Icchu (一忠)

Icchu (year of birth and death unknown) was a Dengaku (refer to the descriptions below) and Noh player who was active in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (in Japan). He was an expert in the field concerned and had considerable effect on Kanami and Zeami, the father and son who started with surrogacy (a form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) and established Noh. He was good at mimic plays; for example, mimicking an ogre, and was an expert in providing subtle and profound airs in his dances and songs as well. Therefore, Zeami praised him greatly as 'a saint in this field' in "Fushikaden" (Flowering spirit) and as 'an expert in the three aspects of a play' (dancing, singing, and subtle and profound airs) in "Sando."

What is Dengaku?

It is said that originally Dengaku was a traditional local entertainment performed in planting rice, but became a specialized form of entertainment by introducing acrobatic techniques of the Sangaku style brought to Japan from Tang (in China) in the Heian period. Sarugaku and Dengaku interacted with each other, and were called Sarugaku-Noh and Dengaku-Noh, respectively, with the term "Noh" added. In Dengaku, 'Za,' an organization of entertainers, had been organized earlier than in Sarugaku. It is known that in the period of Northern and Southern Courts, there were Hon-za (literally, a genuine organization) (by Icchu and others) in Shirakawa of Kyoto (outside of the capital, Kyoto) and Shin-za (literally, a new organization) in Nara.

In the period of Northern and Southern Courts, Dengaku reached the peak of its activities, overwhelming Sarugaku. How crazy Takatoki HOJO was about Dengaku is well known, because the situation was depicted in detail in "Taiheiki" (The Record of the great peace), and Icchu who played a principal part in such an era.

His activities

Little is known about his life. However, it is known through Zeami's writing that he worked actively as a player belonging to Dengaku Honza and his plays were evaluated highly.

In "Taiheiki" and others, it is recorded that large-scaled Kanjin Noh Dengaku (No and Denraku performances held to raise subscriptions for the construction of shrines, temples or others) were held in 1394. The Noh and Dengaku play was held to raise subscriptions for constructing the Shijo bridge in Kyoto. This play was performed by players at Hon-za and by those at Shin-za at Shijo Gawara, and was visited and viewed by Sei taishogun (literally, "great general who is to subdue the eastern barbarians") Takauji ASHIKAGA and Yoshimoto NIJO, chief adviser to the Emperor. This performance indicates how popular Dengaku was at that time. However, the performance is now known as 'The Noh where the audience floor collapsed,' because the acrobatic performance of a child performer made the audience so crazy that the audience floor collapsed, killing or injuring some of them.

Icchu played as the first performer as well, dancing in the play named 'Koi no tachiai' (literally, love tachiai (for "tachiai," see below)) together with a player named Hanayasha at Shin-za. In 'Tachiai,' two players danced at the same time for the same music, competing to see which of them performed better, and therefore, Tachiai was an occasion in which players competed in earnest with each other.
The music progressed, and the performances of the two players were going to enter a highlight scene corresponding to the line of 'Revenge for resentment has little been carried out----.'
Then, in the middle of such an important line, Icchu coughed suddenly, changed his grip on the fan, and started wiping off sweat. For this, it is said that Hanayasha disturbed the tempo and failed to pronounce the important line correctly, being humiliated.

What is described above is an episode included in "{Zeshi rokuju igo Sarugaku dangi}" (a document about Sarugaku). Later, playing 'Shiki Sanban' (The three rituals) in a tachiai play with Enami, a Settsu Sarugaku player, Zeami as well abruptly stopped dancing, humiliating Enami, who could not cope with the situation and continued dancing. Tachiai is a play performed in earnest by players. Zeami said that a truly excellent player had to be able to cope wittily with a challenge posed by the other player. The episode described above can be said to indicate that Icchu, an experienced expert player, overwhelmed Hanayasha.

Zeami, who played actively from a young age, described that he did not see Icchu's play directly. Therefore, it is considered that Icchu had been retired from his play life or had been dead by around 1370.

Effects on later generations

According to "Sarugaku dangi" (Talks about Sarugaku), it is likely that Kanami devoted himself to Icchu, calling Icchu 'his mentor for creating his style.'
It seems that Inuo (Doami), who was an Omi Sarugaku player and affected Zeami considerably, learned much from Icchu as well. It is likely that Icchu was respected as an expert regardless of Sarugaku or Dengaku.

Zeami himself did not see Icchu's consummate play. However, hearing, from his young age, about his excellent plays from persons with a good ability to appreciate plays, such as Doyo SASAKI and Naami EBINA, Zeami respected Iccho deeply.
It was described above that Zeami evaluated him as 'a saint in this field' and as 'an expert in the three aspects of a play.'
In addition, in the initial part of "Sarugaku dangi" (Talks about Sarugaku), Iccho was listed as a head of 'the four founders of this field,' along with Kiami, Inuo, and Kanami. Iccho constituted an image of experts to be aimed at by Zeami, and it can be said that Iccho contributed greatly to the artistic advancement of Noh.