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Nakamura Shikan VII in September 1955 in the kabuki-buyo play Kagami-Jishi.

Nihon-buyō (日本舞踊) meaning Japanese dance, refers to a classical Japanese performing art.

It begins with early dance traditions such as mai and odori, with major development in the early Edo period (early 17th century) in the form of kabuki dances, which incorporated elements from the older dance genres.[1][2] Although the term Nihon-buyō means "Japanese dance", it is not meant to refer to Japanese dance in general, rather it refers to a few dance genres such as kabuki buyō performed in theatre.[3][4] Nihon-buyō differs from other Japanese traditional dances in that it is a more refined style of dancing intended as entertainment on a public stage.[5][3]

The term buyō is a modern coinage during the Meiji period as a term for "dance", and the writer Tsubouchi Shōyō is believed to be the first to use the term Nihon-buyō.[6] Prior to this, dance was generally referred according to its particular dance genre, such as mai and odori. The term is a combination of mai (舞, which can also be pronounced bu) and odori (踊, can also be pronounced ).[7] Shōyō intended Nihon-buyō to be a term for Furigoto Geki (振事劇), a form of dance drama in Kabuki plays, but it has now become a term that covers several Japanese dance styles, including the modern dance form Sosaku Buyō.[3] As a genre of dance that has multiple influences and borrowings from many different dance traditions that developed over a long period, one that overlaps with theatre and has many different schools, there is some difficulty in defining and categorizing nihon-buyō.[8]


Nihon-buyō in the broad sense[edit]

In the broad sense, nihon-buyō refers to the dances kabuki-buyō, kamigata-mai [ja] and shin-buyō [ja].[9]

  • Kabuki buyō (歌舞伎舞踊) - See nihon-buyō in the strict sense
  • Kamigata-mai (上方舞) or jiuta-mai (地唄舞) - Dance born and developed in the region of Kyoto and Osaka (kamigata). It developed during the Edo era, at the occasion of private parties, on a small surface (the surface of a tatami mat). Its movements are slow and gentle. It can be accompanied by music called jiuta, composed for a shamisen soloist. It is also called zashiki-mai (座 敷 舞?), name of the room where it is practiced.
  • Shin-buyō (新舞踊) or sōsaku-buyō (創作舞踊) - Nihon-buyō has known European and American influences during the twentieth century. Western arts-inspired writer Tsubouchi Shōyō proposes changes in kabuki theater, which some actors accept. The dance thus created is called shin-buyō "new dance" under the Taishō era, performed by artists wanting to experiment with a new form of expression.

Nihon-buyō in the strict sense[edit]

In the narrow sense, nihon-buyō (日本舞踊) means kabuki-buyō (歌舞伎舞踊, kabuki dance).[10]

This name dates from the Meiji era. Until then, kabuki-buyô was referred to by various names such as shosagoto (所作事), keigoto (景事), furigoto (振事) or more simply odori (, dance).[11]

The choreographers of shosagoto, whose first appearance dates back to around 1673,[12] founded schools to teach this dance to amateurs.[13] The kabuki-buyō, listed as an important intangible cultural heritage since 1955, is performed by both a kabuki actor and a nihon-buyō dancer.

Dance styles and elements[edit]

Unlike the noh, kyōgen, kabuki and bunraku theaters, which are masculine settings, nihon-buyō is also performed by women. There are two different dance styles (onnagata : female role; tachiyaku : male role) that everyone learns.[14] Thus, a woman can play a male role, and a man a female role.

The nihon-buyō has three main elements: mai, odori and furi.[15] Mai is a static and abstract movement with an emphasis on the ritual aspect, which is often present in the adaptation sequences of the nô theater;[16] the odori is a dynamic and rhythmic movement resulting from the nenbutsu-odori [ja], a dance invented by a Buddhist monk around the 10th century;[15] furi includes theatrical, dramatic and figurative body language (such as writing a letter, drinking sake, etc.) inseparable from everyday life in the Edo period.[17]



Nihon-buyō schools were founded by choreographers, who were originally kabuki musicians or actors, or by actors. These two backgrounds, nihon-buyō and kabuki, still forge an inseparable bond today by sharing the same dance repertoire, even though they have two distinct backgrounds.[18]


There are many nihon-buyō plays which are inspired by nō theater plays: not only the three major series of the repertoire of this dance, sanbasō mono, dōjōji mono, shakkyō mono, which are adapted from plays nō, Okina [fr], Dōjōji, Shakkyō,[19] but also the matsubame mono repertoire series, adapted from nō during the Meiji era with the tendency of the kabuki approach to nō.[20] For these plays from nō, the nō dance (mai) is integrated into the choreography.[21]


Even before the Meiji era, there were already kyōgen-based kabuki dance plays, but, like nô, kyogen was much adapted after Meiji (matsubame mono), and this repertoire was appreciated by kabuki actors of this period.[22]


Nihon-buyō plays Ochiudo, Hachidanme, Yoshinoyama, which are acts in the kabuki plays adapted from bunraku, Kanadehon chūshingura, Yoshitsune senbonzakura.[23]

In addition, during climaxes of nihon-buyō plays adapted from bunraku (Yagura no oshichi, Hidakagawa), ningyô-buri (acting imitating the movements of puppets) is used: the character is supported by puppeteers standing behind him and moves as if he was a puppet.[24]


Sengiku Bando in Tokyo, Japan in the play Noriai bune.

