Kabuki's origins can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868). In contrast to older Japanese art forms such as Noh, the realm of the upper class, Kabuki was popular with the common people, and it is said that it had been performed by women until the Tokugawa Shogunate forbade it in 1629. From then on, performances were by male actors, including Onnagata (actors who specialize in female roles).
Kabuki plays are about historical events, with moral conflicts, like those in love relationships. The language used is old-fashioned and even difficult to understand for Japanese people. It is spoken in a monotone voice and accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.
- Kabuki Official Website
Noh and Kyogen
Noh is a classical Japanese performance, which combines the elements of dance, drama, music and poetry into one, highly aesthetic, stage art. Although largely based in the cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, it is performed throughout the country by professionals, mainly men, who have passed down the art among family members for many generations. Many people also learn the Noh's dances, instruments and songs as a hobby or as a way to refine one's sophistication.
Kyogen is classical comic theater, a balance to the more serious Noh. While Noh is musical in nature, Kyogen emphasizes dialogue. The two are sometimes performed alternately on the same program, and they share a common heritage.
Venues for Kabuki and Noh/Kyogen
There are two major places to see Kabuki in Tokyo. One is the Kabuki-Za Theatre, the other is the National Theatre both of which let you experience Kabuki with a headset providing English commentary. Noh and Kyogen plays are staged at the National Noh Theatre with English subtitles. Tickets are sold at the box office, via the ticket center, or online. Prices range from 2,500 Yen to 15,000 Yen or more.
Bunraku or Japanese puppet theatre, also started in the 1600s. Just like Kabuki, it was popular with the common people. The puppets were very simple in the beginning but nowadays they are more detailed with a height of 1-4 feet.
Traditionally there are three puppeteers, who maneuver the puppets in sync. The main puppeteer, or chief handler wears an 18th century dress and control the head, right hand, eyes, eyebrows, lips and fingers. The two assistants are dressed in black (to symbolize that they are invisible) and they operate the left hand, legs and feet. Besides the puppeteers there is a tayu, who narrates the story as well as give all of the puppets' voice. Lastly, there is a musician who plays the shamisen (three-stringed Japanese flute), to portray the changes in emotions thus giving the story more depth. The stories often have themes like sad romance, separation between parent and child and tales based on historical events.
- National Bunraku Theatre
The traditional Japanese storytelling that dates back to the Edo period, was also a type of entertainment for the ordinary people, just like Kabuki and Bunraku. Dressed in a kimono and sitting on a zabuton cushion, one rakugoka (storyteller) tells and acts out the whole story, with a fan and hand towel as the only props. In the past stories were usually based on the everyday lives of ordinary people, but nowadays they often have a satirical take on society too.
The most important part of Rakugo is the punch line, also called as ochi or raku (hence the name of this art). A skillfully delivered ochi is the key for a successful performance. Rakugo is still one of the most popular traditional arts, perhaps even more popular than Kabuki or Noh. Lately many Rakugo performances are also held in foreign languages too, such as English, French, Chinese or Korean.
An iconic sport that epitomizes Japan's image internationally just as much as sushi; what other sport is as linked to just a single country, but known so widely throughout the world? And “known” may be just the right way to put it. Say “sumo”, and the same comic image of two very fat men in a diaper-like loin cloth is sure to pop into your head. And when asked how the game works, many would be pressed to say anything more than “to push the other guy out of the ring”. There is good reason for this – the rules are few and mostly self-explanatory.
The match and tournament structure is also straightforward. There are six tournaments held throughout the year, each lasting fifteen consecutive days. There are about 660 wrestlers in active competition. Wrestlers in the highest divisions have one match a day, while those in the lower rank wrestle every other day. At the end of the tournament, the wrestler with the most matches won in his own division is the division champion
- Nihon Sumo Kyokai Official Grand Sumo Home Page