Japanese traditional performing arts “Kyogen, Nou, Kabuki”

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There are many different traditional performing arts in Japan, but since it is an island country, many of them had gone through a unique development without being influenced by the foreign cultures at all. This is true for the theatre as well and Nou, Kyogen and Kabuki which still follow the old styles, are known as cultures that are unique to this country. Even in the modern days, for things like Kabuki and Noraku, there are many cases where the performances are held overseas and many famous performers are demonstrating the skills that have been passed on over many many years all over the world.


Japanese Noraku – Nou and Kyogen

It is believed that Noraku was originally introduced from China as a type of dance called Shinraku. In the beginning, a number of forms of art were collectively called Shingaku, but with an influence from Dengaku, which was a type of dance that was performed to pray for rich harvest, the dancing out of other forms of art in Shingaku developed differently from others. By the end of thirteen century, the stories and music were added to the dancing and the performances very similar to what is known as Noraku today and slowly established itself as a type of entertainment. It is believed that, then, the historic fable and stories started to be called Nou and the comedies with themes of more common everyday life started to be called Kyogen. Eventually, it became one of the traditional Japanese performing arts which also interests people from overseas.


Globally famous Kabuki

Kabuki was a Japanese traditional performing art that was especially popular among the common people. The plays that were about the Kabukimo, people who dressed strangely, got so popular that there were many stars, or celebrities as you wish, by the time of Edo Period. In fact, there are many Ukiyoe – Japanese woodblock print – from that period that use Kabuki motifs. Many big Kabuki players are working hard to train new performers. Kabuki’s unique style is popular overseas and there are increasing opportunities for the foreign visitors to watch a Kabuki performance


Fascination of Japanese traditional performing arts

Probably, the fact that each one of the Japanese traditional performing arts is different and unique is what makes Japanese traditional arts, collectively, very fascinating. For instance, Kyogen has many very funny stories. Not only that, there are also new performances put together that take in modern cultures and views. Therefore, you can enjoy the sense of humour that is suitable for the time. On the other hand, Nou can be enjoyed in a very solemn atmosphere and with dances and music using Classical Japanese texts or Chinese poetry which let you sense the long history of hundreds of years. Kabuki, since it developed as an entertainment almost since the beginning, is easy to enjoy even if it is one from the classics and with the eccentric costumes and the movements, you can enjoy the performance even without understanding the story.


Recommended traditional performing arts for foreign visitors

In recent years, Japan has been making efforts to make Japanese traditional performing arts more well known overseas. For example, in order to attract more foreign visitors to the performances, they are providing pamphlets with basic facts about the performing arts and setting up monitors that show English subtitles at the theatres. They are trying to make the performances enjoyable even without understanding Japanese. That is only in Japan, but they are also actively performing overseas as well, and so you could enjoy Japanese traditional performing arts without actually being in Japan.


How to Enjoy the Japanese Performing arts

Many Japanese traditional performing arts are of course performed in Japanese. Moreover, because it is old style Japanese, even for people who know Japanese, or even for Japanese native speakers, sometimes it is hard to understand. However, they can be enjoyed like musicals, looking at the movements and listening to the music. There will be subtle changes in facial expressions or with the movements of hands and feet. There will be unique melodies of the Japanese musical instruments. There are things that you can only find in Japanese performing arts. You could also look into those pamphlets that explain the stories and make them more understandable for you.


Since Japan was isolated from other countries, Japanese cultures developed very uniquely without major influences from foreign cultures. For every traditional performing art, there was time when it almost died out, but each one of them adapted to the period and they are now all popular all over the world. In the modern days, you can see the videos of their performances online, but to truly understand their attraction, it is best watching with your own eyes – please visit Japan and enjoy the real Nou, real Kyogen and Kabuki performances.

(noren Ichiro)



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