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.
  • program tab
  • word tab
  • program tab
  • word tab
Onnagata / 女方
Male actors playing female roles.
Izumo-no-Okuni / 出雲のお国
A woman who performed songs and dances called "kabuki odori" around 1600 on a stage in the dry riverbed of Kyoto. She became wildly popular and attracted imitators, especially the female prostitutes of the time. In 1629 the shogunate banned women on stage as a threat to public order. Eventually this led to very highly developed techniques for men to play women's roles, the art of the onnagata female role specialist.
Keisei / 傾城
Keisei is a general term for courtesan, but like the word "oiran," is often used for the very top class of courtesan. Courtesans are considered to be the most important role for an onnagata female role specialist to master since it is most difficult for a man to portray the delicate charm of a courtesan and the ideal of feminine allure. "Keisei" literally means "castle toppler" and the top class of courtesans were cultured and highly refined and their company was so fabulously expensive that only samurai lords and the wealthiest commoners could afford it, often leading to their ruin. Yugiri and Agemaki in "Sukeroku" are examples of keisei. "Yujo" is another general term for courtesan. "Geisha" means "artistic entertainer" and in the Edo period referred to a woman who was theoretically not a prostitute and entertained with music and dance. The Fukagawa unlicensed pleasure district was famous for its geisha who wore long haori coats and were very spirited. Koito, the woman who is killed by her lover in "The Fireman Sashichi and the Geisha Koito," is an example of a Fukagawa geisha.
Kuruwa /
"Kuruwa" literally means "castle enclosure" but is used for the licensed pleasure quarters of the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Usually the pleasure quarters were surrounded by walls and there were checkpoints at the entrances to keep track of people going in and out. Men went to the pleasure quarters not only because of the licensed brothels, it was also one of the few places that people could socialize, especially commoners who, however wealthy, were considered far inferior to the ruling samurai class.

Please see Key Kabuki Words - kabuki terms in the program page of "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero"

Goshinzo-san / ご新造さん
A respectful term for someone’s wife. It is one of the terms used by Scarfaced Yosaburo when he encounters his lover Otomi, who seems to have forgotten about him and become the kept mistress of a wealthy man.
Akuba / 悪婆
Spirited and attractive woman who does not hesitate to use extortion, if necessary in what is usually presented as a virtuous cause. Dote no Oroku is an example of an akuba.
Ebizori / 海老ぞり
"Prawn backbend." One of the most spectacular movements for a female role, usually in a dance, the woman bends backward, as though oppressed by some superior force.
Tanka / 啖呵
Kabuki is full of speeches that are displays of elocution. "Tanka" or "Fighting words," is a speech, usually with elaborate images and often in poetic rhythm when a character uses words to introduce him or herself proudly, or to build someone up or to cut them down.
Oshiroi / 白粉
This is the standard white make-up that is used in kabuki. In the past it was poisonous since it was made with lead. Today it is non-toxic. It is the same make-up that is also used by geisha, but they use a very thin layer that allows the natural skin color to show through. Whether for male or female characters, it suggests a refined character that does not have to work outside a lot.
Uchikake / 打掛
The overrobe worn by female characters. Although really just a kimono that is worn on top and not tied with a sash, it indicates wealth and rank. Often these robes are elaborately decorated with thickly embroidered patterns. In a play, often when a female character takes off her uchikake it indicates intimacy or that she is revealing some kind of underlying emotional truth about herself.