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A wonderful combination of ancient traditions and cutting-edge modern life, Japan has it all. It is one of the world’s most fascinating places to visit as many wonders and revelation await you. You can try your hand at Origami, the popular art of paper folding, or take a walk down the serene paths of a temple or you may step into a theatre and take in a performance - the Kabuki Theatre is a must see in Japan as it is the most famous of the traditional Japanese theatres and depicts one of the various aspects of performing arts.  

Kabuki originated in the Edo period and was more popular with the lower social class as compared to the higher social classes. The word 'Kabuki' is composed of three Japanese characters: 'ka' meaning 'songs', 'bu' meaning 'dance' and 'ki' meaning 'skill'. Its more likely a Japanese version of Shakespeare’s plays being performed in an Opera. But Kabuki is more entertaining, energetic and awesome in the use of color, makeup, movements and often other spectacular effects. 

The passion for Kabuki Theatre began with first performance by the shrine dancer Okuni at Kyoto in 1603. This performance was a unique blend of folk dance and religious dance and soon became popular with the lower classes. In the early phase of the 17th century, women were banned from performing because women performers were lured to the business of prostitution and were getting undue attention from male admirers. This led to the development of art of female impersonation wherein males also played female parts. The beginning of the 18th century marked the development of Kabuki into a more matured form and was starting to become popular even with the higher classes of society. 

Kabuki plays are composed of certain varying elements that help it become so colorful and glamorous. These elements include: Story, Musical Elements, Dramatic Content, Dance, Costume, Make-up, Theatre Design, and Actor/Audience Relationship. Kabuki plays are about society in a particular period, historical events, moral conflicts, love relationships etc. and are performed using a combination of dramatic dialogue and dance, and accompanied by drums, flutes, stringed instruments called shamisen, and chanting. The Kabuki music also employs special spectacular audio-effects. The most exceptional among them is the sounding of wooden clappers signaling the opening and the closing of a Kabuki play. The actors/performers wear costumes that reflect the contemporary styles of the day. The costumes play a major role to emphasize the character’s role being portrayed by the performer, as they themselves are full of complexity and hidden meaning. Along with the costumes, make-up is also considered as an integral part of Kabuki performance. The theatrical designs have changed over a period of time, ranging from raised platforms on a riverbed to the modern day theatres having rotating stages and a whole range of gadgets. The last but not the least is the Actor-Audience Relationship as there are instances in a Kabuki play when an actor would come out of his role and address the audience directly.  

Kabuki performers are very famous in Japan and this theatrical art is usually passed from one family generation to the next, but the National Theater in Tokyo also has a school for training young and upcoming performers. The costumes and conventions of the traditional Kabuki are still being incorporated in the modern Kabuki plays. However, the new generation performers are finding out new ways to update plays in-order to attract more and more audiences.  

You can only appreciate the theatrical creativity of this art form by visiting a Kabuki performance and a good tip would be to go with a Japanese national who is familiar with the Kabuki Theatre.

 

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