NIPPONIA No.22 September 15, 2002
Special Feature*
Written by Tokunaga Kyoko   Collaboration: Shochiku Corp.
Kabuki, Japan's most famous classical theater, has a history of about 400 years. It began as a women's dance routine (Kabuki odori), but soon evolved into stage plays, with men taking all of the acting roles. It is unique in many ways — amazing makeup, gorgeous costumes, elaborate stage equipment, exaggerated performing styles.... Because of its spectacular nature, Kabuki actors require a tremendous amount of skill.

The Kabuki-za theater is located in the Ginza district in Tokyo. (Photo credit: JTB Photo)

Kabuki acting techniques are passed from father to son, from son to grandson, on down the line, and so techniques tend to remain within a limited number of acting families. Each family becomes the custodian of certain acting roles, and these roles, too, are passed from one generation to the next.
One such family is the Nakamura-ya. Its lineage can be traced in a continuous line further back than any other acting family in Japan. Nakamura Kantaro was born into the family 20 years ago. He became a Kabuki actor not because of family obligations but because, "I've liked Kabuki as long as I can remember. It was my own idea to get up on the stage and act."
Kantaro's grandfather, Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII, and his father, Nakamura Kankuro V, are both brilliant actors. "For them and others in our family, Kabuki plays have always been a regular topic of conversation, and growing up with them in the house also motivated me. I wanted to be like them."
He says he's never felt the urge to do something different. "I began studying Japanese traditional dance when I was just a kid, so I didn't have much time to play with my friends. But I didn't care — I enjoyed dance practice more, and I never felt I was tied to my family. Even people who know me well find it strange I never wanted to try something else. But Kabuki is the world I like, and I'm happy in it."
Even so, it must be stressful carrying on the traditions of a famous family, knowing his job is to keep Kabuki acting techniques alive for future generations.
During the remainder of 2002, Nakamura Kantaro will perform at the Hakata-za Theater in Fukuoka in September, and at the Kabuki-za in Tokyo in October and November. (Photo by Takahashi Noboru)
"If I were to start thinking about the illustrious reputation of my father, grandfather, great-grandfather and on up the line, I'd end up locked in the past. So I make things simple by thinking about what I can do. If Kabuki is going to stay alive well into the future, we need more young people to come and watch us now. The problem is that tickets are a little too expensive for young people. That's why I'm talking with other actors my age to see if we can't put on performances ourselves — that would reduce the price a little. It's a plan worth pursuing. Many actors around my age are quite individualistic, and if we can bring our talents together I'm sure Kabuki will become more interesting than ever."
Kantaro comes across as a sincere and politely spoken young man. He recently wrote a book interpreting some of the lines in plays he likes. Whatever he does seems to be colored by his love and deep understanding of Kabuki.NIPONIA

For information in Japanese, visit the Nakamura-ya official website:


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