Skip to main content

Kabuki: The people's dramatic art - Amanda Mattes


9,594 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

The Japanese dance and theater art of kabuki, derived from the word kabuku, meaning "out of the ordinary," can be traced back to the streets of seventeenth-century Kyoto. Kabuki became a dramatic art for the common people, with its use of makeup and facial expressions rather than masks, as well as a playful take on current events. Amanda Mattes tracks the evolution of kabuki and its place in Japan’s rich cultural heritage.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

When Kabuki was first emerging as a dance form, the stage was fairly basic. Izumo no Okuni often performed on the ground, and later, a square board with a long ramp. This ramp, or Hanamichi, remained, as the rest of the stage morphed several times. By the early to mid-18th-century, a series of trap doors, Seri, were added to an elevated stage. Scene changes originally occurred with a wheeled wagon, called the Hiki Dogu, which held pieces of one-dimensional scenery. Around the time the Seri were implemented, the Hiki Dogu was abandoned in favor of the Mawari Butai, an elaborate turntable in the center of the stage.
For more information about Kabuki stages, please visit this site.
Bunraku was developed as an easier means to tell the more fantastical stories. Kabuki actors are trained in a set role and maintain that role for the rest of their careers. Such as the Onnagata, which is the female impersonator, meant that these actors were trained in very specific movements, and wore restrictive clothing. They could not easily adapt to the more dangerous stunts, and thus, puppets were introduced. The Kabuki and Bunraku play equivalents usually only differ in how the action is carried out, often when death and murder are portrayed. Or when a supernatural being is introduced. Though, this became easier in the mid-19th-century, during the Meiji era, when "Chunori," a way to wire costumes so the actors could fly, was invented.
Later in the 18th-century, the Kuroko were added, as a way to shift scenery, along with the Mawari Butai. They were small performers dressed all in black, with their faces covered. The idea was that when they appeared, the backdrop would also be black, and they would blend in- giving an impression that the pieces were moving on their own.
Please visit this site for more resources about Bunraku.
This video depicts a modern interpretation and rehearsal of the Nembutsu Odori Shrine dance, which is what Okuni was said to be imitating. Instead of the flags and drums seen here, Okuni was known to use fans, lengths of silk, and at times, Samurai swords.

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Amanda Mattes
  • Director Tom Gran
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

More from Behind the Curtain