Explore Japanese Theater and More with these 5 Adult Coloring Books

  • There was a time when coloring books were just for kids. Nowadays, however, they are considered as a form of affordable yet effective stress relief for adults. Scientific studies prove the effectiveness of art therapy in reducing stress, and coloring seems to offer the same benefits. Some psychologists and therapists prescribe this activity as an alternative to medication. It also helps with emotional issues such as anxiety and boredom.

    Adult coloring books quickly became a worldwide trend after its commercial success in 2012 and 2013. They come in different themes such as animals, flowers, cities, celebrities, and famous movies. Several adult coloring books that showcase the rich culture and history of Japan have also been released.

    A vibrant and popular part of Japanese culture, Kabuki (歌舞伎) has been the source of inspiration, allowing us to enjoy this traditional theater via coloring books.

    What is Kabuki?

    Kabuki is a traditional form of Japanese theater. It is known for its eye-catching costumes, makeup, and wigs. Kabuki started way back in the late Edo period (江戸時代) as a dance and drama performed by women. Eventually, the shogun (将軍) government banned the all-female performances for inciting prostitution. Kabuki switched to an all-adult male cast in the mid-1600s up to the present day. Kabuki shows usually highlight the best part of an entire story, so it is recommended to read a little and familiarize yourself with the story before attending the show. The plots range from historical events to romantic tales to touching dramas. Because of its effectiveness in drawing a large crowd of people from different social classes, kabuki was somehow regarded as something that initiated the pop culture in Japan. In 2005, UNESCO designated kabuki as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

    Manga artist Junko Suzuki (鈴木淳子) and well-known kabuki actor Ichikawa Somegoro VII (市川染五郎) teamed up for a Japanese-style adult coloring book that does not only offer some therapeutic relief to its users but also introduces kabuki theater to the world.

    1. Kabuki Picture Scroll Coloring Book by Junko Suzuki and Ichikawa Somegoro VII

    Born Terumasa Fujima (藤間照薫), Ichikawa Somegoro VII is an esteemed Japanese kabuki actor. As a buyo (舞踊) dancer, he goes by the name Matsumoto Kinsho (松本錦升). He has appeared in numerous kabuki plays, television dramas, and educational programs. Using his experience as a long-time kabuki actor, he guides manga artist Junko Suzuki and checks the accuracy of the images in the coloring books she creates.

    Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (義経千本桜; The Thousand Cherry Trees of Yoshitsune) is a historical play written by Takeda Izumo II (竹田出雲), Miyoshi Shoraku (三好松洛), and Namiki Senryu (並木千柳). It one of the three most popular and famous in the Kabuki repertoire. It was first performed in a traditional puppet theater and was adapted into kabuki the following year. It is the story of the famous general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経), who led his clan to victory against the Taira clan (平氏) in the Genpei War (源平合戦). However, three Taira generals managed to survive. With his mistress, Shizuka (静御前), and loyal retainer, Benkei (弁慶), he goes in search of the escapees and at the same time, runs away from his pursuers, who are under the orders of his furious shogun brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝).

    Chushingura (忠臣蔵; The Treasury of Loyal Retainers), which features the events involving the Forty-Seven Ronin, is one of the most well-known historical stories in Japan. It has been adapted into many forms of media including kabuki, bunraku (文楽), stage plays, films, novels, and a television series. The Ako Vendetta (赤穂義士) is a national legend that shows honor, loyalty, and sacrifice. It is about a group of leaderless samurais who vowed to avenge the death of their feudal lord, Asano Naganori (浅野長矩), who was forced to commit seppuku (切腹; ritual suicide).

    Kanjincho (勧進帳; The Subscription List) is set in the 12th century. An aristocrat, Togashi Saemon (富樫左衛門), is tasked to be the guardian of a road barrier to intercept the arrival of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who is traveling under the disguise of a porter. Yoshitsune’s right-hand man, Benkei, pretends to be the leader and claims that they are ordinary priests who were sent on a fund-raising mission. Togashi demands that they prove themselves by providing the kanjincho (勧進帳), a list of contributors. Despite not having one, Benkei brings out an empty scroll and begins to read aloud, improvising the contents of the blank paper. Still unconvinced, Togashi asks questions about their costumes as well as other Buddhist terms. The excitement arises as Togashi’s questions become more difficult and Benkei’s Buddhist knowledge is put to the test.

    These are just three of the most popular kabuki scenes illustrated in the coloring book. It also contains some instructions on how to draw the different types of kumadori (隈取). Kumadori is the intricate stylized makeup worn by kabuki actors. The brightly colored lines and patterns on top of the actor’s white foundation symbolize his designated character.

    Kabuki Picture Scroll Colouring Book is a 105-page paperback that features scenes from some of Japan’s most famous kabuki plays. It is available to buy on Amazon Japan (automatic translation available) for around 1500 yen.

    As well as Kabuki-themed books, other Japan-related themes are also available, such as art and history.

    2. Kimono: Artists’ Colouring Book by Pepin Press

    Feel like a designer with Pepin Press Kimono: Artists’ Colouring Book. It contains pages of gorgeous kimono patterns with lines that virtually disappear once colored. It is perfect for those who are interested in fashion, ornaments, and details. You can purchase it from the Pepin Press website in your respective currency, or from Amazon Japan (automatic translation available).

    3. Legendary Creatures Adult Coloring Book by Alex Shiga

    Legendary Creatures Adult Coloring Book introduces gods, ghosts and other supernatural animals that are famous in the mythical world of Japan. It is available to buy for $9.99 on Amazon US.

    4. Vive Le Color! Japan Adult Coloring Book by Marabout

    One of the most popular coloring books of its kind, Vive Le Color! Japan is a smaller Japan-themed coloring book with rip-out pages. You can get it on Amazon for $7.00 or less.

    5. Life in Old Japan by John Green

    Life in Old Japan is perfect for fans of jidai-geki (時代劇) or the historical genre. This transports you back in time with illustrations of shrines, villas, samurais, and geishas.

    Considering the benefits of coloring, it seems that we won’t be seeing the end of this fad anytime soon. As announced on the Discover 21 Website, the publishers of the Kabuki Picture Scroll Coloring Book have an ongoing coloring contest for their readers. There is an application form included in the coloring book so users can send in their finished artwork and will be evaluated by Ichikawa himself. The winner will be published on the said website after June 30.

    They have also created an Instagram account to encourage users to share their work using the hashtags #歌舞伎ぬりえ in Japanese or #kabuki_coloring in English. Social media has made it easier for enthusiasts to share their creativity and give others some inspiration.

    Whether you are an art enthusiast, a kabuki fan or simply looking for some artistic therapy, why not try a Japanese-themed coloring book? You may even learn something new along the way.

    Related articles:
    Everything You Need to Know about the Magic and Mysteries of Kabuki!
    Appreciate Different Types of Art at These 4 Museums in Osaka