THE ORIGINS OF KABUKI
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Q What, briefly, is kabuki?
A

Kabuki is traditional theater that originated among the common people in the Edo period of Japan. Despite repression by the Edo shogunate, it managed to be popular for 400 years. The kabuki was able to avoid turning into a rigid, lifeless form; until the Meiji period, it continued to evolve by incorporating interesting narratives and performing styles from many other types of stage entertainment, such as noh, ky?gen, and bunraku.

There are so many aspects to kabuki that can be appreciated, such as brilliantly colored costumes, lavish staging, and brilliant stage devices. Last, but not least, are the technical skills of the kabuki actors, who number among the top in Japan. One feature of kabuki is that all its actors are men, most of whom begin their training at a very early age. All female parts are played by men called onnagata (female impersonator). Thanks to the unremitting training of its performers, the kabuki theater has given birth to great actors who have become a symbol of their age. And in recent years, greater opportunities have opened up for kabuki actors to appear in modern plays or musicals.

At the same time, the kabuki style of acting is exerting a strong influence on contemporary theater such as shingeki, or new-style theaters, and small-theater groups. Thus, although kabuki is a traditional art, it never loses its freshness of appeal.

Q

How did the name kabuki come about?

A

The kanji (Chinese characters used in writing) for ka means "music," bu means "dance," and ki, "performance." As you can see, it's very aptly named. But in fact, the kanji were appropriated because they were the phonetic equivalents of the word kabuki, which is actually derived from the verb, kabuku.

During the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), people started showing up on streets dressed in outlandish fashion. These unconventional people were called kabukimono, or one who goes off the beaten path. This fashion was incorporated into a dance form by Okuni, a shrine maiden from Izumo (today's Shimane Prefecture), who is regarded as the founder of kabuki.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- 

At the end of the 16th century, Okuni went to Kyoto, where she performed dances within shrine compounds and dry riverbeds of Shij?. Her dances, yayako odori (dancing with the gestures of infants) and nenbutsuodori (a prayer dance performed while chanting the sutra to the rhythm of the accompanying drums and gongs), became extremely popular.

Her unique blend of dances was named kabukiodori.

Eventually, the word kabuki was written using the previously mentioned characters.

Q

As you mentioned earlier, in kabuki the female parts are performed by men, but since when did it become an all-male theater?

A

What happened was that Okuni began to do her dances dressed up as a man-in fact, like the shocking kabukimono. She would depict a male customer flirting the night away with the chayaonna, the prostitutes from the brothels. There is a reference to Okuni's kabuki odori in documents from Keicho 8 (1603).

Okuni's kabuki odori became a big hit, and even the prostitutes started to imitate it, giving rise to the "prostitute kabuki." True to the name, the dancers also sold their favors to the customers. This led to a crackdown by the Tokugawa shogunate, who declared that public morals were being destroyed and decreed in Kan'ei 6 (1629) an official ban on the theatrical appearance of women.

The women were promptly replaced by beautiful young boys in similar dance-drama performances called wakash? kabuki. But these adolescent actors in turn began to attract the undue attention of male admirers, and they, too, were banned in Sh?? 1 (1652). They were then replaced by mature men in yar? kabuki, and this became the forerunner of modern kabuki.

The authorities granted these men permission to perform, but only if certain basic reforms were made. The first condition was that the entertainers would shave their forelocks, which had become somewhat of a symbol of wakash? kabuki. Secondly, these shows were to have a stronger story content and emphasize acting over singing and dancing. In effect, what these regulations did was to help kabuki evolve into a dramatic art form.

In addition, the prohibition against women performers gave birth to the role of the onnagata, where men dress up as women and play their parts. This onnagata has become the cornerstone and one of the principal attractions of kabuki.

We can sense the passion that these actors and others involved in kabuki must have felt for the art, in that they not only persevered, but turned the very forces of governmental repression into a catalyst for transformation.

  THE DEVELOPMENT OF KABUKI AND THE VARIETY OF PLAYS
Q

How did kabuki continue its development?

A

Around the Genroku period (1688-1704), kabuki underwent a tremendous evolution in areas like Edo and Kamigata (Osaka, Kyoto). Edo was a booming city centered around the warrior class, while Kamigata was a merchant's town with a long history. People's tastes were different too; in Edo, they preferred the more heroic aragoto (exaggerated performance), while in Kamigata they preferred the softer and more realisticwagoto style.
Aragotowas a style of acting started by Ichikawa Danj?r? I (1660-1704). It was a bombastic, exaggerated style of acting characterized by larger-than-life action. At the tender age of fourteen, in Enpo 1 (1673), Danjur? I played the part of Sakata no Kintoki in the play Shitenn? Osanadachi for the Nakamura-za theater, and it is said that that was the first performance of the aragoto show.

 

Danj?r? leaped into popularity with his first rendition of the aragoto style of acting. Boldly painting his entire body red, and streaking his face with a vivid, mask-like makeup called kumadori, he performed a vigorous tachimawari (stylized fighting) on stage. Generally, the protagonist of aragoto plays exhibits superhuman strength on stage. Aragoto plays have been transmitted from generation to generation through the Ichikawa acting-family dynasty.

In contrast to aragoto, the wagoto style reflected the elegant and refined tastes of the Kamigata townspeople. The first person to perform it was Sakata T?jur? I (1647-1709). He portrayed romantic male leads with realism and a little touch of humor. A typical play would depict some type of family strife; the protagonist might fall in love with a prostitute and be disowned by his parents. In contrast to aragoto, the protagonist of wagoto typically behaves with civility and gentleness.

T?jur? paired up with playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724) to perfect the wagoto style of acting. Chikamatsu's works written for T?jur? include Keisei Mibuno Dainenbutsu.

Q

What other types of plays are there in kabuki?

A 

J?ruri (narratives recited during bunraku puppet plays) by Giday?bushi became extremely popular in Kamigata during the Ky?ho era (1716-36). Writers like Chikamatsu, Takeda Izumo and others came out with these outstanding ballad-dramas that eclipsed those of kabuki. Without the need to take actors into consideration, writers for the j?ruri could concentrate on the narrative structure, which generally is more logical and more complete than kabuki plays, from the standpoint of drama.

