Nakamura Nakazo I

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Nakamura Nakazô I was a prominent kabuki actor of the late 18th century. A specialist of villain roles, he pioneered new interpretations of a great many roles, altering how they were costumed and performed, seeking some increased degree of realism in considering how people of a given class or profession would look and behave. Nakazô enjoyed the patronage of kabuki-loving daimyô Yanagisawa Nobutoki, and was featured in many yakusha-e (actor prints) by Katsukawa Shunshô and others.

Nakazô is described as powerfully masculine in his presence, but not tall, with a mastery of facial expressions. Though he pursued greater realism in costume, his acting style and voice are said to have been artificially dramatic, old-fashioned, and unrealistic, even "painful to listen to" according to one actor critique (yakusha hyôbanki).

He is believed to have kept extensive diaries, but what survives of these is only in later copies, which are fragmentary and likely include numerous errors or changes. Even so, these serve as valuable sources informing scholars of many of the events, intrigues, and scandals of the day.


Born the son of a ronin named Saitô, he was brought up from the age of five by a couple from the theatre world, after his parents separated. His adoptive mother was Shigayama Oshun, a dancer from the Shigayama family, which was closely associated with the Nakamura-za kabuki theater; his adoptive father, meanwhile, was the nagauta singer/chanter Nakayama Kojûrô III. His upbringing and training as a kabuki actor thus included considerable experience in developing a mastery of dance. Dance, at this time, was still largely the province of the onnagata, and of the female characters they played; Nakazô is said to have been significant in pushing to have male characters perform dance pieces (shosagoto) as well. In 1776, he was named zagashira (head of the acting troupe) at the Nakamura-za.

When the Nakamura-za folded in 1784/4, Nakazô began performing at the Kiri-za which temporarily replaced it. He lost his wife, Okishi, shortly afterward, on 1784/10/2. He continued performing at the Kiri-za for a time, but roughly a year later, in 1785/11, he broke his contract with the Kiri-za and undertook efforts to restore the Nakamura-za. He also took on his father's stage-name, becoming Nakamura Kojûrô IV, and worked to revive his mother's Shigayama dance lineage as well.


  • Timothy Clark, "Edo Kabuki in the 1780s," The Actor's Image, Art Institute of Chicago (1994), 30-31.