Kabuki is a form of Japanese theater that began in the 17th century. Kabuki is a type of dance/drama that is renowned not only for the performance itself but also for the elaborate make-up that is worn by all of the performers.
Kabuki traces its origins back to 1603 when Okuni of Izumo began performing a new style of dance and drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. The performances were done by women who portrayed both men and women and feature comic stories about everyday life. These performances gradually gained in popularity until Okuni was even asked to perform for the Imperial court.
With the increased popularity rival troupes quickly formed and the performances would be solely performed by women. Many of these performances became very suggestive and this only increased due to the fact that many of the troupe members were also prostitutes. In 1629 it was decided that women were degrading the art of the Kabuki and were therefore banned from Kabuki performances.
After this the performances were taken over by men who would cross-dress in order to take on the female roles. Strangely enough these performances required younger men with less masculine appearances in order to take on the female roles, but these performances were just as suggestive as the female versions. Many of these men were also available for prostitution as well. When the audiences began to get overly rowdy it was decided that roles involving young men, or men dressed as women should be banned, but both of these bans were rescinded in 1952.
Following these period Kabuki truly began to thrive and adopted a more formal structure. Conventional characters were developed and eventually professional playwrights of Kabuki entered the scene, the first of which was Chikamatsu Monzaemon. His most influential work was Sonezaki Shinju which was originally written for bunraku but was adopted for Kabuki. This work spawned many copycat versions, but the play’s nature (telling the story of lovers who committed suicide) was eventually banned by the government because it was believed to cause too many copycat suicides.
Today Kabuki remains the most popular of all the traditional styles of Japanese drama. There are a few theaters in the major cities as well as troupes that perform in the smaller cities and in the country. Today there are even troupes that include women in their cast and even a few troupes that have all women casts, just like the original kabuki troupes.
The Koto is a traditional Japanese instrument that first made its way into Japan in the 7th century. It was brought over by Chinese and Korean musicians who came to play in the Japanese court, this instrument known as the guzheng gave way to the development of the koto. Beyond this there are a number of different Japanese myths that relate the creation of the Koto. One of these myths states that the Koto was created in the form of a crouching dragon.
The Koto consists of 13 strings stretched out against a soundboard made out of hallowed out paulownia timber. Traditionally these strings were made out of silk but modern Kotos use synthetic fibers. The strings are tuned using moveable bridges that are made of either ivory or plastic. In order to play the Koto one puts ivory pectrum on the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand. The left hand applies pressure in order to change the pitch.
It was during the 15th century that solos for the Koto came into fancy, these were known as sookyoku. By the 17th century the sookyoku was among the most popular entertainment for the wealthy merchant class. The popularity of the koto continued to grow as even more strings were added and students spend their lives studying the instrument.
Today the koto has somewhat decreased in popularity because of the influx of popular music. But music is still being written for all kinds of kotos including varieties with as many as 25 strings. The Sawai Koto School was founded in 1965 and is now the center of modern koto music in Japan. The school was founded by Tadao Sawai who was a prolific composer and brilliant koto player. Today International Sawai Koto Schools have been created in order to spread the culture and music of Japan to all areas of the world, as was the original dream of Tadao Sawai.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is steeped in tradition and it is filled with rituals that all have a deep and significant meaning.
If you are a guest of the tea ceremony you are expected to know the importance and the tradition of the ceremony as well as the host. All guests are first led to a waiting room while the host prepares for the ceremony. Once the host is prepared the guests are lead through a dew garden, where no flowers grow. The garden is meant to cleanse the guests of the dust of the world. After walking through the garden they sit upon a special bench to await the appearance of the host.
Before greeting the guests the host must cleanse his hands and mouth with fresh water in a stone basin. The guests are then welcomed with a bow, but no words are spoken. The guests will then enter in the order of assistant host, main guests and then the rest of the guests. When the guests pass under chumon (middle gate) they are leaving the physical world and entering the spiritual world that is represented by tea. The guests then enter the tea house through a sliding door that is only three feet high. Once inside everyone will bow in order to show that they are all equal.
The tea house has no decoration except for one hanging scroll. The scroll is chosen by the host and is meant to represent the tea ceremony. The guests will then each admire the scroll, tea kettle, and the hearth. The guests are then seated in the same order that they entered, the host will then seat themselves and the greetings will begin.
Everything used in the tea ceremony has a different meaning. The water represents yin and the hearth represents yang. The host will have a tea bowl which will contain the tea whisk, the tea cloth, and the tea scoop. The host will then purify the tea container and the tea scoop with a fine silk cloth. The items will then be dried with the tea cloth. The host will then place three scoops of tea into the tea container for each guest. Hot water is then added to the bowl in order to make a paste. The paste is stirred with the whisk until it resembles a cream soup.
The bowl is then passed to each guest who examines the tea and the bowl and then takes a sip. The bowl is then passed back to the host who cleans the bowl and all of the articles used. Each item is then passed to the guests for examination as many of the items used in the tea ceremony can be generations old. Once the ceremony is complete the guests will discuss the ceremony and the items that they examined.