  Faced with the popularity of j?ruri, kabuki adopted certain elements from the puppet plays, including its more intricate plots. Works that have come from j?ruri are called maruhon kabuki.

The maruhon kabuki is considered to be an important source of revenue for kabuki. Many popular plays fall under this heading. There are three major representative works called Kanadehon Chushingura,Sugawara Denj? Tenarai Kagami, and Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (The Thousand Cherry Trees of Yoshitsune).

Many works influenced by the maruhon and created for kabuki started introducing giday? (ballad-drama music). This was created by the chief actor, called takemoto, and accompanied by the shamisen, a three-stringed lute.
Q

I've seen plays where courageous warriors use exaggerated gestures and difficult language.

What sort of plays are those?

A

Those are called jidaimono (historical piece) and are works whose themes center around the samurai society. They would be the equivalent of what we call jidaigeki (historical drama) today.

Of course, these are historical pieces from the viewpoint of people in the Edo period, so they are set in an even earlier time period. Their themes include battles between the Genji and Heike clans and the squabbles of the famous Date family or the Daimy? (feudal lords), as well as plays of revenge, as represented by the famous Ch?shingura (The Revenge of the Forty-Seven Samurai).

These plays are characterized by a formalized style of acting, and the costumes are portrayed realistically, after the prevailing fashions of society during the Edo period. The language is quite different than modern spoken Japanese, as it is based on samurai speech of those days. It may be difficult to comprehend at first, but as your ears get used to it, you'll be able to pick out what they are saying.

Q

After the jidaimono, they showed a play that used much more easily understood Language, much like today's jidaigeki. What kind of play is that?

A

These other plays are called sewamono, a genre of plays dealing with the everyday life of common people with its trials and tribulations. It is said that the word is made up of the combination of seken no wadai (life topics), which was then abbreviated to sewa.

The protagonists are generally merchants and farmers, while the more unusual ones may be thieves. Since the actors use the language of the commoners of the Edo period, they are quite similar to modem Japanese. Even people seeing these plays for the first time should be able to enjoy them. Generally, the sewamono employ realistic acting.

Within the sewamono, works that are particularly realistic are called kizewa. Ki stands for the ki in ki ippon, as in "straight, undiluted, pure." That means they are plain and pure, without affectation. When there was a real-life murder, lover’s Suicide, arson, robbery, or other crimes that engaged people's attention, writes promptly created works that used these events as themes.

Q

I understand that the script for kabuki is called ky?gen, bus is that different from n?h and ky?gen?

A

In its early stages, kabuki adopted many elements from n?h and ky?gen. Among many ky6gen masters were those who also participated in the creating of kabuki. It's thought that this is why the script for kabuki came to be called ky?en.
The script writer was called ky?gen sakusha, or ky?gen writer.

The works of the ky?gen writers from the Edo period, however, are Very different from what they are today. In the Edo period, most kabuki ky?gen were collaborations, in other words, a team effort. There was the main tatesakusha, who was responsible, and under him were a stable of writers. Each scene was written by a different writer.

The period after the Meiji era was one of cultural expansion, and the team-writing method of jointly hammering out a script was rejected as being old fashioned. Influenced by the western dramatic tradition, scriptwriting became the sole responsibility of scholars and writers. Hence today, there are virtually no scripts created by ky?gen writers.

The modern ky6gen writer waits in the ky6gen room of the gakuya, the backstage. Dressed in black, he gives prompts to the actors or creates a kakinuki (excerpt) written in ink and brush. This excerpt consists only of the lines spoken by one actor. The kabuki actor normally remembers his lines from this kakinuki rather than from the entire script.

Q

What is a t?shi ky?gen?

A

Performing a play from start to finish without omitting any acts is called t6shi. In the Edo period, it was common to have shows that went all day from morning to dusk. The audience enjoyed these lengthy performances of kabuki by eating bent? (box lunch), smacking, or drinking alcohol. But now everyone is busy, and since people's homes are often far from the theater, it would be inconvenient to have the performances running late into the night. Therefore, even if a play is billed as t6shi, you are still likely to find some abridgment or omission.

The interval between the opening and the closing of the scene is called makuai or makunouchi. The shibaijaya (theater tea house) commonly took care of the seating and the meals. These theater teahouses served bent6 for viewing plays. Today we call a bent6 with many different dishes, such as fish and nimono (simmered foods), makunouchibent?. As you can see, this name was derived from the bent? which the audience ate during the makunouchi.

In contrast to the t?shi, there is another format called midori. This is where only the popular scenes from the ky6gen are performed. Midori is taken from the phrase yoridori midori, which means you can choose the parts you like. For instance, you would see only the terakoya (temple school) scene from Sugauwara Denj? Tenarai Kagami, or the Moritsuna Jinya, scene from ?migenji Senjin Yakata.

Q

When we discuss someone's forte, a person's particular specialty, we would say, "That is his j?hachiban (number eighteen)." The phrase is supposed to have its etymology in kabuki, but just how did that come about?

A 
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- Danj?r? VII compiled an inventory of the most notable plays, acts, and scenes from plays in the repertory of the Ichikawa acting-family dynasty. This is the kabuki j?hachiban, or "eighteen kabuki numbers." Actually, it is written as "j?hachiban," but read as ohako.
This does not mean that all eighteen of the pieces have remained popular today or are still being performed, Forinstance, Kanjinch?, Sukeroku and Shibaraku are popular pieces frequently seen today. But plays like Ja Yanagi are rarely, if ever, performed. Narukami was resurrected by Ichikawa Sadanji II afterthe Meiji period and has once again entered the spotlight.
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
  KABUKI THEATER AND STAGE MANAGEMENT
Q

What sort of theaters were the Edo sanza(three Edo playhouses)?

A

These were kabuki playhouses that had official authorization from the sh?gunate to perform plays. At that time, the entertainment industry was regulated through a permit system, and only those that had obtained the right to produce plays could raise a yagura (tower) on the roof of their theater. There were four playhouses in the beginning: the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, Morita-za, and Yamamura-za. Later, however,Yamamura-za lost its permit, leaving only three. The operation of these sanza were passed down on a hereditary basis.

