Kids Web Japan

Web Japan > Kids Web Japan > Meet the Kids > Japanese Dance > What Is Japanese Dance?

Meet the Kids

Japanese Dance

What Is Japanese Dance?


Yumika dances in an elaborate traditional costume. (Courtesy of Kawafuji Yumika)

Dance has a long history in Japan and encompasses many forms. The dances performed in kabuki plays are called Nihon buyo (Japanese dance) and are widely enjoyed not just by professional actors but by ordinary people, who learn them as a hobby.

There are two types of movements in Japanese dance. One comes from mai, which has its roots in noh drama, and the second comes from odori, which originated in kabuki. In mai relatively simple movements, such as a slow shuffle and a quickly paced circling of the stage, are combined and repeated. The beauty of ancient dances, which were dedicated to the gods, can still be seen in mai. Odori, by contrast, has many showy, boisterous movements, such as leg lifts, turns, and a variety of other steps.

Kimono are an indispensable element of Japanese dance, and the shamisen, a three-stringed musical instrument, is most commonly used as an accompaniment. Shamisen music is combined with chants or narration to create a scene or story, and costumes and choreography give form to the moods of the characters. Some pieces are pure dances separate from the story, spirited performances to rhythmical music put on by a large number of performers.