Myoseki (Family Name) (名跡)

Myoseki (名跡: Family Name) is a traditional naming convention that closely links family names of individuals with succeeding generations of a family. It is also called Kamei. (The written word, 名跡 is pronounced Myoseki.
Meiseki is not the correct pronunciation.)

The myoseki naming system mainly applied to the succession of family names amongst the samurai class. (In samurai families, first names (`given names`) are not passed down.

In business (the former merchant houses) the full name of the head of an established business house was handed down from generation to generation.

In the fields of accomplished arts, entertainment, sumo and the martial arts etc the names (full name) of practitioners are handed down. In the case of sumo, it is not the full name as such that is handed down.

The practice of handing down names is closely related to the Japanese ancient traditions of large families and the 'family system.'
This traditional naming system is difficult for the modern people to understand the due to the demise of Japan's traditional family system (that occurred with 1947 revisions to Succession and Domestic Relationship elements of Japan's Civil Code)..

According to the traditional `myoseki` naming conventions the name that was handed down was not simply a badge of `trust,' 'tradition,' 'history,' 'good image,' and 'art/atmosphere``brands` etc. The 'client list` (literally meaning house list) (= regular customers, patrons, sponsors, backers and money lenders were also included in naming conventions. In recent times, it has become clear that the client list (house list) is a synonym for `profit`. To carry on a `myoseki` family or business/artistic name, recipients are obliged to assume the entire debts of the Myoseki holder (meaning the individual inherits the money lender relationships from the original Myoseki `name` holder). Recipients of `myoseki` names are inherit the original Myoseki holder's large family (especially obligations to support the family). The implication is that family members must be supported not only while living but also, the graves of dead ancestors of the family must be tended. For these reasons, the eldest son is commonly the beneficiary, however, if succession is by an individual without blood ties to the family, it is common for such unrelated successors to be required to become a member of the family (eg. by marrying into his wife's family and assuming their name etc). If an unrelated person succeeds to a Myoseki traditional `name` line without joining the family, a substantial amount of money is inevitably transferred from the predecessor to the inheritor (on the understanding that the payment is to compensate for Myoseki `name` value that is lost by the family). It is not clear how this monetary consideration is handled for tax purposes. With the exception of direct family members, Myoseki `names` of Toshiyori (sumo elders) of the Japan Sumo Association are invariably traded for large sums of money.

Myoseki is, in concrete, a name (stage name), and it accompanies a certain kind of authority and tradition acquired through the process of being handed down and using the same name from generation to generation. As a Myoseki `name` is basically defined as 'a name handed down successively,' the title of iemoto (head of a school) itself is not called Myoseki, unless the new iemoto inherits the predecessor's full name irrespective of whether or not the inheritor also assumes the title of the head family of the school (the practice of iemoto succession). To be defined as Myoseki, exactly the same name should be used in perpetuity by successive generations.

In any case, Myoseki naming conventions and rules can still be satisfied if the same stage/professional name (common business name), and the official name in the family register are not necessarily identical to the inherited Myoseki name. However there are cases in which the inheritor of a Myoseki name has also changed their registered name.

Myoseki usually indicates a full name. As noted above, inheriting names is also practiced in the political world (ie. hereditary transfer of constituency, or succeeding generations within political family) as well as amongst organized crime gang groups (succession to the gang name by an heir), but in such cases an individual name (Myoseki) is not inherited in its full-name form.. That is to say however, individuals can not be made to inherit Myoseki `names`. However, in the case of inheritances in samurai families, Myoseki `names` indicated only the transfer of the surname or family name.

Public entertainment
Succession of Myoseki `names` from one's predecessor is a system or custom unique to Japanese and often seen to occur in entertainment and accomplished art circles (including kabuki, and `rakugo` comic storytelling), which maintain `iemoto` systems (where the teaching and handing down of such traditional Japanese arts/pursuits is licensed). Irrespective of the field of Japanese public entertainment, be it: Noh dramas, Kyogen farce, Bunraku puppet theater, traditional Japanese music (accompaniments to Noh and Kabuki to the popular Tsugaru-shamisen three stringed banjo-like instrument), or Classical Japanese dance, the custom of inheriting professional artists Myoseki `names` exists. Even the Zenshinza, drama company associated with the Japanese Communist Party adheres to the practice of artists inheriting predecessor's acting names as do the avant garde troupes Shinpa-Geki (a New Faction Drama) and Shochiku Shin Kigeki (Shochiku New Comedy).

