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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Shishi / 獅子

The shishi in Asian tradition is not actually a lion, but is a mythical creature that vanquishes evil. In Japan, the classical form of the shishi comes from the noh play "Shakkyo (The Stone Bridge)" In "Beauty and the Beast," this is the guise that the beast takes when appearing in public.

Koroshiba / 殺し場

"killing scene" In kabuki, even a very cruel and terrible killing scene is usually made very beautiful with mie poses and special movements.

Ebi-zori / えびぞり

"prawn bend" In a tachimawari fight scene, a character (most often a female character) will bend way over backwards to show being overwhelmed by the power of the attacker.

Also see "The Beauty of Men Playing Women" in the 2014 season.

Yamamba / 山姥

"mountain hag" This is a legendary figure found in the mountains of Japan who has also become a standard figure in traditional theater, first in noh where she is a terrifying demon, but also does a gracious dance of her life in the mountains through the four seasons. In kabuki this becomes a beautiful former courtesan who becomes a powerful Yamamba and retreats to raise her son, the super-strong boy Kintoki.

Renri-biki / 連理引き

This is where a character with supernatural powers (usually a ghost) will pull back a character who is trying to run away. This is very difficult for the character running away because he must run backwards as though being pulled back.

Ishikawa Goemon / 石川五右衛門

Ishikawa Goemon was a real historical figure, but not much more is known about him than he was executed in 1594 on a riverbed in Kyoto by being boiled alive. This was recorded in several documents, including the journals of imperial court nobles and the memoirs of a Jesuit priest. The historical Ishikawa Goemon seems to have been a ruthless criminal, but legends soon grew up around him. When he was executed, he is said to have recited a death poem, "The Ishikawa river; the grains of pure white sand may run out, but the seeds of thieves will never run out." Gradually he became known as a virtuous thief and magical powers were attributed to him that made him a legendary figure on a grand scale. Very often he is paired with Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

There are numerous plays about Ishikawa Goemon, which create the indelible image of a larger-than-life thief. The most famous kabuki scene features Goemon on top of the gate of Nanzenji temple in Kyoto, looking at the word, holding a luxurious silver pile. Or there is a scene where he escapes with magic, flying through the air after breaking out of a basket.

Izumo no Okuni / 出雲の阿国

Izumo no Okuni is the legendary woman who created kabuki. Right at the beginning of the 17th century, she claimed to be collecting funds for the Izumo shrine and did reviews of songs and dances, performing on stages set up in the dry riverbed of the Kamo river in Kyoto. She was said to be the lover of the famous young samurai Nagoya Sanza and her performances incorporated everything that was new and sensational.