Friday, June 22, 2007

Izumo no Okuni

the founder of Kabuki

<span class=Izumo-no-Okuni - creator of Kabuki dance" src="">

Izumo no Okuni (出雲の阿国)born about 1571 or 72, and lived until around 1613. She was born at the end of the luxurious Azuchi-Momoyama period (1576-1600), which was also the heyday of big Japanese conquerors, such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who worked throughout their lives to unify feudal Japan under one military power. Then the tumultuous Edo Period (1600-1867, sometimes called the Tokugawa era after Ieyasu Tokugawa, the shogun) was often called the “Period of Warring States”, as daimyo-- land barons-- fought each other for land and power. During this time samurai thrived, living and dying at the whim of their masters.

Okuni’s family lived around the Izumo Shrine, where her father worked as a blacksmith and Okuni worked as a miko. Miko, traditionally virgin girls dressed in traditional white kimono shirts and red hakama pants, helped with the upkeep of the temple, sold the small holy trinkets, and went around towns collecting money for the temple. Okuni, known for her dancing skills and her beauty, decided to dance to raise alms. She was a smashing hit, and instead of going back to the shrine, she decided to send back money and to set up a theatre in the dry riverbed of the Shij­ogawa (now known as the Kamo River).

The Distinguished Women website states, "Ignoring the summons to return to the Shrine, she set up her own theatre on the banks of the Shijo River in Kyoto. This was a long-known gathering place for the kabukimono, young people and those not so young, who felt alienated and displaced, the homeless, and those who might qualify as the "hippies" of the day."

Kabuki is based off the word kabuku, which can be translated several different ways.
One website stated that "the origin of word 'Kabuki' comes from the Japanese kabuku, meaning "something cutting edge." ( Another defined kabuki as “... the nominal form of the verb kabuku, 'to incline in a certain direction' and mono is a certain slang term for people, usually young, who dared to defy the mores of the day." ( Kabuki can also be "... 'shocking' or 'forward leaning'.” ( The word kabuku is not in any of the modern Japanese dictionaries I own, but now the word kabuki is written by symbols that mean song and dance, not to learn.

Okuni-kabuki, as the artform came to be called, was “gaudy, musical, noisy and colorful. Izumo played parts both male and female. Initially, Kabuki, was a sort of a line dance and song with no significant plot.” ( With the help of her playwrite lover, Sanzaburo Ujisato, the dance evolved into a form of drama. After Ujisato died, Okuni went on with her dance, combining the origional dancing and singing with the storylines.

The samurai loved it, and the people of Japan loved it. Partially it, unlike the Noh, was about common people and things. It was also available to the common people, while Noh was only for the rich and royal.

In 1610, Okuni retired, but Kabuki survived without it’s superstar. I believe it gained it’s popularity because with the ease it was being adopted by local brothels. This new prostituting dance was called Yuji Kabuki. One website claims that “The dancing was apparently too distracting for the samurai and other men that the stuffy Tokugawa Shogunate banned women from the stage as of 1629.” ( But, when the Shogunite banned young women, young boys jumped in to fill the void, and the problem was not solved. Kabuki was banned yet again, but when there was a large public outcry, the shogunite reluctantly let the art reopen as long as only older men played the parts. And thus, modern-day Kabuki was started.

But, Okuni left her mark on the art forever. She developed the hanamichi (path of flowers), a path way that leads from the front stage to the back of the audience, which give the actors dramatic entrances and exits. She also began kaomise, (show face), where the actors parade onto the hanamichi and strike poses for the audience. A statue of Izumo no Okuni also stands on the banks of the Kamo River, where she first developed kabuki.

As one website puts it, Okuni is perhaps most fondly remembered because “parallels can be made between Izumo no Okuni and the modern pop music performer, Madonna. Madonna often wears men's clothing and dances provocatively.The contradiction of purity and vulgarity that are found in the suggestive Nenbutsu dance can even be found in Madonna's own words: 'I'm only interested in women who are saints or prostitutes,' the star once said.”

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