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A Spirited Noh Instructor Exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kyuen Kawasaki's death

Ms. Kaoru Nakao
Research Associate of Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Put your heart and soul into the rise of Noh

"There are some Noh actors who cannot become masters even though they possess powerful voices and skilled dancing." (Kakyo: Zeami's Fundamental Principles of Acting-"Understanding Refined Sense")

In Zeami's Kakyo (Fundamental Principles of Acting), Zeami teaches that skill in performing is not synonymous within being a "master." Zeami continues to state that high praise can be given not only to skilled performers, but to anyone who puts their heart and soul into Noh theatre. However, in no way does this teaching seek to establish the disregard for technical performing skill as an aim of Noh theatre. Rather, it is an example used to emphasize that spirit is the essence of Noh. When this spirit, which is required in addition to practical skill, rises even further to become totally absorbed in Noh (a state of selflessness), then performing skill exceeds the realm of mastership and rises to a "level of repute throughout the heavens."

Portrait of Kyuen Kawasaki

Kyuen Kawasaki (1874-1961) was a man of such spirit, praised and revered as a master during his performances in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. His performances are described using phrases such as "having great weight and firmness" and "severe as the autumn frost which withers leaves and the blazing sunshine of summer." Both of these phrases emphasize the force of Kawasaki's performances, and his tremendous spirit is still the topic of discussion.

Anecdotes of Kyuen Kawasaki, a former master

Favorite drums of Kyuen

Even as an amateur, Kyuen (real name: Rikichi) possessed outstanding technical skill and was rumored to be a prodigy since he was young. Noh theatre had only narrowly escaped from the danger presented by the Meiji Restoration. Noh researcher Nobuyoshi Ikenouchi sought to cultivate hayashi-kata (instrumentalists in Noh theatre) to fulfill a shortage in the position, and recommended that Kyuen go to Tokyo. This led to Kyuen starting his career as a professional Noh instructor at the age of 26. Kyuen (Rikichi at the time) was at a disadvantage because his family did not possess a legacy in Noh theatre. However, he overcame this handicap through diligent effort, a strict attitude towards performing and a sharp intellect. There are no shortages of episodes describing Kyuen's strict attitude towards Noh theatre.

In 1952, the Cultural Properties Protection Committee enacted a plan to preserve outstanding performances of Noh masters by recording the instruments played by Roppeita Kita, Kanesuke Noguchi, Kasetsu Kanze, Kintaro (Kyusen) Sakurama, Kenzo Matsumoto, Mikuma Shimada, Masakazu Terai, Yoshimitsu Kou, Kyuen Kawasaki, Toyoji Kakimoto, Motonobu Kanze, and Soichi Konparu. Kyuen Kawasaki perplexed the committee by stating that a record could not capture the atmosphere of a spirited art such as Noh. Even after the recording had been finished, Kyuen proclaimed that it was necessary for machines to advance further in order to record his artistic performances.

Messages like the ones shown below are written in a notebook left behind by Kyuen. These messages reveal the extent to which Kyuen emphasized the need for imbuing performance with spirit. The spirited performances of Kyuen overlap with "Noh performed from the heart" as expressed by Zeami.

  • • Skillfully beat the rhythm which is necessary for grasping an understanding of the song. This serves as a basis, and the rest of the performance should be conducted by beating the drum with great vigor.
  • • Have great enthusiasm and make judgments with a calm spirit.
  • • When the tone of one's voice is in discord with another person, first follow the other person's lead and then gradually lead them in the desired direction.
  • • Be careful of your hands when imbuing the force of your entire body into your cries. A good tone will not be achieved if the hands are used too much.
  • • Supporting actors should be appropriately positioned even if their singing is poor.
  • • Forget your mistakes with good grace and have the intent to correct them at a later time.
  • • Do not have great expectations evening when taking the stage with another skilled performer. This only increases the possibility of a poor performance, such as when you become overexcited, your voice grows hoarse, and a variety of things do not proceed as expected. Furthermore, the performance will go badly when you resolve to take the lead all by yourself. This is true regardless of whether the other performers are skilled or unskilled.
  • • When performing with a master, you should occasionally consider whether you are performing with a calm disposition.
  • • When entering and exiting the stage, you should a nonchalant attitude. When playing the drum, you should move boldly, take great breaths of air, and concentrating your entire being into listening to the sound. However, one must not become arrogant.

