Japanese swords, £18.00
Explore / Online Tours
Kabuki theatre of Japan
History of Kabuki
The beginnings of Kabuki are usually dated to the spring of 1603, when a troupe led by a woman called Izumo no Okuni first performed on a dry riverbed in Kyoto. They performed exotic dances and risqué skits which had their roots in a variety of new and popular dances that began to appear around the mid-sixteenth century. Women entertainers were relatively unusual, and Okuni's outlandish, cross-dressing performances caused a sensation.
A contemporary spectator recorded his impressions of early Kabuki:
'Of late there is a dance called Kabuki. A woman called Okuni, a shrine-attendant from Izumo, has come up to the capital. She imitates the town dandies, and her sword, dagger, and costume are all most outlandish. The scenes where a man jests with a teahouse girl are popular, and all the classes of the capital flock to view them. She has even danced several times at Fushimi Castle.'
During the first decades of Kabuki, many of its performers, both male and female, also worked as prostitutes offstage. In this scroll painting, young Kabuki actors can be seen entertaining male clients at a teahouse.
Illustration: Hishikawa Moronobu, Scenes in a theatre tea-house, a handscroll painting (Edo period, AD 1685)