Genre Buzz: Traditional Japanese Dance

Dance Genre Buzz: 

Traditional Japanese Dances

 There are several styles of traditional Japanese dance. These dances are similiar and different from one to another yet all of them are unique in their own way. Some describe history and others are done entirely by men.    

Odori dance

There are two types of Japanese traditional dance: Odori, which origniated in the Edo period, and Mai, which originated in the western part of Japan. 

Odori grew out of Kabuki drama and is more oriented toward male sentiments. View a sample of Kabuki theater by watching this VIDEO. 

Mai dance

Mai is traditionally performed in Japanese rooms instead of on the stage.  It was influenced by the Noh Drama.  A variation of the Mai style of Japanese dance is the Kyomai or Kyoto Style Dance. Kyomai developed in the 17th century Tokugawa cultural period. It is heavily influenced by the elegance and sophistication of the manners often associated with the Imperial Court in Kyoto

View this VIDEO to watch the Kyoto dance style.

Traditional Dances

The Four traditional dances today which are different from one another are Kabuki that became known in the 17th century, Noh Mai, Bon Festival which and a dance for the spirits, and Nihon Buyo which is created from a bit of all the dances.

Noh Mai

The performing art of Noh is a comprehensive art form which brings together poetry, acting, dance, and music to excite the senses of the audience.  View this VIDEO to learn more about the origins of Noh. 

The origin of the Noh Mai can be traced back to as far as the thirteenth century.  Noh Mai is a dance that is done to music that is made by flutes and small hand drums. At some points they dance to vocal and percussion music, these points are called kuse or kiri. Noh Mai dances are put together by a series of forms. (The Noh, 2008) Forms are patterns of body movements that are done elegantly and with beauty.

There are several types of Noh Mai dances. A type that is neither slow nor fast is called Chu No Mai. A female usually performs this type of dance. A slower type of dance is the Jo No Mai. A female does this dance as well and can dress up as either a ghost of a noble woman, prostitute, a spirit or deity. A male’s dance is Otoko Mai. The performer does not wear a mask in this dance and is portraying the character as being heroic. Another male dance is Kami Mai, where the dancer acts as though he is a deity. This is a very fast dance. The female version of this would be Kagura and can be performed in various ways. Gaku is a dance that is imitates music played by the imperial court and is usually done by the main character. These six types make up the Noh Mai dance and help give the dance its beauty.

Costumes are a huge part of Noh Mai. Some times a dance or play may start out very slowly, so the actors create very flamboyant costumes to keep the audience interested. They also dress to fit the region in which they represent, such as a bamboo hat worn during a play would represent country life. The most important part of the costume is the mask. The Noh Mai masks are thought to be the most artistic masks in Japan. The masks are only worn by the main characters. (Ishii, 1994, pg. 43) Also, the masks have neutral expressions so it is the job of the actor to bring the character to life. (Pitt Rivers Museum) Pakyu.  View this VIDEO to view the Noh Mai dance style.

Bon Odori

Bon Odori is a dance performed during Obon. It is originally a dance to welcome the spirits of the dead. These dances and the music that accompanies them are different for every region of Japan.  Usually, the bon dance involves people dancing around a yagura, which is a high wooden scaffold made of wood erected especially for this festival.  During the dance the people that gathered around the yagura move either counter clockwise of clock wise, away and towards the yurgura. Some times they can switch direction in which they rotate around in the middle of the dance.  View this VIDEO to watch a Obon celebration with a community of people dancing around a yagura.

The movements and gestures in a bon dance often depict the history, work and/or geography of the region. For example, Tanko Bushi is a coal mining work song that originates from Miike Mine in Kyushu, and the movements in the dance depict digging, cart pushing and lantern hanging. Soran Bushi is a sea shanty, and the movements in the dance depict net dragging and luggage hoisting. Bon dances may employ the use of different utensils, such as fans, small towels and wooden hand clappers. For the Hanagasa Odori, the dancers use straw hats decorated with flowers.

Nihon Buyo

Nihon Buyo is different from most other traditional dances. It is intended for entertainment on stage. Nihon Buyo is a refined dance that has been improved throughout four centuries. (Japanese Dance Association Inc.) There are four parts to Nihon Buyo, the most significant part being Kabuki Buyo.  Nihon Buyo was created directly from Kabuki Buyo before it became theater. The second part of Nihon Buyo is Noh. (Japanese Dance Association Inc.)  Nihon Buyo takes a few key elements from Noh such as the circular movements and the tools that they incorporate in the dances. The third part of these dances comes from the folk dances.  They took the spinning and jumping that is used in folk dances and has incorporated it in Nihon Buyo. The last part came from a mixture of European and American culture that is found in Japan today. (Japanese Dance Association Inc.) Today, with the combination of these dances we have Nihon Buyo, a refined dance that has become an art form made for entertainment on stage.  View this VIDEO to see the traditional dance style of Nihon Buyo.

Japanese dancer with fans (Sparrow Dance)

The Sparrow Dance,

called Suzume Odori (雀踊り), is a dance based upon the fluttering movements of the Eurasian tree sparrow. 

It was first performed, improvised, by stonemasons who were constructing Sendai Castle for the daimyo Date Masamune. The emblem of the Date clan incorporates two tree sparrows.

The Sparrow dance is now performed yearly in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture at the Aoba festival in mid-May.[1] School children in Miyagi prefecture learn and perform the Sparrow dance, especially during the Obon Festival.  View this Japanese Sparrow dance VIDEO showcasing the Japanese Sparrow Dance.  

Genre Buzz Source: Excerpts from Wikipedia

More about Dance Genre Buzz:

Each month, a new dance style is celebrated. View videos and learn about the heritage and history of different dance styles. Discover innovators of the dance, trends, variations, and current events for each dance genre featured. Watch artistic videodances featuring dance styles, and learn more about Dance made for the Camera.

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By, Dawn Paap

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3 Responses to “Genre Buzz: Traditional Japanese Dance”

  1. Nice overview of the world of Japanese dance. If you’re interested in learning more about Nihon Buyo, my wife and I made a 42 minute documentary on the dance grandmaster, Iemoto Tachibana. You can get a copy of the DVD by helping us fund a print run at kickstarter.

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