If, for various reasons, one of the three was unable to stage a production, they would use a reserve, or substitute theater, called hikaeyagura, where the performance would be played.Nakamura-za's stand-in playhouse was Miyako-za, Ichimura-za's was Kiri-za, and Morita-za had Kawarazaki-za.

The head managers of the three theaters, called zamoto, would assume a special house-identification name for their official capacity. Thus, the head manager for Nakamura-za was called Nakamura Kanzabur?, Ichimura-za's was Ichimura Uzaemon, and Morita-za's was Morita Kanya. Until the Meiji period, each successive generation of head managers was given these names. Today these same names are assumed by kabuki actors.

Q

What is a yagura (tower)?

A Yagura is a tall, rectangular structure which in the Edo period was used to signify that the theater had an official license to perform. The three theaters had yagura on top of the roof facing the front entrance. Even today, the tower is raised on top of Tokyo's Kabuki-za and Kyoto's Minami-za.

Unlike the sanza, playhouses that did not have authorization from the shogunate were not allowed to raise the yagura.

These were called koshibai, or small playhouse. In the Edo period, the small playhouses were built within temple and shrine compounds or in amusement quarters where they would stage their plays.

Although this type of distinction was discontinued at the time of the 1868 Imperial Restoration, the name koshibai stuck. Among the better-known small theaters is Miyato-za, where Sawamura Gennosuke IV performed.

Q

Just at the point when the curtain is drawn, you hear a high-pitched, clacking sound

What is that?

A

It’s the sound of ki, wooden sticks being clapped together.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- These clappers, also called hy?shigi, are a pair of square shaped sticks made of hard wood. The ky?gen sakusha, or stage assistant, uses these clappers as various prompts. The sticks are struck together quickly to signal the curtain opening. They are also used to maintain the tension when the curtain closes or the next scene opens.

These wooden clappers are used, as well, for another type of sound effect called the tsuke. The stage attendant, who is dressed in black (see below), strikes a square wooden board at stage left with these clappers. The tsuke can also be used when the actor is running on stage, or when he assumes a pose called mie, which is a set-piece gesture used to emphasize an especially dramatic moment. In Tokyo, the tsuke is struck by an attendant in charge of large props, while in Kansai, the ky?gen-kata is in charge.
Q

What does the person dressed in black do on the stage during the performance?

A
 Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-

This figure is the kurogo, or "person in black". He appears onstage during a kabuki performance dressed all in black and wearing a black hood. Although he is visible, the theater convention is to disregard him, and hence he remains a shadow figure.

His role is to r1emove small props that are no longer used,to bring them out when they are needed, or else to make the actors sit in a chairlike piece called an aibiki. The kurogo may dress in white or blue if there is a snow or water scene where the color black would stand out too much. Normally, the role of kurogo is assumed by an actor. The duty of giving prompts is left to the ky?gengata, not the kurogo.

Like the kurogo, there is another assistant, called k?ken, who helps the actors onstage. The main difference between the two is that the k?ken shows his face to the audience. He wears no makeup, but appears onstage wearing a crested kimono and a hakama (long, pleated trousers). He cleans up the props used for the dance or helps with the actor's rapid costume changes.

Like an understudy, should anything happen to any of the dancers on stage; the k?ken is prepared to immediately substitute for the performer. He therefore needs to be a very skilled actor in order to qualify as a k?ken. In kabuki j?hachiban, the k?ken appears on stage wearing a wig and a persimmon-colored ceremonial dress bearing the family crest of Ichikawa Danj?r?.

 
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Q

What exactly is a hayagawari (rapid-fire costume change) ?

A

Hayagawari is used when one actor plays many different roles, and therefore needs to change his costume instantaneously. It's a crowd pleaser; as the audience enjoys watching a popular performer showing off his acting skills in many different roles, in guises ranging from a male lead to an onnagata.

Many ky?gen plays employ hayagawari to attract audiences.

The play Osome HisamatsuUkina no Yomiuri, by Tsuruya Nanboku, is a popular work known commonly as Osome no Nanayaku (The Seven Roles of Osome). In this drama, the actor plays seven different roles, including townsmaid, country girl, handsome lover, wicked woman, waiting maid, and an old person.

Q

I've seen the kurogo wielding a long staff at the end of which a hawk is attached.

What is that called?

A
This staff is called the sashigane. A wire is attached to the end of the pole, to which an artificial butterfly or bird is fastened. This is then waved around. If it was a hawk you saw, you were probably watching the scene Nanzenji Sanmon no ba from the play Kinmon Gosan no Kiri. In this scene, the hawk attached to the sashigane flies toward the grand thief, Ishikawa Goemon.Buy? dances like Kagami Jishi and Yasuna use sashigane with butterflies attached to the tip. And in Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, a ghost story, a sashigane with a rat appears. In ghost and horror stories, the kurogo brandishes a sashigane with a fireball at the tip when representing the flying spirit of a dead person.  Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Q

I know that the runway leading out from the stage and towards the audience is called a hanamichi, or flower walk, but when is it used?

A

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-

歌舞伎の舞台
①下座 Geza (Boxformusicians)

②スッポン Suppon(Trapdooron the hanamichi)

③セリ  Seri(trapdoor)

④チョボ床 Choboyuka (Box forthe chorus)

⑤定式幕 Joshikimaku (Draw curtain)

⑥下手 Shimote (Stage right)

⑦花道 Hanamichi (Elevated runway)

⑧回り舞台 Mawaributai(Revolving stage)

⑨仮花道 Karihanamichi (Auxiliary elevated runway)

⑩上手 Kamite (Stage left)


Playhouses built exclusively for kabuki performances feature a runway built flush with the stage, going from stage left right into the middle of the spectators' seats. This is what is known as hanamichi. It is a replica of the passageway that connects the no stage to the back of the hall. This passageway was slanted at first, but is now level.

