Hanako (actress) (花子 (女優))

Hanako (Real name: Hisa OTA; May 7 1868 to April 2, 1945) was a Japanese actress and dancer who enjoyed a flourishing career in Europe from Meiji period to early Showa period.

At the beginning of the 1900s, she left for Europe by herself, performed as an actress, and played a role to introduce Japan. Also, she was recognized by a sculptor, François-Auguste-René Rodin and became a model for his sculptures. She is a model of the short novel "Hanako" authored by Ogai MORI.


She was born at Kamisofue Village, Nakashima-gun, Owari Province (Bisai City, Aichi Prefecture, presently Ichinomiya City). At the age of 2, she left her parents to live in Nagoya City and at the age of 4, she was adopted to be named Hisa SAKAI.

Partly as a result of the ruin of her family, she was put into a traveling entertainer group. After that she became a maiko (apprentice geisha) in 1880 and a geisha (Japanese professional female entertainer at drinking party) in 1884.

She got miuke(redeem or buy the freedom of a geisha from her employer) in 1888, but divorced in 1898. In the same year, she remarried, but in 1901 she divorced.

In 1902 she left for Copenhagen, Denmark as a member of a traveling entertainer group. It is said that she played the stages of Samurai mono such as 'Bushido' and 'Harakiri'. Taking advantage of the Oriental boom at that time, she toured various places in Europe.

She was discovered by Loie Fuller (a female producer who had Sadayakko KAWAKAMI and Otojiro KAWAKAMI perform at the Paris World Exposition in 1900 to cause a Japan boom to take place) and started on Hanako troupe and became its marquee player. The stage name was determined to be 'Hanako' then. Since then she returned to Japan several times, but continued touring 18 countries including Europe, USA and so on. During the tour, she got married for the third time in 1906, but was widowed in 1910 and changed her name back to Hisa OTA.

The productions which were performed include 'Kyo dolls of Jingoro HIDARI', 'Revenge of Geisha', 'Harakiri' and so on. The performances with full of flaming pathos of a deep-seated grudge and sorrow in the Harakiri scene and emotions in a drama are said to have been appreciated at various places. It is said that around 1912 she taught acting at an acting school in Moscow and that she formed friendship with Constantin Stanislavsky and others of Moscow Arts Theatre.

In 1906 she met François-Auguste-René Rodin and was asked to be the model of sculpture. Since then she served as a model till she returned to Japan. Also it is said that she had such a close friendship with Rodin and his wife as they lived under the same roof. Rodin made some 60 sculptures modeled on Hanako. Two of them were brought back by Hanako.

After returning to Japan, she stayed with her sister in Gifu City. She died in 1945. Her tomb exists in Jodo-ji Temple at Uguisudani, Gifu City.


She was born in 1868.

In 1872 she was adopted by the Sakai family. In 1877 she toured various places as a child actress of a traveling entertainer group. In 1884 she became a geisha in Nagoya.

In 1888 she got married for the first time.

In 1898 she divorced. She got re-married.

In 1901 she divorced.

In 1902 she left for Denmark to be a dancer of entertainment shows at the zoo in Copenhagen. By 1905 she had toured Germany, Turkey, England, and so on.

In 1906 she met Loie Fuller in London. She started on Hanako troupe and became its marquee player. She toured Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, and so on.

In July, 1906 she met Rodin. She was asked to be the model of sculptures.

In August,1906 she disbanded Hanako Troupe. She married with Kaoru YOSHIKAWA.

In 1907 she re-organized Hanako Troupe. By 1909 her troupe had toured America, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria, Austria, and so on.

In 1910 Kaoru YOSHIKAWA died. Rodin published 'The Face of Dead', his first work that was modeled on Hanako. Ogai MORI published a short novel 'Hanako'.

In 1914 the First World War broke out. She stayed in Europe and ran charity shows.

In 1916, due to the worsened war situation, she returned to Japan.

In 1918 she left for England and resumed her performance tour.

In 1921 she returned to Japan. She stayed with her sister in Gifu City and lived in a geisha dwelling.

In 1927 Kotaro TAKAMURA visited her. At that time she was visited by many artists and writers as she used to be a model of Rodin's sculptures.

In 1945 she died of erysipelas. There had been a number of her belongings that reminded her exchanges with Rodin, but most of them were lost in air raids over Gifu.


Her real name was 'OTA Hisa' (the first name of which was written in hiragana, "ひさ"), but the first registration of her birth contained 'OTA Hisa' (the first name of which was written in Kanji, "飛佐"). Furthermore, 'OTA Hisa' (the first name of which was written in katakana, "ヒサ") was written on her passport. There are some literatures describing her stage name as 'OTA Hanako' or "太田花子", but it is said that the stage name was seldom used in reality. However, in some letters to Rodin, her name was described as 'OTA Hana' or '太田ハナ' whose first name is written in Katakana.

Rodin called Hanako 'Petite Hanako' and had her live in his residence when she was not on performance tour. As expressed by the nickname, 'Petite Hanako' (Small Hanako), she was small, 138 centimeters tall.

Ogai MORI was not personally acquainted with Hanako. The short novel, 'Hanako' was written based on what was heard from the interpreter between Rodin and Hanako, who happened to be the private tutor of Ogai MORI's son (Oto MORI).

The works modeled on Hanako can be seen at Niigata City Museum ('The face of Death, Hanako', and 'Fantasizing Woman, Hanako').

[Original Japanese]