Kabuki, the classical Japanese Song-Dance-Drama which was born in the year 1603 is popular even today. It is simply because the Japanese love and respect old traditions. They strive to improvise and keep them alive. They respect and encourage the artists of these ancient arts and automatically the old traditions survive and are still popular. In contrast, in India most ancient dance forms are dead or dying. In Andhra Pradesh Harikatha and Burrakatha are dead and once common and popular forms of entertainment: Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi have very few students and patrons. Except Doordarshan TV Channel none of the other Telugu TV channels ever show old traditional forms of entertainment. Modernisation is killing traditions in India but not so in countries like Japan.
During my two trips to Japan I got to watch and hear a lot about Kabuki. The above pictures are of a Kabuki advertisement and the next picture is of some Kabuki souvenirs I brought home.
Initially Kabuki was mostly comic plays on ordinary life performed exclusively by female artistes who played the role of men and women. This form of drama became a great success and a common form of entertainment. However a few years later as the plays became vulgar and the female artistes misbehaved Kabuki was banned in 1629. But very soon it picked up again with all male actors. Now male actors started playing both female and male characters.
Over the years the story lines changed and many influential and classic plays came into prominence. Despite on and off turmoil due to various reasons, Kabuki has survived. It is today the most popular of the traditional styles of Japanese drama. There are several popular Kabuki performing troupes in Japan and a few abroad. And many actors are national heroes have a big fan following. Kabuki is still an all-men performance but for a very few local troupes which have some actresses. With Kabuki troupes regularly touring Australia, Europe and America, it has become popular in these continents too and the interest is growing. To suit foreign patrons the local drama like Shakespeare’s works are also being adapted into Kabuki!
In November 2005, Kabuki was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. You may see the below videos to understand Kabuki better. The first video is a Kabuki dance performance and the second video is a documentary on Kabuki Theatre: