Kawakami Sadayakko (川上貞奴)

Sadayakko KAWAKAMI (real name Sada KAWAKAMI [maiden name; Koyama], September 2, 1871 - December 7, 1946) was an actress in the Meiji to Showa era.


She was born the twelfth child of a pawnshop owner Echigoya in Nihonbashi, Tokyo Metropolis. She became an adopted daughter of Kamekichi HAMADAYA, who was a proprietress of a geisha dwelling 'Hamadaya' in Yoshicho, when she was seven years old, as her house fell. She was given the traditional name 'Yakko' and succeeded to a professional name of 'Sadayakko'. She attended a Japanese-style banquet as a geigi (a geisha). She was unrivalled in arts of Classical Japanese dancing and was very famous for having both intelligence and beauty. Sadayakko was favored by outstanding statesmen, including Kinmochi SAIONJI and Hirobumi ITO, the Prime Minister of the time, and she became the best geigi in Japan in both nominally and readily.

In 1894, she married Otojiro KAWAKAMI who was a performer of student play (shosei shibai) as well as an activist of the movement for liberty and people's rights. However, at first she had a hard time and financial difficulty as Otojiro was unsuccessful twice in an election of the House of Representatives. In 1898, they even tried to escape overseas, taking a boat from the Tsukiji fish market. The plan failed and they were cast up on Awaji-shima Island, having narrowly escaped death.

In 1899, she accompanied an America tour of theatrical company of Otojiro KAWAKAMI. She acted as a substitute for an actor of a female role and became the first Japanese actress, as the actor of the female role died during a performance in San Francisco (also said as the promoter disallowed him, saying 'a female role should be played by a female and an actor playing female role is not acceptable'). However they fell the victims when the promoter ran away with all the performance funds, so they were left with no money in a foreign country. They were on the verge of starvation and arrived at next performance site, Chicago, in desperation. They were in extreme exhaustion and hunger, and their unearthly performance (partly because an actor fell from hunger and audience mistook it as acting) won great popularity from the audience. The performance received unprecedented popularity in Europe and America in no time as exotic Classical Japanese dance and the beauty of Sadayakko achieved reputation.

In 1900, after theatrical company of Otojiro performed in London, they visited the Paris World Exposition (1900) in Paris and performed at the Loie Fuller theater located at the venue of the Expo (they did not get permission from the Japan office). A sculptor François-Auguste-René Rodin was invited to the premiere of a play, on July 4. There is an anecdote that Rodin was mesmerized by Sadayakko and he asked that he would like to create her sculpture, but Sadayakko declined the offer as she did not have time, not knowing the fame of Rodin.
In August, she was invited to in a garden party held by the President of the time Emile Loubet in his official residence and danced 'Dojo-ji.'
The wife of the President offered her hand to Sadayakko and they walked the garden of official residence of the President together. And thus she became famous with name of 'Madame Sadayakko' in a single bound.

Kimono-like 'Yakko Dress' came into fashion under the influence of Sadayakko who entered the society circles of Paris. Claude Debussy, André Gide and Pablo Picasso expressed great admiration for her acting and the French Government awarded her オフィシェ・ダ・アカデミー勲章.

In 1908, she founded the Empire Actress Training Institute with Otojiro to train younger actress.

In 1911, Otojiro died from illness. Although she continued her performance activities according to his last wish, she came under a blistering attack from the theatrical circles and journalism. Shortly Sadayakko performed large-scale retirement performance and left the stage as "the first actress of modern times in Japan."

Her relationship with a businessman Momosuke FUKUZAWA (original name; Iwasaki), who was called as 'an electricity magnate' and an adopted son-in-law of Yukichi FUKUZAWA, also made a stir. The beginning of their relationship went back to 1885. They fell in love as Momosuke, who was a student then, helped Sada when she was attacked by homeless dogs during horse riding. One year later Momosuke got married to the second daughter of Yukichi, Fusa, for political reasons. After that Sadayakko and Momosuke spent a long time in separation. However after she retired as an actress, Sadayakko and Momosuke, with whom she ended a tragic love once before, were united. She supported Momosuke in both business and real life, and they lived happily ever after. They appeared to public side by side. When Momosuke ventured the construction of Oi dam, Sadayakko rode her red bike to visit the site and went down alone to the floor of a valley following Momosuke, while other employees hesitated.

Around 1920, they started to live together. Their residence in Nagoya City was called 'Futaba Goten' and became a salon where many famous people from various fields, including politics and finances, gathered.
Presently the residence was restored and reconstructed as the 'Cultural Path Futaba Museum.'

When a novelist Shigure HASEGAWA saw Momosuke and Sadayakko at an early old age, in surprise he described them as 'they are still like a pair of lovers who enjoy dreamlike love.'

Their romance was dramatized in 1985 as "Haru no Hato" (Spring waves) in Taiga-drama (NHK Historical Drama), Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).

In 1946, she died from pancreatic cancer. She was seventy-five. She was buried in Teisho-ji Temple.


In 1871, she was born to Kyujiro and Taka KOYAMA.
Real name: Sada KOYAMA

In 1878, she became an adopted daughter of Kamekichi HAMADAYA
In 1891, she got married to Otojiro KAWAKAMI
In 1899, she went on tour in the United States of America
In 1900, she performed at the Paris World Exposition (1900)
In 1901, she went on tour in Europe
In 1901, her adoptive mother Kame HAMADA passed away
In 1901, she went to France.
She visited theaters and actress training institutes in France

In 1908, she founded the Empire Actress Training Institute in Shiba (Minato Ward, Tokyo Metropolis), Tokyo
In 1911, her husband Otojiro passed away
In 1917, she retired as an actress
In 1918, she founded 'Kawakami Silk Fabric Co., Ltd' in Ozone, Kita Ward, Nagoya City
In 1924, she founded Kawakami Kids Theatrical Company (- 1932)
In 1933, she erected Teisho-ji Temple in Unuma, Kagamihara City, Gifu Prefecture and entered a monastery
She built a villa 'Banshoen' in front of the gate

In 1938, Momosuke FUKUZAWA passed away
In 1946, she died at a villa in Atami
In 2005, restoration and reconstruction of 'Futaba Goten' has completed.
It was opened as the 'Cultural Path Futaba Museum.'

[Original Japanese]