The pre-conceived notions behind traditional Japanese theatre are scattered at best, ranging from the ambiguously erotic to the potentially hazardous. The truth is, Japanese theatre is so extensive in its styles and genres that it actually gives New York's Broadway a run for its money.
Perhaps the most commonly recognized form of Japanese theatre is the art of Kabuki. In the early 17th century, a group of women from Kyoto would display erotic dances in public, to which they immediately received a captive audience. The government, none too pleased with these public acts of indecency, banned the female performers and replaced them with men. This Shakespearean decision warranted the need for beautiful, ornate costumes, sets, and theatrical effects, which were typically complimented with a traditional revolving stage. These same effects are still ubiquitous among the Kabuki community today, not to mention the inclusion of a runway that extends through the crowd so that the audience becomes a part of the performance. The passionate if not comical performances remain popular as well, and while it may not be as intellectual as other types of Japanese theatre, it certainly generates great amusement and excitement among local and visiting audiences alike.
If Kabuki were to be considered the exaggerated, bombastic drama style of Japanese theatre, then Noh theatre would undoubtedly be on the opposite side of the spectrum. As the oldest form of theatre, Noh implements a chorus to chant the script, complemented by a minimal orchestra containing a drummer and a flautist. To lighten up the audience, Kyogen, or short comedies, are performed during intermissions. Kyogen are basically the Japanese form of observational humor and are used to relate to the audience regarding the oftentimes humorous trials and tribulations of everyday life. Visit the Nagoya Noh Theatre and the Tokyo National Noh Theatre for a glimpse at this highly unique form of art.
Yet another type of theatre specific to the Japanese culture is Bunraku, or traditional puppetry. While puppets are typically reserved for children in western cultures, Bunraku features many themes directed towards adults. Employing themes similar to those featured in Kabuki, three puppeteers dressed in black will manipulate the face, arms, and legs of one puppet, often disguising themselves so well that the audience forgets they are actually there. To experience this highly entertaining form of Japanese theatre, visit the National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka, Tokyo's National Theatre of Japan, and learn about each form of entertainment at Gion Corner in Kyoto.