Above all others, the inheritance of names in kabuki and rakugo circles attracts particular public attention. For impresarios a show that trumpets the inheriting of one artists stage name by another is considered a big business opportunity that carries "no-risk and high-return" (that is, notably `no-risk high-return` for the promoter, but not necessarily holding for the inheritor of the name).
Takeomi NAGAYAMA (president of entertainment firm Shochiku) achieved commercial success by following a policy of 'Finding kabuki productions staged around stage `name` succession announcements and career-end performances for the predecessors.'
The same applied to traditional rakugo storytelling events. Use of the term 'Myoseki,' (inheritance of names) is by and large synonymous with rakugo and kabuki circles. In kabuki and rakugo, the longer the pedigree and more celebrated a name is results in the Myoseki name inheritance process not being achieved in a single step process but requiring more hurdles to be cleared. That means, entertainers of the same name may repeatedly stage shows announcing the inheritance of a predecessor's name. At the outset, an entertainer inherits an introductory name (initially a less significant name). The rakugo world refers to such names as `zenza-mei` (opening act stage name).
Actors tend to have a series of Myoseki (stage names) that evolve and change over time. (eg. an actor may take an initial name of `Kotaro NAKAMURA` that is subsequently changed to `Fukusuke NAKAMURA` and ends up as `Utaemon NAKAMURA` after a period being known as of `Shikan NAKAMURA`)
The multiple steps to the Myoseki process also means that when an actor inherits a particular Myoseki stage name this indicates a degree of proficiency has been achieved in their entertainment skills. In cases like that of the kabuki actor Utaemon NAKAMURA, the Myoseki stage name that indicates an actor has the arrived at the pinnacle of his troupe's line (ie. where there is no higher rung to achieve) is referred to as a `tomena` (literally meaning `halt name`). Also there are Myoseki entertainers names that are both `tomena` (the name indicating highest achievable rank) and also indicate the `iemoto` (head of a school/troupe) authority (or at least the individual once held such an authority). In the world of kabuki such individuals exist: Danjuro ICHIKAWA (head family of Ichikawa), Utaemon NAKAMURA (Narikoma-ya family), Bunji KATSURA (Katsura school), Ensho SANYUTEI (Sanyu-tei school/Tachibana-ya school line (Sanyu school)), Ryukyo SHUNPUTEI, Ryushi SHUNPUTEI and Kosan YANAGIYA (of the Shunpu-tei school/Yanagi-ya school line (Yanagi school)) and Shozo HAYASHIYA of the Hayashi-ya school line. Among various Myoseki entertainer names (including eminent `tomena` (pinnacle) and `iemoto` (school/troupe leader)-like names) the prominent names are sometimes specifically called Dai-Myoseki (literally meaning great Myoseki). In the worlds of kabuki and rakugo, `Myoseki` stage names are considered very important and as noted above, entertainers assume a series of `Myoseki` stage names in turn. In addition, active kabuki artists have Dai-Myoseki (in rakugo, this tradition declined from the late 1980`s), however, several exceptions have occurred even in kabuki (eg. Kichiemon I and the present Umenosuke NAKAMURA). Adherence to the Myoseki system is not so pronounced in other fields of the entertainment industry (ie. besides kabuki and rakugo). For example, in the sport of sumo wrestling, even the most high-ranked sumo wrestlers do not always inherit their predecessor's Myoseki as their own professional name. On the other hand, the Toshiyori (sumo elders) Myoseki system is still practiced, although the practice coexists with the single-generation Toshiyori (sumo elder) system).

The traditional board game `Go` was once considered an accomplished art and was run according to the iemoto (school) system principles. The title `Hon-inbo` (literally meaning Grand Master) was Myoseki name inherited by `Go` players. However Myoseki name of players were not inherited in full: each player retained their own individual Gago (pseudonym) as their first name. However, the system of inherited Hon-inbo (Grand Master) names changed to a merit-based system from 1939 onwards whereby the Hon-inbo became a title for the winner of a traditional `Go` board game tournament. The winner of the Hon-inbo (Grand Master) tournament of a given year inherits the Hon-inbo (Grand Master) title. Similarly, if a player successively wins the major tournament in successive years, the player is granted Hon-inbo (Grand Master) Myoseki whether or not a title is won in subsequent years..

