Japanese Theater


Japanese theater has a long and very rich history.There are four main types of traditional theater in Japan, noh, kyogen, kabuki, and bunraku. These forms of theater are very different and distinct from the another.

Noh theater, also called nogaku, is a form of musical drama. The birth of the Japanese Noh theater is in the fourteenth century. The characters in these plays are concealed by masks, and both male and female roles are played by men .The basic themes are based on a few historical stories. Noh theater’s most often-performed play is Lady Aoi, based upon eleventh century’s famous Tale of Gengi novel. It is common for the performances to last an entire day. During each showing, five plays are usually performed.

Kyogen theater date back to the fourth century. Interestingly, Noh plays were only put on to entertain people in the upper classes as an intermission between acts Kyogen was performed. It linked the Noh play’s theme with what was going on in the world at the time by using slapstick and farce. The big difference between Noh and Kyogen performances is that the Kyogen performers do not wear masks and the Noh performers do.

Bunraku is Japanese theater that uses puppets. The puppets used are usually about three to four feet tall and are controlled by puppeteers who dress completely in black and can be seen by the audience. In contrast, the omozukai (head puppeteer) wears colorful clothing. The leader of the plays also plays the shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument. The most well-known bunraku play is ‘Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers’. Unfortunately, the art of bunraku is losing popularity since the second half of the eighteenth century. Even with government funding, the art form future is not good. The craftsmen of the intricate puppets are dying, and there aren’t many people who are interested in learning how to replace them.


Kabuki the most well-known to people around the world and it is a form of Japanese theater that combines drama, dance, and music and is. The norm in the stage productions are swordfights and wild costumes. Strange fact is that until 1680, the plays used real swords. The art of Kabuki was an opposition to the Noh theater. The main goal was to tell more timely and lively stories to shock the audiences. The first Kabuki show was performed in 1603. As time passed by, it grew into a highly stylized art form that still remains popular today.