INVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts KabukiINVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts Kabuki

History

Establishment

Establishment of aragoto

“Ichikawa Danjuro no Takenuki Goro zu”
Torii Kiyomasu
Tokyo National Museum collection
Image: TNM Image Archives

About 100 years after the emergence of the kabuki-odori, which was around the start and end of the Genroku period (late 17th to early 18th centuries), major cities had formed in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area), and the townspeople there were continuously creating their own culture and arts. This is when Kabuki also developed considerably, during this new wave of literature, fine art, craft, music and other culture.

People from across Japan travelled to and from the emerging city of Edo, where exciting things on a grand scale were popular. This atmosphere led to the development of the aragoto expressive style of Kabuki. Aragoto is an extremely exaggerated performance style filled with wild vitality, which is achieved in various ways such as using the powerful performance techniques of the mie pose (dramatic movement sequence) and roppo (stylized exit on Hanamichi stage), and kumadori makeup that makes the actor look somewhat magical.

Aragoto is played by super-powerful male leads, and a particularly popular one was Ichikawa Danjuro I, who was also a playwright that wrote his own scripts. The techniques of aragoto were perfected by Ichikawa Danjuro II, and this expressive style of Kabuki has been carried on to the present day primarily by the Ichikawa family lineage.

“Ichikawa Danjuro no Takenuki Goro zu”
Torii Kiyomasu
Tokyo National Museum collection
Image: TNM Image Archives

Establishment of wagoto

Sakata Tojuro I
“Yarozeki Zumo”
Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library Kaga Bunko collection (加6013-2/加06013-002)

Yoshizawa Ayame I
“Yarozeki Zumo”
Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library Kaga Bunko collection (加6013-1/加06013-001)

In the long-established cities of Kyoto and Osaka, both of which were built on many years of culture and traditions, sophisticated and subtle things were preferred over novel and overstated items. This mood set the tone for the emergence of the wagoto expressive style of Kabuki during the Genroku period (late 16th to early 17th centuries), which is the same time as aragoto was developed. The yatsushi setting used for iro-otoko (ladies’ man) depict men that are originally of a high position but have been reduced to poverty for some reason. Using the gentle and graceful performance techniques of wagoto, the actors delicately and beautifully portray various scenes such as the incidents encountered by men while visiting their regular courtesans.

The performance style of wagoto is played by rough and ruined ladies’ men and a particularly popular actor for this role was Sakata Tojuro I, who was known for his realistic and natural acting. The techniques of wagoto are still carried on today as a Kabuki performance style of the Kyoto and Osaka area. Yoshizawa Ayame I was another Kabuki actor from the same period. He established the acting method of onnagata, and apparently worked hard to polish his true-to-life performance style by trying to behave like a woman in his daily life.

Sakata Tojuro I
“Yarozeki Zumo”
Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library Kaga Bunko collection (加6013-2/加06013-002)

Yoshizawa Ayame I
“Yarozeki Zumo”
Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library Kaga Bunko collection (加6013-1/加06013-001)

Popularity of gidayu-kyogen

During the Genroku period when Kabuki was flourishing, Ningyo-joruri plays in which puppet dolls were maneuvered in time with joruri music – a form of traditional narrative music accompanied by the shamisen (Japanese three-stringed guitar) – also began to thrive.

Chikamatsu Monzaemon was a playwright who wrote Kabuki plays for Sakata Tojuro, and he also gained popularity as a creator of Ningyo-joruri. This is also around the time when the Ningyo-joruri repertoire, which had excellent storylines, started to be performed as Kabuki as well.

Chikamatsu’s work titled “Kokusenya Kassen” (The Battles of Coxinga) was a huge hit even as a Kabuki performance. Works performed in such a style are referred to as gidayu-kyogen, which is named after the gidayu-bushi school of joruri. The plays are also further classified into jidai-mono historical plays from the pre-Edo period (17th to 19th centuries), and sewa-mono contemporary plays about the everyday happenings of people from the Edo period.

During the mid-18th Century when Ningyo-joruri was enjoying its golden age, several of these popular plays were successively made into Kabuki performances, including “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami” (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy), “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura” (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), and “Kanadehon Chushingura” (The Treasury of 47 Loyal Retainers). These plays have been repeatedly performed over the years, and have subsequently come to be referred to as the three masterpieces of gidayu-kyogen; performances of these masterpieces and other plays account for a large proportion of the Kabuki repertoire even now.

A nishiki-e showing the ‘Kurumabiki’ scene from the Ningyo-joruri version of “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”
“Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami Ningyo nite Tsukamatsurisoro”
National Theatre collection (NA0079642073)

A nishiki-e showing the ‘Kurumabiki’ scene performed in the Kabuki version
“Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”
National Theatre collection (NA010650)

A nishiki-e showing the ‘Kurumabiki’ scene from the Ningyo-joruri version of “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”
“Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami Ningyo nite Tsukamatsurisoro”
National Theatre collection (NA0079642073)

A nishiki-e showing the ‘Kurumabiki’ scene performed in the Kabuki version
“Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”
National Theatre collection (NA010650)