Japanese Culture: The Art of Japanese Theater

Japanese theater has been around for centuries.  There are four main forms of Japanese theater; Noh (), Kyogen (狂言), Kabuki (歌舞伎), and Bunraku (文楽).  Kyogen was mainly used during intermission between Noh acts.  Noh was performed for the upper class.  Performers who had roles in Noh plays did not wear masks.  The most well-known form of theater is Kabuki, which, unlike Noh, combined music, drama, and dance.  The extravagance came in dressing up in crazy costumes and real-life sword fighting.  Bunraku is the Japanese term for “Puppet Theater”.  Puppet dolls were 3 to 4 feet tall and were handled by puppeteers.  The puppeteers who controlled the movement of the puppets had to wear all black while the main puppeteer who controlled speech wore colorful clothing.  Music played a large role in all types of Japanese theater.

Japanese theater has evolved over hundreds of years, from the formal, symbolic, and solemn 14th century Noh theater to the extravagant 16th century Kabuki theater.In modern theater, the Japanese adopted naturalistic acting and contemporary themes.  In the postwar period following World War II, many plays focused more on the developing history of Japan.  Western themes also made it to Japanese theater which was called, “Shingeki (新劇)”.  Some plays performed in this theme included the works of William Shakespeare such as “Hamlet” and “King Lear”.  Over the years, you can see how Japanese theater has changed and developed but one thing that has stayed the same is the Japanese peoples’ love for theater.

UNESCO has a video clip about Kabuki Theatre on their YouTube channel.

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Joie Montoya
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