Kanze Kojiro Nobumitsu (観世小次郎信光)

Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE (1435 or 1450 - August 15, 1516) was a Sarugakushi (an actor of Sarugaku (early form of the Japanese classical drama Noh) and a Nohgakushi (an actor of Noh)), and a playwright of Sarugaku (Noh).


He was born as the seventh child of Onami, a nephew of Zeami (Zeami founded the Noh theater with his father Kanami). (It has traditionally been said that he was born in 1435, but according to recent researchers including Akira OMOTE, he was more likely to be born in 1451; therefore, both of the years are described here). Whichever year was correct, leadership of the Kanze troupe (one of four sarugaku troupes in Yamato Province) had been transferred from Zeami and his son to the Onami family by the time Nobumitsu was born. He devoted his life to assisting tayu (head of a troupe) which was inherited by the direct descendants of the Onami family.

He learned to play Otsuzumi (hourglass-shaped Japanese large hand drum) under the instruction of Yasaburo, a younger brother of Onami, and started his career as an Otsuzumi kata (Otsuzumi player). According to 'KANZE Kojiro Nobumitsu ga zo-san' (inscription to the portrait of Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE) and "Yoza yakusha mokuroku" (Catalog of Actors of the Four Troupes) written by KEIJO Shurin (abbot of Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto), when the 15-year-old Nobumitsu took part in a Sarugaku performed before Emperor Gohanazono, the Emperor gave Nobumitsu a fan to honor his performance through Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA who watched Sarugaku with the Emperor. He had remarkable talent from an early age.

Although he was from a branch family and a Hayashikata (musician), he actively involved in assisting Saburo Yukishige KANZE, then tayu of the KANZE troupe, since Yukishige was young. In "Yoza yakusha mokuroku" mentioned above, he was praised as 'the master of sarugaku' and excelled at everything. This shows that he was free from the limitation of classification as Hayashikata and was also prominent as an actor. It was also said that he may have been a master of Waki (supporting actor) since his decedents had produced particularly many Wakikata (supporting actor) (Some opinions, including this one, did not rely on the description of "Yoza yakusha mokuroku").

Besides being active as a noh playwright to be described below, he devoted to put age-old Yokyoku (noh songs) to written text so that they could be handed down to later generations. It is said that he organized some two hundred yokyoku in a book called "Aobyoshibon (literally, blue covered transcription)".

Nobumitsu was active until ripe old age on the front lines assisting tayu, and awarded the title of 'Gonno kami' (a title given to those who excelled at a wide range of performances). He was valued highly as a person who laid the groundwork for not only the Onami family but also the Kanze school to survive and thrive in turbulent times. Since 'KANZE Kojiro Nobumitsu ga zo-san,' which was written in his later years, described the roots of the Kanze family as well as his own life in detail, this book has been considered source materials about the Kanze family up to the present.

He had sons Nagatoshi, Nobushige, and Mototomo KANZE.

As a noh playwright, he wrote many noh plays.

Most of Nobumitsu's works were full of spectacular, explicit and dramatic developments. In contrast to the works of Zeami and Motomasa KANZE, in which 'yugen' (elegance, calm, profundity, mixed with the feeling of mutability) was sometimes too much expressed, many Nobumitsu's works were spectacular filled with sensational events which were called 'furyu' (full of refined tastes) in those days. This was because Nobumitsu lived in the era of Onin War (1467-77, civil war in the Kyoto region began in the Onin period (1467-68) and was a prelude to a prolonged period of domestic strife (1490-1590)). Compared to the time of Zeami when noh schools received support from high-ranking samurai families and nobles, noh schools in the time of Nobumitsu received less support and were forced to perform more frequently in provinces where audiences preferred spectacle to yugen. His style was inherited by his son Nagatoshi who was also active as a noh playwright.

His masterpieces as a playwright

Funa Benkei (Benkei in the Boat; warrior-monk Benkei used his legendary superhuman powers in the service of his master, the famous warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune)
Momijigari (Maple Viewing) (noh play)
Kanemaki (Coiling around a temple bell; the original version of the noh play "Dojo-ji Temple")
Yugyoyanagi (The Priest and the Willow)