Published: December 21st 2008November 30th 2008
Kabuki was a popular form of entertainment among commoners during the Edo period (1603-1868). Each season began in the eleventh month of the lunar calendar, so theaters presented kaomise kyogen (face-showing drama), which introduced the actors who would appear on stage for the next year. Kaomise banzuke (pamphlets with actors' portraits) were published, and many people visited the theaters.
Kabuki was established in the early Edo period by a woman named Izumono Oukni at the Shijo River in Kyoto. It initially became popular as a kind of review or operetta performed by courtesans and beautiful young boys, but they were eventually banned for reasons of immorality, leading to the present style of kabuki performed by adult males only. Kabuki's spreading popularity reached the warrior class to the point where even ladies who worked in o-oku (living quarters for the shogun's wife and consorts) secretly visited the theaters. However, after 1714, when an affair between Ejima, the governess of o-oku, and the actor Ikushima Shingoro of Yamamuraza theater was exposed, it became extremely difficult for women from the warrior class to openly enjoy kabuki. However, for the ladies living deep inside Edo castle, their passion for kabuki did not die. The
wife of the actor Nakamura Nakazo became an okyogenshi, a kabuki actress who performed in the private quarters of shogun and feudal lords, and in 1790 an all-female kabuki theater was established in o-oku.
Most of the kabuki costumes in the Tokyo National Museum were used by an okyogenshi named Bando Mitsue. She was an actress favored by Renshoin (1785-1861), the wife of Hosokawa Naritatsu, Omiyo-no-kata (-1872), consort of the 11th shogun Ienari, and her daughter Suehime (1817-1872). In addition to the items worn by Bando Mitsue, this exhibition features costumes from the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) periods, costumes that follow the tradition from the Edo period. Please enjoy these costumes, with their gorgeous decoration of thick and dynamic embroidery, large design motifs, and rich colors.
One of the things I wanted to see while in Tokyo was a kabuki play; however, there weren't any plays going on when I was there. Nevertheless, I still went to the theatre to snap some photos.