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Ms. Chikako Shimada served as a manager for the veteran Kabuki actor Sojuro Sawamura. For 23 years, her life has been deeply immersed in the Kabuki world. Here, she described the charms of Kabuki and her deep passion for this historic performance art.


Spreading the Appeal of Kabuki Takes Teamwork!

Chikako Shimada became involved in Kabuki simply by way of her family relation to Sojuro Sawamura, who personally requested that she start to work as his manager. The Kabuki culture is extremely strict in its forms of discipline and etiquette, so while she was learning a great many things she was also personally evolving into the elegant woman you see today. In fact, she is widely recognized as having the most beautiful bow of anyone involved with Kabuki.





Kabuki, registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a traditional stage art that Japan is extremely proud of and that attracts attention from around the world. Yet there remains the preconception, even among many Japanese, that Kabuki is somehow difficult to appreciate — perhaps because it is uniquely special to certain people, or because it has not been directly experienced by others.


Ms. Shimada deeply desires to change that preconception, to show how Kabuki is not at all hard to appreciate and to encourage more people to enjoy it. She particularly wants to spread the appeal of Kabuki to the younger generations who haven’t experienced the art. To that end, she gives talks to youth groups, where she can explain in simple and clear language what Kabuki is all about.





Her energy is also directed toward supporting the young actors responsible for the future of Kabuki. “The younger ones have a strong sense of mission to preserve the posterity of Kabuki,” she says. “They feel a foreboding of crisis, that the culture of Kabuki might even disappear within their own generation. So I want to continue to support the young actors who are working so desperately hard.”



Alongside her present work in Kabuki, Ms.Shimada also manages an esthetic salon. As she aims to protect the natural beauty of Japanese women's skin, she sets an elegant example with her own porcelain-like complexion. “Japanese women not only have beautiful skin,” she says. “I think mental strength and suppleness contribute as well to the beauty that is Japanese femininity.”


It is this Japanese feminine charm that Ms. Shimada hopes to convey to the world. So that others may learn the techniques of Edo-era women’s hairstyles, and so that the beauty of Japanese culture can pass beyond its national borders to the next generations everywhere, a teaching group for this purpose has come together, calling itself “Team Wagami.” Team Wagami recreates the unique hairstyles of Japan’s Samurai period in order to show others how ordinary citizens of that time wore their hair, and Ms. Shimada serves as the group’s leader.

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After the members arrange each other’s hair into the various styles of the traditional chignon, the coterie convenes to the Ginza to pose for the inevitable commemorative photograph. Of course, when such a group of women appears to have materialized right out of the Edo era onto a Ginza street, they quickly become the center of attention

— in particular, many foreign tourists are compelled to approach and ask if they can take a selfie with the group. "This sort of activity is itself a useful kind of international exchange,” notes Ms.Shimada. “And that is my mission: to promote the appeal of traditional Japanese culture to the world."


Finally, we asked Ms. Shimada to recommend what she believes to be among the “best-kept-secret” spots. Here they are:


  • Next-door to the Kabuki theater: “Kabuki Inari Daimyo-jin ”

This is the Shinto shrine where the Kabuki actors come to pray for success before each performance.


  • The “Silver Tower” stew specialty shop Located just behind the Kabuki theater, the beloved shop has been delivering savory meals to the many generations of actors who dine in their dressing rooms while the stage performances are under way.


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