Kabuki (歌舞伎) theater terms (genre )



The term kabuki is made up of three kanji characters: 歌舞伎. 歌 means 'song', 舞 means 'dance' and 伎 means 'skill'. Timon Screech gives an interesting origin for this term in an essay entitled 'Ukiyo-e Artists and the City'. When peace began to return to the Japanese people there were a group referred to as the "others".

"It wasn't long before the behavior of these "others" started to cause a certain amount of anxiety. It exceeded the boundaries of expectation. The term for them was "bent people," people who are not upright. The Japanese term for bent, warped, or hanging over was kabuku 傾く. And linked to the word "person" (mono 者) is an adjective, kabuki 傾奇: kabukimono 傾奇者, those who do not show respect and associate with the wrong sort of people. They formed liaisons in this open area that would not have been allowed in Kyoto itself: friendships, sexual interests. They engaged in rumormongering and other unseemly activities. Class divisions were disregarded. So the kabukimono were associated with impropriety."

It was the dancing of these people, freed from their confinements, that eventually would emerge into what we now call kabuki. Kabuki couldn't be called "bent theater" because it didn't seem proper. But ka 歌 also happens to mean song, bu 舞 happens to mean dance, and ki 妓 happens to mean prostitution. So the characters for kabuki were changed to describe what it actually was: singing and dancing and all the things that happened afterward. (In modern Japanese, "ki" has been rewritten with another character, ki 伎, meaning "refinement" or something like that.)

Below is a list of some of the terms which can be found on other web pages at this site.

Akuba (悪婆): "An evil middle-aged woman in sewamono drama, who indulges in extortion, blackmail or murder. She is usually a clever person, who can bluff, fight and swindle. She is also often possessed with a certain sense of loyal chivalry." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Aragotoshi (荒事師): an actor who specializes in ruffian roles. "The traditional classification of tachiyaku includes the aragotoshi... such as Kamakura Gongorō in Shibaraku..." Leiter, p. 633.

"Supermen heroes acted in arrogato style. Umeomaru and Matsuomaru in Pulling the Carriage Apart are examples." Leiter in The Art of Kabuki: Five Famous Plays, p. 261.

Atari kyōgen (当り狂言): A big-hit play. "It served as an announcement of a popular play in current production and as advertising to drum up even bigger audiences for the remaining run of the play." Source: Osaka Prints

Budōgoto (武道事): Literally 'martial matters'; a role which includes fighting with swords and such and which can also involve the playing of a wounded character.

Chūnori (宙乗り): midair stunt;  aerial stunts. This is a form of keren.

Chūshibai (中芝居): a middle-sized kabuki theater. Also referred to as a hamashibai (浜芝居) or riverbank theater.

Dai-jō-jō-kichi (大上上吉): "An prestigious rank in a hyōbanki. Possible translation: grand-superior-superior-excellent." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Dekata (出方): "Usher working for a shibai jaya in a Edo Kabuki theater. Dekata were also in charge of delivering some food or sake to their clients during the Kabuki performances. Dekata disappeared in the Kabuki world during the Meiji era but this kind of work still exists and you can see working dekata during the sumô tournaments." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Dōkegata (道化方): a comic actor

Fukeoyama (老女方): An actor who specializes in playing the roles of old women.

Fukeyaku (老役): The general description of actors playing the roles of old people. It applies to either male or female roles.

Gōrunden kombi (ゴールデンコンビ): a "golden combination" or the pairing of a famous set of kabuki actors.

Haimyō (俳名): an actor's poetry name

Samuel L. Leiter in "Edo Kabuki: The Actor's World" in Impressions in 2010 on pages 126-127: "Status consciousness among actors also contributed to the widespread practice among them of taking poetry-writing pennames, even if they didn't write poetry. These pennames were called haimyō and were associated with haikai poetry, a literary art of immense popularity among Edo's townsmen, samurai, courtesans, artists and literati, who often gathered socially for haikai-writing events. Leading actors often participated, despite restrictions on the mingling of classes. Some actors without the gift of poetry, but wishing to appear fashionable, even resorted to using ghost writers."

"Although the practice of actors taking haimyō began as early as 1679 in Kamigata, it soon spread to Edo, the first example being Danjūrō l, whose haikai writing began in 1694 while he was touring to Kyoto, where he studied with the master Shiigamoto Saimarō. Danjūrō signed his poems Saigyū "Sai" was from Saimarō, and "gyū" was from a character named Kengyū, a role he recently had acted to acclaim." (Ibid., p. 127)

"Sometimes an actor's descendants used the same haimyō, and sometimes it lasted for just one generation. A number of actors even assumed several haimyō. A book published in 1774 lists 225 actors, 186 having haimyō. Actors were also known by yagō or "shop names," associated with their predecessors' place of origin or business. Even before the mid-eighteenth century, fans commonly shouted out the actors' haimyō or yagō during a play rather than their stage forenames. It was the height of uncool to shout out "Ichikawa" or "Onoe." Eventually, actors started to borrow a predecessors haimyō as their own stage name, and this then became hereditary." (Ibid.)

