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17 May 2011

Izumo no Okuni 出雲の阿国 (1572 – ?1613) performer.

Okuni as a samurai
Okuni's father was a blacksmith at the Grand Shrine of Izumi, and other family members served. Okuni was known for her acting and dancing skills and was sent, as was the custom, to Kyoto to solicit contributions.

She became known for her performance of the Nambusu, originally a sacred dance from 10th-century Pure Land Buddhism but by then a folk dance and as Okuni performed it, a dance of sexual suggestion. She also did skits about lovers and about prostitutes. She began to draw large crowds. She was summoned back to the Shrine but did not obey.

Statue of Okuni erected in 2002 on the banks of the Kamo
By 1603 she was performing in the dry riverbed of the Kamo River and organized female outcasts including prostitutes. She taught them acting, dancing and singing and to play both male and female roles. She herself was best known for playing samurai and Christian priests. It was to her troupe that the term kabuki カブク (= leaning, slanted, shocking) was first applied. She even appeared before the Imperial Court.

She retired and disappeared around 1610.

In 1629 the Shogunate forbad women from performing using the excuse of morality. A new kabuki using young men in both male and female roles arose quickly but was in turn banned because of suggestions of prostitution. A third kabuki performed by older men only was left, and has continued to the present time.

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