The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Culture > The locus of Kichiemon Nakamura I


The locus of Kichiemon Nakamura I

Ryuichi Kodama
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Kichiemon Nakamura I (1886-1954) is an actor who left a huge footprint on modern kabuki.

Kichiemon Nakamura I Folding screen of his successful performance (left screen) painted by Kiyotada Torii

With outstanding delivery and brilliant mastery of his lines, he captured the hearts of the people of his day by incorporating human-like anguish and passion in a traditional art. His influence, which has remained great up until today through the performances overflowing with the weight of classical art of those who have left the Kichiemon stable such as Utaemon Nakamura VI, Kanzaburo Nakamura XVII, Koshiro Matsumoto VIII, can be said to have magnified the spectacle of postwar kabuki. Blood grandson and adopted son, Kichiemon II, has been performing "Shuzan festival" since 2006, a work honoring the original Kichiemon's art, and one whose significance cannot be overlooked as being the most orthodox performance of classical kabuki in modern times.

At the moment, the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum is holding "Kichiemon Nakamura I Exhibition" (until August 4). Since Kichiemon's death in 1954, the museum has received various mementos from his widow, but this time, with overall cooperation from the Kichiemon family, we have the opportunity to display treasured costumes, art works, and letters. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the era in which Kichiemon Nakamura I lived.

Path to achievement

Kichiemon Nakamura I, Ichinotani Futaba Gunki Kumagai no Jiro Naozane, Shintomi-za(1922)

Kichiemon Nakamura I was born in Asakusa on March 24, 1886, the eldest son of Tokizo Nakamura I (later to be Karoku Nakamura III). With his father being raised in the Kyoto-Osaka area and his mother a daughter from the Edo (Tokyo) playhouse tearoom "Yorozuya Kichiemon", Kichiemon I had roots both east and west. His father had the stage family name of Harimaya and, starting from his first stage performance, his lifelong title of "Kichiemon Nakamura" had its origins in his mother's family.

For Kichiemon, who hailed from a branch of the Tokyo kabuki world, to start out in the theatre business was the result of numerous trials and tribulations and many experiences. In his teens, he appeared in children's theatre in Asakusa and exploited his reputation as a child prodigy. Continuing on into his twenties, Kichiemon performed at Ichimura-za in Nichoumachi alongside lifetime rival Kikugoro Onoe VI (1885-1949), in what was later to be legendarily known as the "Ichimura-za Era". It can be said that this popularity at Ichimura-za determined Kichiemon's status in the theatrical world.

Ichimura-za was situated in a less than 10 minute walk northeast of present day JR Akihabara Station. In the tradition of theatres since the Edo period, while having a Western-style construction, it had a tradition of the dressing room and custom of playwright room, generally making it a traditional-style theatre in all aspects. Kichiemon and Kikugoro were produced by the great manager Nariyoshi Tamura who, in a form to have the two men in their mid-twenties compete, had Kikugoro perform the everyday life dramas which had been played by his father (Kikugoro V), and had Kichiemon get training and inherit the periodical dramas of Danjuro, and their popularity soared in no time. For the young Ichimura-za to be able to compete with the more established Kabuki-za and Imperial Garden Theatre, it can be put down to the popularity of "Kiku-Kichi" (Kikugoro and Kichiemon) and the fever-pitched atmosphere surrounding them.

Nachi no Taki Kisei Mongaku, Endo warrior clothing

As a tribute to Kichiemon at the time, Toyotaka Komiya's Nakamura Kichiemon-ron, published in the August 1911 edition of the magazine "Shinshosetsu," is well-known. "When Kichiemon comes on the stage, I felt my soul satisfied by his every action, and I cannot but be reminded of the statue 'The Prayer' by the master sculptor Rodin." This metaphorical description sent great reverberations through the press. The era from the end of the Meiji period to the Taisho period was also a time overflowing with new momentum in the theatre world. Amidst this, Ichimura-za, which steadfastly stuck to old traditions, became a place of new discovery in the theatre called kabuki, centered on youthful actors who didn't embrace the new theatre which repeatedly changed affiliation. Kikugoro's performances urged a rediscovery of kabuki depicting the everyday life of commoners, and Kichiemon's enthusiasm called for sympathy for the human-like pain and tears in his periodical works. For youth of the day, kabuki had the same existence as modern theatre.

The details behind Kichiemon leaving Ichimura-za in 1921 and go under the Shochiku umbrella sent huge shockwaves through the theatrical world, but after the Great Kanto Earthquake, he performed with Kikugoro in 1925, and in the early Showa period when Kikugoro joined Shochiku, the Kiku-Kichi combination in their 40s had established themselves as prominent figures. For the Kichiemon in the Showa era, in addition to deepening his traditional roles, he also tried his hand in new works. Kami wo Yuu Issa and Saga Nikki, where he played Basho, were written by close and respected friend, poet Kyoshi Takahama. Starting with Nijo-jo no Kiyomasa by popular writer Genjiro Yoshida, he had numerous big hits in historical dramas with Kiyomasa Kato as the main character, and gained a reputation for his reprise of Kiyomasa.

