Kabuki-mono (かぶき者)

Kabuki-mono (かぶき者) is also written as "傾奇者" or "歌舞伎者." Kabuki-mono is the name given to people who gave rise to a particular social trend between the end of the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States) and the early Edo period. Their style was particularly in fashion from the Keicho era to the Kanei era (1596-1643) in urban areas including Edo and Kyoto. They liked unusual things, dressed loudly, and behaved outlandishly.

People who enjoy the art of the tea ceremony, or waka (Japanese poetry), are referred to as "suki-sha" (refined people yet tinged with eccentricity). Kabuki-mono means the people who are more eccentric than suki-sha.

At the time, kimono for men were normally in very quiet colors, such as pale yellow or navy blue. However, kabuki-mono, ignoring prevailing social trends, preferred very bold outfits, such as colorful kimonos for females worn like a cape, or a hakama (a kind of trousers, worn on a kimono) patched with animal skins. Additionally, unusual and bizarre items and styles were in fashion called "Kabuki-taru-sama"(an eccentric look) such as velvet collars, tategami hairdos (long hair with the center part left unshaved), big beards, obitai hairdos (widely shaved forehead with a little hair left on the temples), binkiri hairdos (hairdo with a lock of hair running down from the temples), chasen hairdos (a hairdo modeled after a tea whisk), large swords, and oversized short swords, red colored sheaths, big sword guards, and big pipes. Their behavior, preferences, and tastes can be seen as a kind of avant-garde art.

Kabuki-mono often ganged up to bilk or to rob money and valuables of people by picking fights. Also, they often boasted about their bravery, and this sometimes caused fights or bloodshed. They also found pleasure in engaging in outrageous and deviant behavior on the streets, such as the killing of a passerby in order to test a new sword, sumo wrestling, and dancing. They also were closely connected to the customs of homosexuality and smoking.

Their outfits and behavior can be seen as an expression of their spirit of repulsion and revolt against the prevailing social norm, authorities, and public order generally in society. Also, they valued the trust and camaraderie that developed among them, and had their own set of beliefs which they prized even more than their own lives. For example, it is said that the leader of Kabuki-mono, Ichibei OTORI (大鳥居いつ兵衛: His name is also spelled "大鳥一兵衛," "大鳥逸兵衛"and "大鳥逸平"), who was captured and beheaded in 1612, refused to divulge the names of the members of his group to the end, instead writing down the names of national feudal lords, even though he was brutally tortured. He also inscribed the phrase 'I have lived too long to be twenty five - Ichibei' on the part of the sword which is buried in the hilt to show his fearless of death.

People who became kabuki-mono were mainly servants to samurai families, such as wakato (footman), chugen (rank below common soldier), or komono (lower servant). They were not samurais but servants of the samurais, performing odd jobs such as carrying their masters' lances, and taking care of their masters' shoes. Their life was poor and unstable. Many of them enjoyed their life of freedom and violence, working as an ashigaru (common foot soldier) or a ninsoku (laborer) in times of war, and robbing people of their money and valuables whenever they had opportunities to do so. However, as the time of wars came to an end, they began to lose their jobs. It is believed that it was the feeling of despair created by the change of circumstances experienced during this period that drove the Kubuki-mono to live in such an antisocial and ephemeral way.

On one hand, Kabuki-mono were hated as violent outlaws committing assaults, but on the other hand, they were praised and sympathized with their lifestyle as chivalrous men. Sometimes not only servants of samurai families but also merchants, craftsmen, hatamoto(direct retainers of a feudal government headed by a shogun), and gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate), who are in the proper samurai class, became Kabuki-mono. Groups of ruffians called hatamoto-yakko and machi-yakko, appearing in the city of Edo from around the Kanei era, were supposedly types of Kabuki-mono. Also, in 1603, IZUMO no Okuni created a kabuki dance which introduced kabuki-mono manners and customs. It quickly became fashionable nationwide and turned into an archetype of the later kabuki performance.

Although the kabuki-mono culture was at its peak in the Keicho era, the Edo bakufu and each domain strengthened their crackdowns at the same time, and then Kabuki-mono finally disappeared. However, their form of behavior was inherited by delinquents called "kyokaku," while their aesthetic values were inherited by the Kabuki performance.

[Original Japanese]