The Konparu school (金春流)

The Konparu school (in the original meaning of its Chinese characters, "golden spring") is one of the schools of Noh.
In the old literature, it is also written 'Konparu (literally, the present spring).'
There are schools for the shite (a Noh protagonist) and for the drummers. There used to be Konparu school for the drummers, but it became extinct in the Meiji period.

The shite
According to a legend, the founder was said to be HATA no Kawakatsu, who was a retainer of Prince Shotoku, but in actual fact, the origin of the school is considered to have been from the Enmani troupe, one of the four Sarugaku groups from Yamato (Yamato Sarugaku yoza) that served the Kasuga Taisha Shrine and the Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara in the early Muromachi period. The basic methods of the school were established by Bishao Gon no Kami, who was a particularly standout Tayu (leading actor in a Noh play) in the troupe, and his son Gon no Kami Konparu, then went through a dramatic deepening at the time of Gon no Kami's grandson, Zenchiku KONPARU (the fifty-seventh head of the school). The school is classified into the shimo-gakari (the Konparu, Kongo and Kita schools).

Legend of the foundation of the Enmani troupe

Zenchiku wrote/composed "Meishuku shu" based on the stories that had been handed down in his family, and described the origins of sarugaku in it.

According to 'Meishuku shu', the founder of sarugaku (the prototype of the Noh play and kyogen farce) in Japan is said to have been HATA no Kawakatsu, a court favorite of Prince Shotoku. While Kawakatsu followed the prince and rendered distinguished services such as destroying Moriya MONONOBE, he also performed some sarugaku plays to pray for a period of peace and tranquility under the prince's rule.
(Zenchiku regarded Kawakatsu as the incarnation of 'Okina' (old man), and also considered him to be the First Emperor, Shi Huangdi, reborn.)
After that, it is said that the youngest son among the three sons of Kawakatsu carried on the art of sarugaku and handed it down from generation to generation, and their descendant HATA no Ujiyasu performed 'Okina' (old man) at the Shishinden (The Throne Hall) in the reign of Emperor Murakami. It is said that this Ujiyasu became the restorer of the Enmani troupe, and that his successors, from generation to generation up to Zenchiku, played a major role as sarugaku performers.

The activities of Zenchiku KONPARU
The Konparu and Kongo schools were based in Nara for a long time, and remained there even after Kanami and others moved on to Kyoto, but they were gradually expanding into Kyoto since the days of Zenchiku. Zenchiku, who had studied under Zeami and become his son-in-law, inherited books of secrets such as 'Shugyoku Tokka (Finding Gems and Gaining the Flower)' and 'Kakyo (A Mirror Held to the Flower)' from Zeami, and his performances became popular among men of letters of the time. Zenchiku was also a great playwright and produced a series of excellent works such as 'Teika', 'Basho' and 'Kakitsubata', which are still performed today. Furthermore, he also greatly influenced future generations in the field of treatises on art centered on 'the theory of Rokurin ichiro' (The Six Wheels and the Dew Drop).

In the sarugaku world after Zeami's death, the Konparu school with Zenchiku as the central figure became widely popular and extremely powerful. Zenpo KONPARU (the fifty-ninth head), the grandson of Zenchiku, played an especially important role during this period.
Zenpo was the playwright who played a pivotal role in making furyu (spectacle) Noh popular, writing 'Ikuta Atsumori' and 'Hatsuyuki.'

The golden days
The zenith of the Konparu school came at the end of the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States, Japan), especially after the national unification by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. Because Hideyoshi studied Noh under Yasuteru KONPARU (the sixty-second head), the Konparu school had played a pivotal role in official Noh performances, and it was sought after by local warriors as a method with official approval by the government. The so-called 'Taiko Noh' (retired regent Noh), written by and starring Hideyoshi, were also choreographed by Yasuteru. Yasuteru was said to have an unfavorable appearance--a man of small build with an unattractive face, however, the profound style of his performance overwhelmed the Noh world and he left a lot of treatises and choreographies, and was one of the leading Tayu at that time.

The other leading performer of the Konparu school at that time that can be mentioned was Nakataka SHIMOTSUMA. Also known as Shojin, he, a bokan (a residential retainer) serving at Hongan-ji Temple, was a top-ranking te-sarugaku (amateur Noh) performer who had studied under Yoshikatsu KONPARU (also known as Gyuren, the father of Yasuteru, the sixty-first head). He took some local daimyo (feudal lord) as his pupils, and as a performer in the Konparu school, he revived an old classic, 'Seki-dera Komachi (Komachi at Seki-dera),' which had ceased to be performed for a long time, and left 'Dobusho' (Comments on Noh Plays).

During the early-modern era
Even after the founding of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the influence of the Konparu school was recognized and the school was given the second position among the four Noh schools, next to the Kanze school, but it fell into a period of decline for being tied too closely to the Toyotomi family. On the other hand, the Kanze school found favor with Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the Kita school with Hidetada TOKUGAWA, and the Hosho school with Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, and each became popular among local daimyo due to such influence.

