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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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Shiki / 四季

"The Four Seasons"
The seasons have always been important in Japanese culture and perhaps the clearest guide to the way of thinking can be found in the preface to the 10th century imperial poetic anthology the "Kokinshu (Anthology of Poetry Ancient and Modern)" which was the first official poetry anthology and set the standard for classical Japanese poetry to the present.

In the preface by the chief compiler, poet Ki no Tsurayuki, he said that the sights and sounds of nature naturally move the poet and those feelings are expressed in words – the words of poetry. In turn, these words of poetry and move human beings and even influence gods and demons and the cosmos itself.

Many of the poems in the "Kokinshu" are in books divided by the season. But the seasons are not all equal. The most books are devoted to spring and autumn. This is because these are the seasons with the most variety and change and these changes are followed very minutely. Also, spring is dominated by the image of cherry blossoms and autumn by the image of the moon. Most of the poetry seems to be nature poetry, but it is always in a human context. The sequence of the seasons is also overlaid onto the stages of human life with winter representing old age.

Sakura /

"Cherry Blossoms"
Cherry blossoms are so quintessentially the ultimate Japanese flower that in Japanese poetry and the word "hanami," "hana" meaning "flower" doesn’t mean just any flower, it means "sakura" "cherry." In Japanese poetry, other flowers need to be named specifically.

In kabuki, cherry blossoms can appear as part of the set, or strings of blossoms can be suspended over the stage, but also, small pieces of Japanese rice paper colored pink and cut in the shape of cherry petals can be dropped on the stage. (See "Snow.")

Cherry blossoms can also be a part of the design on a costume. The kimono changes several times in "Musume Dojoji," but only the background color changes. The pattern of cherry blossoms stays the same.

Tsuzumi /

"Hand Drum"
This is the shoulder drum from the flute and percussion ensemble in the classical Noh theater and is used frequently in kabuki music. In "Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees," the drum is named "Hatsune" and is a great treasure of the imperial house. It is supposed to be able to magically make it rain because it is made with the skins of magical foxes.

"Hatsune" also means "the first bird song of spring" and represents the joyful sound of the uguisu bush warbler greeting the plum blossoms which are the first flowers to appear, often while there is still snow on the ground.

Suppon / すっぽん

"Trap Door"
There are all kinds of trap doors and stage lifts, but the suppon is a special trap door and lift in the hanamichi runway. It is used for the entrances of supernatural creatures. "Suppon" actually means "snapping turtle" and apparently it got that name because when the actor appeared it looked just like a turtle poking its head out of its shell.

Dogucho / 道具帳

"Picture of Stage Set"
These are paintings of the stage settings that serve both as records of the stage design and the basis for new sets. The drawing is a miniature, in scale version of the set and then is blown up to full size for the actual set.

Natsu Matsuri / 夏祭り

"Summer Festival"
At a Shinto shrine a period of time – six months, a year, or two or three years – is marked with a festival. The godhead is taken out of the main shrine and put in a portable shrine or mikoshi. Or the godhead might be installed in a temporary shrine. The essence of a Shinto god is power and a festival usually has people carrying the portable shrine around the territory of the shrine, shaking it powerfully, or rather, the god is shaking the mikoshi. With some festivals these mikoshi take the form of floats and sometimes the pullers run as fast as they can with these floats and there are fights between these gangs when they encounter each other. Because the Shinto god is energy, it is only natural for there to be many rituals that are very energetic and sometimes violent and even dangerous.

Irezumi / 刺青

Tattoos have been a part of Japanese culture since prehistoric times. In the Edo period, criminals were marked with a blue band tattooed on their arm. Even if they were not actually criminals, many men in rough trades show their strength with florid tattoos that cover their body. Not only are the designs very powerful, the process of being tattooed is extremely painful. So the very existence of these tattoos testifies to the strength and endurance of the bearer.

Hon mizu / 本水

"Real water"
Often for spectacular effect and to cool off the audience, real water is used. Sometimes there is so much water that it splashes on to audience members in the front row. The theater provides covers to the people in the front row, which is why in all theaters and arenas, not just kabuki, the front row is called "kabukitsuki" "the row where covering is supplied."

Also see the program on "Unique Stage Structures."

Sensu / 扇子

Fans are important in kabuki dances where they serve as a kind of scepter to allow someone to be expressive in the presence of superiors and also represent wind and rain and all kinds of objects. In the dance "Momijigari" the dancer also uses the very unusual technique of using two fans.Of course, in daily life, fans also help people to fight the heat in an age before the invention of air conditioning. In kabuki, the way people fan themselves can express character and personality. For example the way that in a play like "Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami" the big and powerful personalities of the main characters is shown.

Momiji / 紅葉

"Autumn leaves"
"Momiji" actually means "maple leaves," but also is the word for "red autumn leaves," so gives the idea that among the various colored leaves, maple leaves are the most representative and that the maples are most maple-like when

Kiku /

Chrysanthemums are a favorite flower in Japan. They symbolize the imperial house and in ancient tradition, sages would live by drinking the dew off of chrysanthemum blossoms, which would give them long life. Starting in the Edo period, it also became popular to grow chrysanthemums in all kinds of shapes and colors and to even create dolls with chrysanthemums. These dolls are nearly life size like store mannequins and the hands and faces are molded and carved like ordinary dolls, but the clothing is made with spans of living chrysanthemum blossoms.

Yuki /

In kabuki, snow is expressed in three ways:
1) Pieces of paper sprinkled from above
2) Percussion music with the big drum played with a padded drumstick. (See "Haruka Visits the Kabuki World" for the "Charming Villains Program." You can see the video online "Kabuki Goes Abroad.")
3) Shamisen music. There is a short melody that comes from a jiuta dance called "Yuki (snow)." You can hear it in the program as Naojiro leaves the soba noodle shop.

When snow is expressed with paper, there are small squares of Japanese rice paper that are in baskets over the stage. The baskets are woven to have very large openings and when the baskets are shaken, usually with a rope from below, the snow will fall on the stage.

Asagi maku / 浅葱幕

"Light blue curtain"
Often scenes will be hidden with a blue curtain that drops to reveal the scene all at once, instead of gradually from one side as with the usual kabuki pull curtain. "Asagi" is now usually written with Chinese characters that mean "light yellow," but the original character meant "green onion." Originally the color was a very light green, but now the curtain is sky blue.

Soba / 蕎麦

"Buckwheat noodles"
In Japan there are a variety of kinds of noodles, but in particular soba and udon are popular. Soba is made with a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flour and is brown and relatively hard and the noodles thin. Udon is all wheat flour and is white and the noodles thick. In general, soba is more popular in eastern Japan and udon is more popular in western Japan. This is one of the foods that is often eaten for real on the kabuki stage and the way of eating shows the personality of the character.

Hibachi / 火鉢

"Charcoal brazier"
In traditional Japanese homes, people kept warm with charcoal in a box or a pottery tub. Sometimes a pot of hot water was kept there as well, but unlike the little barbeques sold in America under the name "Hibachi," they were not used for cooking.

Maku no Uchi Bento / 幕の内弁当

"Traditional Japanese box lunch"
"Maku no uchi" literally means "inside the curtain." There are a variety of theories about the origin of this name, whether it means the curtained enclosure for a picnic or refers to a theater curtain meaning a boxed lunch to be eaten at the kabuki theater. But in any case, now it means a luxurious box lunch with a wide variety of items. Kabuki programs last many hours, but there are several intermissions and always one long one to eat. Kabuki-za has several different restaurants and also sells a wide variety of bento for patrons to enjoy while visiting the kabuki theater.