The Kabuki Theatre of Japan

The Kabuki Theatre of Japan

The Kabuki Theatre of Japan

The Kabuki Theatre of Japan


Dance, music, symbolism and colourful exaggeration have a universal appeal; they are indispensable to the Japanese heart as is exemplified in the old popular drama, the Kabuki. It is not without significance that some of the most enthusiastic admirers of this ancient theatre are to be found among the foreigners who throng Japan today, although the Kabuki is as far removed from the naturalistic entertainments of the West as it is possible to be. Perhaps its disregard for reality, and emphasis on imagination and make-believe, appeals to instincts deep within every man, but forgotten in the mechanical entertainments of an industrial civilization.

In learning to appreciate the Kabuki, it is rather like one of those toys common to one's childhood: a lid is removed from a gaily painted box revealing another closely fitted inside, and inside that yet another, and so on until one comes to the very kernel of all the boxes. The more knowledge gained of the background of the theatre, the more must be learned of the life of the Japanese people themselves and, in this way, the lid may be lifted from the first of the layers of boxes on the voyage of expectation and discovery.

I first came to the Kabuki by way of China and the classical drama of Peking. It taught me one lesson, that to gain a deeper understanding of the artistic background of Japan, and I include the theatre, too, it is a useful thing to have a prior acquaintance with China. To get beneath the superficial surface, the mere picturesque, which is too often the yardstick of Occidental interest, it is better to go first to China, the fountainhead of so much that has permeated Japanese culture. To know Japan only is to start at the wrong end of the stick, particularly today when that stick is busily engaged in stirring a melting pot. Unfortunately we no longer have the choice.

This volume is the result of two years spent working with the people of the Kabuki theatre of Tokyo, as well as with those from the Bunraku, or doll theatre of Osaka. It is hoped that it may serve as a useful handbook, not only for those fortunate enough to be able to visit this enchanting theatre for themselves, but for a wider circle of readers interested in Japanese artistic values which, regrettably, seem to be passing into the twilight of their existence.

A. C. S.

Tokyo/Hong Kong, 1953-4 . . .

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