The following notes were prepared by Nagoya Musume Kabuki and translated by Yukiko Fujiwara of the Nagoya American Center. ACT '98 is grateful to Ms. Fujiwara and to Jeffrey Jamison, Director of the Nagoya American Center, for their unflagging and invaluable assistance in the production of this program.


"High Priest Narukami"
from "Eighteen Characteristic Plays of Danjuro Ichikawa"

Note: "High Priest Narukami" is a 23-minute videotape produced especially for ACT '98 by Nagoya Musume Kabuki. It will be shown in full. The synopsis below is intended to make the action of the play relatively easy to follow. A variety of background information on Kabuki in general and Nagoya Musume Kabuki in particular will be found after the synopsis.

Synopsis
Kabuki: Historical Background
Kabuki Actresses
Kabuki: A Short Glossary
About Nagoya Musume Kabuki (NMK)
Actresses of Nagoya Musume Kabuki
About Nagoya
A Note on Time Zones


Synopsis

In a cave in the mountains, north of the capital, the High Priest Narukami prays for the health of a newborn prince. Although his prayer is granted, the Imperial Court does not keep a promise it has made to Narukami. At this, Narukami becomes angry and casts a spell to stop the rain, placing the Dragon God (who controls the weather) in a deep pool beneath a waterfall and putting members of the Imperial Court in peril.

Princess Taema, a beautiful woman, appears. The Princess says that she has come because she is in trouble: because there is no rain, she lacks water to wash her precious gown.

Narukami's two disciples listen to the Princess very eagerly. Narukami, too, listens to her with his body thrust forward, then falls down from the platform and faints.

Narukami is suspicious of the Princess. He is struck by her figure, however, as she tries to throw herself into the waterfall. He advises her to become a nun, ordering his disciples to make preparations.

Suddenly the Princess is stricken with a stomach ache. When Narukami touches her, he cannot help feeling desire, and promises to marry her. Drinking forbidden alcohol, he eventually reveals the secret of his spell to stop the rain.

What Narukami does not know is that the Princess is in fact an envoy of the Imperial Court. She already has a lover, but will be allowed to marry him only if she can make the rain fall. It is for this reason that she has come to Narukami.

When the Princess, having learned Narukami's secret, breaks the spell, a fierce thunderstorm erupts.

Narukami realizes that Princess Taema has cheated him. Although his disciples try to hold him back, Narukami runs after the Princess, burning with anger.

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Kabuki: Historical Background

A few important dates:

1603: Okuni, a shrine maiden from Izumo (western Japan), performs a Kabuki dance in Kyoto. (This is the beginning of Kabuki.)

1629: The government bans women from performing Kabuki. Wakashu (boys') Kabuki begins as a substitute for the banned performances by women.

1651: Wakashu Kabuki is banned also.

1653: Boy actors of Wakashu Kabuki have the hair at the front of their heads shaved to show their coming of age, and resume Kabuki performances under the name of Yaro (young men's) Kabuki.

Kabuki's origins date from the beginning of the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868), influenced by ukiyo-e (woodblock prints). In contrast to the slow-moving and sedate Noh drama of the aristocracy, Kabuki had a high degree of emotional tension and dealt with violent and melodramatic subjects. It was an extravagant, vibrant, and brash new form of theater that was patronized by the merchants and townspeople. The Tokugawa shogunate [the shoguns were military leaders who ruled Japan until 1868; a shogunate is a government led by a shogun], which was steeped in Confucian morality and austerity, did not approve of Kabuki nor any of the other popular art forms (such as ukiyo-e, love novels, etc.).

Kabuki was originally performed by women. However, it became closely linked with prostitution, which caused the shogunate to ban women from the stage. And so began Kabuki's evolution from Onna Kabuki (women's Kabuki), to Wakashu Kabuki (boys' Kabuki), to Yaro Kabuki (young men's Kabuki), and finally to its predominant current form: an entirely male cast with specially-trained actors, the onnagata, assuming the female roles.

In the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, Onna Kabuki experienced a renaissance. One of the leading actresses of this "golden age," Kumehachi Ichikawa, was a disciple of the Ichikawa School. Nagoya Musume Kabuki, the company presented here, are privileged to be the only troupe in Japan to be recognized and licensed by the Ichikawa school.

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Kabuki Actresses

After women were banned from performing Kabuki in 1629, actresses called female kyogen continued performing Kabuki-style plays and dances secretly.

At the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, female kyogen players who lost their jobs started to operate female troupes by themselves. Kabuki performances by female troupes were very popular between 1890 and 1923. More recently, the Ichikawa Girls' Kabuki troupe was popular around 1945.

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Kabuki: A Short Glossary

Kabuki - Traditional Japanese art which combines song, dance, and theatre. Originally, the term literally meant "extraordinary, free, strange and wild."

Ki - Wooden clappers beaten to signal the beginning and ending of a religious ritual, festival, sumo, and kabuki.

Tsuke - Beating two wooden clappers on a board at stage left.

Mie - A frozen pose following vigorous action.

Hanamichi - An elevated passageway running from the stage to the dressing room at the rear of the theater.

Hikikomi - Exit from the stage.

Tobiroppo - A jumping exit from the stage, performed by a lively character.

Aragoto - A festive performance by a Herculean type of character created in Edo Kabuki.

Kumadori - A make-up method which exaggerates a character by grading shadows according to skeleton and facial muscles. Each color has a meaning, e.g., crimson for justice, youth and strength, navy for unfathomable evil, and brown for the weirdness of monsters.

Suppon - Hole that rises and falls under hanamichi, which is used for appearance/exit of monsters, etc.

Seri - A hole in the stage for spectacular stage devices.

Kooken - An assistant behind the actors on stage.

Kurogo - An assistant in black dress and headdress on stage.

For more information on Kabuki, visit: http://www.fix.co.jp/kabuki/about/history/overview.html

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About Nagoya Musume Kabuki (NMK)

1998 is the 15th anniversary of NMK, which was established by four women in 1983. In 1985, NMK gave its first public performance. Licensed by the head of the Ichikawa School, NMK performs not only in Nagoya but also in Tokyo and other places in Japan. Today, the troupe consists of 27 members, including the four founders. The company includes a musical accompaniment section whose members play traditional Japanese instruments and also perform independently.

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Actresses of Nagoya Musume Kabuki

Ohka ICHIKAWA (autonym: Emiko KATO)
Representative of NMK, plays female roles.

Misuya ICHIKAWA (autonym: Akemi ITO)
Leading actress of NMK.
Plays High Priest Narukami

Yukie KIKUCHI
Plays Princess Taema

Seiko ABO
Plays Narukami's disciple

Rie SUMIYA
Plays Narukami's disciple

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About Nagoya

Nagoya is a Japanese city of more than 2 million people (roughly the population of the Greater Twin Cities) located in the central part of Honshu Island -- the same large island that includes Tokyo, the capital. For more information on Nagoya, visit: http://www.city.nagoya.jp/maine.htm

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A Note on Time Zones

Japanese time is 14 hours ahead of Minnesota (U.S. Central) time, and in traveling from the U.S. to Japan one crosses the International Date Line. Hence, when our program begins in Minnesota at 10 am on Monday, it will be midnight in Nagoya -- and when our program ends at 11 am Minnesota time, it will be 1 am on Tuesday in Japan. It is for this reason that "High Preist Narukami" has been pre-recorded for ACT '98 -- to do otherwise would have required all the actresses and crew of Nagoya Musume Kabuki to be at work in the middle of the night.

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