The nihon-buyō plays consists mainly of kabuki (shosagoto) dance plays created in the Edo period, such as Kyôganoko-musume-dōjōji, Fuji Musume. In addition, there are plays choreographed with the kabuki dance technique.[25] The themes of the plays are plentiful: legends, classical literature, historical figures, crime stories, life and customs in the Edo period. There are also adaptations of the nô, kyôgen, and bunraku theaters.

Plays danced by one person take up about 60% of the repertoire, and plays danced by more than two people make up the rest of the repertoire. About 60% of the plays consist of pure dance plays without drama (metamorphosis play, Edo period daily life play, festive play), compared to around 40% dramatic plays.[26]

Not all parts can be classified perfectly, but they can be roughly grouped into the following categories :[27]

Sanbasō mono (三番叟物, adaptation of the nō play Okina)[edit]

In the nō play Okina, the most sacred play mixing dance and prayer ritual for a bountiful harvest and prosperity, 3 characters, Okina, Senzai and Sanbasō, appear. The latter's dynamic dance gave rise to a series of sanbasō mono repertoire in kabuki : the play Kotobuki-shiki-sanbasō is the most ritual, and the rest of the repertoire develops the entertaining aspects of kabuki: Ayatsuri-sanbasō, Ninin-sanbasō, Shitadashi-sanbasō, Hinazuru-sanbasō, Shiki-sanbasō, Kuruwa-sanbasō, etc.[28]

Dōjōji mono (道成寺物, adaptation of the nō play Dōjōji)[edit]

Depiction of the Kabiki dance Kyōganoko-Musume-Dōjōji.
Nakamura Utaemon VI in 1951 in the play Kyôganoko-musume-dōjōji.

The nō Dōjōji play, inspired by the myth of the Dōjōji temple, was adapted in the kabuki dance as a Kyōganoko-musume-dōjōji masterpiece, which then gave birth to the main series of the repertoire: Ninin-dōjōji, Meoto-dōjōji, Kane-no-misaki, Otsue-dōjōji, Futaomote-dōjōji, Yakko-dōjōji, etc.[29]

Shakkyō mono (石橋物, adaptation of the nô play Shakkyō)[edit]

The nō play Shakkyo, in which the Buddhist monk sees mythical lions playing with peonies at Mt Seiryo in China, was adapted as an onnagata (actor in a female role) dance in the early kabuki period : Aioi-jishi, Shūjaku-jishi, Makura-jishi. It was around the Meiji era that the adaptation came closer to nō : the majestic lion dance is performed by tachiyaku (male actor) : Kagami-jishi, Renjishi.[30]

Onryō mono (怨霊物, phantom plays)[edit]

  • Asama mono (浅間物)

A man, who just got engaged, burned the letter of love affair made with a courtesan. In the smoke, the living spirit of this courtesan appears and speaks resentfully: here is the play Keisei-asamadake, which then gave variations such as Takao-zange (confession of keisei Takao).[30]

  • Futaomote mono (双面物)

Two characters with totally identical appearances dance together, and one reveals his true ghost nature: this style, which originated in a nō play Futari Shizuka (the two Shizuka), has become in vogue with many plays as Futago-sumidagawa from Chikamatsu Monzaemon. The most famous plays are Futaomote (last act of the kabuki play Hōkaibō) and Futaomote-dōjōji. In these plays, the main character is a ghost with two spirits inside, that is, double possession. The souls of two lovers who have killed each other can come together in an evil vengeful half-man, half-woman spirit.

Fukusuke Nakamura VI in the play Onatsu-kyōran.

Kyōran mono (狂乱物, plays about madness)[edit]

Inspired by the play category ‘the madness’ of nō, this theme was developed in dance plays from the earliest period of kabuki.[31] Apart from the madness in love, there is madness due to the loss of a child : in the Middle Ages, it happened that a child was taken away to be sold to circus troupes. A mother, who has had her child stolen in this way, has lost her mind and abandoned her life. She has become a traveling artist who searches for her child, singing and dancing. In nō, this theme is treated in the plays, Sumida-gawa, Sakura-gawa and Miidera.

