Not Halloween… Kabuki.

Kabuki-za Theater, Tokyo
Kabuki-za Theater, Tokyo

I’ve never seen a Kabuki show in person but I’d like to at least once in my lifetime. I don’t understand Japanese well enough to say I’d follow the story completely but my Japanese friends have told me that the language used in Kabuki is so old not even they completely understand what’s being said.

Kabuki Actors
Kabuki Actors

Sounds a lot like Shakespeare to me…

I don’t mind Shakespeare.

“Kabuki means when broken down “Sing” “Dance” and “Skill” and it started around the year 1600.

Kabuki (歌舞伎?) is a classical Japanese dancedrama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.

The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing (歌), dance (舞), and skill (伎). Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as “the art of singing and dancing”. These are, however, atejicharacters which do not reflect actual etymology. The kanji of ‘skill’ generally refers to a performer in kabuki theatre. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning “to lean” or “to be out of the ordinary”, kabuki can be interpreted as “avant-garde” or “bizarre” theatre.[1] The expression kabukimono (歌舞伎者) referred originally to those who were bizarrely dressed and swaggered on a street.” -Wikipedia

Much like old Shakespearean plays, traditional Kabuki performances consist of all males casts. What’s interesting, however, is that Kabuki was believed to have been started by a woman.

ja: 出雲阿国(京都国立博物館収蔵『阿國歌舞伎圖屏風』より)。 en: Izumo no ...
The earliest portrait of Izumo no Okuni, the founder of kabuki (1600s)

“The history of kabuki began in 1603 when Izumo no Okuni, possibly a miko of Izumo Taisha, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. It originated in the 17th century. Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate, enforced by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The name of the Edo period derives from the relocation of the Tokugawa regime from its former home in Kyoto to the city of Edo, present-day Tokyo. Female performers played both men and women in comic playlets about ordinary life. The style was immediately popular, and Okuni was asked to perform before the Imperial Court. In the wake of such success, rival troupes quickly formed, and kabuki was born as ensemble dance and drama performed by women—a form very different from its modern incarnation. Much of its appeal in this era was due to the ribald, suggestive themes featured by many troupes; this appeal was further augmented by the fact that the performers were often also available for prostitution. For this reason, kabuki was also called “遊女歌舞妓” (prostitute-singing and dancing performer) during this period.

Otani Oniji by Toshusai Sharaku, Edo era, Japan
Kabuki Actor Otani Oniji by Toshusai Sharaku, Edo era, Japan

Kabuki became a common form of entertainment in the ukiyo, or Yoshiwara, the registered red-light district in Edo. A diverse crowd gathered under one roof, something that happened nowhere else in the city. Kabuki theaters were a place to see and be seen as they featured the latest fashion trends and current events. The stage provided good entertainment with exciting new music, patterns, clothing, and famous actors. Performances went from morning until sunset. The teahouses surrounding or connected to the theater provided meals, refreshments, and good company. The area around the theatres was lush with shops selling kabuki souvenirs. Kabuki, in a sense, initiated pop culture in Japan.

The shogunate was never partial to kabuki and all the mischief it brought, particularly the variety of the social classes which mixed at kabuki performances. Women’s kabuki, called onna-kabuki, was banned in 1629 for being too erotic. Following onna-kabuki, young boys performed in wakashū-kabuki, but since they too were eligible for prostitution, the shogun government soon banned wakashū-kabuki as well. Kabuki switched to adult male actors, called yaro-kabuki, in the mid-1600s. Male actors played both female and male characters. The theatre remained popular, and remained a focus of urban lifestyle until modern times. Although kabuki was performed all over ukiyo and other portions for the country, the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres became the top theatres in ukiyo, where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held.” – Wikipedia

Begin Japanology (my favorite series about Japanese culture) did an episode about Kabuki. Check it out below or follow this link

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Rural Yokosuka

Not perfect, but a nice balance of city and country.

Peaceful…

View from our bedroom in Japan 2008. Some times I feel like Godzilla is coming over the ridge at any moment...
View from our bedroom in Japan 2008. Some times I feel like Godzilla is coming over that ridge at any moment… If he did, I think I’d try to hug him.

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ぼくの鎌倉大仏 (My Kamakura Daibutsu)

My Amida Buddha... circa 2008
My Amida Buddha photo… circa 2008

Back in my art history days, in high school, I remember Daibutsu (The Great Buddha). And to be perfectly honest I never thought I’d see him in person. Now that I have, photos don’t do him any justice.

Kamakura is one of our favorite places in Japan. You should go see it yourself. Theres so much that isn’t on the brochure…

“The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amitābha Buddha located at the Kōtoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The bronze statue probably dates from 1252, in the Kamakura period, according to temple records. It was preceded by a giant wooden Buddha, which was completed in 1243 after ten years of continuous labor, the funds having been raised by Lady Inada (Inada-no-Tsubone) and the Buddhist priest Jōkō of Tōtōmi. That wooden statue was damaged by a storm in 1248, and the hall containing it was destroyed, so Jōkō suggested making another statue of bronze, and the huge amount of money necessary for this and for a new hall was raised for the project. The bronze image was probably cast by Ōno Gorōemon or Tanji Hisatomo, both leading casters of the time. At one time, the statue was gilded. There are still traces of gold leaf near the statue’s ears. It is unclear, however, whether the statue constructed in 1252 is the same statue as the present statue.

The hall was destroyed by a storm in 1334, was rebuilt, and was damaged by yet another storm in 1369, and was rebuilt yet again. The last building housing the statue was washed away in the tsunami of September 20, 1498, during the Muromachi period. Since then, the Great Buddha has stood in the open air.

The statue is approximately 13.35 meters tall including the base and weighs approximately 93 tonnes. The statue is hollow, and visitors can view the interior. Many visitors over the years have left graffiti on the inside of the statue. At one time, there were thirty-two bronze lotus petals at the base of the statue, but only four remain, and they are no longer in place. A notice at the entrance to the grounds reads, “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda (sic) and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the base the statue sits upon, but the base was repaired in 1925. Repairs to the statue were carried out in 1960-1961, when the neck was strengthened and measures were taken to protect it from earthquakes.” – Wikipedia

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More Kamakura…

Still working it out… but I have more pictures from my first trip to Japan!

Haven't been here since 2008. Anyone know the name of this temple/shrine?
Haven’t been here since 2008. Anyone know the name of this temple/shrine?

I’ll never forget my first trip to Japan. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself for the culture shock and the endless awkward silences your poor Japanese creates, you’re just not ready for its rich history.

Buddhas...
Buddhas…

Every time I’ve gone back I’ve taken over a thousand photos. The visual stimulation is just incredible.

...And even more Buddhas.
…And even more Buddhas.

Maybe I should put that photo book together… No matter how many photos are taken everyday, no two people will see everything the same way, right?

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