Fascination of Kabuki

2019 Japan Cultural Envoy (long-term dispatch type)
Kabuki Actor
  • Countries visited:The United States of America, Cuba, Mexico
  • Period of the activities:From November 5 to December 4, 2019

Kabuki, serving for the first time as a Japan Cultural Envoy, traveled to the United States of America (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Michigan), Mexico and Cuba. I have introduced Kabuki in some 50 cities in 30 countries around the world, including the United States of America and Mexico. However, this was my first Kabuki performance in Cuba, and I felt an overwhelming of responsibility and anxiety. Thanks to Professor KODAMA Ryuichi of Waseda University and Shochiku Co., Ltd., our small entourage of only one onnagata (female role actor), yours truly, gave a successful performance in a way that conveyed the charm of Kabuki.
The program consisted of lectures and demonstrations focused on onnagata and lasting a little over 90 minutes. The program started with my performance of “Fuji Musume (Wisteria Maiden)”, which showed the beauty of onnagata and hikinuki (quick costume change). This was followed by a lecture coupled with a video by Professor KODAMA entitled, “What is Kabuki?” I then gave a lecture and demonstration on the basics of onnagata, followed by Professor KODAMA’s second lecture. The program ended with my performance of “Shakkyo (The Lion Dance)”, which included shishi no kurui (lion’s keburi, or swirling of the long mane). At the request of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the program also included a crosscultural performance. At the curtain call, the keburi was performed to local music. That took the audience by surprise and was wildly received in every theater. The lecture on onnagata also included audience participation in theatrical expression of emotions like crying and laughing. Audiences participated enthusiastically and seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“Shakkyo” performance, Cuba

Lecture on onnagata and performance, UCLA

In the lecture, I told the audience through an interpreter that Kabuki is not something to be watched in a solemn manner; audiences are most welcome to clap their hands and shout out to the actor at any moment that they feel that a performance is excellent or exciting. Because of this, audience in all places we visited called out vigorously to the actor, showing that they were really enjoying themselves.
At University of Michigan, I gave a 60-minute lecture on how to depict the love between a man and woman in Kabuki. In Cuba, I held a forum with students of the Instituto Superior de Arte. As I observed them watching the performance with keen interest, I could sense their deep understanding of other cultures.

Lecture, University of Michigan

I am proud to have played a role through that experience in conveying a little taste of the charm of Kabuki. Furthermore, as a Japan Cultural Envoy, it has been a great pleasure to receive feedback from various places requesting a repeat performance. I believe this is solely due to the latent power of Kabuki built up by our forerunners. I could not help but feel this power during my stint as a Japan Cultural Envoy.

Commemorative photo taken after performance, Mexico