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Campus Now

Autumn Issue (Nov.)

Message to the second century

Let's reconsider the value of traditional Japanese culture in order to preserve cultural diversity

Danjuro Ichikawa XII
Kabuki Actor

In 2010, Danjuro Ichikawa XII was appointed as a University Professor to provide support and advice to Waseda University. In addition to reflecting upon early life from his kabuki performance to his time at university, he provided us with many thought-provoking messages including his attitude towards Japanese culture and his aspirations as a University Professor.

Failure on an important day created determination to become a kabuki actor

――I have heard that you gave your first kabuki performance at the age of 7. Could you please tell me about it?

In a performance named Daitoku-ji Temple, I played the role of Sanboshi, a grandchild of Nobunaga Oda. I was carried by my father, who played the role of Hisayoshi Mashiba (Hideyoshi Toyotomi), and appeared in a scene where the samurai were prostrating themselves. Those samurai were played by my uncles Shoroku Onoe and Uzaemon Ichimura, and they were bowing down to me, a 7-year old, in the performance. That felt really good! My life at the time was quite enjoyable. After school, I entered the adult world of kabuki, and I was really proud of myself.

However, my voice began to change when I became a junior high school student. This left me unable to play child roles, but also unable to portray adult roles. I began to seriously worry whether I had any talent as a kabuki actor. My rebellious phase as a teenager came at about the same time, and I began to think about taking another path in life.

――Afterwards, what made you decide to become a kabuki actor?

When I was 16, I appeared in a performance to commemorate my father taking the name Danjuro Ichikawa XI. It was a performance of Sukeroku, which is one of the most famous plays of the Ichikawa family. My father played the main character Sukeroku and I appeared in the role of Fukuyama-no-Katsugi. To be honest, my performance didn't receive good reviews. It was so bad that I could hear the audience laughing quietly each time that I said a line. I felt ashamed to be such a son on my father's day of glory and I have committed myself seriously to kabuki ever since then.

Afterwards, I entered the Nihon University College of Art where I studied the fundamental thought of Japanese and western theatre. My university studies were very useful in adding new depth to my performances.

Valuing the emotion contained within the Japanese language

――You are very active in conveying Japanese culture. For example, you actively hold overseas performances.

When speaking with people from Europe, I get the sense that they are proud of their country's culture. From a global perspective, Japan also possessed outstanding culture, particularly during the Edo Period. However, especially after our loss in WWII, it seems that Japanese people have belittled and thrown away our country's culture. I believe that having pride in one's own culture is the first step towards true internationalization. Specifically, I believe that it is necessary to preserve cultural diversity in an area where the entire world is integrating in one direction through globalization.

Kabuki incorporates many elements of Japanese culture such as bushido, tea ceremony manners and wabi-sabi. By gaining high praise for overseas performances of kabuki, I hope that Japanese people will actually rediscover the richness of our culture.

Furthermore, I believe that valuing one's native language is an important point for preserving cultural diversity. Of course, I recognize the need to acquire proficiency in English. However, the English language is nothing more than a tool for Japanese people. A person thinks in their native language. Depending on the language, the word order and way of phrasing ideas is different, as is the method of thinking. These differences are the foundation of cultural diversity. Therefore, I believe that Japanese people must value the emotions which are unique to the Japanese language. Such emotions cannot be found in other languages such as English.

――Could you give an example of a specific episode?

Japan has the custom of momiji-gari, or viewing autumn leaves, and this custom is also portrayed in kabuki. When giving such a performance in France, I had repeated debates with translators about how to translate this nuance. In Europe, there is a strong association between withered leaves and death. This is different from the nuance of leaf viewing. I also worried about whether the nuances of the Japanese word koraku (recreation) were being conveyed properly. Ultimately, the French translation contained the meaning of "gazing contemplatively at autumn leaves." By refusing to compromise and insisting upon the emotion contained within the Japanese language, I was able to ensure that the nuances of momiji-gari were properly conveyed.

Of course, instead of simply insisting on one's own ideas, it is also important to absorb outstanding aspects of other culture. Kabuki is actually a very "greedy" performance art, and it has absorbed many aspects of European culture beginning from the Meiji Period. One example is the works Narukami and Kenuki, both of which are included in the Kabuki Juhachiban. Although both of these plays existed from the Edo Period, they were greatly affected by European plays which entered Japan beginning from the Meiji Period. Another example is kabuki performances of Shirano Benjuro, which is the Japanese translation of the French play Cyrano de Bergerac. Kabuki has grown by incorporating a variety of different cultures.

Conveying culture from the perspective of a performer

――You have experience teaching at several universities. What is your impression of today's university students?

Today's university students are full of independent spirit. A little while ago, it seemed like everyone could easily be led in the same direction. However, many students today act based on their own ideas and principles. When I teach university students about kabuki, some of them seem disinterested. However, many other students listen attentively without being affected by the apathy of others. I think that this is a very good trend. It is important that we as teachers provide appropriate and compelling material to such students.

――Could you please give a message for our university?

Waseda University values traditional Japanese culture. This is clear from the existence of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum and how the university preserves kabuki and other traditional Japanese culture both academically and as forms of art. I am also very grateful for the many instructors who teach at the university, including Toshio Kawatake (Waseda University Professor Emeritus). Mr. Kawatake is a descendant of Mokuami Kawatake, who wrote kabuki and kyogen plays from the end of the Edo shogunate until the Meiji Period.

I am also honored at being conferred the title of University Professor. Of course, it is important perform academic research of culture. However, there aren't many opportunities for actual performers to discuss what they normally think and the kinds of traditions that they have inherited. I am happy to have had such an opportunity today. I hope that my experience will serve as a base for more people to convey traditional Japanese culture.

Exhibition : "Commemorating the 220th Anniversary of the Birth of Danjuro Ichikawa VII"
Theatre Seminar: The Art and Eventful Life of Danjuro Ichikawa VII"

From September 21st, the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum held an exhibition reflecting on the turbulent life of Danjuro Ichikawa VII (the exhibition ended November 13th). On display was material owned by the Ichikawa family, touring material which was not yet known in academic circles, and material from our own collection. Furthermore, in conjunction with the exhibition, a lecture was held on September 26th in Okuma Auditorium. At the lecture, Danjuro Ichikawa dazzled listeners with his interesting discussion of the character and eventful life of Danjuro Ichikawa VII, a sophisticated and knowledgeable man who was known for the wide range of his art and for having established the Kabuki Juhachiban.

Danjuro Ichikawa gives a lecture (left)

Folding screen and written material signed by Danjuro Ichikawa VII (consigned/donated to our museum)

Danjuro Ichikawa XII
Kabuki Actor

Born in 1946 as the first son of Ebizo Ichikawa IX (Danjuro Ichikawa XI). In 1953, at Kabuki-za Theatre in Tokyo, appeared in his first kabuki play Daitoku-ji Temple under the stage name Natsuo Ichikawa, playing the role of Sanboshi. In 1958, portrayed the role of Ushi-Wakamaru in the play Kaze Kaoru Kurama no Irodori at Kabuki-za Theatre and took the name Shinnosuke Ichikawa VI. In 1969, portrayed the roles of Sukeroku in the play Sukeroku Yukari no Edo-Zakura and Togashi in Kanjin-Cho, taking the name of Ebizo Ichikawa X. From April to June in 1985, held three months of performances at Kabuki-za Theatre in order to commemorate his taking the name Danjuro Ichikawa XII. Appointed as a University Professor at Waseda University in 2010. Graduate from the Nihon University College of Art.