A BRIEF INTRO INTO JAPANESE CLASSICAL DANCE
The first known dance “mai” in Japan is recorded in the “Kojiki” (the oldest known collection of Japanese poems and stories) and dates back to 100 BC. In the “Kojiki” a story of Amatreasu, the Sun goddess of Japan, locks herself up in a rock cavern. This causes the world to become dark. In order to convince Amaterasu to come out of hiding, the other gods and goddesses of ancient Japaense mythology create a festival outside Amaterasu’s cave. One of the goddesses dances around merrily, often making a fool of herself. This causes much laughter among the gods. Amaterasu, out of sheer curiosity, comes out of her cave, once again lighting the earth with her sunlight.
During the late 1500’s, after the period of the long civil war, a more stylized dance form emerged. The first Kabuki dance is accredited to a women named Izumo no Okuni. Much of her life is surronded by myster, but many believe that she was a shrine attendant. Okuni is said to be the founder of Kabuki in the late 1500s to early 1600 along with Nagoya Sanzaiemon. Her and her troop members would perfom along the river banks of Kyoto. Adorned in rich, exotic customs, the performers would dance to various fast tempo rhythms.
The success of Okuni and her troop gave rise to other all female troops who not only performed but offered “other” services to the viewing costumers. This caused the government to ban women from the theater on the grounds that a person could not have more than two jobs. Thus gave rise to “Wakashu” or young male Kabuki. However, like all women Kabuki, they were banned for the same reasons. Years later, the all male Kabuki was restored and has since evolved into its present form, surviving the past 405 years.
The term “Nihon buyo” is actually a fairly recent term. It was coined uring the Meiji Era (turn of the 20th century) by the founder of the Keio University. Kabuki dances were first perfomed by onnagata, or actors specializing as female impersonators. As the Kabuki theatre gained more popularity among the people, the upper class started to take on the hobby of Kabuki dancing. Since the upper classes only learned these dances as a hobby, the term Nihon buyo was coined to separate the Kabuki actors from those who took it on as a past time.