Like most 10-year-olds in Japan, Maholo Terajima enjoys baseball and video games, but recently his schedule has also included lessons in swordfighting, choreography and fan dancing — preparations for his kabuki debut. The French-Japanese child made his first appearance to rapturous applause this week under his new stage name, Onoe Maholo, at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za theatre, the storied home of the classical artform. He joins just a handful of children who tread the boards in the ranks of Japan’s kabuki actors, part of a tradition that is hundreds of years old.
Practice is hard,” the soft-spoken Terajima said, conceding he is sometimes jealous of friends who don’t have hours of training after school. “I need to make sure not to get the choreography or the lines wrong, or to forget movements for a fighting scene.” Balancing school and kabuki is “tough”, he added. “But I’ll do it.” Kabuki dates back to the 17th century, when a series of civil wars ended in Japan and a merchant class emerged.
Shows combine dance, drama and music, with actors often donning ornate costumes, wigs and heavy makeup for performances in old dialect on elaborate sets. Terajima’s preparation for this month’s run of performances, in which he plays a young warrior initially disguised as a girl, required dedication. One afternoon saw him jousting with a wooden sword under the direction of a veteran actor-choreographer before moving on to a session learning how to wield the highly ornamented fans used in kabuki dances.
I’m playing the lead role and I’m performing a lot… I’m excited,” he said after the fight practice, wearing a casual striped “yukata” robe for rehearsals. Like other classical performing arts, “kabuki requires training from childhood”, said Ryuichi Kodama, a professor at Waseda University who specialises in the subject. “They acquire traditional techniques and learn to exude a certain traditional atmosphere,” he said