Kabukimono (傾奇者 (カブキもの) Kabukimono lit. "Deviants" or "Those who wiggle") or hatamoto yakko (旗本奴) were bands of wandering samurai from Japan's feudal era, found especially between the end of the Muromachi period and the early Edo period. Although several of their members were ronin, others were low-ranking samurai who engaged in bohemian life in times of peace.

Kabukimono Characteristics

The kabukimono were characterized by their eccentric manner of dress, as they often wore garishly colored kimonos equipped with accessories such as lead weights at the hems, velvet lapels, ostentatious obis and necklaces, foreign garments, animal skins and even women's clothing.

They also tended to wear their hair long or combed in extravagant ways instead of the usual chonmage, and could sport all kinds of facial hair instead of the classic shaving.

Their katanas were also usually decorated to excess, with elaborate guards and hilts, brightly painted scabbards and exaggerated blade lengths.

Sometimes the swords were engraved with phrases and mottos representing the life philosophies of their owners, often analogous to the Western expression "carpe diem." Sometimes the kabukimono carried oversized versions of the traditional pipe or kiseru for use as a weapon.

These characters were violent and quarrelsome, and were notorious for refusing to pay at restaurants, mugging and mistreating citizens and even committing murder: kabukimono are known to have decapitated random passersby just to test their new swords, an act known as tsujigiri.

Major cities such as Edo and Kyoto were the scenes of nighttime brawls and skirmishes between kabukimono gangs, and in broad daylight they could be seen dancing, singing loudly or staging impromptu sumo wrestling matches in the street.

Kabukimono History

The time of greatest kabukimono activity was during the Keichō period (1596-1615), but it was also at this time that the shogunate or bakufu became stricter and expressly forbade these practices, forcing the kabukimono to cease their activity.

One of the reasons they were persecuted was because their presence was considered a weakening of each samurai's duty of loyalty to his respective clan or family, but in reality some daimyo supported or at least tolerated the customs of the kabukimono, and this had to be specifically censured in several edicts.

Izumo no Okuni is said to have been inspired by the style and personality of these people when he began performing in Kyoto, which led to the creation of kabuki theater. Just as the kabukimono sometimes dressed as women, Okuni disguised himself as a man and went out carrying weapons.

The word kabuki is written with different characters, 歌舞伎, meaning "song or "dance," but this way of writing has been retroactively applied to the word kabukimono and both forms are now used. It is also popular belief that Fuwa Kazuemon of the 47 ronin was a member of a kabukimono band.

It is also believed that the modern yakuza originated to defend villagers from kabukimono groups, although other scholars believe that the origins of the yakuza actually lie in a class of private police called machi yakko (町奴).

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