Hama shibai (浜芝居): "Minor theaters in Ōsaka. The most famous ones were the Wakadayū no Shibai, the Kadomaru no Shibai and the Takeda no Shibai. Hama shibai means literally shore theater. The theaters in Ōsaka were almost all located on the famous Dōtonbori street, which ran along a canal. The minor theaters were originally built on the water side (the shore) and the major ones on the opposite side of the Dōtonbori. Later on, the ones on the shore moved to the opposite side of the Dōtonbori but the expression hama shibai remained." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Hanamichi (花道): a passage through an audience to the stage

Handōgataki (半道敵): a comical and ludicrous villain

Hayagawari (早替り): The term for an actor who makes quick changes into different costumes.

"In Osome and Hisamatsu, Nanboku exploits all the possibilities of the hayagawari or quick-change technique, in which a leading actor plays several roles at once. The technique is carried to the extreme in this play, with the leading actor playing almost all the major roles. This requires split-second timing and a high level of skill, and Nanboku found an actor equal to the task ln Iwai Hanshiro V, for whom especially he wrote the play. Due to Tokugawa government restrictions, women were not allowed to perform on the stage and this led to the development of the onnagata, actors specialized in woman's roles. The art of the onnagata was refined and polished to a high degree, and Hanshiro was the leading practitioner of his day. In this play he was called on to portray practically all the types in the onnagata repertory, including a young well-bred girl, a lady-in-waiting of a daimyo house, a young man of good family, a hard-boiled brazen of a woman, a dignified motherly type, a madwoman, and a humble country wife. In some performances the lead onnagata may also take the role of a geisha." This is quoted from the 1970 abstract of a Seniors Scholars Paper by Caryl A. Callahan of Colby College.

Hengemono (変化物): Quick change performances.

Honmizu (本水): Spectacular water effects on stage.

Hyōbanki (評判記): A handbook published at the beginning of the year rating actors and performances. Originally hyōbanki were used to rate prostitutes starting in the early 17th century.

In 1704 two different hyōbanki were published. In one Nakamura Shichisaburō was rated higher than Ichikawa Danjūrō I, who died in the second month. In the other Danjūrō was rated on top. This reminds me of the American college football rankings by the AP and the UPI. They were never quite the same. One's loyalties skewed one's perceptions.

Ie no gei (家の芸): "Acting, repertoire items, and roles inherited from generation to generation of each actor's family, or the specialties of individual actors, are called "Ie no gei" (family arts)." This is quoted from the Japan Arts Council English language description.

Iroaku (色​悪): a romantic, handsome villain "...in which sex appeal must overwhelm the character's evil nature."

Issei ichidai (一世一代): When this term is found printed on an ukiyo print it is meant to indicate a final performance of a particular role by a famous actor.

Jidaimono (時代物): 'period plays', i.e., historical plays.

Jitsuaku (実悪): literally 'pure evil'. Often played by an evil samurai. A sub-category of katakiyaku. The best example of this type of villain is found in the character of Nikki Danjō.

Jitsutogoshi (実事師); a role portraying a "...dignified, mature, wise, and capable [figure] who [is] placed amid tragic circumstances." This is a sub-genre of tachiyaku.

Jō-jō-kichi (上上吉): [We are working on defining this term as it applies to kabuki and its performers.] See our entry on dai-jō-jō-kichi.

Kamigata ōshibai: [We are working on defining this term.]

Kaneru yakusha (兼ねる役者); an all-around actor. "The term kaneru ('all around') was also a sure-fire advertising accolade that sometimes appeared alongside the names of these famous actors in theater programs." This is from footnote 14 from 'Ryusai Shigeharu: 'Quick change' dances in the Utaemon tradition' by John Fiorillo and Peter Ujlaki in Andon 72 & 73, October, 2002, p. 132. (Quoting from: Samuel P. Leiter, New Kabuki Encyclopedia, 1997, p. 277.)

Kaomise (顔見世); "During the Edo period, a kaomise was the "face-showing" ceremony of a theater, which celebrated the opening of the new theatrical year and its new troupe. It was generally held in the 11th lunar month of the year and was a very important event in Edo, Ôsaka or Kyôto. Nowadays, there are still 3 symbolic kaomise in Japan..." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Kata (型): "Kata are the conventional “patterns” or “forms” found in traditional Japanese theatre. In kabuki, kata extend from acting to properties, costumes, wigs, music, scenery, and makeup, and even to the arrangement of a program."

