Kabuki Costume

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A guide to Kabuki viewing, one of the leading traditional performing arts of Japan

Not on view. Public Domain. Date: Second half of the 19th century. Culture: Japan. Medium: Silk, cotton, and metallic thread, glass, embroidered satin. Classification: Costumes. Credit Line: Gift of Elizabeth Gordon, Be the first to discover new talent! Each week, our editors select the one author and one book they believe to be most worthy of your attention and highlight them in our Pro Connect email alert. Sign up here to receive your FREE alerts. By clicking on "Submit" you agree that you have read and agree to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Email Newsletter. Log In. Toggle navigation MENU. Email Address. This abstraction allows the audience to view the historic event or person in an academic context, which lets them comment on them. These performances are mainly improvisational and are not considered to be representative of drama as a genre.

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Aragoto plays are characterized as being over the top and are very dramatic in their use of visual elements like costume and makeup. This play focuses on a young hero who saves various characters from the hostility of Kiyohara No Takehira, an evil nobleman. Like many Kabuki performances, this play opens with the announcement ceremony, in which the young actors are called out onto the stage by an elder member of the company Kincaid, These plays are the most similar to Western plays since they are less focused on abstraction.

Popular sewamono plays were typically stories of prostitutes and their attempts to garner wealth. These plays became particularly popular from as a result of the political unrest that was sweeping through the nation. Shosagoto: Shosagoto plays, which also go by the name of furigoto, are music-posture dramas Kincaid, These performances are considered to be the most representative of Kabuki as a whole since they combine many theatrical elements in their performances.

Since shosagoto plays give equal weight to the importance of the plot, music, acting, scenery, movement and color used in the piece, they are truly representative of Kabuki as a theatrical form. These performances also often take the form of dance sketches and serve as the finale to a Kabuki program. In this case, the dance showcases the physical appearance of the actors and highlights their femininity Brandon, Both staging and costume design play a critical role in the execution of Kabuki theater as everything on stage is important and all props are placed in specific areas for a reason.

Kabuki costumes are created using bright colors and patterns as a way to create a dramatic effect on the performance. The costumes are known to be quite heavy, often weighing over 20 kilograms, including many intricate folds and layers that need to be placed correctly during the performance so that the actors can move across the stage freely. An important aspect of costumes for both male and female characters are wigs, which are created by specialized craftsmen who make the wig according to the shape and size of each actor.

These intricate details about costumes are important to consider as costumes and the process of costume changes during the performance are critical to the execution of each performance. For example, the hero Kagemasa wears what is characterized as wearing the most famous of Kabuki costumes.

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The stage directions note that he wears clogs that increase his height and a huge sword. These details are intended to reflect Kagemasa as a truly heroic character and would have been consistent with the appearance of other heroes.

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Similarly, Takehira is revealed as evil through his appearance. In terms of clothing, he is clad in all white and holds a fan and ledger. The difference in costume between evil and heroic characters is very apparent and serves as a visual aid in distinguishing character. This play also demonstrates the importance of the quick change since Kagemasa periodically changes his costumes in front of the audience. Like the music and setting, the costumes are altered to reflect the action of the play at each specific moment.

The combination of the music, dance moves and costumes associated with certain characters reveals the true intentions of each character on the stage. The stages in Kabuki are another interesting aspect of theater to analyze. Many of the earliest known kabuki performances were performed on temporary stages.

Overtime, the stages became more complex and in , a full-size revolving stage was used in Europe for the first time. The notion of revolving stages became popular quickly; this complex feature allows for three or four scenes to be extended by moving the stages to the left or right so that different characters can easily enter and exit the stage.

The pictoral effect of the stage in Kabuki is important as well and the use of vibrant colors are eye-catching and are meant to resemble nature. The combination of the elaborate costumes as well as a detailed stage design are important aspects of the Kabuki performance that make it even more fascinating and entertaining to watch. The play utilizes many of the innovations that were created during the Golden Age, such as the hanamichi, to enhance the story-telling aspect of the performance.

The stage directions provide clear instructions on the movements that specific characters are to make.

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These directions also indicate the specific transformations that are to take place on stage. This deconstruction of the stage reveals a shrine and changes the setting. These directions not only indicate the specific of movements necessary, but also the type of costumes and set design. After a deep analysis of Kabuki theater, it became evident that makeup is one of the most essential and impressive aspects of the performance.

The process of applying makeup allows the actors to gain a better understanding of the character they will be playing, as each actor applies his or her own makeup for the performances. The process of applying the makeup requires keen focus and attention to detail. Historically, this white makeup allowed actors to be better seen on stage before electricity had been invented, but it is also intended to create a dramatic appearance for the actors on stage. The shades of white vary and are used to distinguish different actors based on age, class, and gender.

Red and black lines are used as accents on the white face and vary depending on the gender of the actor. The Kumadori makeup is a more specialized form of makeup that is used for supernatural heroes and villains and includes dramatic lines and shapes applied using a variety of colors.


The color choice is important to analyze because the colors are selected to represent different emotions, such as dark red to indicate anger and passion, and dark blue for sadness or depression. More specifically, there are certain styles of makeup to represent each character and distinguish between them. For instance, Samurai are accepted to have dead white, with broad black eyebrows and touches of red to the eyes and corners of their mouths.


Villains are depicted using blue faces whereas country people are typically shown with brown faces. Strong and courageous warriors typically are seen with a grey chin, red lips with a white border, and then have strokes of red from their eyes and cheeks up until near their foreheads.