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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Ooku / 大奥
"Oku" means "back portion" and means the private part of a residence, in other words, the women's quarters. "Ooku" means the women's quarters of the shogun's palace. The mansion of a samurai lord, was divided into three sections. The front rooms were for public business and receiving guests. The middle portion was for the lord to conduct business. The back portion was the private realm of the lord and was where the lord's wife, the ladies-in-waiting and his non-adult children lived. Ordinarily the lord was the only man allowed in the women's quarters.
Onnagata / 女方
In kabuki, all roles are played by men and female roles are played by male actors called onnagata. They are usually very feminine and clearly male and instead of imitating a woman directly, use all the techniques of movement, costuming, wigs and make-up to create a picture of ideal femininity.
Kamigata / 上方

"The upper side." Until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Kyoto was the seat of the emperor and one spoke of "going up" to the Kansai region. Now, "kamigata" is a slightly old fashioned term that is used for traditional arts from Kyoto and Osaka.

In the Edo period, Edo (the old name for Tokyo) was a brash new city overwhelmingly dominated by men. Since the city was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate and full of samurai lords from all over the country, the shogunate exercised strict control over every aspect of life.

Kyoto was the ancient seat of the imperial court and had a long tradition of culture and fine crafts.

Osaka was largely a new city and after the defeat of the Toyotomi family in the battle of Osaka castle in 1614 – 1615, grew rapidly as a mercantile center. It was ruled by a representative of the Tokugawa, but since Osaka was far from the shogun himself and there usually were no samurai lords there and, especially, since the samurai there were mostly there to warehouse and sell tax rice, the merchant class and merchant culture were overwhelmingly powerful in Osaka. This energy created the culture that we can see in the plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, the Bunraku puppet theater in general and the comic fiction of Ihara Saikaku. The distinctive mood of the area is crystallized in the tradition of Kamigata kabuki.

Acting families from Kansai like the Sakata Tojuro (Nakamura Ganjiro) family and the Kataoka Nizaemon family bring the flavor of their native place to their acting.

Also see "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero" in the 2014 season.

Nakamura Ganjiro / 中村鴈治郎

Kazutaro's father is now becoming Nakamura Ganjiro IV. This has long been one of the most important names in Kamigata kabuki.

Nakamura Ganjiro I (1860 – 1935) was born in Osaka during the turbulent final years of the Edo period. He started as a nameless actor, but grew into the biggest star in Kansai kabuki. Among his roles, he was famous for gentle wagoto lovers like Jihei in "Kawasho" and people said his Jihei was "the handsomest man in Japan with his head in a hokamuri cloth." When he died, newspapers announced the news in extras and crowds filled the streets of Osaka for his funeral procession.

Nakamura Ganjiro II (1902 – 1983) was an actor of enormous range who became especially popular performing the revival of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's "Sonezaki Shinju" as Tokubei together with his son Senjaku (the current Sakata Tojuro) as Ohatsu. Ganjiro II also appeared in many famous movies including Kurosawa Akira's "Donzoko (The Lower Depths)," Ichikawa Kon's "Enjo (The Golden Pavilion)" and Ozu Yasujiro's "Kohayagawake no Aki (The End of Summer)."

Nakamura Ganjiro III is the previous name for Sakata Tojuro IV (b. 1931). When he was young, he was a sensation as Ohatsu and was as popular as a glamorous star actress. After being Ganjiro III, he revived the name of Sakata Tojuro, the actor who symbolizes the roots of Kamigata kabuki.

Nakamura Ganjiro IV (b. 1959) is Kazutaro's father and held the previous names of Nakamura Tomotaro and Nakamura Kanjaku and in 2015 has succeeded to the name Ganjiro.

Shumei / 襲名

An actor succeeding to a name with a distinguished history. Often this is commemorated with a kojo announcement from the stage and a special program of plays associated with this acting name.

Kojo / 口上

"Stage Announcement." Showing the close relationship between actors and the audience in kabuki, events like the taking of new acting names or the commemoration of some great actor of the past are marked by the actors stepping out of character and speaking directly to the audience. Sometimes this is just a moment in a play, but for important occasions like the taking of a new acting name, this becomes a separate scene with all the stars of the company in formal dress offering their congratulations to the actor.

Wagoto / 和事

"Wa" means "gentle" or "harmonious" and refers to an acting style that is particularly associated with the Kamigata region in Kansai, the area around Osaka and Kyoto. In the early periods of kabuki, Edo audiences liked aragoto heroes; men that were super heroes, larger than life characters. Kansai audiences preferred more realistic plays, or at least, more romantic plays set in the real world. The wagoto characters of Chikamatsu plays are weak and child-like, but their very vulnerability makes them comic and also very sympathetic. There are standard routines associated with wagoto characters, but there is also an entire repertory of physical techniques to create the proper impression of the character.

Also see "Kabuki's Leading Male Roles" and "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero" in the 2014 season.

Ho kamuri / 頬かむり

"Covering the cheeks" This is a cotton cloth worn to hide one's face, but in Kamigata kabuki, when an actor playing a handsome lover wears it, it is used to enhance the attractiveness of the actor's face. For example, this is how Jihei in Kawasho appears. It is actually very difficult to use a simple cotton cloth to do this, so actors have all kinds of secret techniques.

Yujo / 遊女

"Yujo" means "play woman" in other words, a courtesan. "Keisei (castle toppler)" and "oiran" are terms for top ranking courtesans. 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.

Also see "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero" in the 2014 season.

Kintaro / 金太郎

This is a legendary super-human boy who grows into one of the followers of the demon quelling general Minamoto no Yorimitsu, better known as Raiko. In the play Komochi Yamamba, he is called Kintoki. Kintaro is very popular and his image appears in all kinds of places like kites and candies.

Nakamura Kazutaro I / 中村壱太郎

Born in 1990, Nakamura Kazutaro I is the son of Nakamura Ganjiro IV (formerly Nakamura Kanjaku V and Japanese classical dancer Azuma Tokuho II. Living National Treasure Sakata Tojuro IV is his grandfather. Kazutaro is active as a kabuki actor playing mostly female onnagata roles, but also occasionally performing male roles as well. He has also been on NHK radio for several years as the host of Hogaku Jockey, a program that has interviews with a wide variety of guests and plays recordings of traditional Japanese music.