After the war, especially after the death of Kikugoro VI in 1949, he stood at the top of the kabuki world in both name and reality, becoming the first living kabuki actor to be awarded the Order of Culture. Kichiemon died on September 5, 1954 at the age of 69. Kyoshi Takahama offered the words "the dew on old pine has momentarily overflowed."

With artists of the same era

Sansho Ichikawa paintings Kichiemon Nakamura poetry scrolls
"Even on a snowy day/ practicing/ my lines of snow."

Included in the items for this exhibition we received from the Kichiemon household is a scroll with an Indian ink painting that was painted in 1910. Contributing pictures drawn on the spot to Kichiemon for his first work as Yuranosuke Ooboshi in Chushingura, were Yukihiko Yasuda, Seison Maeda, Kokei Kobayashi, Choko Hirose, Shiko Imamura, and Misei Kosugi. All were up-and-coming artists around the age of 30 at the time, with each of them going on to become great artists. Kichiemon I lost many family treasures in an air raid but, fortunately, this memorable hanging scroll remained.

Also, reflecting his close friendship with Kyoshi Takahama, there are many postcards and letters which were penned by Kyoshi. The friendly relations between the two can be followed in Kyoshi's handwriting through condolences of the air raid, thanks for attending a meeting, inserting haiku sent to Hototokisu magazine, congratulations to Mannosuke Yoshi (then Kichiemon) on his first stage performance, congratulatory address for a publication of a haiku collection, consultation regarding writing plays, and New Year's greeting cards.

What appears from these kinds of relations is contemporaneousness as a "modern second generation."

If Tenshin Okakura and co. were the first generation, the painting circles that make up the world of Japanese painting can be said to be the second generation. If Shiki was the first generation of modern times, Kyoshi, who followed as the second generation, played a part in preserving the ancient 5-7-5 style of haiku. If Soseki was the first generation of modern times, Toyotaka Komiya, a pupil of Soseki, would be the second generation.

And if Danjuro IX and Kikugoro V, who carried the theatrical world in the Meiji era, were the first generation who crossed the bridge from Edo times to Meiji, then "Kiku-Kichi" would have to be the second generation born in the 1880s. All these people from the second generation of modern times in each field of the art world were born in the new era of Meiji. They went through a turbulent phase and can be said to have played a role in passing on to the next generation, under the name of tradition, something new that included plenty of contemporaneousness.

The part played by the style Kichiemon I followed in the kabuki world can be seen in the beautifully crafted dressing room mirror and numerous outfits he used on stage, which have been provided for this exhibition.

Furthermore, there are four hanging scrolls which were written by Kichiemon himself, as well as two square poetry cards owned by the Theatre Museum, with full of delicate nuances of penmanship. I definitely want you to see these with your own eyes so I will introduce three of them here.

It may be the coldness due to the remaining white powder

Even on a snowy day, practicing my lines of snow

Even by looking at the broken lotus, the lines are always in my mind.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Exhibition
"Kichiemon Nakamura I Exhibition"

Dates:July 2(Sat)~August 7(Sun)
Hours:Mon・Wed・Thu・Sat・Sun 10:00~17:00 Tue・Fri 10:00~19:00
Venue:Theatre Museum 2F Exhibition Room I
Sponsor:Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
Cooperation:Shochiku Co., Ltd

Theatre Lecture "Kichiemon I Film Festival II ― Kichiemon I and Shuzan festival―"
Film screening Moritsuna Jinya (Moritsuna Camp) (1953)

In attendance will be Kichiemon I's adopted son and successor, Kichiemon Nakamura II, and as well as viewing Kichiemon I's film Moritsuna Jinya, he will talk of his memories of Kichiemon I, the accomplishments of Harima-ya, and his thoughts on Shuzan festival in which the tradition have been performed and inherited .

Lecturer:Mr. Kichiemon Nakamura (Kabuki actor, member of the Japan Academy of Arts)
Interviewer:Ryuichi Kodama (Professor, Waseda University)
Date:August 2(Tue)14:00~17:00 (doors open 13:30)
Venue:Waseda University Okuma Memorial Auditorium
Entrance free・pre-registration not required
[maximum 900 participants]
※Entrance may be denied when seating limit is reached. Please be forewarned.

Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum

Ryuichi Kodama
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1967. Received his doctorate from the Graduate School of Letters,Arts and Sciences, Waseda University.
Became a professor at Waseda University in 2010 after working as an assistant at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University, and associate professor at Japan Women's University.
In addition to working on exhibitions as a Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum researcher, he also writes kabuki reviews for Engekikai (Theatre World) and Asahi Shimbun. Majors in kabuki research.
Published works include Noh-raku・Bunraku・Kabuki(Kyoiku Geijutsusha Publishing) and edited the pictorial record Yomigaeru Teikoku Gekijoten (Bringing Back to Life the Imperial Garden Theatre Exhibition(Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Musuem)