Glossary of performance terms

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Japanese traditional performing arts involve a multitude of specialized terms. While many are explained within other articles, this list is aimed at making it easier to find specific terms.

  • Aragoto 荒事 - lit. "rough pieces," a style of kabuki more associated with Edo than with Kamigata, and featuring bold heroes and bombastic action.
  • Banzuke 番付 - a listing of kabuki actors, courtesans, or sumo wrestlers for a given year or season, typically listing them in order of rank.
  • Enmoku 演目 - a play, or a piece. Can be used for most theatre forms.
  • Geza 下座 - the enclosed area to one side of a kabuki stage where musicians perform, barely visible through latticed windows which serve to provide the musicians a limited view of the stage.
  • Hakama Noh 袴能 - Noh performed not in full costume, but in kamishimo. This is often done in summer, in order to both protect the actors from the heat, and the costumes from the actors' sweat.
  • Hanamichi 花道 - lit. "flower path." A walkway running from the kabuki stage through the audience to the back of the theatre, along which dramatic entrances and exits were often performed. A trap door (suppon) was located 7/10ths of the way from the back of the theatre (3/10ths of the way from the stage) at a spot called shichi-san, through which actors could also enter or exit.
  • Hatsubutai 初舞台 - an actor's debut; first appearance on stage
  • Hayashi 囃子 - the orchestra or instrumental ensemble in Noh or kabuki.
  • Jidaimono 時代物 - a "period piece." A kabuki play set in a particular historical period, prior to the Edo period. Contrasted with sewamono, contemporary plays set in the Edo period.
  • Kaeyagura 代櫓 - a temporary kabuki theatre, temporarily licensed by the Tokugawa shogunate to operate for a limited period of time, while one of the long-term licensed theatres is rebuilt, or otherwise temporarily not in operation. Also kariyagura 仮櫓.
  • Kaomise 顔見世 - "face-showing". The first performance of a new kabuki season.
  • Kirimaku 切幕 - the curtain at the rear of a kabuki theatre, through which actors entered & exited onto or from the hanamichi walkway.
  • Kiriotoshi 切り落とし - the "crush" space immediately in front of the stage in traditional kabuki theatres; the cheap seats.
  • Kumadori 隈取 - kabuki makeup, specifically makeup schema featuring bold lines or patterns in red or other colors to indicate a character's disposition or personality.
  • Kyoku 曲 - a piece, or a play. Typically used for Noh pieces, and not for kabuki plays.
  • Mai 舞 - One of two broad categories of traditional dance, contrasted with odori. Mai are defined by a gliding motion of the feet, relatively subdued arm movements, a more subdued mode, and other elements which make it a more abstract, and restrained form in contrast to odori. Mai is chiefly found in Noh, bugaku, and kagura, and has always been performed by professional performers.[1]
  • Mie 見得 - dramatic poses performed by kabuki actors.
  • Murasaki bôshi 紫帽子 - the purple cloth onnagata actors wore under their wigs, covering their shaved pates.
  • Odori 踊 - One of two broad categories of traditional dance, contrasted with mai. Odori are defined by rhythmic movement of the limbs, and by a freer, more colorful, and more realistic style compared to mai. Odori dance grows out of popular folk dance traditions, only becoming incorporated into formal/professional dance traditions later. It continues to be central to many folk dance traditions, as well as geisha and courtesan dances, kabuki, and Nihon buyô.[1]
  • Onnagata 女形 - kabuki actors specializing in playing female roles
  • Rakan dai 羅漢台 - a viewing area behind the stage at a traditional kabuki theatre. The extra-cheap seats, offering a view chiefly of the backs of the actors.
  • Ritsu 律 - in Noh, the voice of sadness, of breath inhaled, in contrast to ryô.
  • Ryô 呂 - in Noh, the voice of joy, of breath exhaled, in contrast to ritsu.
  • Sajiki 桟敷 - box seats, either at a kabuki theatre, or along the road for watching a parade or procession
  • Sewamono 世話物 - Kabuki plays set in contemporary Edo period society, typically in an urban, townsman (chônin) setting, in contrast to the jidaimono period plays set in earlier periods and typically revolving around imperial court or samurai figures.
  • Shibai 芝居 - a play, typically used in kabuki and not in Noh.
  • Shibai jaya 芝居茶屋 - teahouses attached to kabuki theatres
  • Shichi san 七三 - lit. "seven and three." A spot along the hanamichi walkway in kabuki, where a suppon trap door was located. Actors often made dramatic poses, actions, or statements from this spot, roughly 3/10ths of the way into the audience from the stage.
  • Shikiriba - the management office and ticket counter at a kabuki theatre[2]
  • Shûmei 襲名 - an actor's passing down and/or taking on of a stage name (esp. in kabuki). For example, in June 2012, kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke III became Ichikawa En'ô II, passing on his name to his nephew Ichikawa Kamejirô II who then became Ichikawa Ennosuke IV. Productions officially said to be celebrating this shûmei continued through December 2013.
  • Suppon 鼈 - lit. "snapping turtle." A trap door in the kabuki stage, allowing actors to enter from below the stage, or to exit down below it.
  • Wagoto 和事 - lit. "gentle pieces". A style of kabuki associated with Kamigata more so than Edo, featuring gentle male leads and romantic plots.
  • Yorizome 寄初め - a ceremony held at the beginning of each new performance season, in which members of kabuki acting companies (troupes) come together for the first time that season[2]
  • Zagashira 座頭 - the head of a kabuki troupe/company of actors.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Andrew Tsubaki, "The Performing Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan: A Prelude to Kabuki," Educational Theatre Journal 29:3 (1977), 305.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Timothy Clark, "Edo Kabuki in the 1780s," The Actor's Image, Art Institute of Chicago (1994), 27.

See Also