Kawakami Otojiro (川上音二郎)

Otojiro KAWAKAMI (February 8, 1864 – November 11, 1911) was an actor and an entertainer of Shinpa-Geki (New-School Play) who took the world by storm by his 'Oppekepe-bushi' (Oppekepe songs). His childhood name was Otokichi KAWAKAMI.


1864: He was born in Nakatsumashojimachi, Hakata, Chikuzen Province (present-day Tsumashoji, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City).

1878: As he was on terrible terms with his stepmother, he ran away from home and smuggled himself to Osaka. Although he was found, he ran away again and went to Tokyo. Frequently changing jobs which included being a shosei (a student who is given room and board in exchange for performing domestic duties) of Yukichi FUKUZAWA, Kawakami became a political activist of the anti-government Liberal Party (Japan) which was suppressed by the government.

1887: As the suppression of the Movement for Liberty and People's Rights grew more severe, Otojiro moved from Tokyo to Osaka and campaigned for anti-governmental speeches, and became involved in publication of a newspaper, calling himself Jiyu Doji (Child for Liberty), only to be often arrested.

After this he became an apprentice of a Rakugo (comic) story teller Bunnosuke KATSURA (later Shinzaemon SORORI II) and called himself Marumaru UKIYOTEI. He sang "Oppekepe-bushi" (composed by Tobe Katsura KAMIGATA III) satirizing the world at vaudeville theaters and gained a great reputation.

1891: He launched his shoseishibai (dramas to propagate ideas on liberty and people's rights) at the Unohi-za Theater in Sakai City. He married a popular geisha (Japanese professional female entertainers at drinking parties) Sadayakko KAWAKAMI (her real name was Sada KOYAMA).

1896: He opened the Kawakamiza in Kanda, Tokyo City (Chiyoda Ward).

1898: In March and August he ran for the general election of members of the House of Representatives and the list of the general election of members of the House of Representatives, but failed in both of them. He relinquished Kawakamiza for fund-raising and drifted on a raft with his wife and niece aimlessly, but ended up returning to Shimoda.

1899: He went to the United States and gave performances there.

1900: He performed at the Paris World Exposition (1900). He gained a reputation following his performances in the United States. He returned home in the same year and recorded Oppekepe-bushi (this is said to be the first such recording by a Japanese).

1908: He succeeded as a promoter and opened the Teikoku-za Theater, a Western-style theater, at present-day 4-chome, Kitahama, Chuo Ward, Osaka City. At the same time he founded the Empire Training School for Actresses.

1911: He fell down on the stage and died.


Shugetsu KAWAKAMI was a former actor of Shinpa, like Otojiro, who called himself Motojiro KAWAKAMI. He later performed at vaudeville theaters and earned his livelihood by telling stories, which he called 'Shin Kowa' (new storytelling), about things borrowed from audience members.

After death

1985: "Spring Waves" which depicted his wife Sadayakko KAWAKAMI was broadcast in Taiga dramas (NHK historical dramas) of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). Sadayakko was acted by Keiko MATSUZAKA and Otojiro by Masatoshi NAKAMURA.

A phonograph record of Oppekepe-bushi which was recorded when the Kawakami troupe gave performances in Europe and the United States in 1900 was found, and a CD titled "Revived Oppekepe-bushi" was released by EMI Music Japan in 1997. Unfortunately, however, the natural voices of Otojiro and Sadayakko had not been recorded.

At the side of Nakasukawabata Station of Fukuoka City Subway near the northern entrance of Kawabata Shopping Street in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City, is a bronze statue of Otojiro, facing the Hakata-za Theater across the street.

At the opening of the Theatre Creation in November, 2007, "Otojiro KAWAKAMI Troupe who doesn't know fear," written and staged by Koki MITANI, was performed. The role of Otojiro KAWAKAMI was played by Yusuke SANTAMARIA.

[Original Japanese]