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Japanese Taishu Engeki Theater Group

Photographer: Everett Kennedy Brown


Translated into English as 'Theater for the Masses', it is a kind of working class people's Kabuki theater. Having the same cultural origins as Kabuki, Taishu Engeki was traditionally popular with the working class people. Just as in Kabuki, male actors perform male and female roles, but Taishu Engeki is more spontaneous, lighthearted and easier to understand for the viewer than Kabuki. Similar to Western cabaret or variety theater shows, the performances consist of traditional parody, comedy, and cloak and dagger acts, followed by song and dance routines, both traditional and modern. During a one-month schedule the group provide two performances a day. It is remarkable that very few skits or routines are repeated during a one month schedule, thus the performers must memorize some 200 theater skits.


Contemporary performers are members of family theater troupes that travel around Japan throughout the year performing at small theaters and hot spring resorts. These theater troupes represent the last of a rich and long tradition of traveling entertainers in Japan. For the past 130 years these theater groups, numbering now around 130, have been treated as cultural outsiders by the Japanese government. The number of groups has been continuously dwindling. With most of the fans being elderly women there is concern that this long tradition of traveling entertainers may disappear in the near future.