The hanamichi (花道) is an extra stage section used in Japanese kabuki theater. It is a long, raised platform that runs, left of center, from the back of the theater, through the audience, to connect with the main stage. Generally it is used for characters' entrances and exits, though it can also be used for asides or scenes taking place apart from the main action. In this use, it can be seen as an alley theater connecting to a larger stage.
The hanamichi was first used in 1668 in the Kawarazaki-za, in the form of a simple wooden plank that reached from the center of the stage to the middle of the theater. It was not used in performances, but allowed actors to step into the audience after a performance to receive flowers. The word hanamichi literally means "flower path."
The modern style of hanamichi, sometimes called honhanamichi (本花道, "main flower path"), was first conceived and standardized in 1740. The standard size ranges from 16.38 m – 18.20 m (53 ft, 9 in – 59 ft, 8 in) long and 150–180 cm (4 ft, 11 in – 5 ft, 11 in) wide. Some theaters have since begun to make use of a secondary hanamichi on the right side of the audience, known as karihanamichi (仮花道, "copied flower path") which is one-third to half the width of the honhanamichi on the left.
Though it is rarely used for the main action of a play, much of the more dramatic or famous character moments occur during entrances or exits along the hanamichi. Many particularly dramatic actions take place seven-tenths of the way down the hanamichi (three-tenths away from the stage), at a spot known in Japanese as shichisan (七三, seven-three). It is here that exiting characters may say their final words, and entering characters may address the audience or the characters on stage. Since the hanamichi runs through the audience, it allows for a closer experience for the spectator than might normally be allowed by other forms of traditional theater.
In sumo, the path to the dohyō is also called hanamichi.