The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry

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There has never been a comprehensive survey in English of all the main forms of traditional Japanese drama – kyogen, noh, kabuki and puppetry. Individual works have been written on each form in abundance, some of them in English, and the majority of them are excellent, but they do not make the reader aware of the close connections between all of these older theatrical forms – their common origins in sacred dance, the high degree of stylization they all share, the selectivity in their use of gesture, the symbolic function of costume, the strict code of honour, which westerners often find so difficult to understand, and the heady mixture of violence with the appreciation of elegant form and a fragile, ephemeral beauty. The forms and conventions of theatre involved are also unique and challenge many of the theories that have been developed about the western stage. In fact, traditional Japanese drama is an area of theatre which should form an essential part of every dramatic specialist’s education.


“This introduction to Japanese traditional theatre is an exciting and useful book that will be welcomed throughout the world by educators, students, and the general public. This book is vital for both the classroom and the informed theatergoer. The author traces both the historical and philosophical for the drama, relating it to the Samurai tradition, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism ... Above all, Mr. Harris leads one to an admiration for the stylization and the ritual demanded by all this traditional theatre. One appreciates the poetry and dramatic beauty of the text besides the years of training that shape narrators, chorus, actors and musicians. As readers and spectators, we end up with a profound respect for this theatre that has power to transform the audience’s lives as easily as the actors transform before their eyes.” – (from the Preface) Professor Marianne McDonald, University of California, San Diego

“This present work is rooted in a solid knowledge of the Japanese material. It is written in a way that makes it accessible to students, and provides them with a good grounding in eastern thought. The writing is careful and elegant. It is a book that students taking courses in this area will find useful to consult.” – Professor David Wiles, Royal Holloway College, University of London

“This is a very comprehensively written book that encompasses relevant and compelling information on the subject. It will serve as an excellent textbook for students of Asian theatre, and for those who are seeking fundamental information on the Japanese theatre tradition and its history. It covers all aspects of Japanese theatre, its origins and its performance forms including the significance of religion as a driving force. It also analyzes appropriately the roots of the narrative plays and their symbolisms.” – Professor Gillian A. Choa, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by Marianne McDonald
Introduction: A Theatre of Conscious Art
1. The Samurai Tradition – Bushido
2. The Influence of Buddha and Confucius
3. Kyogen – The Early Farces
4. The Nature and History of the Noh Play
5. Aesthetic Principles Underpinning the Noh
6. The Noh in Action – The Description of a Goban
7. The Early Puppet Theatres in Japan
8. The Kabuki Stage
9. The Acting and Scripting of Kabuki
10. Kabuki in Action – A Description of Sukeroku
11. The Success and Decline of the Puppets
12. Bunraku in Action – The Secret of Sugawara’s Calligraphy
Epilogue: The Relevance of a Symbolic Theatre

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