Important characters in a play often make their de (entrances) and their hikkomi (exits) via this runway. A notable example is the entrance of Sukeroku in a play by the same name. In the play Kanjinch?, Benkei and his lord Yoshitsune appear through the hanamichi. While the hanamichi is a part of the stage, because it goes right into the midst of the audience, it serves to reduce the psychological distance between the audience and the actors, creating a bond of sorts.

Sometimes there is another hanamichi leading from stageright. When there are two passageways, the one on the left is called honhanamichi, and the one on the right is karihanamichi, or auxiliary runway. They may be used when several actors face each other to make declamations concerning them selves, as in the play Gosho no Goroz?. Or, as in the case of Osome and Hisamatsu in the play Nozakimura, there is a parting scene where one person is led away on a boat, while the other goes off on a palanquin.

This would be portrayed by having the actors retreat via the two separate runways. Or they might exchange parting words while standing on their respective runways, separated by the audience, which is understood to be the river.

The distance of three-tenths from the stage and seven-tenths from the agemaku (stage-entrance) curtain on the runway is called shichisan, or seven-three, about seven-tenths of the way down the hanamichi. This seven-to-three mark is the point traditionally used for dramatic impact where the actor would strike a mie or maybe a pose of deep contemplation. To make their entrances and their exits, the actors originally had to go through the stage-entrance curtain, on top of which were rings made of metal. The rings would make a sound when an actor pulled up the curtain, thus alerting the audience to his appearance.

Q I was really surprised when a portion of the stage was suddenly raised. How does this device work?
A To raise a person or properties from below the stage, a gadget or trapdoor called seri is used. There is a big trapdoor for hoisting large structures or equipment, and a smaller one for people, allowing actors to appear or disappear through them. There is also a type of trapdoor called support, or snapping turtle, so called because of its resemblance to a turtle poking its face in and out of its carapace.

The suppon is located at the point of the seven-three on the runway. Ghostly characters appear from this square-shaped opening. Well known are Nikki Banjo of Meiboku Sendai Hagi and Nihon Buyo's Takiyasha-hime of Masakado.

Q

The stage made one revolution and a different scene appeared.

What sort of mechanism is at work?

A

The mawari butai is a circular platform that can be rotated while a stage set stands on it. It is constructed so that this portion of the stage floor rotates around a shaft below the stage, and then comes up to reveal a totally different scene. Thanks to this mawari butai, even large-scale scene changes can be made in a flash.

Mawari butai is one of the greatest inventions of kabuki and is said to have been conceived by Namiki Shozo, a ky?gen writer in H?reki 8 (1758), who is said to have gotten the idea from seeing a top spinning.
This revolving stage can be seen today in countries outside of Japan.

In the past the stage was rotated manually, but today it is operated electrically.

Because of the circular shape of the revolving platform, it is called a bon, or tray. A half rotation for a partial change of stage is called hanmawashi, and a rotation which takes place in the dark is called anten.

Another device that can effect a scene change of a smaller scale than the revolving stage is the furiotoshi. This consists of simply dropping a pale blue or black screen that is hanging from above.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
  REPRESENTATIVE KABUKI PLAYS
Q

What is the Ch?shingura (The Revenge of the Forty-Seven Samurai) about?

A

The lord of the Ak? clan, Asano Takuminokami, lived during the time of the fifth shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, in what is today the Ako city of Hyogo Prefecture. One day while inside the castle of Edo, Asano became embroiled in a dispute with Kira K?zukenosuke and lunged at him with his sword. He was subdued and ordered to commit seppuku. Asano's disgrace meant that his clan was destroyed, and its samurai wer e cast adrift. They became ronin (literally, "wave men"), masterlesssamurai. But Kira, being the one who was attacked, did not receive an official censure and suffered no losses. Hence, the retainers of the Asano clan, Oishi Kuranosuke, and the fortyseven samurai plotted revenge. After many years of hardship,in Genroku 15 (1702) they were finally able to attack Kira in his residence and kill him.

Although the forty-seven ronin had to commit seppuku, in a peaceful Japan where so few displayed the samurai spirit, they were hailed as heroes for their show of samurai loyalty, and they became well known figures in Edo. The Ak? forty seven samurai is a household name even today and the subject of numerous movies and television dramas.

The play Kanadehon Ch?shingura is based on the true story of the Ak? vendetta of the forty-seven r?nin. Like the plays Sugawara Denj? Tenarai Kagami and Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, it is a collaborative work by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Sh?raku, and Namiki Senry?. It was originally created for the j?ruri puppet theater and was first performed in Kan’en 1 (1748) at the Takemoto-za theater.

kimoSince the Ak? ronin disregarded the verdict of the shogunate in carrying out their vendetta, all the names of the characters have been changed out of consideration for the authorities. For instance, the retainer ?ishi Kuranosuke was changed to ?boshi Yuranosuke, and ?no Kurobe was changed to ?no Kuday?.

 
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Q

What sort of a play is Kanjinch? (The Subscription List) ?

A

Kanjincho's first performance based on the n?h play Ataka was given by Ichikawa Danj?r? VII. It is a popular ky?gen and an outstanding, frequently performed kabuki drama. The play's highlight is the tension-filled exchange involving Benkei, Togashi, and Yoshitsune.

Once a brilliant general who had helped subjugate the Heike, Minamoto no Yoshitsune was reduced to the state of a fugitive fleeing from his elder brother Yoritomo, who sought his life. Benkei and several other of Yoshitsune's retainers disguised themselves as monks, while Yoshitsune pretended to be a porter in their service. Together, they fled towards the barrier-station guarded by Togashi.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- Since Togashi had heard the rumor that Yoshitsune and his retinue were disguised as porters and monks, he refuses to givethem passage. Benkei then begs to be allowed to recite a sutra, and Togashi asks him questions in an effort to determine whether he truly is a monk. Benkei gives brilliant answers, and Togashi grants the entourage passageway. They are nevertheless called back by one of Togashi's retainers, who remains suspicious of Yoshitsune's identity. So, in order to prove that the porter is no lord of his, Benkei proceeds to whip him. Although Togashi now realizes that the pair must be none other than lord and vassal, he is so moved by Benkei's display of loyalty, he allows them passage. 
Q

I understand that the Soga Brothers' tale of vengeance is performed as frequently in the kabuki theater as Ch?skingura. What's the story about?

