In kabuki as it developed from the late seventeenth

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Unformatted text preview: nment that was The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture 187 labeled (by others) “kabuki dancing” and, as a result of its commercial success, soon gave rise to competing troupes. The term kabuki was derived from katamuki —“slanted” or “strongly inclined”—and was used in this age to describe novel or eccentric behavior. Its application to the dancing of Okuni and her girls is a clear indication that the first kabuki company was regarded as a daring and not very proper undertaking. One thing the Okuni troupe performed was “nembutsu dancing” (nembutsu odori), a type of religious ecstaticism (in which people danced around and chanted their praise to Amida buddha) that dated back to the tenth-century evangelist of Pure Land Buddhism, Kûya, but was especially popularized among people everywhere by Ippen during the Kamakura period. By the late medieval age, nembutsu odori had become a form of folk dance that was performed more for entertainment than for religious purposes, and it survives in Japan today in the dancing done annually in the midsummer bon festival for the dead. In addition to dances of this sort, the Okuni troupe also performed farcical skits in which they portrayed encounters between men and prostitutes or reenacted assignation scenes in teahouses and bathhouses. (No doubt the girls did these skits very professionally, since they were all apparently practicing harlots on the side.) Shogunate officials sternly disapproved of both the onstage and offstage behavior of female performers such as these, and in 1629, after a period of indecision, they banned their participation in kabuki altogether. This had the immediate effect of giving impetus to the rise of another form of entertainment known as “young men’s kabuki” that had gradually been developing in the shadow of “women’s kabuki.” The performances of these attractive young men included certain kinds of acrobatics and flashing swordplay that were eventually to be incorporated into the mainstream of kabuki acting; but, to the dismay of the authorities, the youths w...
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