KABUKI ABC No. 94 / Tradition carries on: Ichikawa Ebizo to assume prestigious stage name next year ahead of Games

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ichikawa Ebizo, right, stands on the stage of Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo with his son Kangen Horikoshi at a press conference on Jan. 14.

By Tatsuhiro Morishige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff writerIchikawa Ebizo — one of the most celebrated kabuki actors — held a press conference at the Kabukiza Theatre in the Higashiginza district of Tokyo with his 5-year-old son Kangen Horikoshi on Jan. 14 to announce they will assume new stage names simultaneously in May 2020, right before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Thereafter, Ebizo, 41, will be known as Ichikawa Danjuro XIII Hakuen, while his son will become Ichikawa Shinnosuke VIII and also make his debut as a kabuki actor.

Ichikawa Danjuro is a kabuki name representing Edo kabuki, which developed in Edo, present-day Tokyo. The great name will make a comeback for the first time in seven years since Ebizo’s father, Ichikawa Danjuro XII, passed away in February 2013.

At the press conference, which was held on the Kabukiza’s grand stage before the day’s performance, Ebizo appeared wearing black montsuki formal kimono and powerfully said: “I now vow to make all-out efforts to perform kabuki diligently as long as my life goes on. A number of kabuki actors from the Ichikawa Danjuro family made a great mark on their eras. I will keep this in mind and continue pursuing the way of kabuki.” Kangen said cheerfully, but in a dignified manner, “I beg for your kindness and support.”

The name Hakuen, which Ebizo will use along with Ichikawa Danjuro, was an offstage name of Ichikawa Danjuro V (1741-1806) that he used as a haiku poet late in his life. It is said that he later used this name on stage as well. The name was based on a popular account around that time: “Monkeys look like humans, but fall short of humans as the number of their hairs are three strands short of a human’s.” Danjuro V meant that his performing skills had yet to reach the level of his father and grandfather. Ebizo gave a similar explanation, saying that he decided to include Hakuen in his new stage name with a humble feeling that he needs to strive further while saying to himself, “I am still far inferior to my father and grandfather.”

As soon as his name succession was decided, Ebizo first told the good news to the spirits of his late father Danjuro XII and his wife, Mao Kobayashi, who died in 2017. “I visited their graves. Today, before leaving home [for the press conference], I put my hands together before my wife’s spirit again and said, ‘Finally, this day has come.’”

When asked about how he will convey the interesting aspects of kabuki to an international audience, he said: “Kabuki is rich in colors. It is a beautiful cultural element as good as those in other countries. I hope people from overseas experience what Japan is like in person by watching kabuki.” He also said: “It is my sincere wish that if foreign people ask something [about kabuki], any Japanese beside them can clearly answer. I hope all 120 million [Japanese] people watch kabuki.”

Performances announcing their new stage names will be held over a three-month period from May through July in 2020 at the Kabukiza Theatre, and afterward will tour other parts of the nation, including the Hakataza Theater in Fukuoka in November 2020, Misonoza theater in Nagoya in April 2021, and Minamiza Theatre in Kyoto in November 2021.

The finale of the three-month performances at the Kabukiza on July 20 next year will be almost immediately followed by the July 24 opening of the Tokyo Olympics. As the new Danjuro’s kabuki performance is not scheduled during the Olympic Games, there are growing expectations that a gala event to mark his name succession may be held on such high-profile occasions as the Olympic opening or closing ceremonies, which will be broadcast live across the world. If it is realized, it will be a golden opportunity to publicize kabuki, one of Japan’s cultural treasures, to the global community.

— Morishige covers traditional performing arts.

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