Izumo no Okuni (出雲阿国)

Izumo no Okuni (1572? - year of death is unknown) was a female artist of the Azuchi-momoyama period who is considered the creator of Kabuki.

There are a variety of ways to write her name, including Okuni, Kuni, Kuniko (in kanji) and Okuni, Kuni (in hiragana).

Origins
According to tradition, she was the daughter of San-uemon NAKAMURA from Matsue City in Izumo Province, became a Miko at Izumo-taisha Shrine, and in the Bunroku era became famous for traveling to all the provinces to promote Izumo Taisha.

From The Diary of Tamon-in, May 1582: An entry notes that "Kaga Kuni children 8 and 11" was doing a "Yayako-odori" dance at Kasuga-taisha Shrine. Interpreting this to mean two children named Kaga and Kuni, respectively 8 and 11 years old, and counting back from that date, the prevailing view has come to be that Kuni was born in 1572. However, it can also be interpreted to mean two girls, 8 and 11 years old, from the province of Kaga.

To quote a more reliable source, it is recorded in the Tokiyoshi Kyoki that in 1600 Kuni and Kiku of Unshu (Izumo) performed the "Yayako-odori" dance at Ko'noeden of Kyoto and at the palace; and it is known that this is where she made her self known as Izumo no Okuni.

The following records are older than the Tokiyoshi Kyoki, and may also refer to Okuni.

Oyudono no Ue no Nikki, September 1581: The "Yayako-odori" was performed at the palace.

Tokitsugu Kyoki, February 1588: A Miko from Izumo Taisha danced in Kyoto.

Kabuki-odori Dancing
In the spring of 1603, they built a stage at Kitanotenman-gu Shrine and put on a show. They performed foppish men who frequented teahouses, and became tremendously popular in Kyoto. "Kabuki-odori" was also performed at the palace in May of that same year. Okuni put on performances at Shijokawara and elsewhere to promote the shrine. It is thought that Okuni's husband (or lover) Sansaburo NAGOYA taught the Kabuki style to Okuni. There are some documents that described Okuni's dancing as Nenbutsu-odori.

When Okuni and her troupe became famous, acts that imitated them, called Yujo-kabuki, was started by local prostitutes (Yujo) and became very popular.

Image: StatueOfOkuni.jpg|right|120px|Statue of Okuni (Kyoto Shijo Ohashi area)

Later Years
Nothing is heard of Okuni after she performed kabuki to promote the shrine at Edo-jo Castle in 1607.

There was a Kabuki performance at the palace in April of 1612, which some view was performed by Okuni's troupe.

The year of her death is variously reported as 1613, 1644, 1658, etc. (some even speculate about a 2nd Okuni). Legend has it that she returned to Izumo and became a nun; and what is considered to be Okuni's grave is near Izumo Taisha. There is also a place at Koto-in of Daitoku-ji Temple that is said to be her grave.

Reference Works
Before Kabuki (Tatsusaburo HAYASHI, 1954)
Izumo no Okuni (Kyoko OGASAWARA, 1984)