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Motif Information
Motif kumadori 01.gif
Rōmaji Kumadori
English Stage Makeup
Kanji 隈取
Kana くまどり
Season N/A
Seasonal Exceptions N/A
Auspicious No
Motif Type Traditional Arts

Kumadori refers to the stylized makeup of traditional Kabuki theatre. The term is derived from the words kuma, to shade, and toru, to follow. Kumadori makeup is typically very bright and striking, often used for strong or powerful characters, such as the hero and main villain, as well as supernatural characters such as oni, or kitsune.

It is also used for Onnagata, men who play women's roles, to emphasize and highlight "feminine" and youthful features. In this case, softer colours such as pink will often be used. While derived from similar roots, this should not be confused with the much more subtle makeup of the Geisha.

Colours, designs, and character significance

The colours and designs used in traditional kumadori are all carefully selected to reflect the Japanese aesthetic and spirit. There are several standard layouts and colour schemes depending on the character's nature and purpose. Vivid reds tend to indicate the protagonist or hero of a play, a vivid way to make him stand out. Dark tones such as grey, black, and purple generally represent the villain, often exaggerating "angry" features and adding facial hair. The soft neutrals of grey and brown can be used to draw attention to the "natural", creatures derived from the earth such as animals and some demons. Cool and mysterious blues, often in more organic lines, demonstrate otherworldly characters such as ghosts and spirits.

For other characters, accents in specific colours can be used to emphasize certain character traits or emotions

ai (indigo) Sadness, melancholy
asagi (light blue) Stoic composure, coolness, detachment
beni (deep red) Stubbornness, anger, vitriol, determination, forcefulness
beni (red) Passion, enthusiasm, activity, vigour
midori (very light green) Tranquility, passivity, reflection
murasaki (purple) Nobility, formality
sumi (black) Terror, horror, depression
taisha (brown or burnt sienna) Egotism, selfishness, bitterness
usuaka (pink or pale red) Youth, cheerfulness, charming happiness
usuzumii (grey on chin) Dreariness, depression, forlornness


Oshiguma is the practice of a stage actor blotting his kumadori makeup onto a silk handkerchief or cotton tenugui after a show. These cloths are considered to be a wonderful souvenir, and are often framed and kept as a piece of art. They may be sold or given away by the actor after he has signed and dated them.

If the kumadori motif is soft, stylized or blurred, or does not contain an actual face, it is more likely that it is a representation of the concept of oshiguma, rather than the original kumadori makeup itself.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

As Kabuki theatre has no specific season, this motif is theoretically appropriate for all times of year. It has no specific seasonal or auspicious connotations.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

This motif is derived from traditional theatre, and as such shows up in ukiyo-e prints and literature on a very regular basis.

Article Notes



Creative Arts Kabuki page

Makeup for hero roles

Anatomy of an Oshiguma, courtesy Trevor Skingle

Image Credits

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Diane Quintal (Moonblossom (IG Username))

Contributors: n/a