A

The tale is based on an actual event that took place during the Kamakura period, in the reign of Minamoto no Yoritomo.

The story of the Soga brothers, Jur? and Gor?, who waited eighteen long years before they could finally avenge the murder of their father by killing his enemy, Kud? Suketsune, the chief retainer of Yoritomo, has been adapted by n?h, j?ruri, kabuki, and other dramatic theater.

It was the custom at the Edo san-za to perform a Soga-mono play for the New Year's entertainment. Although the story of the Soga brothers did not really belong to ky?gen drama, the brothers would nonetheless make an appearance. In particular, Gor? has become idolized as an archetypal bold, masculine character in aragoto (exaggerated performance) plays, which feature courageous heroes. Sukeroku is one of the eighteen celebrated kabuki pieces. The play's hero, Hanakawado Sukeroku, was supposed to have been Soga no Goro. One frequently performed scene is Soga no Taimen. This is where the Soga brothers face Kudo Suketsune and receive the passage permit that would enable them to make their way to the spot where they could avenge their father.

Q What sort of a play is Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (Yotsuya Ghost Stories)?
A

The play is a kyogen based on the story of the Ch?shingura. A r?nin from the Enya clan, Tamiya lemon, has fallen in social status. He now lives in a tenement house with his wife, Oiwa, who takes care of their suckling baby. It so happens that Oume, the daughter of the wealthy Ito family, was in love with lemon and wanted to marry him. But Oiwa was in the way. So Oume's wet nurse gave Oiwa some poison to take in the guise of medicine. This poison would disfigure Oiwa's face when she drank it. Too late, Oiwa discovers the truth and dies with hatred in her heart.

lemon marries Oume, but Oiwa's vengeful ghost haunts him, causing him to mistakenly kill his bride Oume on their wedding night. As it turns out, lemon had also murdered Oiwa's father, Yotsuya Samon, who had discovered that lemon embezzled the Enya clan's government funds. Meanwhile, lemon is driven half insane by Oiwa's ghost and, in the end, he is felled by Oiwa's brother-in-law Sato Yomoshichi.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- Oiwa's horribly disfigured face and the dreadful but tragic kamisuki scene where she combs her falling hair are great showcases for the skills of the onnagata. There are also many stage tricks for the audience to enjoy. These range from small ones, like the rat that kidnaps the baby, or the baby that is instantaneously transformed into a stone image of Jiz? while lemon is holding it, to large ones like the ch?chin nuke, where Oiwa's ghost appears inside a lantern. Temon, by the way, is the archetype of the unscrupulous rake, the iroaku.
THE KABUKI ACTOR'S ROLE
Q

A handsome man is called a nimaime, a word which is said to originate from kabuki.

What is the role of this nimaime, and what other male roles are there?

A Male leads in kabuki are called tachiyaku, of which nimaime is one category.
When the actors appear at a theater for their premier kaomise performance, billboards with their faces drawn are displayed outside. First comes the zagashira, the leader of the acting troupe who enjoys star billing. Next to be shown is the popular young actor, who often plays the part of the handsome lover. Since his picture comes second, he is referred to as the nimaime or the second one. It was from him that a handsome man came to be called a nimaime.
Third in line is the sanmaime, meaning third one, again because of the sequence of billboard placement. The sanmaime is a comic role, and even outside the sphere of kabuki, actors who play funny roles, or anyone in life who plays the part of a loser is called a sanmaime.
Though this has nothing to do with the sequence in which the picture boards are placed, characters who faithfully render realistic events are called jitsuyaku. Examples are ?boshi Yuranosuke of Ch?tshingura, and Takebe Genz? of Sugawara Denj? Tenarai Kagami. (The Secrets of Sugawara's Calligraphy.)
Closely related to jitsuyaku is the sabaki (judgment) role.
This is the role of a prudent, trustworthy man who is able to handle matters rationally and appropriately; in other words, a person with, good judgment. Sabaki comes from the phrase sabaiteiku (to judge). Both Tairano Sanemori of Genpei Nuno-bikino Taki, and Hosokawa Katsumoto of Meiboku Sendaibagi are such roles. Another type of stock character is the long-suffering soul who does not fight back, but continues to endure all the abuse heaped upon him by villains. They are called shinbo tachiyaku, or persevering tachiyaku. Representative characters are the Enya Hangan, who is bullied by Kono Moronao, playing the sandanme in Kanadehon Ch?shingura, and Fukuoka Mitsugi in Iseondo Koi no Netaba. Both of these characters display patient endurance until finally, unable to contain their pent-up anger, they pull out their swords and brandish them about in an explosion of rage. They have the full sympathy of the audience, who identify with them and feel their own anger building up as they watch these hapless figures being mistreated.  
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Q What types of dramatic roles are there for villains?
A

The leading villainous role is the enemy, katakiyaku. The enemy can also be subdivided into various types, such as the kugeaku, the truly heinous villain who attempts to usurp the emperor's throne, or the kunikuzushi, one who seeks to over-throw the nation.

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The jitsuaku is the person who is evil in every fiber of his being. A prototype is Takechi Mitsuhide of Ebon Taik?ki, who was modeled after Akechi Mitsuhide, the villain who planned an insurrection against his lord. And then there is the handsome but unscrupulous rake who deceives women, the iroaku.

An example is Tamiya lemon of T?kaido Yotsuya Kaidan.

Q

I saw a man on stage who had his face painted white and acted in an effeminate manner.

What kind of role is that?

A
The tsukkorobasbi is a character type who frequently appears in the more realistic wagoto plays in the Kamigata area. The tsukkorobashi is a handsome but weak man who is quite naive about the ways of the world. As a consequence, he is easily tricked by evildoers and creates havoc for people around him who must rescue him from whatever crisis he finds himself in. The rescuers are generally faithful vassals or people who owe his parents a favor.

There is yet another nimaime role who may on the surface appear similar to the tsukkorobashi, but who possesses a far greater inner strength. This role is called the pintokona, and is often seen in plays performed in the Kamigata area. Fukuoka Mitsugi in Iseondo Koi no Netaba, would fit this type.

