IchimuraManjiro [HOME PAGE] [Kabuki for EVERYONE]
Ichimura Manjiro II
Born in 1949 as the second son of Living National Treasure Ichimura Uzaemon, Manjiro is an onnnagata specializing in female roles, but also brings his distinctive stage presence to male roles, especially roles of gentle, young men from good families. In the summer of 1992, he opened up a new direction by producing and starring in the first "Kabuki for Everyone." Since then there have been three "Kabuki for Everyone" performances, introducing this wonderful and unique art form to over 10,000 people.

Click here to see a NEW Manjiro Morphing Clip (QuickTime/200Kbytes),
or CHANGES, which shows Manjiro in some of Kabuki's most famous roles. (QuickTime,1Mbytes).
Manjiro debuted under the stage name Ichimura Takamatsu V in 1955 and assumed his current stage name in 1972. The picture on the left shows Manjiro at the time of his stage debut with his father, Living National Treasure Ichimura Uzaemon XVII.

Life as a Kabuki actor

Ichimura Manjiro

After I made my stage debut at Kabuki-za in October 1955, the theater became my playground. I would see what sort of trouble I could cause as I made my way through the backstage area, the opening under the stage or even the lobby. Although I sometimes drew the anger of those around me, since it is not so easy to replace a child actor once a run has begun, we were treated especially well. One characteristic of the backstage area was that there was very little distinction for age in conversations. This produced a unique atmosphere where the children learned while playing in the adult workplace.

There was a worker at the theater referred to as the "magnet man." One day as he dragged a magnet attached to a string across the stage, I asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was picking up any loose nails so the actors would not step on them and hurt themselves. He also made sure to warn me not to walk on the revolving stage during the play as it would interrupt the action on stage. This probably wouldn't happen at the large theaters today, but in the old days the stages were much smaller and if one were to walk across the back of the revolving stage, it would cause the front to tilt. These words and many like them ingrained in my mind the importance of always being aware of what was happening on stage.

During the second half of the a run, the actors do wig fittings for the next month's performances. As the copper base is being fit around his head, the actor creates an image of the role in his mind and consults with the wig maker about how the hair should be shaped around the edges. This is important as it helps express the strength or gentleness of the character. During the Edo period, hairstyles could differ depending on one's profession and status in society and thus the wig for each character is different. The wig itself is an important part of forming the character.

I learned much in my youth just by observing: ways to do make-up, how to wear different kimono, how to wear a sword at one's hip like a samurai, and even the games of "go" and "shogi." Once I began appearing on stage, my learning became more active. I started dance lessons, and when I got bigger, I had lessons in percussion, the three-stringed shamisen, the koto zither and gidayu chanting.

As I grew older, I had the oppurtunity to appear in overseas performances. I travelled to eight countries, including China and Brazil, and I began to understand the importance not just of the vague concept of cultural exchange, but for the link established between people. It is extremely expensive to put on Kabuki plays overseas and since the official purpose of such trips is "cultural exchange," the destinations are different each time. Added to that the fact that the trips tend to be quite short, it is hard for the performances to provide little more than superficial exchange.

I began to think of the large number of foreigners who now live in Japan and came up with the idea for "Kabuki for Everyone" in 1992 to provide them with an inexpensive, easy to understand and enjoyable introduction to Kabuki in the hopes that they would come to understand Japan better. Each show includes two popular plays from the Kabuki reperatory proceeded by a one hour demonstration and explanation. This demonstration is given in Japanese, English and one other language. The first performance featured Chinese and we invited Japanese who had been orphaned in China after the war to help introduce them to their native culture.

During my trip to Brazil, I took a one-day trip to see the Iguas Waterfall, the largest in the world, about 1000 km. from where I was staying in Sao Paulo. My interpreter, a Brazilian of Japanese ancestry, said how Japanese was becoming harder for him to understand as it had more and more borrowed words. The first time he heard "wain" (wine), he tried hard to match it to other words of Japanese he knew. If they had just said "budoshu" (the native Japanese word for wine which literally means 'grape liquor'), he would have understood immediately. He had grown fond of the Japan as told to him by his parents and grandparents and seemed to have romanticized about how wonderful a place it was.

Now, several hundreds of thousands like him have come to work in Japan. Yet incidents have happened to ruin their image of the country, making them think of the Japanese as a very cold people. To help make their stay more enjoyable, we added Portuguese interpretation to the demonstration of the second performance. Then, for the third performance we used French and invited members of the Vietmanese and Bangladesh community.

Having gained a position as an economic superpower, Japan is being asked by the global community what contributions it can make to the world. I have also wondered what I may do as a Kabuki actor. It is not my place to change the traditions of Kabuki, but I can try to create a new feeling for a play based on the techniques and efforts of the playwrights and great actors of the past. Yet before that, before Kabuki becomes nothing more than just another dying folk art of the far east, I would like to show the world of its greatness, and of the warmness of the Japanese heart.

It is important to spread this message to as many people as possible, including the Japanese. Last year an exhibition of pictures of many of my roles was held at a department store in Tokyo and at that time we also created a CD-ROM containing video, sounds and explanations of Kabuki so one could discover and explore Kabuki in a game-like atmosphere. This web page you are reading now is an extension of that idea and an experiment to introduce Kabuki to the whole world.

It is my hope that these efforts will not only bring Kabuki closer to the world, but that I will also be able to come closer to those that explore these pages.

For more information, please send mail to Kabuki Master