Japan, you will find that one of the most beloved cultural
events is Kabuki
Performances first began in the early part of the 17th
century, which was at the very start of the Edo era, Edo now
being today’s Tokyo.
A Shinto shrine maiden by the name of Okuni actually
created Kabuki. Initially,
actors consisted only of women performers, which created
quite a controversy in Kyoto where the performances
of this, officials put tremendous pressure on Okuni to
change the show in which only young men were used.
Soon, Kabuki took another change in which adult males
were used as well.
Even today, if you were to visit Japan, you would
find Kabuki still being performed only by young and adult
males. Within a
short time, Kabuki actors were all the rage.
Dramas performed branched out whereby performances
were being conducted in several of the larger cities to
include Edo, as well as Osaka and Kyoto.
What made this so interesting is that while the basis
of the performances remained, styles began to differ.
Even so, the theater performances in Edo were the
highest in demand.
Then in the 18th century, Japan saw yet
another innovative change in the form of woodblock
These prints were created by various Japanese
artists, usually depicting images associated with the
“floating world”, which was associated with Buddha.
However, imagines also changed as artists began to
paint the Kabuki actors.
Throughout the 18th and 19th
centuries, woodblock prints of Kabuki were popular.
Some of the most treasured were Ukiyo-e prints, with
many collections still in possession or sought after around
While there were a number of early artists, one of
the best known was Torii Kiyomasu I.
His career spanned the latter portion of the 17th
and the early years of the18th century.
Torii’s skills were quite broad but his primary
focus and what he excelled at was bold prints, magnificent
color, and hand stenciling.
One of the early Ukiyo-e masterpieces was entitled Kintoki
and the Bear, a beautiful woodblock print that ended up
as a part of a French collection owned by Henri Vever.
Originally, Ukiyo-e woodblock prints were only
created in black and
white ink but when color was introduced in the mid-18th
century, everything changed.
With Torii’s career shortly after this innovation,
he had a huge advantage of many of the earlier artists.
Keep in mind that Kabuki actors wore very vibrantly
colored and elaborate costumes, along with full makeup.
Therefore, with the creation of colored ink, Torii
was able of creating amazing prints, which continue to be in
Prints depicting Kabuki actors were also created by
many talented artists.
For instance, Toshesai Sharaku who painted only a
short time from 1794 to 1795 was best known for two
particular prints, which are extremely rare. What makes this artist so unique is that during his
short-lived career as a woodblock painter, he was able to
develop more than 150 prints.
In addition to Kabuki acts and theater scenes,
Toshesai also depicted sumo wrestlers.
As with Torii, Toshesai’s work focusing on Kabuki
actors was vivid, detailed, and very colorful.
Finally, we want to mention another Kabuki theater
artist by the name of Sawamura Sojuro III.
Similar to the other two actors mentioned, he too
focused the majority of his work on actors and scenes
relating to Kabuki theater.
However, Sawamura was also known for his incredible
ability to capture romantic aspects of modern and historical
dramas performed. The
imagination and creativity of this artist pushed him to