 本朝廿四孝~奥庭
—The Japanese Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety – The Inner Garden—

The story of Princess Yaegaki has appeared several times before in this program, but this time is featured for the costume change. In the inner garden, she is possessed by a fox spirit. Often this is showed by the technique called hikinuki. The costume comes in several parts and the upper layer is held on with cords. The actor and stagehands pull out the cords and the top layer is pulled off to reveal another kimono underneath. In this case, it has a pattern of foxfires to show that Princess Yaegaki has been possessed by a fox spirit.

Also see "Hands-on Kabuki: Animals and Vehicles" in the first Kazutaro season.

Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Seki no To / 積恋雪関扉
—The Snowbound Barrier—

This is one of the greatest dance plays in the kabuki repertory and shows a larger-than-life villain disguised as a humble barrier keeper who is defeated by the spirit of an ancient cherry tree who appears in the form of a beautiful courtesan. When they reveal their true forms, this is again shown through an instantaneous costume change that takes place on stage. In this case, the technique is called bukkaeri. The top half of the costume falls down to drape over the lower half. This is used to show that the character is showing its true identity. There is a slight difference in male and female forms of this costume change. The entire top half of a male costume drapes down, but in a female costume, the sleeves come off and only the part of the kimono over the torso drapes down.

Also see "The Beauty of Onnagata" in the 2014 season.

Shunkyo Kagami Jishi / 春興鏡獅子
—The Kagami Lion Dance—

This dance has appeared in this program several times before. One actor plays both a delicate lady-in-waiting in the shogun's palace and the dynamic, masculine spirit of the lion. Costume plays a crucial role in this transformation and the actor goes from a delicate woman in a feminine kimono to a costume for the lion which is an adaptation of the costume and wig for a lion spirit used in the Noh play "Shakkyo (The Stone Bridge)." Instead of the fierce mask used in the Noh play, the actor has kabuki kumadori make-up. But the upper part of the costume is the vest-like coat called a "happi." ("Happi coats" in take their name from this kind of coat, even though the form is somewhat different.) Then they wear an outsize hakama divided skirt called an "ooguchi ('big mouth')" because it has big openings on the side. Often the back is held up and out with a piece of wood shaped like a slingshot and this is a place where the cords can be wrapped and tied.

Also see "The Beauty of Onnagata" and "Unique Kabuki Props" in the 2014 season and "Nakamura Kazutaro: The Rising Star of Onnagata" in the first Kazutaro season.