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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Aragoto / 荒事
Please see Key Kabuki Words - kabuki terms page of "Aragoto"
The villains of "Shibaraku!" / 暫の悪役
The main villain in "Shibaraku" is an imperial court noble about to take over the realm. The name of the character was different from play to play so he is called "uke (to receive)" since he is the one that receives the call of "Shibaraku." He is surrounded by all kinds of other unusual characters. He has a group of fighters that look like sumo wrestlers that are called "hara-dashi (sticking out bellies)." There is the namazu bozu, a tea priest with long namazu catfish-like whiskers. This is always a comic role and the catfish motif has something to do with the mythical catfish underneath Japan that causes earthquakes. The woman with him is called the "female namazu," but her costume is not particularly strange and she is called "namazu" because she comes with the namazu priest.
Ichikawa Danjuro I / 初代市川團十郎
Ichikawa Danjuro I (1660 – 1704) created the aragoto acting style. At first he seems to have copied popular puppet plays of the time showing superhuman child warriors. He painted his body entirely red and there are many woodblock prints showing him demonstrating his strength by, for example, pulling up a stalk of bamboo and with many dramatic poses. Danjuro I seems to have been a difficult person to get along with and he was killed onstage by a fellow actor. This left his young son, who became Danjuro II (1688 – 1704) to both consolidate the aragoto acting style and to extend it by creating such plays as “Sukeroku.” Eventually aragoto and the Ichikawa Danjuro family came to exemplify the kabuki world of the city of Edo.
Genroku Mie / 元禄見得
Mie can mean both the stop-motion movement of the head and the total position of the body. One of the most distinctive example of these total body poses is the Genroku mie in "Shibaraku!" where the hero poses with his legs sticking out forward, his left hand pushing the hilt of his sword way down so that the sword extends far up behind him and with his right hand (holding a chukei fan) pushing out to the side. The Genroku period proper was from 1688 to 1704, but it gives its name to the time from the late 17th century through the first third of the 18th century, which was the first great flowering of culture in the Edo period. This includes kabuki and the puppet plays of Chikamatsu, but also woodblock prints and the haiku of Basho. The Genroku mie can be seen in woodblock prints of actors and is still used in many plays other than "Shibaraku" including a pose by Umeomaru in "Kurumabiki" and a pose in Kanjincho.
Hitomakumi (Seeing One Act) / 一幕見
At Kabuki-za, it is possible to see just part of a kabuki program for a very reasonable price, sometimes under 1,000 yen. The price varies with the length of the section, there is a separate entrance and it is on the 4th floor of the auditorium. In the old Kabuki-za building you had to climb stairs, but in the new theater building, there is now an elevator to get there.
Omukou / 大向う
"Great across the way." These are people in the seats farthest from the stage and they shout at the actors as a form of applause. In the Edo period this is what everyone did, but in modern times, often ordinary audience members don't know what to shout. The shouting must be done at precise moments in the stage action, like when there is a mie pose, so now, usually, shouting comes from members of clubs that have practiced doing this. They shout an actor's yago, "house name," a name associated with an acting family like the name of a shop.