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Words Used in Traditional and Modern Japanese Theatre

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The world of Japanese theatre is rich and diverse, spanning from classical forms such as Kabuki and Noh to contemporary drama and musicals. Each has its own set of vocabulary, which encompasses unique concepts and terminology. In this article, we explore some of the key terms used in both traditional and modern Japanese theatre.

歌舞伎 (Kabuki)
Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama known for its stylized performance, elaborate costumes, and makeup.


能 (Noh)
Noh is a form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Known for its masks, elegant costumes, and slow, measured movements.


狂言 (Kyogen)
Kyogen is traditional Japanese comic theatre, often performed as an interlude between Noh acts. Characterized by its satire and humor.


役者 (Yakusha)
Yakusha refers to actors or performers in Japanese theatre. Traditionally, this term is often used in the context of Kabuki.


演出 (Enshutsu)
Enshutsu means direction in the context of stage productions and can refer to both the process of directing and the director themselves.


衣裳 (Isho)
Isho refers to the costumes worn by performers in Japanese theatre, which often hold significant cultural and dramatic importance.


正面 (Shomen)
In the context of traditional theatre, shomen refers to the front or main side of the stage, which is considered the most important position facing the audience.


ミュージカル (Myujikaru)
Myujikaru is the Japanese adaptation of the English word “musical,” referring to the popular form of theatre combining songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance.


脚本 (Kyakuhon)
Kyakuhon means script or screenplay in Japanese. It refers to the written text for plays, TV shows, and movies.


舞台 (Butai)
Butai is the Japanese word for stage, broadly referring to the space for performances in theatre arts.


下手 (Shimote)
Shimote is a stage term used in Kabuki to refer to the stage area to the left of the actor when facing the audience, traditionally considered a lower-status position.


観客 (Kankyaku)
Kankyaku means the audience or spectators in a theatrical performance.


セリフ (Serifu)
Serifu are the lines or dialogue spoken by characters in plays or films.


演技 (Engi)
Engi refers to acting or performance in the context of theatre, film, or television.


大道具 (Omojake)
Omojake or Daidogu refers to the large props or set pieces used in theatre productions.


By understanding these terms, you can deepen your appreciation and understanding of both traditional and modern Japanese theatre. This vocabulary is not only useful for theatre aficionados but also for students of the Japanese language and culture exploring the performing arts.

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