  • Madness among men : Ninin-wankyū, Yasuna
  • Madness among women : Onatsu-kyōran, Kurama-jishi, Sumida-gawa, Shizuhata-obi.[31]

Michiyuki mono (道行物, lyrical travel plays)[edit]

  • Description of the landscape

For a long time in Japanese art there has been a style called michiyuki which describes the journey to the destination.[32] The trip was also very popular with the people of the Edo era, because it seems that the joy of freedom along the way was special, due to the lack of freedom to move from one region to another under the strict control of the shôgunal government. But the uplifting feeling felt during the journey was all the more melancholic as the traveler suffered from a sin, an attachment, a fate. Michiyuki's beauty is charged with the sadness of wandering:[33] Hachidanme (8th act of the kabuki play Kanadehon chūshingura), Yoshinoyama (4th act of the kabuki play Yoshitsune senbonzakura), Michiyuki-koi-no-odamaki (4th act of the kabuki play Imoseyama teikin).[34]

  • Double love suicide

Since the play Sonezaki-shinjū (double suicide in Sonezaki) by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, michiyuki has been associated with double suicide: a couple consider killing each other at the end of their journey. There, character psychology is brought to the fore, and the description of the landscape becomes a background.[35] Later, a new style becomes in vogue: a peddler or a street artist intervenes during the couple's journey, remonstrating with them because they will commit a double suicide: Ochiudo (Act IV of the play by kabuki Kanadehon Chūshingura), Umegawa, Osome.[36]

Henge mono (変化物, metamorphosis plays)[edit]

A nihon-buyō dancer in the play Kamuro.

In henge mono, the same actor metamorphoses with a rapid change of costume, and plays different characters, from three to twelve (usually seven) one after another - male and female of all ages, from different periods and of all social strata, animals, apparition, gods.[37] Henge mono was very popular at the start of the 19th century, particularly with the two great actors Bandō Mitsugorō IIIrd and Nakamura Utaemon IIIrd, who competed to develop this genre.[38] Today the henge mono is broken down into several plays, one for each character, which are performed independently, like the famous play Fuji-musume, which was originally part 1 of 5 metamorphoses: the girl sees metamorphosis into zatō (blind), tenjin (celestial deity), yakko (servant of the samurai) and boatman. Nowadays, the plays about metamorphosis no longer exist in their entirety, with one exception: Rokkasen (six great poets), a play of metamorphosis into 5 poets, for which all 5 metamorphoses still remain.

The most famous henge mono plays are Sagi-musume, Shiokumi, Asazuma-bune, Ame no Gorō, Ukare-bōzu, Mitsumen-komori, Tomo-yakko or Kamuro etc.[39]

Fūzoku mono (風俗物, plays on the Edo period customs)[edit]

A nihon-buyō dancer in the piece Katsuo-uri.
  • Traditional festival (matsuri): The pleasure of popular life was undoubtedly the matsuri and many pieces on this theme show the people's passion for this festival: Omatsuri, Sanja-matsuri, Kanda-matsuri, Kioi-jishi etc.[40]
  • Annual events: Musume-nanakusa, Genroku-hanami-odori, Ryūsei etc.[40]
  • Peddler: The variety of occupations among the citizens of Edo was surprising, including a peddler or a street performer, who animated the city of Edo. A peddler was not just a salesman, but was accompanied by various performances or songs, sometimes comical, to attract children, and in some cases with an extravagant costume: Dango-uri, Yoshiwara-suzume, Tamaya, Awamochi, Oharame, Katsuo-uri etc.[41]
  • Street artist: Echigo-jishi, Kairaishi, Dontsuku, Kappore etc.[42]

Matsubame mono (松羽目物, Adaptation of Noh and Kyogen theathers after Meiji period)[edit]

  • Matsumoto Kōshirō VII in the kabuki-buyō play Kanjinchō.
    Noh: In the Edo period, when belonging to the warrior class was distinguished from the kabuki which was an entertainment of the popular classes, the adaptation of nô in the kabuki dance tended to move away from the original piece by completely changing the context, the characters, and the staging. However, in the Meiji era, when the kabuki tried to renew the popular image by introducing the nô of a high dress, the adaptation of this medieval theater was made by approaching this noble taste, while keeping the content and style of the original piece: Kanjinchō, Funabenkei, Momijigari, Hagoromo, Hashi-benkei, Mochizuki, Shōjō etc.[43]
  • Kyōgen: Like nō, kyogen was adapted in kabuki dance after the Meiji era: Migawari-zazen, Bōshibari, Chatsubo etc. However, even before this period, there was already an adaptation of kyōgen, such as pieces Tsuri-gitsune, Utsubozaru, Sue-hirogari etc., but it was transformed into kabuki style.[44]

Goshūgi mono (御祝儀物, Festive pieces)[edit]

