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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Gakuya / 楽屋

The word means something like "music room" and originally was the preparation space in Noh theaters. Now it means "dressing room" and in a kabuki theater, there is a very fine hierarchy of rooms, where they are, whether they are shared. A star dressing room can be quite luxurious with personal make-up desk and furniture and, of course, flowers from fans. But for low-ranking actors, there is the obeya "big room"

Shitaji (Binzuke Abura) / 下地(鬢付け油)

Before the white make-up is brushed on, the actor spreads a sticky wax on his skin as a kind of shitaji or "foundation." He uses the same kind of wax which is used to dress Japanese style hair and wigs, binzuke abura, which is used in all kinds of places in kabuki to stick things together, for example, the straps of the headcap that goes on under the wig and the parts of the katsuo fish that was featured in the program on "Unique Stage Props."

This shitaji is extremely important because otherwise, the water based white make-up will not stick to the skin. The extent to which the shitaji is smooth and even, with no bare spots, determines how nicely the white make-up will go on.

Oshiroi / 白粉

White make-up. This comes as a white paste. Water is added and it is mixed up like shaving cream, then applied with a brush. This must be done quickly because if part of the make-up dries and wet make-up is painted on next to it, the two sections will not dry to exactly the same color. Then the white make-up is tamped onto the skin with a brush or sponge.

Bokashi / ぼかし

Some onnagata like to soften the white color with a little pink. But there are many ways to do this. It depends on the taste of the individual actor and this is one of the secret skills of an onnagata. Some actors paint red make-up on before putting on the white make-up and let the color bleed through as pink. Others mix some red into the white make-up and paint on sections of pink on top of the white make-up.

Me-hari / 目はり

"eye emphasizer"
These are spots of pure red on the corners of the eye to make the eyes look bigger.

Katsura /

Kabuki wigs are on a metal base. These skullcaps are made to fit the actor's head perfectly. A craftsman shapes little pieces of metal with a little anvil and hammer and rivets them on. Then hair is put onto this base. The wig is then dressed like real hair and ornaments put on. Human hair is used for most wigs, although the hair for supernatural creatures and lions is animal hair.

Oku Goten / 奥御殿

"rear or inner palace"
In a samurai mansion there were three sections, the omote or "front" section where high ranking male samurai conducted the official business of the clan, the chu-oku or "middle back" section which is where the lord lived and conducted his official business. Then the oku or "rear" section of the mansion is where the lord's wife and his ladies-in-waiting were. Ordinarily the lord was the only man allowed into the oku. The ladies that served there were also expected to do all the duties of male samurai and had to be able to fight to protect the wife of the lord.

Zori / 草履

In English, the word "zori" is often used for cheap flip-flop sandals, but in Japanese this word is used for flat footwear with thongs that range from cheap ones like those to the elegant zori that people wear with kimono. In the Edo period, there were all kinds of zori, some being reserved for people in special social positions or of special status.

Hana Yome Isho / 花嫁衣装

"bride's costume"
In a traditional wedding, a bride wears an all white kimono and a deep white hood. There are various explanations for the white, but white is also the color of death and could indicate that the bride is dead to her family as she enters her husband's household. It could also indicate that the bride is a kind of blank slate to be colored in by her husband and his family. In the past, often, after the wedding, the cloth was dyed so that it could be worn as a normal kimono.

Ganjiro Junikyoku / 玩辞楼十二曲

"Twelve Favorite Plays of Nakamura Ganjiro I"
These are twelve roles and, by association, the plays in which these roles appear, which were the specialty of Nakamura Ganjiro I. Many, although not all, are archetypical wagoto roles. They include roles like Jihei in "Kawasho," Chubei in "Fuin Giri," Izaemon in "Kuruwa Bunsho" and Yohei in "Futatsu Chocho Kuruwa Nikki."