The town of Ogano, tucked away among low-lying mountains.
An inn in downtown Ogano that retains the look of a bygone era.
The local spring festival is one of the biggest events of the year.
Outdoor kabuki stages can be found in various sections of the town.
The town of Ogano is approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Tokyo. It's a quiet community of 12,500 people in Saitama Prefecture, surrounded by low-lying mountains. It developed as a center of silk production and commerce several centuries ago, and traces of its rich past can still be seen in the old-style inns and shops near the middle of town.
Ogano is also noted for a unique type of kabuki performed by the town's residents. Legend has it that this began in the late Edo period (1603-1868) when aspiring kabuki actors who finished their apprenticeship in Edo (now Tokyo) returned to Ogano to teach the local townspeople this stage art.
Kabuki is a form of classical theater that evolved in the early seventeenth century. It's characterized by extravagant costumes and flamboyant makeup (kumadori) that accentuate the character's personality and mood. It has a distinctive type of delivery, rising and falling in tone, and uses defiant poses (mie) to express heights of emotion. Most plays draw on medieval or Edo-period themes.
In the world of professional kabuki, most actors are born into kabuki-performing families, and only males are allowed on stage. Locally performed kabuki, like the one in Ogano, are open to all residents. Ogano has three separate performing groups comprising men, women, and children. With the advent of movies and television, the popularity of Ogano kabuki had been declining, but in 1973, a preservation society was formed to reverse this trend. Since then, it has gradually been winning back fans.
Ogano kabuki is supported by a longstanding tradition. Even among some 150 types of locally performed kabuki nationwide, Ogano's production is unique for being completely self-sufficient. It has all the necessary performers, backstage hands, wigs, costumes, sets, props, and musical instruments to stage a performance.
There are five performing centers within Ogano, each with its own stage. The number of residents who are actively involved in kabuki, both as performers and members of the supporting staff, is around 230. The figure is much higher when people who were involved at one time or another are also counted. This is why Ogano is known as a town where "everyone is a kabuki actor."