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  • Japanese: 地芝居 (jishibai)

Throughout the history of kabuki theatre, rural / regional / local forms of kabuki have existed alongside the "big theatre" (ôshibai) kabuki of the three main cities of Edo period Japan (that is, Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka). These rural/regional/local performance traditions are known as jishibai.

The term most often refers to amateur productions performed by local villagers, in conjunction with local festivals, usually only once or twice a year. Some of these traditions continue today, chiefly in Gifu and Aichi prefectures, and in the Furuichi neighborhood of Ise.

In discussing the Edo period, jishibai can also refer to a slightly broader range of modes of regional performances. Some major, second-tier, cities, such as Ise, Kanazawa, and Nagoya, maintained their own medium-sized or small theatres (known as chûshibai and koshibai respectively), while in other regions traveling troupes (tabishibai, "traveling theatre") passed from town to town, performing chiefly at Shinto shrines, in a form known as miya shibai ("shrine theatre"). In both cases, troupes were limited to a 100-day license, performing only for a 100-day span during each year.

Village troupes generally hired an actor or chanter from a traveling troupe to serve as advisor or choreographer for their production; the plays performed included those performed at the big-city theatres, as well as plays specially written for that village, its festivals, or tutelary deity. Perhaps most popular were maruhonmono, kabuki plays adapted from ningyô jôruri (puppet theatre). Villages often amassed a communal collection of costumes, wigs, props, set pieces, scripts, etc. over the years, maintaining them and using them year after year; some such collections continue to be used today.

Though individuals' travel became easier and cheaper in the Meiji period, local and traveling theatrical troupes still flourished. In fact, the period from roughly 1870 to 1940 may have been the high point for both of these forms. Traveling troupes disappeared, however, by the 1950s, as interest in traditional theatre declined, and as railroads and highways made the big cities more accessible than ever before.


  • Noriko Yasuda, "On Jishibai, or Rural Kabuki," Kabuki Symposium, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 13 November 2010.