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Kumadori: The Three Colors To Know To Better Enjoy Kabuki

Kabuki, the traditionally Japanese drama; we assume many people already know of the kabuki, so we wanted to delve deeper into the art. Today, we introduce the impressive makeup that represents the image of kabuki.


What is Kumadori?


Kumadori is a method of makeup that is specific to kabuki. In kabuki makeup, generally, facial parts such as eyebrows, eyes, and lips are painted on a white-painted face. Among these, the paint that outlines the veins and muscle structure is called the Kumadori. The purpose of Kumadori is to exaggerate the veins and muscles to make them stand out, in order to express the movement of the actors’ facial expressions. By doing so, the actors are able to express that changing emotions to the audience. 

There is a similar facial makeup method in Chinese Peking Opera called lian-pu. However, lian-pu originates in the face masks worn by the actors, which was later replicated directly onto the face. When compared to the kabuki kumadori, which aims to define the facial expression itself, the basic inspiration behind the makeup is different. Based on this inspiration, kumadori in Japanese is expressed as to “totte” (take) rather than draw or paint. The lines that “take” the shape of the muscles are finished by blending with the fingertips. There are special techniques that are used so that the definition is clearly visible even from a distance.

Additionally in the world of kabuki, unlike in other industries where there is a specialist for makeup, the actor that is playing the role does his own make up. The spirit is that the makeup is part of the act. Therefore, the makeup shows the individual character of the actor and is unique for each person, another appealing feature of the art of kabuki.


The Different Meanings Behind the 3 Colors Used in Kumadori

In kumadori there are 3 basic colors (or 4 colors including black), and each color conveys a different meaning.

1. Red: Hero

The red kumadori expresses justice, courage and strength so it is the color of makeup for the hero. In fact the color red is also seen in torii gates of shrines. Also, for any shows in Japan, like power-rangers involving Japanese fighters, the leader is always depicted in red. 

2. Blue: Villain


The blue kumadori expresses evil. It is the color of makeup for major villains; basically the antagonist. The reason it is blue is related to the saying that goes, “wrongdoers have no blood or tears”. So it means that an atrocious villain does not have red blood, but has blue blood running through his veins.

3. Brown: Yokai (Supernatural monsters)


This is the color of makeup for eerie supernatural characters such as oni (demon) or yokai (supernatural monsters)


Various Types of Kumadori

Even with the color aside, there are various types of kumadori. The examples we indicated above are only some of the representative few. Even if we take the color red, the meaning can change depending on the style of makeup. For example, you will see that the kumadori in the center has more lines than that on the upper left. To have more lines indicates that they are more energetic and emotional. So after showing extreme anger toward the antagonist, the kumadori will change to something similar to that depicted in the center. If you can envision the Dragon Ball character transforming into a Super Saiyan, it’s a similar concept.


So, knowing this basic information about the kabuki kumadori before your visit, you are sure to be able to enjoy kabuki even without understanding Japanese. Even the same character can have different kumadori in different scenes. Be sure to read the expressions of the actors in each scene to enhance your kabuki experience.

Related: Strike a Pose, Kabuki-Style: The Meanings of “Mie”

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