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Gallery Exhibition: Kabuki in Hawai‘i: Connections through Time and Space Gallery Exhibition: Kabuki in Hawai‘i: Connections through Time and Space

Above: Scene from the 1963 Kennedy Theatre opening production of Benten Kozō

EWC Gallery Exhibition: January 28, 2024 - May 5, 2024

Kabuki is a theatre form born in Japan in the early 17th century, but well known throughout the world today thanks to post-World War II era tours of the Grand Kabuki. Its highly stylized presentational form, elaborate costumes, exaggerated makeup, refined mimetic dance, and lively musical accompaniment are just some of the signature elements that define the form. This theatrical art has adapted and transformed numerous times over its more than 400-year history, and its life over the past 130 years in Hawai‘i, too, has been one of change and endurance. 

Japanese migration to Hawai‘i coincided with a peak in access to and popularity of kabuki in Japan, so it is no surprise that kabuki became an important source of entertainment in Hawai‘i, as well as an important cultural connection to the motherland. Japanese immigrants formed local professional troupes, performing in rented theatres as well as on temporary stages erected in empty sugar cane fields. They adopted stage names like Ichikawa, Nakamura, and Kataoka, echoing the most famous acting families on the professional kabuki stage in Japan, and trained children in kabuki dance from a young age. 

English-language kabuki was born in 1924 when a group of nisei students performed The Faithful, a play by John Masefield based on the kabuki classic Kanadehon Chūshingura. The University Theatre Guild continued English kabuki productions until the outbreak of WWII. In 1950, the Drama Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa was formed, eventually becoming the Department of Theatre and Dance. The many “UH kabuki” productions that have been shared with the community have been possible thanks to the dedicated issei and nisei kabuki practitioners in the community, as well as to Grand Kabuki professionals visiting from Japan, who have shared their time and expertise over the decades.

This exhibition features selected newspaper articles, advertisements, photographs, posters, and material objects from this unique 130-year Hawai‘i kabuki history, and celebrates the individuals who over many decades devoted their lives to enabling this art to continue to thrive here.


Special Events

In the EWC Gallery (unless otherwise noted), free of charge, seating on a first-come, first-served basis

Sunday, January 28, 1:00–2:30pm
Exhibition Opening Reception including performance, and guided tour with guest curator Julie A. Iezzi

Sunday, February 11, 2:00–3:00pm
Kabuki percussion demonstration with Kashiwa Senjirō, kabuki percussion artist

Sunday, March 24, 2:00–3:00 pm
Kabuki wig styling demonstration with Nagano Isamu of Nagano Wigs, Osaka, Japan

Sunday, April 7, 2:00pm
Discover the Song, Dance, and Skill of KABUKI (歌舞伎), featuring guest artists Ichikawa Monnosuke VIII, Ichikawa Komazō XI, Ichikawa Takisho, Ichikawa Utaki, and members from the cast of The Maiden Benten and the Bandits of the White Waves / Julie A. Iezzi (MC), Keoni Auditorium, IMIN Conference Center

Sunday, May 5, 1:00–3:00pm
Talk Story session: Come and share your memories and stories of kabuki in Hawai‘i

East-West Center Gallery
John A. Burns Hall
1601 East-West Road (corner of Dole Street and East-West Road)

Gallery admission is free
Hours: Open Weekdays 9:00 am–5:00 pm and Sundays Noon–4:00 pm
Closed Saturdays and February 18, 19, March 29, 31

Visitor parking on the UH Mānoa campus is normally free and ample on Sundays.
Free school & group tours available.


The EWC Arts Program is supported in part by The Hawaiʻi Pacific Rim Society Hideo Murakami Fund for the Arts, Jean E. Robles, EWC Arts ʻOhana members, Jackie Chan Foundation USA, The Arthur Goodfriend Intercultural Fund, and other generous donors.

