Japanese performing arts 芸能

The Japan of the show


Japan has developed over the centuries a great tradition of performing arts, whether in dramatic, epic, puppet theater or even dance. Certain images of these living arts have become typical representations of Japan abroad, such as the painted faces of kabuki actors. A look back at some of these "Living National Treasures".



Lenô, or discreet charm

Lenô comes from sarugaku nô, literally "monkey music". It is a popular theatrical art which, favored by the Ashikaga shogunate in the XIV th century, was refined in contact with the court. It is from this period that date all the rules that still apply in this theatrical genre, where masked actors declaim lyrical texts and where dances are of great importance. The objective of nô is to transmit an atmosphere, a "subtle charm" (in Japanese yûgen ) and is based in this context on an allusive poetry. There are several types of nô (warriors, nô of gods, nô of demons…).

For more details: Noh theatre, a subtle representation of human emotions


A nô actor in a divinity costume



Lakabuki, back to earth

Lekabuki, which was born in the Edo period (1603-1868), is a performing art as codified as Noh. However, the subjects dealt with, whether historical or scenes of mores, make it a more popular theater, with themes that can sometimes be violent (love story and revenge story). This theater can be compared with the Elizabethan theater which was played at the same time in England. The actors, all male (the female roles being played by "onnagata" or   "female form"), are made up in a very stylized way and operate on a stage equipped with complex machinery . One of the great moments of Kabuki is the mie , when the actor freezes completely at the end of a scene where at an important point in history.

Read also : Kabuki-za


Expressions of a Kabuki actor.

The expressions of a kabuki theater actor.



Lebunraku, or puppet competition

At the same time, the puppet theater took off. Called bunraku , it is performed by a single person who recites all of the lyrics, accompanied by a shamisen player. The puppets are each manipulated by three people, visible to the public. One is in charge of the head and the right arm, the second of the left arm and the less experienced is in charge of the feet. The conflict between social obligations ( giri ) and human feelings ( ninjo ) is a central theme of bunraku .

See also : Bunraku


The puppet is the heroine, the center of attention of all the minute precautions bunraku theater.

The puppet is the heroine, the center of all the attention, of all the minute precautions of bunraku theatre.



Traditional dances, a harmony of souls

The dances are considered one of Japan's living national treasures. They are present in several theatrical forms (such as kabuki), but also exist as their own performances . In this category, we find the bon odori ("dance of the Bon"), a dance performed during this extremely popular Buddhist festival. The dances and the music that accompanies them are different depending on the region. The participants dance around the yagura, a small wooden building erected for the occasion. The purpose of the dances is to lessen the sorrows of the aching souls of the deceased, by creating a harmony with them.

Read also : O-bon matsuri


 Bon-odori dances bring crowds to Tokyo in August

Bon-odori dances draw crowds to Tokyo in August

tetsu-k. (flicker)

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