Sub-categories of kabuki plays

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The extensive repertoire of kabuki plays is sub-divided into a great many sub-categories, types, or descriptors. Many of these, such as the categories of Dôjôjimono, Sogamono, and Shakkyômono,[1] refer to groups of closely related pieces based on the same original literary or theatrical source (such as a Noh play or piece of classical literature), or set within the same sekai ("world").

Other types, categories, and descriptors of kabuki plays include:

  • Ichiyazuke (一夜漬), lit. "pickled in one night," refers to plays written and debuted a very short time (figuratively "overnight") after the real-life event they are based on, or inspired by. It was not uncommon during the Edo period for plays to be based upon scandals and incidents such as lovers' suicides and massacres to be put together very quickly after the incident, so that the performance would still be timely, referring to matters still contemporaneously being discussed. Shinjûmono (see below), relating stories of lovers' suicides, were commonly produced in this way during the Edo period. Plays such as Kanadehon Chûshingura (the story of the 47 Ronin) and Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba (inspired by an actual incident) are often not considered ichiyazuke plays, as they debuted months or years after the incident upon which they are based, but both were based, at least in part, upon true ichiyazuke plays composed and performed by regional amateur jishibai troupes mere days or weeks after the incidents.
  • Kizewamono (生世話物) is a sub-category of sewamono ("contemporary plays") focusing on rougher low-class settings and characters, such as thieves, gamblers, and prostitutes. The later Edo period playwrights Tsuruya Nanboku IV and Kawatake Mokuami were the chief pioneers of this form.
  • Maruhon-mono (丸本物) are plays adapted from the puppet theatre. These tend to be some of the longest plays, with the most thorough narratives and complex characters; the influence of the puppet theatre played a crucial role in kabuki's development towards having fuller plots and being more narrative-oriented. Maruhon-mono include Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, Kanadehon Chûshingura, and Sugawara denju tenarai kagami. The gidayû genre of music used in these pieces is often called takemoto in kabuki, after Takemoto Gidayû, the originator of the genre.
  • Matsubame-mono (松羽目物) are plays adapted from the Noh and kyôgen theatre forms. The term (matsu meaning "pine tree") takes its name from the prominent painting of a pine tree that dominates the back of the stage in these plays, as it does at Noh and kyôgen performances. Unlike in most kabuki plays, where the musicians are hidden behind a latticed screen, in matsubamemono, the musicians are positioned in clear view, seated on an upstage platform that extends across the stage, in emulation of the onstage chorus and hayashi (ensemble) of the Noh and kyôgen forms. One of the most representative examples of this sub-category is Kanjinchô, a play based closely upon the Noh play Ataka.
  • Shinjûmono (心中物), also known as "love suicides plays," feature stories of star-crossed lovers (often a townsman and a prostitute) who are unable to be together in life, due to societal barriers or their personal life situations, and who thus seek to commit double-suicide, so that they can be together in death. "Love Suicides at Amijima" and "Love Suicides at Sonezaki," written by puppet theatre playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, are the most famous and representative examples of this sub-genre.
  • Shiranamimono (白浪物) are plays featuring rogues and thieves as the appealing protagonists; even if they are not indeed honorable in their attitudes or actions, the audience is led to root for these charming and clever figures. The most representative example is Shiranami Gonin Otoko, also known as Benten Kozô.
  • Shosagoto (所作事) are dance-dramas, usually excerpted from longer, fuller plays, and often containing a minimum of dialogue or narrative. Examples of shosagoto include the dance pieces Renjishi and Echigo-jishi, and the dance sections of longer plays such as Musume Dôjôji and Seki no to.


  • "Kabuki Glossary."
  • McQueen Tokita, Alison. "Music in kabuki: more than meets the eye." The Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. pp229-260.
  1. Dôjôjimono are based on the Noh play Dôjôji, and feature a woman whose jealousy transforms her into a serpent demon; in the most famous scene, the serpent wraps itself around a large Buddhist temple bell. Sogamono are inspired by the classical Soga monogatari and features the Soga brothers, who are on a quest to avenge the death of their father. Shakkyômono (lit. "stone bridge plays") are lion dances referencing a traditional Chinese story of lions playing at a stone bridge.