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Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater with its origins in the Edo period. Kabuki, in contrast to the older surviving Japanese art forms such as No, was the popular culture of the townspeople and not of the higher social classes.

Kabuki plays are about historical events, moral conflicts in love relationships and the like. The actors use an old fashioned language which is difficult to understand even for some Japanese people. They speak in a monotonous voice and are accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.

The kabuki stage (kabuki no butai) is a rotating stage and is further equipped with several gadgets like trapdoors through which the actors can appear and disappear. Another specialty of the kabuki stage is a footbridge (hanamichi) that leads through the audience.

In the early years, both, men and women acted in Kabuki plays. Later during the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate forbade the acting to women, a restriction that survives to the present day. Several male kabuki actors are, therefore, specialized in playing female roles (onnagata).

The best place for tourists to see a kabuki play is in the Kabukiza Theater in the Ginza district in Tokyo, where it is possible to rent English headphones and see just one act of a play instead of sitting through a whole performance which not seldomly lasts more than three hours.

Note that during kabuki plays, it is common for fans in the audience to shout the name of their favorite actor just in the right moment during short pauses.


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