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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Joshiki maku / 定式幕
The distinctive green, black and red kabuki curtain, that is pulled open and shut by a stagehand. This curtain was used since the Edo period when it was a sign of a large theater licensed by the shogunate. Each big kabuki theater had a curtain with a selection and order of colors unique to that theater. In the modern period a curtain that is raised and lowered is also used, often for modern plays or dance plays. Sometimes there is even acting on the main stage and hanamichi after the curtain is closed. This is called "maku soto" "outside the curtain."
Hanamichi / 花道
The runway or extension of the stage that goes through the audience. This shows off the actor to advantage for entrances and exits. This has even created the modern phrase, "hanamichi o kazaru" "to decorate the hanamichi" which is used for an athlete or artist who performs superbly until the end of his or her career. The most important place for acting is called the "shichi-san" "seven-three" which is the place roughly three tenths away from the main stage. Sometimes it is an extension of the stage space of the main stage, which means that the room or river or whatever spreads into the audience. Other times, the hanamichi is a separate space and represents a road or hallway or even up in the air.
Suppon / すっぽん
"Suppon" means "snapping turtle" and it is the trapdoor and lift at the shichi-san seven-three spot on the hanamichi. It is used for the entrances and exits of supernatural characters like ghosts and magicians. It is named after the snapping turtle because the actor emerging from the suppon looks like the head of a turtle poking out of its shell.
Mawari butai / 廻り舞台
The revolving stage. Now used around the world, it was invented for the kabuki theater in the 18th century. In the Edo Period, it was powered by men pushing it around below the stage. Sometimes the revolving stage is used to change scenes without closing the curtain. Even when the curtain is closed between scenes, the revolving stage is often used so that the next set can be constructed behind while the action is going on in front and then the time between scenes can be minimized.
Namiki Shoza / 並木正三
Namiki Shoza (1730 - 1773) an Osaka kabuki playwright who wrote many plays incorporating drama and spectacle and invented the revolving stage and many other stage devices. Even though his actual plays are no longer a regular part of the kabuki repertory, the devices he invented are an integral part of kabuki today.
Seri / せり
"Stage lift." The kabuki stage today is filled with stage lifts of various sizes, including one large stage lift big enough for an entire stage set. In the Edo Period, these lifts were also moved by stagehands.
Gando gaeshi / がんどう返し
A "gando" is a kind of flashlight with a candle suspended on a swivel so that it stays upright no matter at what angle its mounting is held. This idea was adapted to kabuki so that a scene can take place on a roof, and then the set is swiveled backwards, the actor changing angle to keep from falling. Then, a new scene is revealed on the bottom of the roof that becomes the exposed side.
Hon mizu / 本水
"Real water" is sometimes used for a spectacular effect. This was particularly common in summer plays to cool the audience down before the invention of air conditioners.
Dogu cho / 道具帳
A painting of the finished stage set as it appears from the front. These pictures are carefully stored and used as reference when the play is performed again or a new design must be made for a new play.
Seppuku / 切腹

"Ritual suicide." Beginning in warrior tradition on the battlefield, this is considered to be an honorable death and in samurai society developed an elaborate etiquette. The same Chinese characters in reverse order can be read "hara kiri" "cutting the belly," but this reading is considered vulgar and tends to evoke the image of the belly of a fish being cut to be gutted and cleaned.

Please see Key Kabuki Words - Kabuki terms of "Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers"