One of the three major classical theaters of Japan, together with the nō and bunraku puppet theater. Kabuki began in the early 17th century as a kind of variety show performed by troupes of itinerant entertainers. By the Genroku era (1688-1704), it had achieved its first flowering as a mature theater, and it continued throughout much of the Edo period (1600-1868) to be the most popular form of stage entertainment. Kabuki reached its artistic pinnacle with the brilliant plays of Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755-1829) and Kawatake Mokuami (1816-93). The kabuki theater often incorporates the prevailing moral notions of Tokugawa society as the mechanism upon which plots turn. For example, inga ōhō (law of retributive justice), a Buddhist notion, may result in the destruction of an evildoer or the bewstowal of prosperity and happiness upon a long-suffering woman. The notion of mujō (impermanence), also derived from Buddhism, may be illustrated by the fall of a powerful military leader or the demise of a proud family. Certain ethical notions based on Confucian traditions, such as duty, obligation, and filial piety, may come into direct conflict with personal desires, leading to dramatic situations. The main sites of kabuki performances today are the Kabukiza and the National Theater, both in Tokyo. Through a magnificent blend of playacting, dance, and music, kabuki today offers an extraordinary spectacle combining form, color, and sound and is recognized as one of the world's great theatrical traditions. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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