In contrast to professional "O-kabuki" performed by famous actors, rural "ji-kabuki" is performed by local amateurs in regions throughout Japan. (Ji-kabuki is also known as ji-shibai, but as the word "shibai" has come to represent a wide variety of theatrical forms outside of kabuki, "ji-kabuki" is the term used in Gifu.)
Ji-kabuki is particularly popular in Gifu Prefecture, which along with Kanagawa and Hyogo Prefectures makes up what is known as the "Big Three" ji-kabuki regions.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), the Tono region (Southeast Gifu Prefecture) served as a highway intersection where people and goods frequently came and went. This environment, in which urban culture and popular city entertainments were easily exchanged, is thought to be a main factor in ji-kabuki's early development.
Kabuki performances held during matsuri festivals on various shrine stages soon came to be performed by local villagers, whose wild enthusiasm for kabuki led the shogunate to issue regulations banning its performance.
At this time, T?no belonged to the Owari Domain (feudal territory held by the Tokugawa clan), and between the source of income provided by Tono's lumber supply and the importance of Tono's strategic position on the militaristically important Nakasendo highway, ji-kabuki performances were tolerated as an outlet for the people's discontent. This background is believed to have been another main factor in the development of ji-kabuki.
Gifu Prefecture contains the most ji-kabuki preservation societies in all of Japan, more than half of which are concentrated in the Tono region. In 2010, owing to the activities of various Gifu preservation societies, the successions of ji-kabuki choreographers they employ, the regular performance of plays no longer seen in professional kabuki, and the preservation and use of multiple historically significant play houses, "Tono Ji-kabuki and Shibai-goya" were recognized by Gifu Prefecture as Treasures of Gifu.
The project to find the "Treasures of Gifu" was a main objective of regulation enacted by Gifu Prefecture in July 2009, promoting regional pride and aiming to make Gifu a sightseeing capitol with the help of its prefectural citizens.
In March of 2010, Tono ji-kabuki also received international acclaim with the performance of an original play, "Gifu Jiman Gonin Otoko" (The Pride of Gifu) at the Shanghai World Expo.
岐阜県 : 岐阜の宝ものプロジェクト
The "Treasures of Gifu" Project:
Translated by Michael Kushell