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Q

In terms of female characters, what kinds of onnagata roles are there?

A
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Young girls' roles include the town girl and the country girl. Then there is the akahime, the princess, and the evil woman, the cunningly vicious but seductive akuba. There's also the sewany?b?, the devoted wife of a commoner. A woman of rank who works in the palace is the katahazushi, and the keisei is a high-level courtesan.

Akahime, or red princess, might sound like an unusual name, but it is derived from the gorgeous embroidered red kimono worn for the princess's role. Although the kimono isconsidered to be red in color, at times it may be closer to a shade of pink. Many of the princess characters also wear wigs called fukiwa, which have an ornamental ring fitted into the center, and a large silver hair pin called kanzashi. The princess's kimono has long, billowing sleeves, and its obi (a sash), is tied so that the sleeves stream down the back.

The akahime can be further subdivided into three major types, known as sanhime, or three princesses. They are the Yaegaki-hime in Honcbd Nijushiko, Toki-hime in Kamakura Sandaiki, and Yuki-hime in Gion Sairei Sbink?ki. Many onnagata aspire to play these roles, as they are the most challenging of the princess parts, with so many high points and climactic scenes.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
  STAGE MAKEUP AND COSTUME
Q

The actors seem to wear so many varieties of makeup. Does the makeup differ depending on the role they're playing?

A

Yes, kabuki makeup is intimately connected to the nature of the role the actor is playing. Characters with their faces colored red are portraying the enemy, and are called akattsura, or red face. Those with their faces painted white are called shironuri, or white paint, and they play the nimaime role, the handsome beau.

The evildoer classified as a jitsuaku, however (see p.69), will have his face painted white, not red. The purpose is to impress upon the audience the character's cool composure.

Eyebrows are one of the unique aspects of women's make-up. It was the custom in the Edo period for married women to shave their brows, so actors playing married women's parts would leave off drawing their brows. But to add a little erotic appeal, they would dab a touch of rouge to the inner and outer corners of the eyes.

Q

An actor appeared on the runway wearing makeup in bold colored streaks
He looks tough, but what sort of significance does the makeup have?

A

The kumadori is an established masklike makeup style where the face is streaked in pigments of red and blue. It is believed to be an exaggerated depiction of the way the facial blood vessels and the muscles move. Kumadori first appeared in an aragoto play and eventually came to be used as makeup in jidaimono, or historical pieces.

The makeup style and color vary with the role. Larger-than-life heroes brimming with energy in aragoto plays such as Shibaraku and Ya No Ne wear mainly red kumadori. By contrast, apparitions like Taira no Tomomori in Funabenkei wear blue kumadori, while the spider demons appearing in Tsuchi-gumo wear mostly brown kumadori.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Q

It seems that there are various wig types. Are they also connected to character, role and type?

A
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-  Yes, wigs are very often symbolic of certain roles. There is a style known as katahazushi, worn by women of high rank who work in palaces. An example of this is Masaoka of Meiboku Sendaihagi. The hair is tied in loops, and a long, thin ornamental hairpin called a k?gai is slipped in sideways. You could say that in general the wig connotes this character type.

As for the onnagata, princesses wear wigs called fukiwa, to which a large ring is attached. Prostitut es in Sukeroku wear wigs called datehy?go, where the hair is piled up high. Palace maidser vants don wigs called takashimada.

Wigs for leading roles include the ?ji, in which the hair is heaped up on top of the head. This is worn by villains plotting to overthrow the nation. The role of the grand thief, as represented by Ishikawa Goemon, also has a special wig called hyakunichi. Here, the hair in front is allowed to grow out and stand on end. The sabaki, or the appraising personality, wears wigs called namajime. Here, the hair is stiffened into rodlike shapes using oil.

Q Some kabuki costumes are gaudy while others are more subdued. Are there any fixed rules to this?
A
Generally, samurai in historical dramas wear lavish, embroidered kamishimo, while their wives wear montsuki, plain crested kimono and an uchikake, a long overgarment.

Kokumochi is a montsuki where the crests are dyed in white circles. It is worn by the wife of the r?nin, the masterless samurai. Tonami, who appears in the terakoya Temple

School scene in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, and Otoku, of Keisei Hangonk?, have become synonyms for such wifely roles.

A rather unusual garment appears in Kuruwa Bunsh?, written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Here, the young master Izaemon, who has fallen in social status, is supposed to be wearing paper clothes made from old letters that he'd glued together. What the audience actually sees on stage is a beautiful kimono in purple and black. But that's how kabuki is: even a character who has fallen upon hard times and is renderedpenniless still has to look good.

Kataire is a patch that's sewn on to the shoulders of the kimono worn by impoverished characters. This indicates that the person wearing the kimono is too poor to afford a new one, even though his present garment has become worn out.
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Q

During one performance, the actor was right in the middle of a large gesture when he suddenly froze in his movements. What was he doing?

A

That type of posturing is called a mie. When an actor freezes in a dramatic position at the height of an emotion, it is called "striking a mie " This is why whenever someone takes an exaggerated attitude, we say that the person is "striking a big mie." The theater convention is to have tsuke (wooden clappers) struck together to dramatize the effect whenever an actor strikes a mie.

There are many scenes in which the mie is employed. Some of the best known include Kurumabiki in Sugawra Denj? Tenarai Kagami, where the three characters Ume?omaru, Matsu?maru, and Sakuramaru perform a simultaneous group mie in a pictorial position. The stone-throwing mie in Kanjincho, where Benkei poses as if he is lobbing a rock, is another classic.

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Q What are some of the characteristic movements of an actor on stage?
A
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- Among actors' movements worth mentioning is the ropp?, (movement in six directions), where the right arm and the right leg, and the left arm and the left leg swing out together. It's often used, accompanied by exaggerated gestures, when an actor makes a dramatic exit via the runway. When the exit is done very fast, as it often is, it becomes the climactic moment of the play. Benkei's ropp? in Kanjinch? is famous.Another stylized movement is one that mimics the movements of dolls in the puppet theater, ningy? j?ruri. This is called ningy?buri. Just like a puppeteer manipulating the puppet, a person robed in black stands behind the actor, matching his own movements with that of the actor. The actor deliberately moves in the stiff, awkward manner of a puppet. The ningy?buri is used in emotional climaxes, as portrayed by Yaegaki-hime in the scene Okuniwa, in Honcho Nijushik?, and by Yuki-hime in Kinkaku-ji, as well. It can also be used to make a character appear comical.
Q

I've noticed that when there's a scuffle on stage involving many actors, there seems to be a set of movement conventions that they draw on.What are the rules in regard to this?

