Wait a Minute!


Kabuki Plus

by Hashimoto Hiroki

Charm of Genroku Kabuki

Shibaraku is based entirely on established rules. It is a piece of complete nonsense, and the story line is irrelevant. The reason that it has retained its great popularity is that it offers all the charms of Genroku Kabuki, a theatrical golden age – the relaxed mood of the prosperous Genroku Period (1688-1704), the glamorous props and costumes, the great variety of roles – in a single act. This show is best enjoyed without trying to analyze it too closely.

Gongoro as superman

The main character is the paramount aragoto role. He wears an oversized costume that make his actions seem like a mountain moving. He has numerous visual particularities: he wears a “wheeled wig” unique to aragoto decorated with “power paper”, his face is covered with eye-catching lines reminiscent of throbbing arteries, and his persimmon colored robe has the three-squared crest of the Danjuro family. Its sleeves have bars that make it stretch widely. These are all designed to exaggerate his strength and might. The costume and wig are quite heavy, and it takes several dressers to assist the actor in putting these on. It requires virtually superhuman physical and mental strength for the role.

Aragoto with young man’s heart


It is said that the bombastic aragoto style of drama must be performed with a young man’s heart. This is to express a sense of purity and justice. In Shibaraku, Gongoro is supposed to be a youth, and his lines leave a childish impression. Even the monks call him “kid”.

Roles known by nicknames

Each role in this show has a common nickname. The star Gongoro is called “Shibaraku” (Wait a moment!) after his famous entry line; the evil nobleman Takehira, “Uke” (passive) since he is attacked; the comical semi-villain Shinsai, “Catfish Monk” for his appearance; the mysterious Teruha accompanying him, “Madam Catfish”’; innocent people, including Yoshitsuna, “Under Swords” because they are nearly slashed to death; and red-faced evil retainers with their exposed stomachs, “Protruding Tummies”. The character names are now established, but when it was a one-act interval used to introduce the actors for the season, the names were changed each time. The characters were thus known by their nicknames, which remain in use today.

Curious costumes


The Catfish Monk and Madam Catfish roles are unique to Shibaraku. The former has makeup resembling a catfish, including a shaved head and long locks. Her female partner has long hair locks on both sides of her head and carries a gourd with a flower branch. This comes from a Zen riddle and represents the mysterious nature of the character. Similarly, the protruding belly guys are dressed as footmen, but their red faces indicate that they are enemies, and their stomachs, exposed when they remove their kimono, are also painted red.

Tea assistant


After Gongoro finished his long tsurane speech on the hanamichi, his assistant in formal wear comes quietly and delivers a tea cup. This is a special role called a tea assistant. Unlike other assistants, it is played by a real actor. The tea assistant is a relic of an old stylized direction. Gongoro does not in fact drink tea, but it helps create an old-style mood.

Female Shibaraku

A female version of the show has also proved popular, substituting a woman for the superhero. This is only performed by a leading female-role actor. The main character’s name was not fixed for many years, but the image of the brave woman led to her being called Tomoe Gozen, the mistress of a famous shogun. The character must be sexy and coquettish as well as powerful, such as hiding her face shyly after long lines. An actor not in the show proper appears on stage toward the end to “teach” her how to do the character’s bombastic exit.


Tomoe Gozen(Bando Tamasaburo) January 2015 Kabukiza Theatre