Introduction: Setting the Stage in Japanese Traditional Theatre

Introduction: Setting the Stage in the Japanese Performing Arts

In their early development, traditional Japanese theatre troupes all performed in available spaces or temporary stages at temples and shrines, the homes of nobility, and in the many wide riverbeds and other outdoor spaces, but by end of the eighteenth century each major genre had a well-defined theatre space. The stage for nōgaku (noh and kyōgen) developed directly from the square "dance pavilion" of Shinto shrines, and puppetry and kabuki stages expanded from the noh stage.

Scenery may be evoked in a wide variety of ways.

  1. Textually: For example, travel scenes (michiyuki) in noh and kyōgen are evoked largely through text accompanied by minimal movements in noh and larger movements in kyōgen. In kabuki and Bunraku, similar scenes are evoked textually and visually with more elaborate movements, scenic elements, and musical patterns.
  2. Kinetically through dance movements and gestures (often including the use of props or set pieces): For example, a river in noh may be evoked by dipping a net over the edge of a stage (Sakuragawa, Tōru); the climbing of a bell tower by movement patterns in Dōjōji.
  3. Aurally through music and sound effects: For example, rain, snow, and other musical patterns in kabuki and Bunraku, ontomopeia in kyōgen, and stamping in noh for thunder.
  4. Visually through the use of scenery and props or visual projections: There is an extreme range in traditional Japanese theatre from minimal use of scenic elements in kyôgen to elaborate use in kabuki.
  5. Olfactorily and tactually: This is rarely used in traditional Japanese theatre, except perhaps for deliberate inclusion of odors from the burning of incense or firewood.

As the examples reveal, scenery is usually depicted through more than one of these means.

Physical sets are almost never used in kyōgen, used minimally in noh, and used elaborately in Bunraku and especially in kabuki.

Scenic components in most traditional Japanese performance arts are modularized and rearranged (e.g. in kabuki and Bunraku) or rebuilt (in noh) for different plays. Hand props are generally stored and reused.

Scenic techniques: In noh, set pieces are carried on by stage attendants, and in kabuki wheeled platforms are used for large pieces (hikidoogu). Kabuki employs many other scenic techniques.

[This Introduction is still being developed.]


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