Tag Archives: Japan

It’s Your Weekly Dose of Props Links

Here is a pretty cool step-by-step guide to a Dragonbone dagger replica made by Folkenstal. Folkenstal uses some interesting techniques of laying up different thicknesses of plastic to create a rough block, and then sanding and cutting it to the final shape. Great photographs.

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping objects with cloth. The Japanese Minister of Ecology is encouraging the country to use furoshiki to carry the products they purchase, rather than paper or plastic bags. They’ve even made a handy chart showing how to wrap various-shaped objects. I can imagine this coming in handy for all sorts of prop purposes.

Here is a fun video brought to you by Syfy Channel’s Heroes of Cosplay on aging and distressing your props.

Finally, Tested brings us this sixteen-minute tour through Harrison Krix’s garage, better know as the Volpin Props prop shop. We get to see his small but well-equipped shop, check out some of his favorite tools, and get a sample of some of the many cool props he has built over the years.

Friday Link-o-Rama

Tool collector or serious hobbyist? Either way, Jacques Jodoin’s incredible basement woodworking shop has to be seen to be believed. There’s three pages of photos of his shop with every tool imaginable; it almost looks like a store. I love all the tiny bins.

This Japanese “museum” of fantastic specimens (actually gaffs of imaginary creatures) shows what you can accomplish with papier-mâché. The museum itself is in Japanese, but the link is to a page which attempts to guide you through it in English (h/t to Propnomicon for pointing me to the site).

La Bricoleuse has been doing some interesting documentation of the armor that was rented for PlayMaker Rep’s upcoming repertory productions of Henry IV and Henry V (the same shows I just worked on). This post, for example, looks at photos of various pieces and annotates the choices made in their construction, describing what she likes (and what she doesn’t).

Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen has a collection of over 1300 color illustrations detailing many of the manufacturing processes and crafts from 1388 to the 19th century. The pages are in German, so you may want to run it through a translator.

Young People Today Wouldn’t Recognize New York Of The 1980s. These color photographs of New York City from the 1980s will help you the next time you are working on a period version of Fame.

This is an unfortunately brief article about working backstage in China, including a quote from a prop master. It sounds like they have to go through the same kinds of things we do over here though.

I did not Desert you

I am currently in the desert of Arizona. It’s time for another S*P*A*M conference, and this year, our hosts are Childsplay Theatre. I will report on all things of interest sometime later next week. For now, enjoy these sites of interest from the comfort of your own home.

Rich Dionne tackles the many methods for making a budget estimate in theatre. I discovered I use a mix of these methods when I deal with the fuzzy world of estimating the costs of props for a show.

In an earlier issue of their magazine, Make published a primer on working with carbon fiber (aka graphite fiber). They have now posted the entire article for free on their website.

This is interesting: why are there no guns in MoMA? It’s a podcast looking at the role of design in guns. What I found fascinating is how the manufacturing of guns is what really began the standardization of parts and machines in the industrial age. Despite their role and importance in modern life, museums of design like MoMA do not display any guns.

The Monster Mummies of Japan is a strange diversion into the history of imaginary taxidermy in Japanese temples.

Finally, who can resist color photographs of Manhattan in the 1940s?


Kabuki Props

San-nin Kichisa Kuruwa no Hatsu-gai 1860 by Toyokuni III
San-nin Kichisa Kuruwa no Hatsu-gai 1860 by Toyokuni III

Kabuki is a traditional form of theatre in Japan which began around four hundred years ago. It is a highly stylized form of theatre, and its use of props is very formalized and full of tradition. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how they use and make props in Kabuki. I don’t speak or read Japanese, so while I took care to double and triple-check all the terminology, someone more knowledgeable than I may still find mistakes. Still, I hope you’ll find what follows to be a good overview of props in Kabuki theatre.


The word for props is 小道具, or kodōgu. Kabuki distinguishes between different categories of props just like those of us in English-speaking countries. If you need a refresher, check out my article on the different categories of props, as well as an illustration of these categories. Hand props are called 持ち道具, or mochidōgu. Mochidōgu include accessories, swords and other weapons, fans and armor (or yoroi); basically, everything which is portable. Set props, such as furniture, set dressing and other items left on stage for the duration of the performance, are known as dedōgu. Large props are named 大道具, or ōdōgu. In the US, we would consider ōdōgu to be scenery; indeed, the Japanese treat it as a separate department as well, with different technicians involved, so we will not spend any more time on it here.

Props which are used up at each performance (consumables and food) are called kiemono. Props which are broken and destroyed each performance are kowaremono. Vehicles and portable shrines are known as norimono. Rigged and trick props are called shikake, or shikake mono. A great example of a shikake mono is a branding iron with a button-activated electric filament which ignites a match head to produce a puff of smoke. Red paint on the iron also serves to leave a red mark on the actor being branded (McNicol 33). Kabuki also considers several other items to fall under the realm of props, such as animal costumes (nuigurumi), footgear (hakimono) and headgear. Unlike in the US, snow, snowflakes and artificial blossoms (tsuri eda) are responsibility of ōdōgu, rather than the prop makers (Scott 155).

Among the most difficult props to make are the decapitated heads, known as 首 (kubi) or kirikubi. Kubi are divided up into dakubi, or “low-class” head, and jōkubi, or “high-class” head. Dakubi are usually cotton forms stuffed with wood shavings, sometimes covered in Japanese paper, with crudely painted features and hair. The neck may have a piece of red cloth attached. Jōkubi are more realistic and well-made. They can be carved out of oak or paulownia wood, or made of papier-mâché over a wooden base (hariko no kubi). The construction of these were reserved for master carvers, who attempted to capture the exact likeness of whichever actor it was supposed to represent. Examples of jōkubi from the Meiji era (1868-1912 CE) still remain in existence at the Fujinama warehouse (more on Fujinama in a bit). Continue reading Kabuki Props