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Reviewed by:
  • Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre
  • Holly A. Blumner
Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre. Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts, No. 4. By Samuel L. Leiter. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 2006. xlvii + 558 pp. 24 Illus. Cloth. $99.00.

As a graduate student struggling to learn the Japanese language, I longed for a book of Japanese theatre terminology in English, a volume that would concisely define terms that I could understand only with the help of cumbersome language and specialty dictionaries. Samuel L. Leiter's new book, Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre, fills this need and makes Japanese theatre terminology more accessible for Asian theatre scholars. Leiter published the New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten, in 1997, which continues to be an outstanding reference work for kabuki studies. His current book is another excellent reference work, a compilation of theatrical terms for the traditional theatres of nō, kyōgen, bunraku, kabuki and a few other forms. Also included in the volume is an introduction to the four above-mentioned theatre forms, a historical chronology of Japanese theatre history, appendixes, and a bibliography. Black-and-white photographs and illustrations are assembled together in a twenty-four-page section at the center of the book. Leiter has selected a range of pictures that do justice to each of the forms

Beginning with the first term, "abura tsuki," a type of kabuki wig worn by samurai characters (p. 29), and ending with "zukin," a turbanlike cloth headgear seen in all forms of traditional theatre (p. 447), this dictionary features approximately 1200 entries. Dictionary entries are arranged alphabetically so that words are easy to find, and, like the New Kabuki Encyclopedia, if a [End Page 531] term used in a definition has an independent entry, the term is placed in boldfaced or capitalized type so it is easy to cross-reference. Both English and Japanese terms are cross-referenced within the same entry to provide the reader with a broader base of knowledge. For example, the entry for novelist and playwright Mishima Yukio gives the dates of his birth, titles of three of his plays, and cross-references "shin kabuki," "playwright," "kabuki actor Nakamura Utaemon IV," and "gidayū bushi," as well as gives a reference to modern plays (p. 238). Leiter has done an excellent job of cross-referencing words across this volume. Users of this book will appreciate the amount of time and thought that went into the organization of this dictionary.

Most of the entries consist of Japanese terms. However, Leiter has included many entries with broad, descriptive categories in English, such as "actors," "costumes," "masks," "music," "playwrights," and "religion," that make the dictionary more accessible to someone with no knowledge of traditional Japanese theatre. Categories listed under "L" (a letter usually not found in Japanese words) include "language" (pp. 211–212), "lighting" (pp. 212–213), and "literary sources" (pp. 213–215). The language section mentions kakekota (pivot words) and the waka poetry of nō, and the onomatopoeia of kyōgen, among other language devices. The same entry later provides cross-referencing for specialized kabuki terminology such as wari zerifu (divided dialogue) and yakuharai (literally "exorcism speech"). In the entry for "literary sources," Leiter provides a list of stories and poems that, while by no means comprehensive, can direct a reader to literary texts from which many traditional Japanese plays are based.

Both the introduction and the appendixes deserve special mention. In a reader's note, Leiter states, "The entries in this book cover individuals, technical terms, important documents, and theatres" (p. xiii). No plot summaries of any genre are included, but several books with play summaries are referenced at the beginning of the book and included in the bibliography. Leiter includes a selective, historical chronology that begins in 1301 with the beginning of tagiki sarugaku (torchlight sarugaku) (p. xv) and ends with kabuki actor Nakamura Ganjirō III succeeding to the name Sakata Tojūrō IV in 2005 (p. xlviii). Before the alphabetic entries is a brief introduction to the four genres of traditional terms that includes history, practice, and references to many of the terms listed in the volume.



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