Japanese kabuki prints – in pictures

Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre that was hugely popular from the 1600s to the 1800s. Stylised and spectacular, it featured superstar male actors whose wild expressions were often immortalised by artists such as Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) and then reproduced using wooden printing blocks. Tim Clark, head of the British Museum’s Japanese section, has just acquired 359 of these prints that will go on display at the museum’s Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese galleries next year. “The prints served as a memento for fans of how a particular actor interpreted a particular role,” he says. “Each design was sold at an affordable price – proverbially, ‘for a bit more than a double helping of noodles’.” For Clark, they’re an amazing glimpse into the past. “They still transmit the energy and beauty of performances from 200 years ago.”

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