Sakata Tojuro I

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Sakata Tôjûrô I was an early kabuki actor, a pioneer of the wagoto style, and of Kamigata kabuki more generally. He remains today one of the most famous of all kabuki actors and is considered one of the most influential.


Unlike his Edo counterpart, Ichikawa Danjûrô I, Tôjûrô's line lasted a very few generations and died out less than a century after his death. His sons Sakata Tôkurô and Sakata Heishichirô were active in the kabuki world, but neither succeeded to the Tôjûrô name. Rather, Sakata Tôjûrô II was an unrelated disciple of the first Tôjûrô; his successor in turn, Sakata Tôjûrô III, was a distant relative of the first Tôjûrô, and was adopted by Tôjûrô II.

Following the death of Tôjûrô III in 1774, no one held the name of Sakata Tôjûrô for over 230 years, until in 2005, the third Nakamura Ganjirô revived the name, becoming Sakata Tôjûrô IV.

Life and career

Tôjûrô was born in Kyoto in 1646; his father, Sakata Ichiemon, was a theatre owner. At the age of 30, he became zamoto (theatre head) at the Miyako Mandayû theatre in Kyoto, and began performing there as well as undertaking management duties.

Two years later, in February 1678, Tôjûrô organized and performed in a play called Yûgiri Nagori no Shôgatsu which centered upon Osaka's famous and popular courtesan Yûgiri, who had died the previous month. It was in this play that Tôjûrô first pioneered the wagoto style of restrained, emotional, and realistic or naturalistic acting. This play would set the precedent not only for on-stage acting styles in Kamigata kabuki, but also for plot elements and structure. Kuruwa Bunshô, a play heavily based on Yûgiri Nagori no Shôgatsu, and first performed in 1808, remains today one of the core pieces in the Kamigata repertoire.

After a number of years in Osaka, Tôjûrô returned to Kyoto, where he continued performing regularly. The year 1693 saw the premiere, at the Miyako Mandayû theatre, of Butsumo Mayasan Kaichô, the first of a number of plays written by the great bunraku playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon specifically for Tôjûrô. As zamoto, Tôjûrô not only performed regularly, but oversaw the production of plays along with the management and upkeep of the theatre. In addition to performing at his own Miyako Mandayû theatre, he performed at Kyoto theatres owned by Hayagumo Chôdayû, Kameya Kumenojô, and Hoteiya Umenojô, the last of which was managed by his son, Sakata Heishichirô.

He is particularly famous for performing alongside Yoshizawa Ayame I, the chief pioneer onnagata, specializing in playing only female roles. Tôjûrô is also known for his friendship with Edo actor Nakamura Shichisaburô I, whom he met when the latter was on tour in Kamigata in 1698. Along with Ayame, Tôjûrô features prominently in the "Actor's Analects", a collection of Genroku era (1688-1704) writings on kabuki, containing primarily insights into the lives of kabuki actors, their insights and advice on acting.

Over the course of his career, Tôjûrô played a great many roles, perhaps most frequently that of Fujiya Izaemon, the male lead and Yûjiri's lover in the various versions of Yûgiri Nagori no Shôgatsu which were written and produced over the years. It was in this role that he made his wagoto debut in the 1678 production of Yûgiri Nagori no Shôgatsu, and in which he made his final stage appearance, in an October 1708 production by the same name.


This article was written by User:LordAmeth and contributed to both the Samurai Archives Wiki and Wikipedia; the author gives permission for his work to be used in this way.