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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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Kuruwa /

"Pleasure quarters" "Kuruwa" can mean "castle enclosure" and came to refer to the licensed pleasure quarters because they were also enclosed by walls and entry and exit restricted.

Also see "The Beauty of Onnagata" and "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero" programs in the 2014 season.

Yoshiwara / 吉原

The Yoshiwara pleasure quarters was the only prostitution district licensed to operate by the shogunate. After briefly being in the Nihonbashi district, it was moved northeast to the outskirts of Edo beyond Asakusa.

Yujo / 遊女

"Courtesan" or "prostitute"
There were many ranks of prostitute, from very high ranking courtesans who were models of refinement and culture, to very low-ranking prostitutes in the cheaper houses. The top-ranking courtesans were fabulously expensive and were worthy of being wives of samurai lords. But after the 17th century, the most exalted rank disappeared, although the top-ranking courtesans that remained were pretty fabulous until the end of the pleasure quarters.

Also see "The Beauty of Onnagata" program in the 2014 season and "Nakamura Kazutaro: The Rising Star of Kabuki"program in the Kazutaro season.

Oiran dochu / 花魁道中

"Parade of a high-ranking courtesan"
There was a high degree of division of labor in the Yoshiwara. There were teahouses, places for patrons to be introduced to the courtesans and that also handled all the bookkeeping. There were also the brothels themselves where the courtesan slept and had banquets and sat in show windows. Then the food was all cooked in other specialized kitchens and carried on tables to banquet chambers.

The parade of a courtesan were the journeys between the teahouses and brothels. They were headed by young men with clanging metal staffs and included child apprentices called "kamuro," the procuress, several junior courtesans and male entertainers called "taiko mochi."

Kado / 華道

"the way of flower arranging"
The high ranking courtesans showed their culture by their mastery of various arts. Flower arranging is also known as "ikebana" and there are many classical schools that require knowledge of the classical associations of plants and flowers as well as a sense of form and composition. These flower arrangements often adorned the decorative alcove in a banquet room.

Sho /

"calligraphy"
Calligraphy is another one of the cultured arts and receiving a love letter from a courtesan was an opportunity to appreciate her exquisite calligraphy. In the late 18th century, there was even a famous book of woodblock prints that purported to show top-ranking courtesans along with samples of their calligraphy.

Waka / 和歌

"classical Japanese poetry"
There is a long tradition of poetry going back to very ancient times and courtesans were expected to be able to add references to the classics to their conversation and to be able to compose poetry spontaneously.

Miuke / 身請け

"buying out a courtesan's contract"
Courtesans lived as virtual slaves, but were under contract and usually were tied to their houses by extensive debts. When a patron was in love with a courtesan and wanted to make her his wife, he could get her by buying out her contract, shouldering her debts and paying a hefty fee to the brothel. This was the only way for a woman to escape the pleasure quarters before her contract – often for many years – was up.

Aiso zukashi / 愛想づかし

"rejecting a lover"
After exchanging oaths of love and loyalty, a woman might reject her lover. In kabuki, this is not because the woman has lost her love for the man, but is usually for secret reasons, often for the sake of the man, although she cannot tell him the truth. Thinking that the woman is faithless, this often leads to tragedy.

Kagotsurube / 籠釣瓶

The name of Jirozaemon's sword. "Kago" means "basket" and "tsurube" means "well bucket." This means that the cutting edge of the sword is so fine, it is like an open-work basket that is so excellent that it can hold water despite being full of holes. In the original story of Sano Jirozaemon, this sword was passed down through his family and the sword has a curse on it, which is why Jirozaemon's face is poxmarked and disfigured.

Koto /

A thirteen-string instrument like a zither. This is often played by refined women.

Shamisen / 三味線

The three-stringed shamisen was often used in refined chamber music along with the koto as well as being used in the pleasure quarters and the theater.

Kokyu / 胡弓

A three-stringed bowed instrument constructed like a small shamisen. It is also often used in chamber music along with the koto, shamisen and shakuhachi.

Giri tate / 義理立て

"to fulfill an obligation"
"Giri" means a very finely calibrated obligation, which is also virtually mandatory. In "The Love Suicides at Amijima," the woman's bond between the courtesan Koharu and Jihei's wife Osan is the pivot of the dramatic action. It is dubious that anyone actually believed in this kind of obligation, but is embodied in this play as a kind of moral ideal.

Yoshiwara Omon / 吉原大門

"The Great Main Gate of the Yoshiwara"
The Yoshiwara was surrounded by a moat and there was only one gate. This allowed the gatekeeper to examine everyone going in and out and prevented women from escaping and known criminals from entering.

Nage-komi dera / 投げ込み寺

"dumping temple"
A temple nearby the pleasure quarters where brothels would dump the bodies of dead courtesans without family willing to collect the bodies (and pay for funerals). For that reason, the names of these women who were dumped here are unknown and they were all interred in a collective grave.