Kabuki rhymes with nothing but it is bizarre. It is believed Kabuki is derived from the verb "Kubuku" which means out of the ordinary or bizarre. I'll say. Kabuki theater is classical Japanese drama known for the elaborate costumes and make-up.
In kanji characters it means "sing", "dance" and "skill." However you define it, it's something anyone living in Japan should see at least once.
Russell and I went as part of our acculturation campaign. Friday night was Kabuki Theater, Saturday night was Sumo Wrestling, (watching; not participating) and Sunday night was a party on the roof of our apartment to meet the neighbors. After this weekend we're feeling very acculturated.
Kabuki Theater was an experience. Our seats were great, right next to the runway. Yes, runway. Characters occasionally enter the stage on it. We had secured the tickets through TAC (The Tokyo American Club). In fact one of the TAC employees who always assists me with cultural events was seated in our row.
The program we saw included three plays, or parts of plays, as well as, a naming ceremony. Apparently everyone in Kabuki theater is related to each other and the acting names get passed down from one to another based on acting ability and rank. The ceremony we saw honored a father and son both assuming their father before thems' acting name. According to the TAC employee the father being honored today is the son of an actor who is considered a "national treasure." He is literally called that. Can you imagine? "Yes I'd like you to meet Mr. Russell X - National Treasure." I can't think of any actor or athlete who is called "a natural treasure" in America. We don't have those kind of distinctions. In England they give out knighthoods. In America, they just give you lots of money and gift bags.
Apparently naming ceremonies are a very important part of Kabuki theater, in which titles are passed down through families. In fact, you can't even get into Kabuki theater unless you were born into it. Male descendants are expected to follow in their father's footsteps. Kind of like the Sheens and the Baldwins. Women aren't allowed to participate. What? In ancient days Kabuki theater was played by an all women cast. Apparently a lot of the themes were suggestive and actresses performed off stage as well as on stage, if you know what I mean. Some uptight shogun banned women from kabuki in 1629, after which women's roles were played by young men. However that drew another type of um, unsavory audience. You can take the Kabuki out of the theater but you can't take the Kabuki out of the audience. So then only men above a certain age were allowed to act in Kabuki theater.
It's been 500 years now and the boys are back but women are still banned. Hello?
Russell and I were armed with English translators and I couldn't help but chuckle when the audio declared that one of the actors being honored, although of an elevated age (over 50), could still persuasively play female characters. I think I need more persuasion or more sake. He wasn't pretty.
At first I thought the acting was comical. The sets were magical and the costumes were awe inspiring but the synchronized expressions, drawn out for maximum impact, were a little over dramatic. But then I started to appreciate it. The translator definitely helped. One of Russell's associates told me Kabuki was hard enough to follow in Japanese, much less English. He was right.
One of the plays was about a famous thief from the 15th century. Yeah, these people never forget. I thought perhaps it was a Japanese Robin Hood story. No. He wasn't famous for stealing, he was famous for the way he died. How nice. Apparently there was a new shogun in power and he wanted to demonstrate he wasn't soft on crime so he concocted a new way to kill a thief - boil them. I believe they call it "parboiling." And I thought it was just a gourmet cooking term. As this was being broadcast over our interpreting devices, Russell turned to me and said, "perfect." I had to stifle a giggle.
After the second play we were escorted back stage by a woman who works with TAC and given the amazing privilege of meeting the senior actor being honored. Russell and I were astounded. The other TAC associate was with us and when I asked him if this was normal, his face and the fact I thought he was going to faint when he met the famous actor, indicated how rare an occasion this was. Russell and I were profoundly grateful.
We had our picture taken with the actor. In America it would be the equivalent of meeting Sean Connery or somebody equally exalted. Course Sean wouldn't be wearing five kimonos weighing over 75 pounds and three coats of heavy white pancake makeup.