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The Kabuki Warriors

Asuka and Kairi Sane: The Kabuki Warriors
Ink, watercolor and acrylic marker on 18″ x 24″ watercolor paper

Remember when Asuka and Kairi Sane christened themselves the Kabuki Warriors and a bunch of westerners got worked up about it without knowing the real meaning behind the name?

That was fun.

So it turns out there’s a whole lot more to the word ‘kabuki’ than the performers at a brothel, and doing the research into the word is what led to this painting. See, before Izumo no Okuni originated kabuki theater, there were the Kabukimono. The Kabukimono were gangs of ronin, wandering samurai and those who once worked for samurai. They dressed in flamboyant brightly-colored clothes, sometimes integrating western articles of clothing and even women’s garments. They were violent gangs who were known to cut people down in the streets simply to try out new swords. They were also known for wrestling, loud singing and dancing in the streets before getting in brawls at night.

Sound like anyone you know, maybe pictured above?

My friend Karen Peterson (@KarenNerdsOut) helped me out with the translation for the words used on the painting and in the course of talking about that she clued me in to that other meaning of kabuki, the Kabukimono. Karen studied Japanese in college, taught English in Japan for over five years, and knows Asuka and Kairi and was a huge help in shaping my thinking on the painting. I ended up asking her to record the narration for this week’s Canvas 2 Canvas sharing that knowledge because I knew I was fascinated and you might be, too.

So, the designs in the painting are all taken from Edo-period illustrations. The Kabukimono operated from the end of the Muromachi period and into the beginning of the Edo period so that worked. The traditional illustration in the top right corner is of a Kabukimono, and below him is an illustration of Tomoe Gozen, a late twelfth-century female samurai warrior of legendary bravery. Kabuki + Warrior, get it?

The writing was done with a paint marker, almost like tagging. Asuka and Kairi are two masterless samurai, dancing and getting into fights at night, cutting people down for the hell of it, so that seemed street-gang-ish and made a modern touch to a piece steeped in history. 

I love going this deep on a painting, really trying to tell a story with an image. Two performers as creative as Asuka and Kairi Sane allows me to do that. They’re already pushing things so far and I can push it even further.