The goshūgi mono genre, which already existed in the Edo period in the field of music, consists of pieces created to celebrate the founding of a new school, the inheritance of a name or the inauguration of an establishment etc. Also, around the beginning of the Meiji era, musicians broke away from the kabuki world, and school leaders performed new pieces every New Year. These festive pieces, celebrating prosperity and auspiciousness, were given choreography, often in the style of nô dance: this genre is called goshūgi mono, presented in general in the style called su odori (dance with the kimono or the hakama, without costume): Oimatsu, Hokushū, Shima no senzai, Ume no sakae, Matsu no midori, Tsurukame.[45]


Japan has about two hundred nihon-buyō schools, including “five great schools”:

  1. Hanayagi-ryu (花柳流) founded in 1849 by Hanayagi Jusuke Ist, who was a disciple of Nishikawa Senzō IVth.[46] This is the school with the most disciples.
  2. Fujima-ryu (藤間流) founded by Fujima Kanbei Ist during the Hōei era (1704-1711).[47]
  3. Wakayanagi-ryu (若柳流) founded in 1893 by Wakayagi Judō Ist, who was a disciple of Hanayagi Jusuke.[48]
  4. Nishikawa-ryu (西川流) founded by Nishikawa Senzō Ist during the Genroku era (1688-1704). At the origin of many schools, it is the oldest school of nihon-buyô.[49]
  5. Bando-ryu (坂東流) founded by Bandō Mitsugorō IIIrd, kabuki actor representing the Kasei period (1804-1830).[50]


  1. ^ Samuel L. Leiter (1 October 2014). Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-1442239104.
  2. ^ "What is Nihon Buyo?". Nihon Buyo Foundation. Archived from the original on 25 April 2006.
  3. ^ a b c Takashi Izuha, Keiichiro Uetsuki & Mieko Marumo. "Shoyo's Nihon Buyo" (PDF). Society of Dance History Scholars Proceedings: 94–97.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Global perspectives on dance pedagogy. 2009. p. 228.
  5. ^ "What is nihon buyo?". Archived from the original on 2006-07-07. Retrieved 2006-05-06.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ Tomie Hahn (7 May 2007). Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-0819568359.
  7. ^ Oshima, Mark (29 June 2009). Sandra Buckley (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 978-0415481526.
  8. ^ Hahn, Tomie (2007-05-07). Sensational Knowledge. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 24–31. ISBN 9780819568359.
  9. ^ Izuru, Shinmura (2018). Kōjien. Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-710425-1.
  10. ^ Shinmura, Izuru (2018). Kōjien. Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-710425-1.
  11. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 34
  12. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 146
  13. ^ Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai 1999, p. 57
  14. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 146
  15. ^ a b Nishikata 1988, p. 76
  16. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 78
  17. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 80
  18. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 5-6
  19. ^ Kenkyūkai 1970, p. 42
  20. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 165
  21. ^ Nishikata 1980, p. 79
  22. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 130
  23. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 126-127
  24. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 170
  25. ^ Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai 1999, p. 59
  26. ^ Nishikata 1980, p. 38
  27. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 160
  28. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 160-161
  29. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 161
  30. ^ a b Hayashi 2001, p. 162
  31. ^ a b Nishikata 1988, p. 108
  32. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 112
  33. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 14
  34. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 163
  35. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 112
  36. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 114
  37. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 122
  38. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 164
  39. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 122
  40. ^ a b Nishikata 1988, p. 124
  41. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 126
  42. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 166
  43. ^ Hayashi 2001, p. 165
  44. ^ Nishikata 1988, p. 130
  45. ^ Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai 1999, p. 60
  46. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 36
  47. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 38
  48. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 42–43
  49. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 45
  50. ^ Fujita 1976, p. 47

See also[edit]


  • Fujita, Hiroshi (1976). 日本舞踊入門 [Nihon-buyō nyūmon] (in Japanese). Bunken shuppan. ISBN 414910350X.
  • Hayashi, Yukio (2001). 舞踊名作事典 [Buyō meisaku jiten] (in Japanese). Engeki shuppansha. ISBN 4900256137.
  • Kenkyūkai, Geinōshi (1970). 日本の古典芸能 舞踊 [Nihon no kotengeinō buyō : kinsei no uta to odori] (in Japanese). Engeki shuppansha. ISBN 4900256137.
  • Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai (1999). NHK 日本の伝統芸能 能 狂言 日本舞踊 歌舞伎 文楽 [NHK nihon no dentō geinō : Nō kyōgen nihon buyō kabuki bunraku kanshō nyūmon] (in Japanese). Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai. ISBN 414910350X.
  • Nishikata, Setsuko (1980). 日本舞踊の研究 [Nihon buyō no kenkyū] (in Japanese). Nansōsha. ISBN 4062018985.
  • Nishikata, Setsuko (1988). 日本舞踊の世界 [Nihon-buyō no sekai] (in Japanese). Kodansha. ISBN 4062018985.

External links[edit]