Difference Between Kabuki and Noh

Kabuki vs Noh

Japanese people are well known all over the world for their art and culture. Kabuki and Noh are two of the four important forms of traditional theater that have been practiced for long in Japan. People outside Japan remain confused between Kabuki and Noh as they cannot differentiate between the two traditional theater forms. This is because of some similarities between the two. However, Kabuki and Noh are quite unique and very distinct from each other as will be clear after reading this article.


Kabuki Theater that started during the times of Endo is a kind of traditional Japanese theater. Mostly, the plays revolve around love stories where characters display moral conflicts. However, kabuki plays are also about historical events in Japan. The language used in kabuki is old fashioned and even modern Japanese people find it hard to follow this communication between actors.

Kabuki got started in the 17th century by a woman, and the theater form was attended by mostly merchant and lower classes. The actors shouted aloud to please the audiences. It is the designing of stages in kabuki that make it so very interesting. Revolving stages are very common, and there are many contraptions used to mesmerize the audiences and also to allow the actors to appear and go easily. Though there were both male and female kabuki actors in early times, today there are only men performing roles in kabuki and even female characters are played by men. One thing that makes Kabuki distinct is the fact that performances can be really very long. Even today, one can find himself watching Kabuki for 5-6 hours at a stretch. The use of the orchestra and dancers is also a feature of Kabuki Theater.


Noh is another theater form from Japan that started way back in the 14th century. One of the most distinct features of Noh was that actors always wore masks. So, if an actor was to be shown sad, he would wear a mask that had sad expression, and if the actor was to be shown happy, he would wear a happy mask. There are elements of dance, drama, poetry, music etc. in a Noh performance. Musical instruments play an important part in any Noh performance. Because there is very little use of scenery and props, actors in Noh wear very expensive and expressive costumes. This helps in focusing the attention of the audiences on the actors.

Noh Theater was meant for Samurai and other high class people and actors worked solely to earn the respect of these high class people. Noh was declared as heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2001. There are many human values as well as religious and spiritual values expressed in Noh Theater. Noh has super heroes and even ghosts making it appear very dramatic at times.

What is the difference between Kabuki and Noh?

• Noh is older than Kabuki having started in 14th century. The first kabuki performance was seen in 1603.

• Noh was meant for higher classes and actors did everything to earn the respect of the Samurai and other higher classes who went to watch this form of theater.

• Actors used masks to show emotions in Noh while heavy makeup and paint is used by actors in Kabuki.

• Actors shout a lot in kabuki whereas, in Noh, they are more somber.