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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Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Seki no To / 積恋雪関扉
—The Snowbound Barrier—
First performed in 1784, the dance play "The Snowbound Barrier" is one of the greatest classics of Tokiwazu narrative music. In the second half, the rustic barrier keeper Sekibei reveals that he is actually the court noble Otomo no Kuronushi in disguise. He tries to cut down the mysterious cherry tree that is blooming in the middle of the snow for a magical ceremony to allow him to become emperor, but he passes out. A courtesan named Sumizome appears and tries to seduce him by, among other things, teaching him the customs of the pleasure quarters. But in the end, she reveals her true form as the spirit of the cherry tree and fights to defeat Sekibei, who now appears as a larger-than-life villain.
Onizoroi Momijigari / 鬼揃紅葉狩
—Viewing the Autumn Leaves with a Group of Demons—
Based on a classical noh play, this shows the court noble Koremochi going to view the red autumn leaves and encountering a beautiful princess and her party of beautiful women but who is actually a demon. After a fight between the demon and Koremochi, Koremochi is saved by the magical power of his sacred sword. The 1887 play “Momijigari” is a famous dance play created by the great kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX, but “Onizoroi Momijigari” is a modern version written in 1960 that follows the general outlines of the classical play but features a group of demons with all the ladies-in-waiting being demons as well.

Also see the explanation of plays for the "Four Seasons of Kabuki.

Shunkyo Kagami Jishi / 春興鏡獅子
—The Kagami Lion Dance—
In the Edo period, since the classical noh theater was the official art form of the samurai class, the shogunate banned the commoner kabuki theater from copying it too closely. The lion dance is based on the noh play “Shakkyo (The Stone Bridge)” and in Edo period kabuki, it was performed in an adaptation for an onnagata female role specialist. Usually a courtesan would dance on the themes of the shishi lion, peony blossoms and butterflies, sometimes dancing with a lion mask, and in the second half, would appear as a delicate (but powerful) feminine version of the shishi. “The Kagami Lion Dance” was created in 1893 by the great kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX. Although Danjuro IX was primarily an actor of male roles, the first half of the dance shows an elegant lady-in-waiting doing a series of elegant dances before being possessed by the spirit of the lion in a puppet of the lion. It is a kind of crystallization of the entire tradition of dance for an onnagata female role specialist. In the second half, the actor appears as a vigorous masculine version of the lion spirit together with child actors as the spirits of butterflies.
Kuruwa Bunsho / 廓文章
—Izaemon and the Courtesan Yugiri—
This play is the best example of the gentle wagoto style of acting from Kamigata (the area around Kyoto and Osaka) perfected by Sakata Tojuro I. Wagoto is exemplified by Izaemon, the son of a fabulously wealthy family who has been disowned because of all the money he has spent on the courtesan Yugiri. He is spoiled and petulant and gets jealous when he thinks that Yugiri is with his rival, but his gentle charm makes it impossible to dislike him. Yugiri is based on a real courtesan and exemplifies the kabuki version of the ideal courtesan of the highest rank.

Please see Key Kabuki Words - Plays mentioned in the program page of "Kabuki's Leading Male Roles"

Meiboku Sendai Hagi / 伽羅先代萩
—The Turmoil in the Date Clan—
This is a play based on a real crisis within the Date clan that ruled Sendai. In the play, the lord of the Date clan is lured by evil advisors into spending all his time with a top-ranking courtesan and is ordered to retire, making his young son the lord of the clan. The young lord is protected in the women’s quarters of the clan’s mansion by his nurse Masaoka. She keeps her son Senmatsu with them, both to keep the little lord company and as a poison taster. Masaoka throws away all the dinner trays sent in and uses her delicate tea implements to cook rice for the young lord. The young lord is visited by two high-ranking women who are plotting to take over the clan and who bring a gift of cakes. Senmatsu eats one of the cakes and realizes it is poisoned and is killed by the villain. Masaoka shows no emotion when her son is killed and protects the young lord. The villains believe that she must have substituted the two boys and give her a scroll with a list of the conspirators. Alone, Masaoka can finally give in to her grief as a mother and she praises her son for sacrificing his life in place of his lord and for giving her the scroll as evidence against the conspirators. But the scroll is taken by a rat, actually the leader of the conspiracy, Nikki Danjo, who has magical powers. An aragoto hero named Otokonosuke has been trying to protect the young lord from the floor below, but Nikki Danjo escapes. He exits triumphantly along the hanamichi runway as though walking on the clouds.

Please see Key Kabuki Words - Plays mentioned in the program page of "Charming Villains"

Honcho Nijushiko: Jusshuko / 本朝廿四孝 十種香
—The Incense Burning—
Princess Yaegaki in "The Incense Burning" is one of the "Three Princesses," three very difficult roles that epitomize the character of kabuki princess. A princess is the daughter of a high-ranking samurai warrior. She is fragile and her sheltered upbringing makes her unaware of the outside world. But when she meets her true love, she shows her underlying strength of will as the daughter of a samurai house and will stop at nothing in order to be united with the man she loves.
Osome Hisamatsu Ukina no Yomiuri / 於染久松色読販
—The Seven Roles of the Love Story of Osome and Hisamatsu—
The love story of Osome, the daughter of a wealthy pawnshop, and Hisamatsu, an apprentice in her family's shop is famous in kabuki and the Bunraku puppet theater. "The Seven Roles of the Love Story of Osome and Hisamatsu" is a special version of the story written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV in 1813 where one onnagata female role specialist plays all the main roles. Six of the roles are from the classical story: Osome, Hisamatsu, a geisha named Koito, Osome's mother, Hisamatsu's sister Takegawa who is a lady-in-waiting in a samurai mansion and Omitsu, Hisamatsu's fiancée in the country. But the seventh role is typical of Nanboku's 19th century style and he created the akuba role of Dote no Oroku, a spirited woman who uses her wits and blackmail to help the protagonists.
Yowanasake Ukina no Yokogushi: Kirare Yosa / 与話情浮名横櫛 切られ与三
—Scarfaced Yosaburo—
This play first written in 1863, shows Yosaburo, the handsome son of a wealthy merchant who falls in love with Otomi, the mistress of a gang boss after a chance encounter on the beach at Kisarazu. But their love affair is discovered and Otomi is thrown into the sea and Yosaburo is cut all over his body before also being dumped into the sea. But both survive. Otomi is kept as a mistress by a wealthy merchant and Yosaburo goes with his friend Yasu, the Bat to extort money. Yosaburo uses his scars to scare people and encourage them to give money to get rid of him. One day Yasu takes Yosaburo to Otomi's house and Yosaburo is astonished that Otomi, whom he thought dead, is alive and living in comfort, seemingly having forgotten all about him. Yosaburo pours out all his love and resentment in a famous speech about how an ill-fated love ruined his life.