Kabuki is a spectacle! The costumes are beautiful, and an actor may wear several at the same time, one over the other. At some point he might run off stage, tear off the outer costume, and then pop up through a trap door onto the stage less than a minute later. The action is fast paced, and full of wonderful staging. In addition to the trap doors on the stage floor, they are also in the front support of the stage and over the stage. There are also wires for pulling actors through the air or sliding down to the stage, and sometimes they simply run through the audience. It's a great show!

Kabuki developed in the early 1600s when a female shrine attendant in Kyoto began to put on performances as a form of popular entertainment, featuring dancing and comic sketches. The all women cast became very popular, especially after the cast members began to sell their favors to members of the audience, and the comic sketches took on a decidedly erotic nature. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the country.

But when the stories began to poke fun at the bureaucrats and leaders, and fights commonly broke out among members of the audience vying for the favors of a particular performer, the Shogun imposed restrictions.

The one that had the most profound effect on Kabuki was the prohibition against female performers. The result was the development of the onnagata, the male who plays the female role. The skills of these performers have led many in Japan to believe that the onnagata are able to portray women as realistically as a woman. Certainly to the uninitiated, it is virtually impossible to tell that the female on the stage is not a woman.

Here is an example of an onnagata: pre-make-up, made up, and finally costumed.

These images, and the next, are courtesy of the Kabuki for Everyone site, an outstanding repository of Kabuki material, including historical information, photos, and sound.

And as is often the case in Japan, when a male becomes proficient at something, the eldest son often takes up the same craft. As a result, there are some Kabuki (as well as Noh) actors today who can trace their stage history back several generations. Here's a photo of the two most recent generations of a famous actor-family.

This is the official site of the
Kabukiza (the main kabuki
theater) in Ginza, Tokyo.