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Great-Edo Entertainment  

Kabuki Special / Grand Sumo Special / Rakugo Special  


Kabuki Theaters Flourish


Sketch of the Plays in Saruwaka Town (Saruwakamachi Shibai no Ryakuzu) Painted by Keisai Eisen Around 1842 (Tempō 13)

The kabuki actor appeared under the stage name of Ichikawa Danjûrô (Ichikawa DanjûrôI, 1660-1704) began performing a rather high-spirited and boisterous style of kabuki called aragoto in 1673 (EnpôI). His performances represented a clear departure from more traditional kamigata (wagoto) kabuki, thus he was successful in capturing the hearts of Edo's residents, rising up kabuki boom in the city. At around the same time, the Tokugawa Shogunate licensed only four theatres to operate, namely, the Nakamura-za, the Ichimura-za, the Morita-za, and the Yamamura-za. The Yamamura-za was closed later, as a result, the number of sanctioned venues was reduced to just three within the city. These theaters gained greater public acceptance at the end of 17th century, while theater-going became a more acceptable pastime.


What Really Happens in the Kyōgen Backstage Volume 2 (Okyogen Gakuya no Honsetsu) "Written by Santei Shunbaand painted by Utagawa Kunitsuna" 1859 (Ansei 6)

A new genre of plays based on ghost stories (kaidan kyôgen) emerged in the early 19th century, thus creating a new kabuki boom. Of these pieces, the most famous one is perhaps "The Ghost Story of Yotsuya" (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan), which was written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755-1829). "Kyôgen," is one of kabuki plays, which was performed during the summer months. The performers of this type consisted of mainly young artists rather than seasoned veterans. These performances were typified by smaller audiences due to the heat and humidity of summer caused by the condition that the circulation of air was prevented within the confined spaces of theatres. This type of kyôgen was transformed into a new kind called "Kaidan Kyôgen", represented by performances with the use of small and large device, such as "Toita-gaeshi" (i.e. device that allows performers to change their clothing very quickly), and this brought an emergence of new boom in kabuki performance.

This type of kyôgen was transformed into a new kind called "Kaidan Kyôgen", represented by performances with the use of small and large device, such as "Toita-gaeshi" (i.e. device that allows performers to change their clothing very quickly), and this brought an emergence of new boom in kabuki performance.
However, the Shogunate attempted to ban all kabuki performances at these theatres during the Tenpô Reforms (1841-1843). The theatres were originally situated in the centre of the city, in areas such as Sakaichô, Fukiyachô, and Kobikichô, locations that equate with modern Nihonbashi and Ginza. However, the Shogunate removed the theaters from the city limits and forced them out into Saruwakamachi in Asakusa, a suburb of the city of Edo during that period.

Ironically, this forced relocation actually contributed to the kabuki boom more than ever. In addition to the theaters themselves, actors, writers and stagehands were also forced out of central Edo. This had the effect of making these people much more accessible to one another, thus scenarios and other elements of production became more diverse and complex. Furthermore, as Sensôji (located in Asakusa in present day Taitô-ku), which is still situated near the theatres today, became a popular destination for pilgrimage, Edo kabuki attained its peak of the flourishing period, owing to the fact that people who visited Sensôji also entered kabuki theatres and joined as an audience along the way.


Illustration of the Prosperity of the Great Theaters (Oshibai Han'ei no Zu) Painted by Utagawa Toyokuni III
1859 (Ansei 6)

* To view more explanation, please click the each image.


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