Katakiuchi mono (敵討物); a sub-genre of the kabuki theater which represents revenge or vendetta plays. It is also referred to as adauchi mono (仇討物). Among the many plays which fall in this category are the numerous Soga brother productions and the Chūshingura.

Katakiyaku (敵役): a villain or bad guy.

Katsureki (活歴): a variety of kabuki based on historical events. " "Living history plays,"...a type of jidaimono originated by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX during the Meiji era (1868-1912).... Katsureki shows a reverence for historical accuracy and an attention to ancient martial and court customs. Although Edo-period jidaimono were based on historical chronicles and narratives, Danjūrō IX held in contempt their many stage inaccuracies and absurdities and intended to reform the drama in line with Western ideas infiltrating Japanese culture. The seed was sown in his simple, realistic performance of Sanada Yukimura in 1871. From about 1877 to 1887 he was aided by the progressive producer Morita Kanya XII, as well as by the reform-minded government officials and scholars. At the same time, Kawatake Mokuami, the day's leading dramatist, was entrusted with the task of writing plays based on historical fact, although he never relished the work. Performances were staged with attention to the accurate, research-based rendition of classical speech, behavior, and character. This led to a new method of staging. In 1878, when Mokuami's Nichō no Yuma Chigusa no Shigedō was performed, critic Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894) created the word katsureki in the Kanayomi Shinbun newspaper as a jibe at such works." Quoted from: New Kabuki Encyclopedia by Samuel L. Leiter, p. 304.

Keren (けれん): special effects.

Kodomo shibai (子供芝居): troupes of children actors

Koroshi no Mie (殺しの見得): "A special set of 13 fixed mie done by the actor playing the role of Danshichi Kurobê in the famous murder scene of the play "Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami". Source Kabuki21.

Koyaku (子役): A child's role.

Kudoki (口説き): "highly dramatic scene in which an onnagata actor depicts a woman's sighs, tears, love, passion or regrets for the past. Somehow the equivalent of an aria for Kabuki female roles." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Kusazōshi mono (草双紙物): "Plays based on illustrated novels..." This is Samuel L. Leiter's definition in the New Kabuki Encyclopedia, p. 371.

"Historically, the gōkan is the final and most elaborate phase of the category of the work termed kusazōshi, literally "grass books" - a probable reference to their ephemeral or trivial character in the sophisticated eye. This latter term comprehends a wide variety of publications, from artless picture pamphlets for the subliterate to highly sophisticated protracted serial productions like Inaka Genji. Certain traits, however, remain common to all kusazōshi throughout two centuries of evolution. Despite variations, all kusazōshi use smaller sizes of paper, possibly to ease handling and long-distance colportage." Quoted from: The Willow in Autumn: Ryutei Tanehiko, 1783-1842 by Andrew Lawrence Marks, pp. 61-62. (*****)

Miyaji shibai (宮地芝居): "...troupes performing on temporary stages in the precincts of temples and shrines". Quoted from: The Kabuki Theater by Earle Ernst. According to Samuel L. Leiter "They were given this right on such occasions as festivals, fund-raising... drive, and the unveiling... of religious treasures for public viewing." Their performances were different from standard kabuki because they had to follow the rules set down by the overseeing governmental power that oversaw the shrine or temple. Miyaji literally means the grounds of a Shinto shrine.

Nimaime (二枚目); a handsome man or an actor in a love scene.

Nuregoto (濡れ事): stories of passion. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature says: "Nuregoto plays dwell more on plot, dialogue, and individualizing of characters... [And] ...it exploits more of the features of jōruri sewamono..." Later on page 28 it says: "Wet matters. Plays of passion. The style of acting favored in kamigata. (Moisture contains erotic as well as lachrymose associations in Japan.) Nuregoto plays featured plot, character, and dialogue rather than the spectacular effects of aragoto."

Okugata (奥方): lady or nobleman's wife.

Onagori kyōgen (お名残狂言): "A farewell performance done by a Kamigata actor, who is about to leave Edo and goes back to his native land, at the end of his season in an Edo theater (usually in September or October)." Quoted from Kabuki21.

Onna budōgoto (女武道事): a female warrior

Onnagata (女形): male actor in a female role.

Ōshibai (大芝居): the major licensed theaters of Edo, Kyoto or Osaka during the Tokugawa period. Literally it translates as 'large' or 'grand' 'theater' as opposed to middle-sized or smaller ones.

Oyajigata (親仁方): the role of an old man.

Sabakiyaku (裁き役): "mature men of judgment and integrity". This is a sub-category of tachiyaku.

Sakusha (作者): an author, a playwright

Sewamono (世話物): a domestic drama about ordinary people.

