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Actors' names and crests

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The art of the Kabuki theatre was handed down to successive generations of actors to refine and develop, and the continuity of acting traditions was reflected in their use of the same stage names. Within a family of actors, the stage name indicated the rank and relative skill of the individual using it.

In the course of his career an actor might progress from one stage name to another. Thus the name Ichikawa Danjuro VII indicates the seventh actor of the Ichikawa family to bear the stage name Danjuro. In 1832, midway through his career, Ichikawa Danjuro VII passed that stage name on to his son (who performed as Ichikawa Danjuro VIII and himself assumed another stage name much revered in the Ichikawa family Ebizo to perform as Ichikawa Ebizo V.

Each actor also had a ‘shop name’ (yago), which was a nickname shouted out by fans to encourage him during a performance. The shop name linked to the stage name Danjuro was Naritaya. Each actor also had a name with which he signed his poetry (haigo). The poetry names linked to the stage name Danjuro were Sansho and Hakuen.
Along with the family name (sei) the actor inherited a type of crest (mon) which, when it is seen on his costume, helps to identify him. For instance, the Ichikawa family crest was a triple rice-measure (mimasu) a square-within-a-square-within-a-square.

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Organised for Japan 2001

The Fitzwilliam Museum is especially grateful to John Carpenter, Tim Clark, Paul M. Griffith, Hideyuki Iwata and Ellis Tinios for their generous help during the preparation of this exhibition.

Funded by Japan 2001