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Japanese Kabuki Essay

2094 words - 9 pages

Throughout Japan’s history, gender has been an important source of division. The cultural explanation for these differences has varied among different social classes, as well as has changed as time has gone on. In early centuries, females held a certain amount of power and respect; in the 8th century, women were able to become emperors, while during the 12th century they were able to inherit property in their own names and manage it alone without the necessity for a husband or other male leader. During the Kamakura period, which lasted from the late 12th to the early 14th century and was known for the warrior caste, the rise of the samurai, and for the establishment of feudalism, there was ...view middle of the document...

While many of these conflicts were taking place, the women of Japan turned to their music culture as a way to express themselves in a world where much of their expression was cut off. One specific type of this expression was through the Kabuki music culture, and the way in which it developed is an observation of the point of view of the female persona.
Originating in Japan, Kabuki is a traditional popular drama that combines singing and dancing performed in a highly formal manner. The performance incorporates a blend of music, mime, and dance, along with exquisite staging and costuming. It has been a major theatrical custom in Japan for close to four centuries. The term “Kabuki” originally implied the unorthodox and scandalous character of this particular art form. In modern Japanese, though, the word is written with three characters: ka, signifying “song”; bu, signifying “dance”; and ki, signifying “skill.” The highly poetic plays of Kabuki are considered less as literature than as avenues for actors to display their enormous range of skills in visual and vocal presentation. The majority of the actors pass on the traditions of Kabuki from one generation to the next with slight variations, so as to keep their customs and meanings intact. Many take pride in being able to trace their ancestry and performing styles to some of the earliest Kabuki actors and have been known to add a “generation number” after their names to signify their place in these respected lineages.
Around the early 17th century, the Kabuki began to take shape, when a former attendant at the Grand Shrine of Izumo and known female dancer, Okuni, started to gain recognition with her spoofs of Buddhist prayers. She gathered together a troupe of drifting female performers who danced and acted to accompany her performances. Soon enough, Okuni’s Kabuki became the first theatrical entertainment of any significance that was devised mainly for the enjoyment of the common Japanese people. The dances contained a certain sensuous character, though, and combined with the added prostitution of the actors, proved to be too unruly for the government to agree with. Because of this, by 1629, women were banned from the very performance they originated. As a substitute, young boys dressed themselves as women and performed the programs, but by 1652, this type of Kabuki was also overpowered because of a concern for morals. Finally, the roles were taken over by older men, and it is this form of all-male performance that has been sustained until today, with the plays growing in sophistication and subtlety.
Male actors have traditionally been known to act out the performance of female parts in most Japanese theater, and this tradition is still predominantly upheld today. An anomaly, however, is the performance of the Gidayu, which is a tradition that has included female performers since the late 16th or early 17th century (Coaldrake, 1997, pp. 13). Like the oral traditions of story telling dominant in...

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