It is also said that the sound of Kyuen's performances were clear and lucid. Noh actors praised Kyuen's sound by saying that "it is easy to move with." Kyuen also gave reserved praise to his performance by saying that the sound was pure. A spirit which is only strict and vigorous prevents a performer from putting his heart into the music. The spirit of Kyuen was sublimed from the heart, and he undoubtedly reached the realm of selfless absorption into the music and a "level of repute throughout the heavens."

Exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kyuen Kawasaki's death

Leather for drums used by Kyuen

The entire collection of Kyuen Kawasaki's belongings has been donated to the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum. Yasushi, the rightful heir to Kyuen's belongings (book of traditional music, etc.), died at an early age. After the death of Kyuen, his belongings were managed by his second daughter Katsuko, who stated in her will that all of the belongings should be donated to the Theatre Museum. In 1998, the museum received donations of Kyuen's handwritten book of traditional drum music and musical notation for the drums. It was Katsuko's desire to prevent the scattering of precious material that belonged to a rare master like Kyuen, and her desire was inherited by Hajime Kawasaki, the grandchild of Kyuen. The Theatre Museum received a new donation of Kyuen's diary in 2007, followed by the donation of Kyuen's carefully preserved drums in 2009. Today, the Kyuen Collection of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum has been enriched even further. There are currently very few people who have seen Kyuen perform live and are able to discuss his performances. However, the Theatre Museum will preserve materials associated with Kyuen for future generations and will continue to pass on stories of Kyuen's masterful performances.

Currently, the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum is exhibiting materials which commemorate the masterful performances of Kyuen, including the unveiling of newly donated material. In addition to carefully preserved drums, the collection also features the leather from drums which Kyuen beat with all of his heart and soul. The leather also clearly shows cracks which were beaten into the material from the force of Kyuen's spirit. Viewers will be able to intensely feel the craftsman-like attention to detail in tools for preparing the leather covers of drums and tools for making finger-covers used when beating the drums. The exhibition also contains various other materials which will give viewers a full taste of the appeal of Kyuen. Some examples of featured materials include desk used by Kyuen, stationary items, a Noh costume which is thought to have been worn at a performance for Emperor Taisho, a kamishimo which was worn during performances and words of Kyuen as told by his second daughter Katsuko.

Kyuen's diary

A special corner open during the first half of the exhibition period (until June 22nd) displays items associated with the "Sekidera-Komachi" performance held on October 1st, 1955. In the Konpara school of Noh, only actors descended directly from the iemoto (founder or current headmaster of the school) were permitted to perform Sekidera-Komachi, a rare Noh play portrayed with elderly and female characters. However, performance of the play was permitted for the student Kyusen Sakurama, and the event was widely reported by the newspaper companies of the time. Kyuen refused all other performances during a 3-month period in order to focus on the once in a lifetime opportunity of Sekidera-Komachi. Viewers of the exhibition can listen to a portion of an audio recording from a rehearsal of the performance. During the second half of the exhibition period (from June 23rd), the special corner changes to focus on the Noh performance held in 1956 in order to commemorate the retirement of Kyuen Kawasaki. This special corner is scheduled to display new items such as autograph manuscripts of writing contributed to the memorial pamphlet by many contemporaries (Masako Shirasu, Tetsuji Takechi, Yaeko Nogami, Kyoshi Takahama, etc.) in order to pay respect to Kyuen's outstanding work.

Invitation to related theatre lectures

As a related theatre lecture, our museum is also planning a three-way discussion featuring attendance from Kennosuke Kondo (Hosho school of Noh actors), Soemon Konpara (Konpara school of drumming) and Hisashi Hata (Visiting Professor at Musashino University). Kennosuke Kondo is, of course, an important figure in the Hosho school. During his youth, he also learned drumming from Kyuen. Soemon Konpara has experienced performing together with Kyuen and is a theorist of Noh music. Joining these two modern masters is Professor Hisashi Hata, an expert on contemporary Noh theatre. This distinguished lineup of guests will have an in-depth discussion regarding the masterful work of Kyuen. I hope that visitors will enjoy the discussion together with the exhibition.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
Exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Otsuzumikata (Noh drum player), Kyuen Kawasaki's death: "Recalling the Performances of a Master-Featuring Specially Preserved Drums-"

Venue: Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Special Exhibition Room in Honor of Nakamura Utaemon VI
Period: May 22nd (Sat.) to August 2nd (Mon.), 2010

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Related Theatre Lecture
June 23rd (Wed.), 2010; 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Ono Memorial Auditorium

Ms. Kaoru Nakao
Research Associate of Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Born in 1978. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Osaka University Graduate School of Letters. Holds a PhD in literature. Areas of expertise include Japanese literature and Noh theatre.