Banzuke – a selection of kabuki playbills

Banzuke are theatre programs distributed to audience members, showcasing information about upcoming performances and the actors who will be performing. Some were purely for advertisement purposes, while others were more detailed about the specific plays and sometimes included illustrations. They are not as precise in portraying the actors as yakusha-e, but they were more disposable and not intended to be kept or displayed as collectibles.

Kabuki banzuke

Here are a few examples from both the Edo and Meiji periods, in no particular order or date. For the best viewing experience, it is recommended to view them in high resolution. They use a particularly fluid and complex style of script called KabukiMoji (or sometimes EdoMoji), which is difficult even for modern Japanese speakers to read. So, don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to identify the names of the actors. A helpful tip is to start from the right and look for the most prominent actors of the time, such as Ichikawa Danjūrō (市川団十郎), Onoe Kikugorō (尾上菊五郎), and Ichikawa Sadanji I (市川左団次 or 左團治).

Meiji18 (1885)
Meiji22 (1889)
Edo period?
Unknown date – mentions Sawamura Tanosuke (沢村田之助)

Sumo banzuke

One of the other major users of banzuke were the sumo wrestlers and I believe the copy below was from a sumo contest, as the names of the people involved seem not to be actors. 

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