Japan’s Traditional Performing Arts – Kabuki


I am Hana, a new staff at Bunka Language School. Before working here, I was freelancing in the arts industry, doing playwriting as well as backstage work such as stage and production managing for various theatre and dance collectives. I love being able to participate in any arts and cultural events and always look forward to seeing how other countries conserve their culture and promote their arts.

Working at Bunka inspires me to enquire on the Japanese culture and arts further. So, I did a little research about Japan’s traditional performing arts and would like to share some of my findings with you.


kabuki1(Kabuki Theatre © Umemura Yutaka)

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theatre and is recognised as one of Japan’s three major classical theatre forms along with Noh and Bunraku. It is listed as one of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Originally, both women and men performed in Kabuki plays but later during the Edo Period, a restriction was placed, forbidding women from participating. This tradition has remained until today and male actors who specialise in performing women’s roles are called Onnagata.

A typical Kabuki program today consists of two dramas and one dance or dance-drama. It involves rhythmical lines spoken by actors, elaborately designed costumes, a dynamic stage and exaggerated actions by the actors. A Kabuki stage has a footbridge, called hanamichi, which leads through the audience, allowing for a dramatic entrance or exit. The performance is accompanied by a live music that uses traditional instruments. These elements above, produce a visually stunning and captivating performance.

Kabuki stories are usually based on historical events, moral conflicts, warm-hearted dramas, love stories and tales of tragedy or conspiracies. What is on show is often a part of a bigger story hence it will be good to read the synopsis of that show before attending. At some theatres, you will be able to rent headsets which will provide English narrations and explanations.

I hope I’ll be able to visit Japan and have a performing arts/ an art ‘marathon’ someday. I shall share on Noh and Bunraku soon. Thank you for reading my first post!


Learn new Japanese words!
歌舞伎 (kabuki) – a form of classical Japanese dance-drama
女形 (onnagata) – woman-role
花道 (hanamichi) – flower path
能 (noh) – a form of classical Japanese musical drama
文楽 (bunraku) – a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre

We’ll be starting a new blog series next week! Stay tuned!