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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Kamigata / 上方

This is the region around Kyoto and Osaka. Kyoto was the seat of the emperor and the entire area was full of craftsmen from ancient times. Because Osaka was also the central market, especially for the tax rice that was collected in western Japan, it became a very vital economic center. Naturally, Osaka people developed a hard-headed rational approach to the world, but equally naturally, stories and drama showed lives in merchant households.

For more on Kamigata, see "Wagoto: Ladies' Man as Hero" in the 2014 season and "Nakamura Kazutaro: The Rising Star of Kabuki" and "Hands on Kabuki: Animals and Vehicals" in the first Kazutaro Season.

obiya / 帯屋

Obi are sashes for kimono. These range from sober and simple ones for men to very elaborate and expensive ones for women. Now obi are sold in kimono shops, but in the Edo period, there could even be shops specializing in them. In the play, Choemon's shop is in Kyoto, close to the Nishijin district which has long been famous for weaving fine materials.

sakaya / 酒屋

"sake shop."

Before the Edo period, this usually referred to places that both made and sold sake. In the Edo period, this came to refer to stores that sold sake made elsewhere. Usually people came with containers and sake was put into it from a barrel. But there were also kegs that could be borrowed, especially kegs with long, horn-like handles that were used to present sake as a gift for some occasion.

shojo tsuma / 処女妻

"virgin wife."

This is a very unusual term and describes the fact that Osono was married to Hanshichi, but the marriage was never consummated because Hanshichi was virtually married to a dancing girl. Nevertheless, Osono loves Hanshichi.

kando / 勘当


In the Edo period, there was joint responsibility for everything. So if a member of your family committed a crime, everyone in the family could be punished, or all the members of a neighborhood group or professional association. On occasion, a person could be expelled from the group, but that meant totally cutting off ties with that person. In "Sakaya," Hanshichi is disowned by his father. In "Sushiya," Gonta has been disowned by Yazaemon. But this means cutting off all contact with the person and any contact could be taken as evidence that the disownment was not real. Of course, the natural feelings of a parent often competed with these legal demands and this is the emotional conflict that is depicted in the plays featured in this program.

sushiya / すし屋

"sushi shop."

In "Yoshitsune and the Cherry Trees," the sushi is not the familiar kind today, nigiri-zushi with raw fish on little balls of seasoned rice. It is oshi-zushi, where fresh fish is fermented together with rice. This is a very old style of preserving fish. Originally only the fish was served and the rice thrown away. Then, the rice came to be eaten as well. When it became possible to have fish fresh enough to be eaten raw, this "fast sushi" or "Edo-style" sushi developed in the late Edo period. Now, instead of being fermented, the rice is seasoned with vinegar and sweet sake. In the play, the sushi is made in buckets – which become very important.

igami / いがみ

This is an old Kansai word and means something like "twisted" or "delinquent." This is Gonta's nickname in "Sushiya"; "Igami no Gonta." The word does not seem to be used much now, but in the old days, the play was so famous that a delinquent boy was often nicknamed "Gonta."

modori / もどり


Often in kabuki plays, a character that was supposed to be a villain reveals (usually on the point of death) that they actually did everything they did for very good reasons. This is true of Gonta in "Sushiya," and Tamate Gozen in "Gappo ga Tsuji."