KABUKI ABC (66) / Ichikawa Chusha: Late-arriving actor shows his determination to thrive in kabuki world

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe December Grand Kabuki is running through Dec. 26 at the Kabukiza theater in Tokyo’s Higashiginza district. Each day is comprised of three parts, and the most eye-catching piece in the third segment is the joint performance of two stars: Ichikawa Chusha, who has been a kabuki actor for just five years, and Bando Tamasaburo, the top onnagata female character performer.

Chusha sees himself in Banba no Chutaro, the protagonist of the play, “Mabuta no Haha” (Mother of my memory), which was written by Shin Hasegawa. “The story seems as if it is depicting my life,” he said.

Chusha was born in 1965, the first son of Ichikawa Ennosuke III (now Ichikawa Eno) and actress Yuko Hama, a former Takarazuka Revue star. However, Eno left soon after Chusha’s birth, and he and Hama eventually divorced. After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Chusha became a modern theater actor under his real name, Teruyuki Kagawa.

Unable to suppress his feelings for his father, when he was 25 he traveled alone to Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where Eno was taking part in a play, to see him. But Eno said to Chusha, “You are not my son.” This episode is widely known among the public.

Hasegawa, who was popular throughout the Taisho era (1912-1926) and into the Showa era (1926-1989), had a similar real-life experience that became the basis of “Mabuta no Haha.” In the story, Chutaro, an outlaw, is on a long quest for his mother, Ohama (played by Tamasaburo), who was separated from him in his childhood. Chutaro finally meets her, but for some reason, Ohama does not admit that he is her son, and coldly turns him away. “The story is totally the same as my experience,” Chusha said, calmly. “I had no need to figure out how to play the role — I just replaced the image of my father with that of [Chutaro’s] mother.”

However, Chusha said he wants to refrain from emphasizing his feelings too much during the play. “Becoming too emotional is not part of the aesthetics of kabuki,” Chusha said. “[The experience] will secretly hide beneath my skin, and I think that is the right way.”

Chusha entered the kabuki world five years ago at the age of 46 so that his oldest son, Ichikawa Danko, could become a kabuki actor. Tamasaburo did not hesitate to help this “newcomer” improve his skills. In the past two years, the onnagata star has directed plays with Chusha in them at the Kabukiza theater — “Akai Jinbaori” (The red surcoat), “Fubukitoge” (Mountain pass in blizzard) and “Irezumi Chohan” (Tattoo and dice game). In 2014, the two performed together in a recitation of “Mabuta no Haha,” taking up the same roles they currently play. Their bond led to them costarring in the December Grand Kabuki.

Tamasaburo commented on Chusha’s kabuki performance, saying, “He performs very well.” However, he also made some critical comments. “He has been obsessed with negative feelings about the fact that he had not been involved in the [kabuki world until he became as old as 46]. His performance is fine, but he insists that he is not acting well. So I yelled at him, ‘Shut up!’ I want him to perform without being too conscious of kabuki,” Tamasaburo said during an interview in November.

Chusha said he aims to continue carrying out his work in film and TV as Teruyuki Kagawa, while also spending about four months each year acting in kabuki plays. “Kabuki needs strength both physically and mentally. I’m stronger in my physical abilities now than when I was in my 40s,” Chusha said.

The two are also acting together in “Yokihi” (Yang Guifei), a play written for Tamasaburo by novelist Baku Yumemakura that is also performed in the third segment.

— Morishige covers traditional Japanese Performing arts.

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