A
We call scuffles tachimawari. Even today, whenever there's some sort of a skirmish, we call it ?tachimawari, or large tachimawari, an expression that originates from kabuki. Another term for tachimawari is tate, a form of stylized fighting. For instance, using stylized gestures and movements, an actor might mime the struggle he undergoes while capturing prey with a spear, a sword, or with his bare hands.

You can observe this tate being performed in a slow, leisurely manner in the jidaimono, and slightly faster in the sewamono. A rhythmic, dancelike tachimawari in a dance drama is called shosadate.

There is a somersault called tombo, or dragonfly, performed mostly by one of the supporting actors during a tate. While the hero strikes a mie during a tachimawari, one of his would-be captors turns a brilliant somersault from a considerable height, such as a roof, and lands gracefully on the stage floor.

Another form of tate is the danmari, which is a silent scene without any dialogue. The action is supposedly taking place in total darkness. Several men and women on stage grope their way around, moving slowly. The rule is to always include a danmari scene during a kaomise. The danmari has little, if any, plot. It's mostly just action.

The person who creates the choreography for a tate is called tateshi.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
 
Q

In one tachimawari I saw, the actors actually got drenched in a pool of what turned out to be real water below a waterfall. How did they manage to do that?

A

Kabuki performances sometimes offer extravagant spectacles for visual appeal. A show using real water is called keren. The hayagawari, rapid-fire costume change, is also classified as a keren.

There's also a trick called tsuzura nuke, in which an actor enters and emerges from a box used for storing clothes. An actor proceeding through the transom between rooms is another, similar trick. These stage tricks used to be looked down upon as not being worthy of true drama, but now it is widely accepted as one of the enjoyable features of kabuki.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- One very popular type of keren is ch?nori, a midair stunt where an actor is suspended in the air and gives his performance while hovering above the stage, the runway, or the audience.

This stage effect has been employed since the Edo period. Today, wire ropes are most often used. A well-known scene is Ishikawa Goemon flying through the air bearing a clothing box. Today, this type of midair stunt is the specialty of Ichiwaka Ennosuke III.

In times past, the summer heat would compel many actors to take their vacation then, leaving mostly younger actors, whose fees were much lower, to carry on with the show.

Needless to say, since Edo period theaters lacked air conditioning, so it was quite hot inside. To keep the audience from getting bored and restless in the stifling heat, they offered crowd-pleasing feats like midair stunts, horror stories, and, for a real cooling effect, real water. This type of performance was called natsu ky?gen, or summer ky?gen.

Q

I've seen ukiyoe pictures where a woman is left bound and hanging outside in snow.

I hear that they're taken from kabuki scenes, but what are they?

A

The semeba, or place of torture, typically shows a beautiful woman or a good person being mistreated by a villain. Villains might torture a woman to make her break up with her lover or to force a secret out of her that the villains are after.

If the attack takes place in snow, it is called yukizeme, or snow torture. Some famous scenes with a backdrop of snow include the torture of Urazato in Akegarasu, or the torture of the princess Ch?j?hime. In Akegarasu, there is also kotozeme (torture with the lute) in a scene where the courtesan Akoya is trapped into revealing her lover's whereabouts by being forced to play the koto, the shamisen, and the fiddle. The torturers would decipher the truth by sensing her agitation as she plays these musical instruments. It is indeed a sadistic climax.

Similar to semeba is another climax unique to kabuki, where even a display of utmost cruelty is transformed into one of ritualistic beauty. This is what is known as koroshiba, the killing scene. A good example is the scene from Iseondo Koi no Netaba, where Fukuoka Mitsugi lets his pent up rage explode. Even as he is splattered with blood, he slashes people to death one after the other with his sword. Another celebrated scene is from Kagotsurube Satono Eizame. Out of hatred for the prostitute Yatsuhashi, Sano Jir?zaemon murders her and then continues in his rampage of murder.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-
 
  KABUKI DANCE
Q 

Dance occupies a huge role in kabuki. How did this develop?

A

As I have explained in the origin of kabuki, the word kabuki contains the words for "song" and "dance," these being the first two elements of the word.

The accompaniment for kabuki dance was mainly the refined and gentle nagauta. Nagauta are songs to accompany dances that are sung to the shamisen of Edo period kabuki.

Nakamura Tomijuro I (1719-1786) and Segawa Kikunoj? I (1693-1749), both female-role players, excelled at this.

After the H?reki era (1751-1764), Nakamura Ch?zo I (1736-1790) and other virtuoso leading men came on stage, and a stirring dance using the j?ruri flourished.

The shosagoto is a group of plays in the kabuki repertoire that includes nihon buy?, as well as dance-drama.

Q

What kind of a dance is henge-buy? (transformation dance) ?

A

Henge buy? was a dance that became popular after it was introduced in the Bunka (1804-1818) and Bunsei (1818-1830) eras. Henge is an abbrevation of the expression y?kai henge.

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Y?kai means "demons and goblins," and henge means "change". Goblins are believed to be capable of changing their shape into many forms and, therefore, an actor who makes many costume changes while dancing is referred to as a henge-mono. The dance is said to have been first introduced in Genroku 10 (1697) when the onnagata Mizuki Tatsunosuke I (1673-1745) created a stir by doing a dance in which he changed his appearance seven times. There are different dance forms involving three, five, or twelve transformations.

Two masters of nihon buy? emerged in the east and west of Japan. They were Bando Mitsugor? III (1775-1831), in Edo, and Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838), in Kamigata. When Utaemon moved out into Edo, the two virtuoso dancers competed with each other to compose new dance pieces.

