Kanze Motomasa (観世元雅)

Motomasa KANZE (1394 or around 1401 - August 26, 1432) was a playwright and an actor of Noh (traditional masked dance-drama) during the Muromachi period. He was commonly called Juro. His original name was Mototsugu. His posthumous name (Japan) was Zenshun. He was regarded as the first son of Zeami, and his younger brother was Motoyoshi KANZE who wrote "Sarugaku dangi" (lecture about Sarugaku (form of theater becoming the basis for Noh)).


He was born as the third leader of Kanze theater following his grandfather, Kanami, and his father, Zeami, who made the art of sarugaku (form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) sophisticated and perfected the art of Noh. Apparently Zeami adopted his nephew, Saburo Motoshige (later Onami) before Motomasa was born, and Motomasa practiced the art together with his older brother under the guidance of their father; as potential successors to the father.

In 1418, Zeami handed down to 'Mototsugu' 'Besshi Kuden' (A Separate Secret Teaching), Chapter 7 of "Fushikaden" (The Flowering Spirit) written by himself. Because this name, Mototsugu, is not found in other records, it is generally considered a previous name of Motomasa; however, there are other opinions including that Mototsugu was an older brother of Motomasa, Mototsugu was in fact Shiro (a father of Onami) who was a younger brother of Zeami, or that Mototsugu was the same person as 'Goro KANZE' recorded as a person who performed with Onami.

In around 1422, Motomasa seemed to succeed to the position of Kanze-dayu from his father (however, the later Kanze school does not count Motomasa among the past leaders). However, Zeami was still around at that time and assisted young Motomasa, and people still considered Zeami was a key person of the Kanze theater group. The reliable records of Noh performances show Zeami's famous activities of participation in Takigi-noh (Noh theater performed at night by a fire) held at Kofuku-ji Temple in 1427 and 1429, performance of Sarugaku at a festival held at Seiryo-gu Shrine of Daigo-ji Temple in 1428, performance of Sarugaku held at Kasagake Baba (a horse-riding ground for arrow shooting) of the Muromachi Imperial Palace in 1429, and performance of Noh held at the Shogun's palace in 1432. Zeami performed a dance in a play called 'Hojo-gawa River' in Takigi-sarugaku (Sarugaku performed at night by a fire) held in 1429, and also performed a dance in a play called 'Ichitani senjin' in Tonomine-yo tachiai sarugaku (joint performance of Tonomine-style Sarugaku) with Onami held at Kasagake Baba in the same year.

Motomasa was as talented as Zeami; however, he did not have a spectacular career commensurate with his talent. This is because Onami who acted independently of Zeami and his son, was favored by the Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") Yoshinori ASHIKAGA. As shown by the fact that the Noh performance to be held at the Sento Imperial Palace in 1429 was cancelled by Yoshinori who favored Onami, Zeami and Motomasa were out of favor. Motomasa seems to have continued his activities without losing his sense of mission even under such circumstances, and masks offered to Tenkawa Daibenzaiten-sha Shrine in Yoshino in Yamato Province survive to this day. However, Motomasa, unable to overcome his hardships, suddenly died in his thirties in Anotsu in Ise Province while traveling for performances, before he could fully exercise his talent.

Another opinion about the cause of his death is that he was involved in a political confrontation and assassinated as Motomasa was close to the side of the Southern Court (Japan) in his latter years because the power of the Southern Court was strong at both of the aforementioned places, Tenkawa Shrine and Ise at the time.
According to so-called 'kamijima-ke bunsho' (Documents of the Kamijima family), Motomasa was assassinated by the 'Shiba clan.'

Although Motomasa was young, Zeami praised him profusely saying, 'he is a specialist although he is my son,' and 'he is more proficient than Kanami,' and Motomasa was the best successor who 'could record and hand down all inherited secret teachings and esoteric points' and 'perfectly mastered the esoteric points.'
Since the remaining works show that his talent was extraordinary, it is really regrettable that he died at his 'peak' in his mid thirties.. Therefore, it is also said that had he lived longer, subsequent Noh would have been further developed in diverse ways.

The only child of Motomasa referred to himself as Juro KANZE later, and was active as a performer of Sarugaku. It is said that Juro KANZE's child was also an actor of Sarugaku, but a direct line from Zeami died out after this grandson Motomasa (refer to Ochi Kanze).

Relationship with his father

"Sarugaku dangi" (Section 3) has a description that Motomasa had a conflict of opinion with his father over the stage direction of 'Noh Sumida-gawa River' written by Motomasa. Since the climax of this drama was that a mother losing her child was visited by an apparition of her dead child for a moment, Motomasa insisted on in fact having a child actor play the apparition on stage, but Zeami opposed this idea.
Motomasa firmly denied his father's stage direction by saying 'it was totally impossible to do it.'

The section about Motomasa in "Yoza yakusha mokuroku" (list of actors in four Noh performance groups) established in the Edo period mentions as follows.

Juro Motomasa was a son of Zeami. Ona was born before Motomasa. He was called Ochi. There is a description that his name was Ochi. This was because he lived in a place called Ochi in Yamato. He was disowned by Zeami. He was a Noh playwright. Some people say that the reason why he was called Ochi (which means to go down) was because he went down to Kanto after a disagreement with Zeami.

And, the section about Zeami has a description as follows.

As Zeami respected his stepson, Zenchiku, more than his own son, Juro Daifu, and gave Zenchiku good lessons on the chanting of Noh text, Zeami was exiled to Sado Province against the will of the shogun's representative.

