Nihon buyo

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  • Japanese: 日本舞踊 (Nihon buyou)

Nihon buyô (lit. "Japan[ese] dance") is the most prominent form of traditional Japanese dance in modern times. It is one of many so-called "traditional arts" formalized during the Meiji period, when Japan was working to construct a consolidated system of traditions it could promote as its "national arts" or "national traditions." The style and aesthetics of Nihon buyô derive almost exclusively from the geisha/courtesan entertainment traditions, and from the dance forms used in kabuki theatre. The vast majority of pieces in the traditional Nihon buyô repertoire are taken directly from kabuki plays, or from dance traditions closely related to the kabuki forms.

Since women are not permitted to perform in official/professional kabuki productions, many choose to practice Nihon buyô instead; many of the masters of Nihon buyô are either blood relatives or students of top-ranking kabuki actors, and their schools reflect a direct stylistic lineage connection to prominent kabuki families. The school of Nihon buyô sensei Onoe Kikunobu, for example, draws directly upon the style of the Onoe family, having received official approval from top-ranking actor Onoe Kikugorô VII, while another school may operate under the tutelage of sisters or daughters of one of the actors to hold the prestigious name Ichikawa Danjûrô, practicing the dance forms of the Ichikawa family, and not those of the Onoe family. Due to these connections to separate kabuki lineages, as well as to the differences between schools or individual sensei within the Nihon buyô traditions, many variant versions of a given dance exist, along with variants in the costume and music for that dance.

As these dances derive from the kabuki theater, they are typically accompanied by one or more shamisen players and some or all of the drums, flutes, bells, gongs, and other instruments that comprise a kabuki hayashi (musical ensemble).

Dance music tends to be divided into two categories, utaimono (song pieces) in the nagauta style, and katarimono (narrative pieces) in the tokiwazu or kiyomoto musical styles. These categories reflect traditional differences between the musical styles tracing back to their origins - some styles being more purely musical, and some being more directed at serving as musically accompaniment for narratives. However, over the course of the centuries since the initial emergence of these styles, they have grown increasingly similar to one another, making the distinction somewhat less meaningful. Traditional Nihon buyô pieces deriving from the kabuki theatre also include pieces accompanied in the shinnai, katôbushi, tomimoto, and gidayû-bushi styles.


  • McQueen Tokita, Alison. "Music in kabuki: more than meets the eye." The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. p237.