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Great Masters

Shinsaku Hōshō (1836-1898)

Famous Waki Actor who Established Meiji Era Noh

Shinsaku Hōshō, whose real name is said to have been Tarō Kise, was the eighth-generation head of the shimogakari Hōshō school. Born in the Edo era, he was active until midway through the Meiji era, and supported the role of the waki through his artistic skill. Born in 1836 (Tenpo 7), he was taught by his famous grandfather, Shinnojō Hōshō, acquiring the traditional form of the shimogakari Hōshō school. He devoted himself to the style of Noh encouraged by the Edo era shogunate, playing important roles and becoming one of the most renowned performers by the end of the rule of the shogunate.

Shinsaku Hōshō continued to perform despite the difficult times faced by nohgaku in the Meiji period, becoming even more popular despite the challenges of the time. His stage presence outshone the performance of shite actors, and some were even said to refuse to perform on the same stage with him. Some Noh elders even claim he was even more adept than the three most famous shite actors of the Meiji era.

Shinsaku Hōshō gave legendary performances at the Shiba Nohgakudō, one of the centers of Meiji era nohgaku. During his performance of the waki role in the play Danpū* to a full theater, the audience feel completely silent, spellbound by the beauty of his performance. During one of the costume changes, the costume is said to have appeared to have been as heavy as actual human remains.

The majestic nature, subtlety and scale of Shinsaku’s Noh is said to have resulted from the full development of natural born talent. He had quite a personality, and those whom he instructed said he also had a very serious approach to rehearsal. His intensely disciplined approach to rehearsal is reflected in the following story. He was practicing stepping in the hallway of a home where he had gone to teach. When the owner of the home, thinking he may have mistakenly entered his home, asked him what he was doing there, he said that he was practicing, as his own home was too small.

Shinsaku died in 1898 (Meiji 31). As his wife and children died early and he did not remarry, his younger brother Kingorō was adopted to take over as head of the family. Kingorō was also an expert Noh actor who was said to have even more drive than Shinsaku. Kingorō’s son, Shinsaku’s grandson, Arata (or Shin) Hōshō (in reality his nephew) was active in the Meiji, Taisei and Showa eras, carrying on the subtle and profound artistic style of Shinsaku.

Shinsaku was also closely acquainted with Kyoshi Takahama and Hekigoto Kawahigashi during their younger years. Shinsaku was celebrated by the literati of the day, whose writings about his art and personality still remain.

* Danpū: Danpū is the story of Umewaka, who studied under an Ajari (a senior Buddhist monk who teaches students) and witnessed his father’s execution after going to visit him. He is then helped by the Ajari to avenge his father. Ajari is the waki role in Danpū, who wears the bones of his deceased father during the funeral ceremony.

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