Kabuki Makeup 101: How it’s done & What Makeup is best for it

kabuki makeup

 Kabuki is a style of traditional drama. Performed as early as the 1600s it’s one of the greatest cultural heritage of japan. One of the most famous and differentiating characteristics of kabuki style was definitely their faces.  

They did extensive makeup to portray certain characters and emotions. It gave kabuki a unique look that people to this day still enjoy.

Although both makeup and kabuki masks were used by the people practicing kabuki, It is a well-established fact that the actors would prefer applying makeup rather than use masks. Even at times where it would be easier to use the latter.

For example in the case of quickly changing their character’s appearance, they would still use kabuki makeup. To do this they would have to use thin sheets of cloth and apply the makeup on top of it, so when the time came to change their appearance they would just rip off a layer. For them, makeup gave them a more traditional look that masks just couldn’t.

The unique storytelling and dancing which were embedded in kabuki dramas were not complete without the traditional Japanese kabuki makeup. Which takes specific skills and tools to apply. In this article, we will focus on some of the best methods and techniques for applying the makeup. You can also use the special kabuki makeup brush for this.

The first step in applying kabuki makeup is to apply oshiroi:

It’s a white-colored cream or paste that needs to be applied directly onto the face so that the natural expressions or the natural facial features of the person wearing the makeup are repressed.

Traditionally this white paste was made from rice powder but now since this is harder to find you can replace it with anything that you want. A completely vibrant white cream should be used and it should be applied in such a way that it completely covers your face.

Here is how you should apply base makeup:

  • Tie your hair and pull it back as much as you can. You don’t want any of the white cream touching your hair.
  • Next start gently applying the cream, completely covering your face from your neck to your forehead.
  • Don’t forget to cover your lips and your eyebrows so that when you apply the color that you want it becomes prominent.
  • You should apply the white cream before but you can also apply it after you have applied the kumadori. In this way, you will only have to cover the parts that haven’t been touched by the kumadori.
  • we recommend applying oshiroi completely before applying the kumadori, this gives the face a more prominent and traditional kabuki makeup look.
  • One thing that is important to note while applying oshiroi and kumadori is that the applied cream or whatever material you are using should be flat. It shouldn’t have any raised portions or any uneven applications. So take your time when applying the materials for a better and cleaner look.

Once you have applied the oshiroi you now need to complement it with kumadori.

Kumadori meaning:

Kumadori makeup is the colored portion of the kabuki makeup, you can choose the type of style you want and we will show you an example of how you can apply it. But before we can do so let’s discuss the colors that you can use and their meaning.

Red color: it symbolizes positive behavior and positive characteristics. Heroism, bravery, and strength are some of the features this color symbolizes in kabuki .

Black color: usually represent all the bad characteristics such as jealousy and envy. It is also used with other colors to highlight them.

Brown or green color: This color symbolizes supernatural powers and showcases the wearer’s supernatural abilities.

White color: The white color is used as a base for many kabuki designs actually represent the character’s purity and ability to do good. It sometimes also highlights the fact that the character is a member of high society. Whereas tan colors were used to represent the people who used to work under the sun.

This color scheme is definitely not absolute however it is a pattern. Most kabuki culture follows this but there are definitely some deviations. Like black being replaced by blue or purple and some colors symbolizing other traits.

Let’s get over some steps to apply kumadori makeup:

So let’s start applying our kumadori:

  • In the first step, we will have to make the eyebrows prominent you can do so by using an eyebrow pencil. Thicken the eyebrows with the pencil.
  • Now in the next step, apply red contour to make the red lines. First of all, start near the eyebrows making a long curved line originating from your eyes to the end of your forehead.
  • Make a similar line near the other eye. Make sure to make all your lines symmetrical.
  • Now take your red contour and apply it gently on your nose making two circular rings. In the same way, highlight your nostrils by tracing the contour around your nostrils.
  • Now take your contour and form an extended curved line originating from above your nostrils to the top of your ear. Do the same for both sides.
  • Form another line just above and exactly similar to the previous one.
  • Now apply it on your chin and form a v-shaped colored shape.

This was just an example of how you could do kabuki makeup. There are hundreds of different ways and styles you could adopt depending upon the type of look you want.

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