The various mechanisms used in Kabuki are employed according to the conventions of stage positions and directions. For example, as viewed from the audience, the right side of the stage is known as kamite, and the left as shimote. Characters of high social status sit on the kamite, and those of lower rank enter from the shimote. Scenery props are arranged so that indoor scenes take place on the kamite and outside scenes occur on the shimote. Geographical directions in the staging of plays are also largely predetermined; as a general rule, the kamite portrays the east, the shimote the west, and the audience seating side the south.
The mawaributai—a rotating section in the center of the stage—is a mechanism devised in the latter half of the Edo Period. The stage revolves with actors and stage settings in place, making it possible to quickly change scenes. Performing these movements in full view of the audience also heightens the visual appeal of staging effects. This stage mechanism was also introduced in theatres outside of Japan starting in the Meiji Era.
The seri is an elevator-type mechanism used to raise and lower a portion of a Kabuki theatre stage. There are various sizes of elevators, and used to transport actors and stage settings as well. This enables great performance effects that satisfy the needs of various productions.
The naraku refers to areas beneath the main stage, hanamichi stage and other theatre components. This is where the seri, mawaributai and other mechanisms are installed. Back in the days when such equipment was moved by human power, the naraku was an extremely dark and damp place that reminded people of hell, so it was called Naraku, which means “hell” in Buddhism.
The kuromisu is a small room on the shimote side that is used for performances of nagauta music (singing to shamisen accompaniment), taiko (stick drum); tsuzumi (shoulder drum) and other sound effects. Black blinds are attached to the windows. The room is also known by the term geza, while the music performed here is likewise often referred to as kuromisu.
The yuka refers to the area on the kamite side on the second floor of the stage where takemoto narration is performed. A blind is suspended in front of this area. Narration with the blind rolled up is known as degatari, while recitation with the blind down is referred to as misu-uchi.
Joshiki-Maku(regular stage curtain)
The joshiki-maku is used to commence and conclude each scene. As the distinctive striking of hyoshigi (wooden clappers) quickens, sceneshifters draw the curtain from the left to right. Opening and shutting the curtain serves as one means of staging. The term joshiki means “regularly used” and in the Edo Period these curtains also signified the relative prestige of the theatre. Joshiki-maku curtains are created by sewing together strips of black, dark green and yellowish-brown fabric, with the pattern and color schemes different for each theatre.
The hanamichi is a walkway stretching from the shimote side through the audience seating areas to the rear of theatre. Depending upon the scene being played, this walkway can function as a road, corridor, sea, riverbank or other setting. Actors emerge from a small room behind the audience and move toward the stage on the hanamichi, passing directly by the audience. It is therefore an effective means of intensifying audience involvement with and appreciation for the performances. For certain plays, a second hanamichi (kari-hanamichi) is routed from the kamite side in parallel with the other one, with actors pausing on both hanamichi and speak to each other above the audience.
A suppon is a small seri engineered as a elevator to raise and lower one part of the hanamichi right by the stage. This elevator is widely employed in entrances by actors portraying ghosts, goblins, spirits, sorcerers and other illusory characters, and effectively gives the impression that those characters have suddenly appeared. The name suppon (terrapin) is said to have been given to this seri because seeing an actor rising up reminded people of a soft-shelled turtle thrusting its head out of its shell.
The agemaku is a curtain hung at the point where the hanamichi stretches out from the stage ends at a small room behind the audience. The crest of the theatre is drawn on the curtain, which is attached with metal rings. As a result, the rings make “clinking” sounds as the agemaku is opened or shut as actors pass through it as they enter and exit.