Kabuki icon Bando Tamasaburo's kimono costumes will be put on rare display at a museum in Oxford for two years from late November to further spark interest in Britain in the over 400-year-old traditional Japanese performing art.
In what a curator of the University of Oxford's Ashmolean Museum says is the first ever exhibit entirely devoted to Kabuki costumes in Britain, a total of 13 kimonos and an "obi" sash worn by the actor in plays from the classical Kabuki repertoire such as "Sukeroku, the Flower of Edo" and "Love Letters from the Pleasure Quarters" will be featured.
Tamasaburo, designated a living national treasure and considered the top performer of female, or "onnagata," roles, said in a recent press event that he wants visitors to simply "enjoy the flamboyant Kabuki costumes" during the "Kabuki Kimono: The Costumes of Bando Tamasaburo V" exhibit starting Nov. 21.
One of his memorable roles is as courtesan Agemaki in the Sukeroku piece, which is among the plays with English audio offered on paid online streaming service "Kabuki On Demand" by Shochiku Co., the major producer of Kabuki performances.
Tamasaburo handpicked the robes to reflect Japan's four seasons with designs such as cherry blossoms and peonies.
Tamasaburo, who has performed multiple times abroad including in London, Paris, New York and Beijing and has received the highest French cultural honor, said he looks forward to seeing how the costumes will be "viewed in a different situation" off the stage.
The 73-year-old actor is known for his attention to detail in Kabuki costumes, ordering from craftsmen who spend a year or so to make them. He sometimes is involved in embroidery supervision, while some costumes are also tailor-made to look different depending on the lighting.
Clare Pollard, curator of Japanese Art at the museum's Department of Eastern Art, said there is "interest" and "curiosity" about Kabuki in Britain and that now is a "good time to introduce Kabuki culture."
To provide extra context to the display, the museum, home to 9,000 Japan-related items, is also showcasing a Japanese artist's stencil prints of key scenes and moments in kabuki dramas.
Tamasaburo said British audiences had been appreciative of his performances and that no attempts were needed to adapt to British tastes, describing Kabuki as a drama form "that demonstrates human emotions in their rawest form" and which "is sufficiently appealing in and of itself."
Pollard said that while Kabuki, historically, shared certain features with the theater of Shakespeare's day when all roles were performed by men and when ordinary people made up much of the audience, it is also unique for the "much more important" and "integral" role that its costumes play compared to theater forms in Britain.
"For (a visitor) to say 'that's beautiful and I want to see it again' -- wouldn't that be the happiest thing?" Tamasaburo said.