Japan's dances and dramas as they are seen today contain 1300 years of continuous uninterrupted history. This prodigious feat of conservation, theatrically speaking, makes Japan an extraordinary and unique country. In all of Asia, where tradition generally is sanctified and change eschewed, Japan stands as the only country whose theatre is its entirety has never suffered an eclipse nor undergone any drastic revivification or renovation. The most traditional form of Japanese theatre is kabuki. Its origin goes back to the latter part of the 16th century and, with extensive and continuous evolution, it has now been perfected into a state of classical refinement. Though not as flourishing as it once was, the kabuki theatre retains wide popularity among the people, and is in fact drawing quite large audiences even now.
During the period generally referred to as the Edo Era, during which much of the development of kabuki took place, distinctions between the warrior class and the commoners was more rigidly observed than at any other time in Japan's history.
Mainly the merchants cultivated the art of kabuki in those days. They had become increasingly powerful economically, but had to remain socially inferior as they belonged to the commoner class. To them kabuki was most significant as the artistic means by which to express their emotions under the prevailing conditions. Thus, the fundamental themes of kabuki plays are conflicts between humanity and the feudalistic system. It is largely due to this humanistic quality of the art that it gained such an enduring popularity among the general public of those days and remains this way today.
A unique feature of the kabuki art, and possibly the most significant detail and in keeping with the kabuki spirit of unusualness, is the fact that it has no actresses whatsoever (Bowers 325). Male impersonators...