The practice of Myoseki inherited names and titles is basically associated with the accomplished arts, but in certain circumstances, a particular family often controls and inherits a name/title because of blood relationships or through adoption. However, if there is no direct family to inherit a name/title, an individual following in the footsteps of a predecessor's accomplishments may inherit the Myoseki (depending upon consultation with the family of the deceased artist) however, this manner of inheritance seems to be limited only to cases where there is no appropriate heir. Myoseki nomenclature is not a mere name, but a name or title that signifies inheritance of traditions of a certain accomplished art, which has been traditionally built up by hereditary successors to that Myoseki name/title over the generations. That is to say, `traditions` can be considered to be: aragoto (kabuki plays featuring exaggerated poses, makeup, and costumes) showcased in the acting of Danjuro ICHIKAWA, sewamono (dramas dealing with the lives of ordinary people) acted by Kikugoro ONOE, dance elements of kabuki performed by Mitsuzaburo BANDO, ninjomono (human-interest stories), and ghost stories as told by Encho SANYUTEI. At the time of Myoseki name/title inheritance occurs it is not only blood-relation requirements that are taken into consideration. Various other factors are also considered such as: whether the candidate is appropriately inheriting features of the accomplished art, whether the candidate has dominated the art form, or whether the candidate's demonstrated skill-levels are deserving of the gravity of a Myoseki title/name. In short, genealogical/family tree factors such as blood-line relationships or student-master relationships are only basic considerations. In addition to the master's permission for Mysoeki name title inheritance to proceed, to ascertain whether or not a candidate for Myoseki name/title inheritance is appropriate, it is a common requirement that decisions must be made by Shochiku Co., Ltd., (when involving kabuki), or a theater's owner/master (when rakugo related), and even sometimes in further addition, support is required of the principle figure who goes by the same family name/same teigo (school name). However, blood relatives are often permitted to inherit Myoseki name/titles even though the candidate has not attained set skill levels, in the expectation that the inheritance will spur the candidate on to further develop their artistic proficiency.

It should be noted that in Kabuki or Yose (vaudeville) genres, the number of generations who have inherited Myoseki names/titles is not precise. In the case of rakugo (storytelling) the reasons for the above are there are several periods where no documentary records remain. In some cases, some performers lacked skills as artists and were not counted in the number ordering of successive Myoseki generations. Sometimes, the number order of generations was adjusted to reflect an auspicious/lucky number, and there is a custom of not counting zenza-mei (preliminary names) as Myoseki (conceivably a major inconsistency in defining the numbering of generations). Such an example exists with the present rakugo (storytelling) artist Shota SHUNPUTEI, who became a leader in his genre while preserving his `preliminary` zenza-me. There are other examples where a Myoseki name is somehow determined without seriously taking into consideration the number of generations. There are also examples where precisely identical Myoseki names/titles exist in two different school/troupe lines in the East (Tokyo) and the West (Kyoto and Osaka areas) of Japan (Tokyo and respectively which sometimes causes confusion. In addition, in kabuki there are cases in which an sequential numbering of a Myoseki generation is granted to a (deceased) predecessor posthumously. In much the same way as numbers are `retired` in professional baseball, the eliminating a certain number from a sequence in itself has significance.

Examples where a child inherits a grander Myoseki name/title than the parent.
Myoseki inheritance of name/title due to premature death of a parent (with the exceptions of Fukusuke NAKAMURA V (nick-named `Kei-chan`), Tatsunosuke ONOE etc):

Utaroku III
Kanzaburo XVII
Sarunosuke II
Hikozaburo (VI)
Uzaemon XVII
Baiko VII
Kikugoro VII
Yoshizaburo ARASHI VI
Kunitaro VI
Shozo (inheritance may correspond with him having an `earlier blood-relative`).
Bunji X
Koencho IV
There are also many examples of children cultivating unprecedented Dai-Myoseki (`grand` celebrate names/titles/reputations) (eg: Encho, Ganjiro, Kichiemon: all of them being first in their generational line).

Furthermore, there is a principle regarding brothers of the same family whereby the first son inherits his family's own Myoseki, whereas the second son inherits the Myoseki name/title of another family'. On occasions the younger sibling unexpectedly obtains a higher ranked Myoseki name/rank than the elder sibling.

Samurai families and Myoseki
When an immediate family member or blood-related relative inherits his family name as either a biological or alternatively an adopted son, this process is termed as inheriting the family estate,' whereas, when an unrelated person takes over the family name as son-in-law (by marrying into his wife's family) or as an adopted son, this is sometimes termed 'inheriting a predecessors' Myoseki.'
To differentiate the processes, the terms are used when a person having a different family name changes the blood line of that family by inheriting the family's Myoseki.

From the Kamakura period onwards, when there was no heir to carry on a family's name, sometimes an unrelated person, who sympathized with the family's situation (discontinuation), assumed (`adopted`) the name, and moreover, there were cases where victors who destroyed a family in battle appropriated the vanquished family's name as a trophy.

Moreover, the case of the Hatakeyama clan is a typical example of such a Myoseki inheritance. Shigetada HATAKEYAMA was one household within the Chichibu-Heishi (Taira clan) that could trace its roots back to Emperor Kanmu. When Shigetada was vanquished (along with his sons) by Tokimasa HOJO (Shigetada's father-in-law), Tokimasa forced his daughter (ie. Shigetada's widow) to marry Yoshizumi ASHIKAGA whereupon, Yoshizumi took over the Hatakeyama clan's territory. Accordingly, Yoshizumi's descendents came to be identified as the Hatakeyama clan and changed allegiances from the from Taira clan across to the Minamoto clan.