Kannami (観阿弥)

Kanami or Kannami (1333 - June 16, 1384 (May 19, 1384 by the old calendar)) was a sarugakushi (a performer of sarugaku, a form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) from the Period of the Northern and Southern Dynasty to the Muromachi Period. Together with his son, Zeami, he attained fame in the art of Noh. His name was Seiji. His posthumous Buddhist name of the Jishu Sect was kanamidabutsu (the posthumous Buddhist name for male followers of the Jishu Sect was Amidanyorai go). Kan originated from KANZE (sect for Sarugaku). His shortened name was Kannami, and this name appeared in records as KANZE Dayu (name given to the leader of a theatrical company), or Kannami and Kana. He was the patriarch of the Kanze family.

The 26th head of the Kanze family, Kiyokazu KANZE, is commemorated with a monument at Shizuoka Asama-jinja Shrine in Miyagasaki Town, Aoi Ward, Shizuoka City, which was the place where Kannami staged his last performance.

Brief Personal History

There are several theories about Kannami's place of origin, including some legends, which will be explained later.

In the beginning, he was a member of Yuzaki troupe of the Yamato-sarugaku Shiza company performing shinjino (sacred Noh dance) at Kofuku-ji Temple and the Kasuga-taisha Grand Shrine, and he gave performances in Yamato and nearby regions. In about 1370, he organized his own company and brought his group to perform at Daigo-ji Temple, in faraway Kyoto City.

At the time, dengaku (ritual music and dance at shrines and temples, rice dances, and rice festivals) was more popular than sarugaku (form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries), and men of power such as Takauji ASHIKAGA supported dengaku. In 1375 (some believe that it may have been 1374), Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA enjoyed the sarugaku noh performed by Kannami and his son Zeami at Imakumano, Kyoto so much so that sarugaku won the patronage of the shogun, powerful samurai families, and noble courts; and the Kanze company led by Kannami was considered a retainer to bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

Thereafter, he spent his life performing in different areas in and around Kyoto, and providing Takigi sarugaku (sarugaku performed in the light of bonfire) at Kofuku-ji temple in Yamato area. In 1384, he died after performing at the Shizuoka Asama-jinja Shrine in Suruga Province.


The reason the Kanze company won popularity was because the company added new attractions, such as elegant dengaku and Kusemai (fan dance to the sound of taiko drums) that was popular in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts to Yamato Sarugaku's specialty, the impersonations, which attracted the hearts of the audience.

Kannami's achievements are detailed in the record left by Zeami; "Kannami had a large build, but he was elegant when performing a woman's role," "he delivered an outstanding performance as a demon in the traditional Yamato sarugaku," and "he was loved by nobles and commoners" (synopsis). There is no written record by Kannami; however, Zeami succeeded as the head of the Kanze-za company and put into writing for future generations all he learned from his father. Books written by Zeami were greatly influenced by the ideas and actions of Kannami.

Kannami left many great works, including 'Jinen koji (Noh),' 'Komachi (today revised as Sotoba Komachi)' and 'Shiinoshosho (today revised as Kayoi Komachi)," which have all been revised and no longer exist in original form. Fushimi (currently revised as Kinsatsu),' 'Eguchi (Noh)' and 'Matsukaze (Noh)' are some of the works for which Kannami composed music.

Kannami's works featured lively conversation and enjoyable songs and dance. The vitality of the pioneer days of sarugaku, before Noh moved in the direction of subtle and profound taste, can be seen through his works.

Kannami's place of origin

According to '{Zeshi rokuju igo Sarugaku dangi}' written by Kannami's son, Zeami, Kannami's grandfather was born into the Hattori clan of Iga Province and was adopted by Nakaya in the Uda region, and Kannami's father was born from the union between him and a woman in Kyoto. Kannami's father was adopted by the Yamada sarugaku company in Yamato, and his mother was also a member of the Yamato sarugaku company who had come from the Sotoyama no za company.
According to the book, Kannami's eldest brother was Tayu HOSHO, and his older brother was Seiichi, both of whom were involved in Yamato Sarugaku

In the eulogy written on the portrait of Nobumitsu KANZEKOJIRO, who was Kannami's great grandson, there is an inscription of a legendary story as follows. In short, Kannami's father, who was the samurai of the Hattori clan in Iga, received a message from Kasuga Myoujin (the deity of Kasuga-ji Shrine) to "have your son serve god as a musical performer" and because of this he had his third son, Kannami, change his name to Uzaki and offered him to Kasuga Myojin.

However, according to a Ueshima family record (written copy of the document from the end of the Edo Period) that was found in 1962 in the possession of an old family in Ueno City, Mie (today Iga City), stated that Kannami was the third son of Gensei UESHIMA of the Iga Hattori clan, and his mother was Masashige KUSUNOKI's sister. That means that Kannami was Masashige's nephew. There is debate as to the validity of the Ueshima family document; however, a Hanshu (old name for part of Hyogo) Nagatomi family document which was found later coincides in content, supporting the opinion that the document is indeed valid. Based on this theory, the descendent of the Nagatomi family erected a statue of Kannami's wife (Zeami's mother) in Ueno City (Iga City today) in 1975.

Another prevailing opinion is that the name Kannami in the Ueshima family tree could have been added at a later date and that a document from the time Kannami lived would be needed to determine its validity. Until such a document is uncovered, as Kannami's son, Zeami, wrote in the 'Sarugaku Dangi,' Kannami is most likely the third son of Taifu Yamada.

As of 2006, it can only be said that the relation between Kannami and Masashige KUSUNOKI is unknown.

Outstanding Works

Jinenkoji (Noh)

[Original Japanese]