Kaomise refers to the first kabuki performance played by new actors following an annul renewal of actors.
It used to be the most important annual event in kabuki performance.
In the Edo period the kabuki actors were hired for a full year, starting in November and ending next October. Thus, a cast of actors changed every November. It was kaomise that introduced new cast members to the audience.
Although its origin is unknown, Matabe MURAYAMA was the first to organize kaomise and Sanemon ARASHI (I) determined the order, period, and convention of kaomise performance in Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area). During the Manji era in Edo, Kanzaburo NAKAMURA decided to choose a kyogen (farce) performance that matched the season.
It is thought that the tradition of kaomise was established between the Manji and the Kanbun era in Kyoto, Edo and Osaka. It had since been continued over 200 years.
It was occasionally performed at New Year's. This was because Utaemon NAKAMURA postponed the renewal of cast members in December 1849 until the new year to help Edo-Ichimura-za Troupe which had financial difficulties.
It seems kaomise became a less and less effective means of gathering spectators. In Osaka elaborate kaomise was long lost even before the Kaei era. A practice of 'teuchi', in which fans of actors appeared on the stage to praise them, was conducted in December (in the old Japanese calendar), although it was also discontinued by the end of the Edo period. Various forms of performance subsequently appeared under the name of kaomise although they did not necessarily preserve the older tradition.
The details of kaomise were determined in September (in the old calendar) after the managers of three theatres in Edo got together during summer to decide upon casts for the following year's productions. On September 12 (in the old calendar) the managers held a ceremony called 'sekai-sadame' (sphere-setting) to determine the period setting for the following year's kaomise kyogen. This ceremony was first held at a main playwright's house which was later shifted to tayumoto's (chief producer's). Around the Tenmei era, it was held on the third floor of a backstage or theatre café.
On October 17 (in the old calendar), an event called 'yorizome' was held in which a new cast of actors met for the time. They gathered at yagurashita (a billboard) in front of the theatre, on the stage, or the third floor of the backstage to perform teuchi.
With the manager's vocal cue, theatre musicians first sang the song called 'Shikainami' and then the chief producer offered a drink to the zato (the leader of a troupe), then to the leading actor, which is known as 'sakagoto.'
The main playwright read aloud the titles of the new productions and the nimaime (actor playing the role of a good-looking character) announced the casts. Feasting followed this and another teuchi was performed to conclude the ceremony.
On October 20 (in the old calendar) 'monkanban' (billboard to announce the roles of main actors) was put up, on October 29 new programs and casts were announced, and on October 30 a pictorial billboard was put up. Finally on November 1, the first festive kaomise performance was shown. On the first day main stakeholders of the performance visited one another in kamishimo (old samurai costume), saying 'Congratulations!' to each other, and creating bustle like at New Year's.
The theatre first beat a drum at four in the morning. With the second beating of the drum, 'Okinawatashi' ('shikisanban' or ceremonial dancing) was performed, followed by 'waki kyogen' (an auspicious play) and 'hon kyogen' (a main program of kyogen). Kyogen plays performed at kaomise were limited to new works and were kept in a certain style.
From the mid Edo period onward, they were divided into two parts: the first part (where jidai or period kyogen was performed) and the second part (where sewa or sentimental kyogen was performed), which was structured to return to a period kyogen at the end. In the overture (called 'mitateme') of the first part, 'Shibaraku' (a war story) in an exaggerated kabuki style was given and in the second act (called 'kaeshi') 'danmari' (a pantomimic play) was performed, followed by 'shosagoto' (kabuki dancing) in the fourth act ('yotateme') and 'ozume' (the final act) where a rebel was named in a scene of a castle with golden fusuma doors. The second part included 'sewaba' (realistic dramas) with the scenes of snow falling and some humorous scenes such as hustle-bustle of moving and fights between couples. In the final act ('ogiri') another dancing was provided. Such was the typical program of kaomise. The idea was to devise a buoyant and glamorous program to entertain the audience in early winter.
Dances for kaomise kyogen included excellent works such as 'Modorikago,' 'Sekinoto,' 'Inugami' and 'Dojoji.'
The kaomise program was held for a short period of time, typically running for about 10 days. 'Ninokawari kyogen' that followed kaomise was regarded more important.
Kaomise provided 'kaomise banzuke' or a ranking list of actors that appeared.
This was also called 'kimari banzuke.'
Printed on a large sheet of paper similar in the form to 'yagura banzuke' (rankings lists at theatres) or 'tsuji banzuke' (ranking lists put up in the streets), in the upper half of the kaomise banzuke, stage curtains with family crests around were drawn with the names of a chief producer, actors and playwrights arranged in certain positions. An image of zato was drawn at the center of the lower, tateoyama's image (leading female impersonator) on his left, the villain actor's image on his right, and the images of other actors were drawn in certain positions they were assigned. The main playwrights and chief producers were responsible for deciding the positions of the pictures of actors in kaomise banzuke, which often involved controvertial discussions. It is said that this was a painstaking process.