"Fuji Musumè" ( 藤娘 ) or "Wisteria Maiden" shown in flight

Fuji Musume or "Wisteria Maiden", is a famous classical dance out of the Kabuki theater in Japan. While I explain the history of Fuji Musume, to truly enjoy Kabuki Theater one must travel to Japan and see it from its source.

Fuji (wisteria) Musume (maiden), now performed independently, was first performed in 1826 as one of a set of five dances.
The figure of the wisteria maiden first came from the town of Otsu on the shores of Lake Biwa, where folk art called Otsu-e were sold as souvenirs. The wisteria maiden was the most famous of them. The other four dances in the original set also came from Otsu-e.

The dance Fuji Musume was first performed in 1826 at Nakamura-za, Edo (now Tokyo). Later in 1938, Onoe Baiko VII, the most famous Kabuki actor during his time, became associated with dance after his portrayal of Fuji Musume at the Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo. His choreography and refinement of this dance helped to make it stand out and remain today as one of the most popular and famous Kabuki dances.

Left: The actor Seki Sanjûrô II playing the role of the Wisteria Maiden in the hengemono "Kaesu Gaesu Onagori no Ôtsue", which was staged in September 1826 at the Nakamuraza.

Print made by Utagawa Kunisada I (1826).

So what is the dance about?
Well, it portrays the spirit of the wisteria as a fashionable young girl, extravagantly dressed in a long sleeved kimono, called Nagasode, and obi (or sash) with a distinctive wisteria pattern. She also carries a wisteria branch with which she poses as the dance begins.

The 'nagauta' ('long song') lyrics that accompany the dance are complex and create a series of suggestive images. They make sensual references to the closeness of the wisteria and its supporting pine tree, entwined stems compared to two lovers sleeping together.

The dance moves through distinct sections, with the dancer miming the joy of a girl in love, then the heartbreak of jealousy and betrayal.

Print: "Onoe Baiko VII as Fuji Musume" by Ota Gako (1949).
After a costume change, the dancer re-emerges to dances two lovers quarelling, then making up over a cup of sake. The choreography in this section includes a famous sequence, with the same movements danced twice, first time sober, the second slightly tipsily. The piece moves through a rhythmical section of abstract movement as it reaches its climax.

The original early 19th century choreography for the dance was lost over the years due to the dance falling out of fashion in the later 19th century. The choreography used today was created in 1937 for the actor Kikugoro Onoe VI.

"Actor as Fuji Musume" by Tadamasa Ueno (1950)

The story begins in Otsu, an area outside of Kyoto and around Lake Biwa. Otsu is a city famous for its paintings.
People would stroll its art-lined streets, viewing the beauty of the artisans works. One painting in particular, that of the wisteria maiden, caught the eye of a male passerby. As he gazed upon the painting, the Wisteria Maiden became infatuated.
So infatuated in fact, that she came to life, stepping out of the painting. The maiden is dressed in long flowing kimono, a black-lacquered bamboo hat and carrying a beautiful branch of fuji (wisteria). She writes beautiful, heartfelt letters to her love. The letters however go unanswered.

The story continues on as she dances under a beautiful pine tree, covered in wisteria. The dancer expresses the emotions found in unrequited love in the manner of women of the Edo era (1603-1868). Eventually, sadness and despair take over our maiden and, heartbroken,
she returns to the painting. Her return to the painting remains the last pose of the dance.

The Fuji Musume dance is accompanied by Nagauta music. Nagauta is the most important school of music in Kabuki theater as it has developed in conjunction with Kabuki.
Under some more examples.
"Fujimusume" was originally part of a Gohenge buyo (5 different dances performed nonstop by a single actor) called "Kaesu gaesu onagori otsue".

The concept of the work was that each character in an otsue painting comes out of the painting and dances. After the beginning of the Showa period, Onoe Kikugoro 6th, whose specialty was Buyo, developed a new dramatization according to the understanding that a wisteria nymph has slipped out of the painting and is dancing.

This version has been the one generally used since then.

Link for additional information on Kabuki.

Many pictures can be found of unknown origin. This are some fine examples.

The different manifestations of Fuji Musumè


This is a two-dimensional "oshie-ningyo" or padded ningyo, made of segments of padded silk fitted together, mounted on a background painted with wisteria (fuji). With her big black hat and branch of fuji, the figure is unmistakably Fuji Musume, the Wisteria Maiden, heroine of an old dance. Fuji Musume (at Matt's Kabuki for Everyone site) provides a history of this dance and a video as well as photographs

Tamasaburo Bando as Fuji Musume, the Wisteria Maiden. Again we see the black hat; note also the kimono in which the outer garment's right sleeve has been pulled down to expose the red, emotional "heart" of the undersleeve.The wisteria "set" is obviously fabulous.

Finally, a three-dimensional ningyo, of a type that might be classified as oyama or isho-ningyo (she has a gofun "skin"). Her hat is missing, but she still has her bit of wisteria pinned to her hair and her branch of long-dried flowers. Though her delicate face and tiny hands evoke the women immortalized by such woodblock artists as Haronobu, her stance--elbows in, knees together, exquisite swaying balance--is the one the onnagata defined as feminine.

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