In a show thought to constitute the origin of today’s kabuki theatre, a shrine maiden from Izumo Shrine, named Okuni, is said to have borrowed the noh stage at Kyoto’s Kitano Shrine to present a dance called kabuki odori in 1603 (Keichō 8) as part of the shrine’s fundraising performance. This famous screen is the oldest
painting to illustrate the scene.
Okuni and her troupe are shown on the noh stage at Kitano Shrine, performing their best known piece called Chaya Asobi (‘Amusement at the Teahouse’). Okuni herself dons male attire as an outlandish, eccentric character (kabukimono) with a sword over her shoulder, whilst in front of her sits a comic (kyōgen) actor dressed as a woman in the role of the teahouse matron, seated delicately on the floor with a fan over his face. Behind Okuni is a clown (saruwaka) with a towel on his head and a folding stool over his shoulder. The song is accompanied by flute and the three drums used in noh, rather than by the shamisen, portraying an early form of the performance.
Below the stage we see all kinds of people—young and old, male and female—absorbed in the show. A group of high-ranking individuals, one holding a golden fan, are portrayed in a box marked with the paulownia crest; some believe this may represent Toyotomi Hideyoshi and members of his retinue. The portrayal of the figures is superb, and the form of the pine needle clusters and rendering of the lower branches resemble those found on wall and screen paintings in the Kyoto temple Myōrenji, providing a strong indication that this may be the work of the Hasegawa school, responsible for the Myōren-ji paintings. The accuracy of the depiction also suggests that this screen painting was made very shortly after Okuni’s actual performance.