It is rare today to see a performance of the entire repertoire, as generally only a few will be selected for any given show. Popular numbers like Fuji Musume, Sagi Musume,

Tomoyakko and Sanja-matsuri were in the beginning a part of henge-buy?.

The art of creating buy? dance steps is called furitsuke, or choreography, and the person who does this is known as a furitsuke-shi, or choreographer.

Even with the same dance piece, depending on the choreographer, the entire routine, including the psychology of the role and the expressive manner, may differ considerably. In the beginning, the dancer himself made up the dance, but eventually a professional choreographer appeared on the scene. Famous choreographers are Fujima Kanbe III, who worked on henge-buy? in the Bunka and Bunsei eras, and Hanayagi Jusuke I, from the Meiji era, who did the furitsuke for Tsuchigumo and Funa Benkei.

Q

One of the titles of the dances contains the word michiyuki. What does that refer to?

A

Michiyuki refers to the path, shown in the dance, through which a couple travels until they reach their destination.

Generally, the couple are lovers running away together or traveling toward the place where they are going to commit joint suicide. There are, however, exceptions. In act eight of Kanadehon Ch?shingura, the pair, Tonase and Konami, are mother and daughter. Kitsune Tadanobu and Shizuka-gozen, in the scene Yoshino-yama from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura, are master and servant. In fact, they are a fox and a human traveling together. 

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- 
KABUKI MUSIC
Q I see musicians sitting in the back of the stage singing and playing the shamisen(three-stringed plucked lute). What are some of the characteristics of kabuki music
A The first kabuki music to develop was nagauta, which is dance music used as an accompaniment to kabuki dance. It consists of shamisen, singing, and percussions. Later, there were times when the nagauta was peformed by itself, not as an accompaniment.

During the kabuki performance, the musicians either perform in front while seated on the step called hinadan, or they create offstage music by playing out of sight of the audience, behind a black bamboo screen which is situated on the left side facing the stage.

Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery- Kabuki-Trad Japan's Gallery-

The visible orchestra is called debayashi, and all members of the ensemble are attired in kamishimo, a type of ceremonial clothing.

Offstage music behind the black bamboo curtain is referred to as geza music. Music is an integral part of the art of kabuki and serves many functions in the overall dramatic impact of this theatrical art form. It accompanies the chanting or the speaking of the actors' lines and can serve as a scene builder for a town, the country, or the palace shown on stage. Music can also dramatize the emotions of joy, anger, and sadness, as portrayed by the actors. And, of course, it can also be simple background music. The ensemble consists of instrumentalists and vocalists of nagauta. However, geza music, which of course includes nagauta, incorporates various genres, such as the music accompanying no and joruri, and gagaku, the ceremonial music played at court rituals.

Q

What sort of music is tokiwazu and kiyomoto, which also served as an accompaniment to kabuki?

A

Tokiwazu developed as kabuki music after spliting off from Bungobushi, which was a school of j?ruri, the puppet theater. The Bungobushi school was born in the Kyoho era (1716-1736). Tokiwazu is half chanted, half spoken, and carries a beautiful tune. There are three different kinds of shamisen: the futozao, chuzao, and hosozao. Of the three, the tokiwazu uses the ch?zao.

Like tokiwazu, kiyomoto also split from the Bungobushi school, and was created in Bunka ll (1814) by Kiyomoto Enjuday? I. It is characterized by high-pitched, delicate tunes.It is still used, mostly in kabuki and dance. Kiyomoto also uses the ch?zao for its shamisen.

  REPRESENTATIVE KABUKI PLAYWRIGHTS
Q Among kabuki playwrights, I often hear the name Tsuruya Nanboku. What sort of a person was he?
A

Tsuruya Nanboku was originally the name of an actor. The actor who became the illustrious dramatist was Nanboku IV (1755-1829), a playwright who represents the Bunka-Bunsei era. He was especially skilled at portraying the huddled masses living in the obscure parts of a town. There is a universality to many of his original works that cuts to the very core of human nature. His works are performed not only in kabuki, but also in new and small-group theaters.

Representative works are T?kaid? Yotsuya Kaidan, Kamikakete Sango Taisetsu, Toki mo Kiky? Shusseno Ukej?, and Sakura-hime Azuma Bunsh?.

Q

Kawatake Mokuami was also a famous kabuki playwright frequently mentioned in textbooks.

What sort of a person was he?

A

Mokuami (1816-1893) was kabuki's last major writer who was active from the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate to the Meiji period. While he worked, he called himself Kawatake Shinshichi II and, after his retirement, he took on the name of Mokuami. He had a special flair for sewamono. Many of his plays featured the thief as the protagonist, and since thieves are called shiranami (white wave), he was at times also known as the shiranami writer.

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At the end of the Tokugawa era, he teamed up with Ichikawa Kodanji IV. Together, they created masterpiece after masterpiece. Seven-and-five-syllable lines spoken by the actors move the plays at a good tempo. After the death of Kodanji, he offered works to Onoe Kikugor? V, Ichikawa Danj?r? IX, and Ichikawa Sadanji I, among others.

Representative works include Shiranami Gonin Otoko, Kumonimagou Ueno no Hatsuhana, Kamiyui Shinza, Izayoi Seishin, Sannin Kichisa, and Mekura Nagaya Umega Kagatobi.

The official title of Shiranami Gonin Otoko is Aotoz?shi Hanano Nishikie, but it is also known as Benten Koz?. The play stars five burglars, Benten Koz?, Nango Rikimaru, Tadanobu Rihei, Akaboshi Juzaburo, and Nippon Daemon. A famous scene from the play is Hamamatsu-ya. Benten Koz? is a burglar who impersonates a woman. Dressed up as a beautiful young woman, he visits the kimono shop Hamamatsu-ya with his partner Nango. There, he tries to find fault and blackmail the owner, but his disguise is seen through. One very famous kabuki line is the threat he blusters out when his deception is discovered. Next, there is a scene known as Inasegawa Seizoroi. Dressed in beautiful kimonos, and against the backdrop of a river, the five burglars engage in tachimawari, stylized fighting. The figure of Benten Kozo is a familiar figure on the battledore commonly seen at New Year's.