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Symposium – KABUKI in PRINT: Actor, Fans, Image, and Medium in Early Modern Japan and Beyond

External event

金曜日 4 11月, 2022 - 土曜日 5 11月, 2022

Dr Matsuba Ryoko, Lecturer in Digital Japanese Arts and Humanities at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures will be giving a presentation titled The Impact of Kabuki on Visual Culture at the KABUKI in PRINT: Actor, Fans, Image, and Medium in Early Modern Japan and Beyond symposium in Chicago on 5 November 2022, organised by the Center for East Asian Studies in conjunction with the Smart Museum of Art, Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Center for the Art of East Asia.

Read Dr Matsuba’s abstract below:

The Impact of Kabuki on Visual Culture

The founder of Waseda theatre museum Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935) described the role of kabuki prints as follows:

Many examples of colour woodblock prints survive from the middle of the 18th century onward. If we organise them systematically, it is possible to reconstruct actual stage performances, the complexity of each scene, the appearance of successive generations of famous actors, their costumes, their facial expressions and gestures. We might even go so far as to say that we can use ukiyo-e prints to recreate the theatre of the past as coloured movies.’

Utagawa Toyokuni III (1786-1865), Summer Festival (Natsumatsuri naniwa kagami), Edo Nakamura theatre, 1855, Waseda Theater Museum, Tokyo

Edo Kabuki had strong connections with contemporary visual print culture. It is well known that Kabuki performances provided the subject matter for many ukiyo-e woodblock prints and illustrated books. Ukiyo-e artists drew upon the inherent pictorial quality of Kabuki performance practice. By borrowing the poses and gestures linked to a specific moment in a performance, the artist was able to convey the emotional impact of the scene. Even if an artist did not offer a literal depiction of a scene in an actor print, the viewer could identify the scene because he recognized the pose the artist had represented. The artists depicted not only theatrical elements such as specific costumes and props but also the essentials of certain set acting patterns.  This paper will examine the ways in which kabuki performance had an impact on early modern visual culture. When new gestures and movements (acting patterns) came to be associated with certain recognized emotions and dramatic situations, they were eagerly introduced into other visual materials. This sharing, adapting and merging of imagery formed an important part of the creative process in early modern Japan.


This symposium is an in-person event, however, the keynote lecture by John T. Carpenter will be available to view online. To find out more, visit the link below.

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