Sewa nyōbō: "Within the definition of the traditional Japanese household is the sewa-nyōbō, or devoted wife. The sewa nyōbō is a wife who maintains an immaculate home and cares excessively for her husband. She represents not only the idealized notion of a wife but also the frame of mind necessary to become a wife. The role subsequently becomes engrained within the accepted cultural norms of human relationships in Japanese society as a whole..." Quoted from an article in Journal of Student Nursing by N. Harada, 2007.

"The sewa nyōbō, the staunch, loyal, tragic wives — mostly of samurai and rōnin — appear in realistic scenes in jidaimono wearing the kokumochi ishō: kimono with round white circles resembling crests but without a crest design... The color of the costumes is always plain kuri-ume (kuri, chestnut; ume plum), a subdued purple with a bit of yellow and red in the dye. The collar, the lining of the kimono, and the obi are of black satin." Shaver, pp. lxxxi-lxxxii.

Shibai (芝居): Literally 'on the grass', but which came to mean a play or drama. Combining the words for 'grass' and 'sit' it points "...to its origins in the practice of people sitting on the grass to watch sumo matches or theatrical performances... at shrines and temples." Leiter, p. 572.

Shibai jaya (芝居茶屋): a teahouse within a kabuki theater.

Shinpa (新派): 'new school' or 'new faction' "...emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as Japan's first attempt to create a dramatic form akin to Western drama. It retained certain traditional features, however, including men playing women's roles even when actresses were employed, and was a blend of the old and the new..." Quoted from: Kabuki at the Crossroads: Years of Crisis, 1952-1965 by Samuel L. Leiter, p. 3.

Shosa (所作): "When puppet plays were brought into the kabuki repertory, actors mimicked the actions of the puppets; in dance plays actors may move stiffly, like puppets, for comic effect. The overall style of dance in kabuki, called shosa - showing-the-body - fuses rural and urban dances of the common people, characterized originally by lively leaping and dancing." Quoted from: The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre, p. 188.

Shūmei (襲名): the 'name-taking ceremony'. "Kabuki is an inherited profession, and although there is less pressure than in the past, male children of star actors are still expected to follow in their father's footsteps and become Kabuki actors. Children usually make their debuts between the ages of five and eight and begin a long process, often lasting until middle age, of taking names of increasingly higher status until they achieve the highest rank open to them. This process and the ceremony that accompanies it is called shumei." Quoted from: Kabuki, a Pocket Guide by Ronald Cavaye.

"Depending on the availability of a name, a shumei is usually decided by the actor's seniors and by the Kabuki management. The decision is announced to the Kabuki world, first of all in the press, and again a few months later in a shumei performance in which the actor plays a leading role. If the name is of great importance, a formal stage announcement known as a kojo will also be part of the program. (Ibid.)

Tachiyaku (立役): the leading male role in a play.

Tachimawari (立回り): fighting scenes.

Tateonnagata (立女方): the leading onnagata in a kabuki theater or troop. Also referred to as a tateoyama (立女形).

Tōdori (頭取): "Manager in a Kabuki theater in charge of all the backstage logistic."

Tokoyama (床山): a hairdresser for a sumo wrestlers or kabuki actors. It can also refer to a wig maker for actors. It is also the name of the room where the hair is dressed. A sangai tokoyama or third-floor hairdresser refers to a "Hairdresser specialized in male roles wigs."

Toshima (年増): a middle-aged woman

Wajitsu (和実): literally 'gentle truth'; a performer who combines the gentleness of a wagoto with that of an upright man who is conscientious, mature and intelligent, i.e., a jitsugoto.

Wakaonnagata (若女形): "In the beginning onnagata were divided into two large groups, wakaonnagata and kashagata. The former, often played by young actors, were adolescents, princesses, courtesans, and other such youthful characters." Leiter, p. 500.

Wakashugata (若衆方): actors who specialized in performing young, male adolescent roles, especially handsome ones.

Yagō (屋号): an actor's stage name.

Yakusa (役者): Samuel L. Leiter wrote "The traditional word for actor in Japan, dating to the time of Zeami, is yakusha. , kyōgen, and kabuki actors are yakusha, although the word haiyū—the Chinese-derived pronunciation of another word for actor, wazaogi—came into use for kabuki actors in the 1880s, when kabuki’s respectability quotient was rising, because haiyū had more social status than yakusha."

Zagashira (座頭): leader of a troupe of actors.

Zamoto (座元): theater proprietor or producer.

Zangirimono (散切り物): Literally cropped hair plays - "[Kawatake Mokuami] also pioneered in the production of a new kind of domestic play known as zangirimono, which explicitly describes the modernization and Westernization of early Meiji society."