During this period, the Konparu school was closely connected with Nara, and was unique in being granted land (the other schools were given Fuchi mai, an allowance in rice), and in performing takigi Noh (firelight Noh, performed by the light of torches or bonfires), while the other schools were reducing their ties to Kofuku-ji Temple. Among ritual Shinto Okina performances held at local shrines, not a few show the influence of the Konparu school. Also the school was economically powerful enough that it issued paper currency called Konparu-satsu (Konparu bills) in their lands in Yamato in the last days of Tokugawa Shogunate. However, these Konparu bills became worthless during the chaotic situation after the Meiji Restoration, and became one of the reasons behind the Konparu family's economic downfall.

After the Meiji Restoration
Although the head Konparu family just barely continued to perform Noh in Nara and a few other places after the Meiji Restoration, Banma (later Sajin) SAKURAMA had some success during this time of crisis for the school and was admired as one of the 'three masters of Meiji,' being equal to Kuro HOSHO and Minoru UMEWAKA. The Sakurama family, which had served the Hosokawa family of the Kumamoto domain, left for Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration. While the art of Noh itself faced extinction and a difficult time when stages, costumes and masks to perform were not as available as they had been, he continued to perform Noh with the aid of Kuro Tomoharu HOSHO and others and protected the lone base of the Konparu school in Tokyo.

After this, in addition to Michio SAKURAMA, Nobutaka KONPARU, the eldest son of the seventy-eighth head Mitsutaro (Hachijo) KONPARU, left for Tokyo, and they tried to restore the declining school together with his uncle Eijiro who stayed in Nara (the seventy-seventh head). Nobutaka, who succeeded as the seventy-ninth head, revised their utai-bon (singing texts) which had been less developed than those of other schools (the Showa versions), and strove to increase the current Noh repertory by reviving old pieces.
(The number of Noh works performed by the Konparu school were the fewest among the five Noh schools, only 153 in the last year of the Taisho period. In addition, they did not include many secret or popular pieces such as 'Obasute' and 'Kinuta', and that was one of the chief causes of the school's difficulties.)
He carried out many reforms such as actively approving female Noh actors.

The current situation

Nowadays the shite Konparu school is active at its bases in Tokyo, Nara, Kumamoto and Nagoya, and more than 100 of its actors are enrolled in the Nohgaku Performers' Association. Both the Kata (choreography) and utai (Noh chant) strongly retain features specific to shimo-gakari, and its style has a reputation for being the most archaic among the five schools. The current eightieth head of the school is Yasuaki KONPARU, the eldest son of Nobutaka.

Drummers' school

The Konparu school for drum performers was founded by Saburoemon, the son of the drummer Mataemon KONPARU, after studying under Genemon OKURA, the fifth head of the Okura school. It was discontinued after the Meiji period.

The schools for drum performers
The founder of the Konparu School for drum performers (also known as the Soemon-ryu school) was Toyouji KONPARU (? - 1458), the uncle of Zenchiku KONPARU.
The headship, as a drummer attached to the Konparu troupe, was handed down in the family from generation to generation, and the second head Katsukuni KONPARU (the nephew of Toyouji) also did a good job as a playwright, with works such as 'Kibistu no miya.'

Handing down methods from father to son had increased since the late Muromachi period, when the members' roles inside the troupe became traditional, and two of the heads are known as striking masters: the third head Katsuuji (the son of Toyouji) about whom a lot of anecdotes are seen in "Yoza yakusha mokuroku (Catalog of Actors of the Four Noh Troupes)", and the fourth head Ujishige (the son of Katsuuji) who accompanied Zenpo and Ujiaki KONPARU on their stage and was appointed to Gon no kami. At the time of the fifth head Naganori (Soi), he changed his name to Soemon KAWAI, and after the sixth head Ippo (Sogan) started serving Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the school was the one exclusively attached to the Konparu troupe in the name of the Soemon-ryu school during the Edo period.

The line of the head family broke off once when the art of Noh was in its twilight after the Meiji Restoration, but Sentaro MASUMI who left for Tokyo from Kumamoto preserved the school's lone base and raised many younger performers. Then, the son of MASUMI, Rintaro, revived the head family in 1917, and took the name of KONPARU Soemon Kuniyasu (the twenty-first head), busily engaging in his work with Toyoji KAKIMOTO (Living National Treasure). The present head (the twenty-second head) of the school is KONPARU Soemon Kuninaga (Living National Treasure), the son of Kuniyasu. About twenty performers are enrolled the Nohgaku Performers' Association.

It is said that the original style was simple and strong, but modern buoyant way was added by the twenty-first head Soemon. Compared with the Kanze school, the characteristics of the school are using their sticks softly and using many kakegoe (calls) during the play. The scores for the drums themselves are dense and complicated, and in general, tend to give a brilliant impression.

Mataemon-ryu (Konparu Mataemon school)

The Konparu Mataemon-ryu, Konparu Mataemon school was a method of drum performance by a branch of Soemon family. It was also called the Sanemon-ryu school.
The founder, Mataemon, was the nephew of Gyuren KONPARU and studied under Yozaemon JIGA, and he was also famous for inventing a stand to put a drum on that was called a 'Mataemon stand.'

He served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, then later became a performer attached to the Kanze school by order and temporarily changed his last name to 'Kanze.'
In the late Edo period, the head also took the name 'Yozaemon KANZE.'

It has belonged to the methods and style of the Kanze school since the founder, and is completely different from the drums of the Konparu school. It has been discontinued now.

[Original Japanese]