The above introduces a story that Motomasa was disowned due to disagreement with his father, and went down to Kanto, but because Zeami favored his daughter's husband, Zenchiku KOMPARU, and took his own son lightly, Zeami was banished to Sado. The contents of this story itself are false, but, in any case, taking into account the episode of 'the Sumida-gawa River,' it appears that the father and son had a tense relationship as Noh actors.

Meanwhile, it is true that Zeami looked very much to him as the successor to the Kanze theater. In fact, Zeami wrote the "Kakyo" (the Mirror of the Flower), a theory of Nogaku (noh music) following "Fushikaden," for Motomasa who was the successor as the leader of the Kanze group, and it is believed that many writings with no specification of recipient were handed down to Motomasa. In response to Zeami's expectations, Motomasa is said to have 'attained Buddhahood' in his twilight years. However, Motomasa eventually died young, and Zeami wrote "Museki Isshi (A Page of the Remnant of a Dream) when mourning Motomasa's death. The loss of a successor was a matter of deep regret for Zeami who was over 70 years old, and in the year following the death, Zeami was banished to Sado in frustration.


Motomasa's Noh had elegant style by containing both the dramatic factors of his grandfather, Kanami, and the subtle and profound factors of his father, Zeami, and showed his exceptional talent by including a new original taste. Some people say that Motomasa denied the style of Zeami which reveals illusional salvation existing among people, and attained to show anxiety deriving from existential philosophy. The following writings are thought to have been written by Motomasa.

Noh Sumida-gawa River

Yoroboshi (The Beggar and His Saviour)

Utaura (Poem Divining)


Mt. Yoshino

In addition to the above, 'Tomonaga,' 'Koremori' and 'Tsunemori' were believed to have been written by Motomasa.


Ochi-Kanze or the Ochi-Kanze group was founded by a son of Motomasa, 'Juro dayu,' and was a branch school of the Kanze group which carried out activities over the middle of the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period (period of warring states). This branch school was called Ochi-Kanze later because it was based in Yamato Province, and especially because Juro dayu (the third) carried out activities under the protection of the Ochi clan.

Under circumstances where family members of Onami succeeded to Kanze-dayu thereafter, Ochi-Kanze carried out activities as a quasi-independent group in the Kanze theater. "Yoza yakusha mokuroku" (Catalog of Actors of the Four Noh Troupes) specified the founder of Ochi-Kanze as Motomasa. Motomasa actually found his way into a provincial tour during the dark days; however, it was after Motomasa's death that a troupe of touring actors became an independent group, 'Ochi-Kanze,' and it is believed now that the founder of Ochi-Kanze, 'Juro dayu KANZE,' was not Motomasa but the son with the same name.

There remains a record that this child of Motomasa, Juro KANZE, played Noh for a coming-of-age celebration for boys in front of the shrine building of Hachiman-gu Shrine of Todai-ji Temple on August 14, 1447, and this child is considered to have been an infant under five years old when Motomasa died. This is why the group in a direct line from Zeami was finished after Motomasa died; however, it is believed that as this Juro dayu grew up, he carried out activities based on Yamato which was a place remembered in connection with his father, with the support of Motomasa's younger brother, Motoyoshi KANZE (scribe of "Sarugaku dangi" (An Account of Zeami's Reflections on Art)), and Motoyoshi's son, Saburo, and the Juni family (branch of the Honami family) who was close to the Kanze group and was an influential Sarugaku performer.

There remain records about Juro that all of his activities were carried out in Nara such as participation in Takigi-sarugaku with Onami held at Kofuku-ji Temple Daijo-in in 1457, performance of the role of 'Tsurujiro' as a member of the Kanze theater in Noh jointly performed by four groups held in 1465 when Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA visited Nanto, and a Noh performance held at Kofuku-ji Temple Chu-in in 1479. Beyond activities as a member of the Kanze group, Juro performed Noh performances held to raise subscriptions for the construction of shrines or temples at Omi Hyakusai-kyoji Temple in April 1477, and traveled for performances in 1464 and 1481. As mentioned in above, Juro carried out activities independently from the Onami group which conducted activities mainly in Kyoto.

Literature from that time has a description that Juro was referred to as 'Soryo no Fujiwaka (heir of Fujiwaka), Kanze dayu,' and shows that this Juro was regarded as a main branch of the Kanze family by Kofuku-ji Temple which was a traditional patron of four Sarugaku performance groups in the Yamato Province, and also succeeded to 'Fujiwaka,' a childhood name of his grandfather, Zeami. Juro also seems to have composed several Yokyoku (Noh songs).

The Ochi-Kanze group temporarily broke up when Juro died in his fifties in February 1483; however, in 1497 fourteen years later, his son participated in Takigi noh. No records other than this remain about this second leader, but the bloodline of Motomasa seems to have died out after his generation.

After his death, Kanze Dayu (the sixth), Motohiro KANZE, let his second son revive the Ochi-Kanze family. This third Juro dayu under the aegis of the Ochi clan was called Ochi dayu.
It is considered that the group in a line from Motomasa was later named 'Ochi-Kanze.'
This third Juro dayu who moved down to Suruga Province was protected by the Imagawa clan, and was also called Suruga Juro dayu. At this time, he became a Noh teacher for Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, and presented Ieyasu with Zeami Densho (Zeami's writings) including "Fushikaden" and "Sarugaku dangi" which had been handed down from Motomasa. These writings were also handed down to Soke (the head of a family or house) through Juro dayu the third.

Although Ochi-Kanze soon died, he had played an important role in history by creating an opportunity to approach the Tokugawa family for the Kanze group, and handing Zeami's writings down to posterity.

[Original Japanese]