Julie A. Iezzi, Co-Curator

Jane Kamjing Traynor, Research Assistant

East-West Center Arts Program
Eric Chang, Arts Program Manager
Annie Reynolds, Exhibitions and Collections Curator
Lynne Najita, Installation Designer
Allan Zablocki, Arts Program Assistant

Above: Scene from the 1963 Kennedy Theatre opening production of Benten Kozō

EWC Gallery Exhibition: January 28, 2024 - May 5, 2024

Kabuki is a theatre form born in Japan in the early 17th century, but well known throughout the world today thanks to post-World War II era tours of the Grand Kabuki. Its highly stylized presentational form, elaborate costumes, exaggerated makeup, refined mimetic dance, and lively musical accompaniment are just some of the signature elements that define the form. This theatrical art has adapted and transformed numerous times over its more than 400-year history, and its life over the past 130 years in Hawai‘i, too, has been one of change and endurance. 

Japanese migration to Hawai‘i coincided with a peak in access to and popularity of kabuki in Japan, so it is no surprise that kabuki became an important source of entertainment in Hawai‘i, as well as an important cultural connection to the motherland. Japanese immigrants formed local professional troupes, performing in rented theatres as well as on temporary stages erected in empty sugar cane fields. They adopted stage names like Ichikawa, Nakamura, and Kataoka, echoing the most famous acting families on the professional kabuki stage in Japan, and trained children in kabuki dance from a young age. 

English-language kabuki was born in 1924 when a group of nisei students performed The Faithful, a play by John Masefield based on the kabuki classic Kanadehon Chūshingura. The University Theatre Guild continued English kabuki productions until the outbreak of WWII. In 1950, the Drama Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa was formed, eventually becoming the Department of Theatre and Dance. The many “UH kabuki” productions that have been shared with the community have been possible thanks to the dedicated issei and nisei kabuki practitioners in the community, as well as to Grand Kabuki professionals visiting from Japan, who have shared their time and expertise over the decades.

This exhibition features selected newspaper articles, advertisements, photographs, posters, and material objects from this unique 130-year Hawai‘i kabuki history, and celebrates the individuals who over many decades devoted their lives to enabling this art to continue to thrive here.


Special Events

In the EWC Gallery (unless otherwise noted), free of charge, seating on a first-come, first-served basis

Sunday, January 28, 1:00–2:30pm
Exhibition Opening Reception including performance, and guided tour with guest curator Julie A. Iezzi

Sunday, February 11, 2:00–3:00pm
Kabuki percussion demonstration with Kashiwa Senjirō, kabuki percussion artist

Sunday, March 24, 2:00–3:00 pm
Kabuki wig styling demonstration with Nagano Isamu of Nagano Wigs, Osaka, Japan

Sunday, April 7, 2:00pm
Discover the Song, Dance, and Skill of KABUKI (歌舞伎), featuring guest artists Ichikawa Monnosuke VIII, Ichikawa Komazō XI, Ichikawa Takisho, Ichikawa Utaki, and members from the cast of The Maiden Benten and the Bandits of the White Waves / Julie A. Iezzi (MC), Keoni Auditorium, IMIN Conference Center

Sunday, May 5, 1:00–3:00pm
Talk Story session: Come and share your memories and stories of kabuki in Hawai‘i

East-West Center Gallery
John A. Burns Hall
1601 East-West Road (corner of Dole Street and East-West Road)

Gallery admission is free
Hours: Open Weekdays 9:00 am–5:00 pm and Sundays Noon–4:00 pm
Closed Saturdays and February 18, 19, March 29, 31

Visitor parking on the UH Mānoa campus is normally free and ample on Sundays.
Free school & group tours available.


The EWC Arts Program is supported in part by The Hawaiʻi Pacific Rim Society Hideo Murakami Fund for the Arts, Jean E. Robles, EWC Arts ʻOhana members, Jackie Chan Foundation USA, The Arthur Goodfriend Intercultural Fund, and other generous donors.

Julie A. Iezzi, Co-Curator

Jane Kamjing Traynor, Research Assistant

East-West Center Arts Program
Eric Chang, Arts Program Manager
Annie Reynolds, Exhibitions and Collections Curator
Lynne Najita, Installation Designer
Allan Zablocki, Arts Program Assistant