Zeami (世阿弥)

Zeami (Zeami or Seami, (before the change of name) Ze-amidabutsu, 1363(?) (September 10, 1443{?}) was a Sarugaku (form of theater becoming the basis for Noh) performer in the Muromachi period.

In cooperation with his father, Kanami (Kan-amidabutsu), Zeami perfected Sarugaku (present Noh) and left many books. The Noh practiced by Zeami and Kanami has been passed down to modernity as the Kanze-ryu (Kanze school).

His childhood name was Oni-yasha and Yoshimoto NIJO bestowed upon him the name Fujiwaka. His popular name was Saburo. His real name was Motokiyo. After his father's death, he inherited the position of Kanze-dayu. In his 40s and after, Zeamidabutsu, his Buddhist name in Jishu sect of Buddhism (In jishu, posthumous Buddhist names of men is Amida-nyorai (Amidabutsu) Go (byname). Ze (Se) came from Kanze) was abbreviated as Zeami and he became to be called Zeami. It was Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA who first propagated the pronunciation of Ze in its voiced-consonant form - as opposed to the unvoiced-consonant sound of Se.


When Zeami was born, his father, Kanami was 31 years old and a leading player of the Yamato-Sarugaku. Recently uncovered documents regarding Zeami's mother have revealed that she could have been 'a daughter of Saemon Rokuro NAGATOMI in Ibosho, Harima Province;' however, the veracity of this claim is still in question. The troupe lead by Kanami was patronized by Kofuku-ji Temple, but they moved to Kyoto and attained fame with a seven-day performance in Daigo-ji Temple. Zeami began his appearance on stage with his father's troupe from his early childhood.

In 1374 or 1375, when Zeami, who was 12 years old at the time, appeared on stage in the Sarugaku Noh performance held by Kanami, he caught the attention of the Muromachi Shogun, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA. After that performance, Yoshimitsu patronized both father and son, Kanami and Zeami. On the occasion of Gion-e in 1378, Zeami attended the box of Shogun Yoshimitsu and he was criticized by Kuge ('Gogumaiki,' the journal of Kintada SANJO). Upon Kanami's 1384 death, Zeami continued the line of Kanze-dayu.

At that time, there was a general atmosphere of reverence in aristocratic and Samurai society for the concept of Yugen (the subtle and profound). It is thought that Zeami created the Noh format 'Mugen-noh,' where words, postures, songs and dances, and stories show the beauty of Yugen, so as to satisfy the tastes of his spectators. Generally speaking, the level of cultural training of the Sarugaku players was low, but Zeami had acquired some cultural training under the patronage of the Shogun and his nobles. He learned Renga (linked verse) from a regent, Yoshimoto NIJO, and this subsequently influenced Noh and Zeami's Theory of Noh.

Even after Yoshimitsu's death, Zeami continued to deepen Sarugakuin during Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA's reign as Shogun. Around this time both "Fushikaden" (The Flowering Spirit) (circa 1400) and "Shikado" were written. As Yoshimochi preferred Dengaku (ritual music and dancing in shrines and temples) to Sarugaku, Zeami enjoyed less patronage than he received from Yoshimitsu.

After Yoshimochi's death, the new Shogun, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, began to oppress Zeami. In 1422, Zeami assigned the position of Kanze-dayu to his eldest son, Motomasa KANZE and he became a priest. However, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA gave preferential treatment to Saburo-motoshige KANZE (Onami), a cousin of Motomasa. Zeami and Motomasa, father and son, gradually lost their status and performance venues; they were barred from entering Sento-gosho (1429) and had the Gakuto title of Daigo-seiryogu revoked (1430).

In 1432, Zeami's eldest son, Motomasa KANZE died in Anotsu, Ise Province. In 1436, Zeami himself was deported to Sado Province. In 1436, he wrote "Kintosho" (The Book of Golden Island), but his whereabouts and other details of his life remain unclear. In his later days, Zeami joined the Zen temple Fugan-ji in Yamato Province. A Nocho (tax ledger) has been discovered with both his name and his wife's (Tsutomu KOSAI, "Zeami Shinko"(New thoughts on Zeami)). He is also said to have returned to Kyoto. According to the 'Kanze Kojiro Gazo-san,' he died in 1443.

There are close to 50 plays attributable to Zeami still performed on stage today, including "Takasago," "Izutsu," and "Sanemori." His treatises on artistic performances, such as Fushikaden, have been lauded for both their historical and literary aesthetic value.

His Views on Performing Arts
In his book, "Fushikaden" (or "Kadensho"), the power to emotionally move his audience is expressed as 'Hana' (flower). Boys have a melodious voice and beautiful figure, but they are merely 'Jibun no Hana' (the Flower of the moment). He taught that the mystery of Noh is 'Makoto no hana' (the true Flower), created by kufu (dedication to spiritual improvement) and koan (Zen question for meditation) within yourself.

The contents of "Fushikaden" were long kept secret - 'If it is hidden, it is the Flower; if it is not hidden, it is not the Flower.'

Key Works

Zeami left many Yokyoku after him. Yokyoku means staves and words for Noh or playbook for Noh itself (Utai-bon (chant book)).

Yumi Yawata (The Bow at the Hachiman Shrine)
Oimatsu (The Old Pine Tree)

Yorimasa (Heike Monogatari (The tale of the Heike))
Tadanori (Heike Monogatari)
Kiyomori (Heike Monogatari)
Atsumori (Heike Monogatari)
Yashima (Heike Monogatari)

Izutsu (Ise Monogatari (The tales of Ise))
Koi no Omoni (The Burden of Love)
Aoi no Ue (Genji Monogatari (The tale of Genji))

Nomori (Source: Verse in Manyo-shu, or Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)
Nue (Heike Monogatari)
Hana-gatami (The flower Basket)
Ashikari (The Reed Cutter)

Zeami's Works

Zeami wrote down his father's teachings and his own acquired views on the performing arts in order to approach his art as a michi - as a way of life, and as an ie - as a family heritage ("Fushikaden").

His Densho were treated as secrets and many of them are owned by the Ochi-Kanze family, who are the blood descendants of Zeami, the Kanze head family, and the Konparu family through Zeami's son-in-low, Zenchiku. The Ochi-Kanze family died out in the late Muromachi period and an adopted child from the Kanze head family had restored the text. Most of Densho, of which Ochi-Kanze reportedly owned the largest part, was transferred to the Kanze head family. Aside from this, multiple Densho were given to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who had an affinity for Noh by Ochi-Kanze; Yusai HOSOKAWA and Nobutada ODA later obtained them through Ieyasu.

With the exception of the relevant people of Noh and certain families of feudal lords, the Densho enjoyed little circulation even into recent times. As only a few exceptions, together with the 14th Tayu, Kiyochika KANZE, the 15th Tayu, Motoakira KANZE, who endeavored to collect Zeami Densho, published "Shudosho" (Learning the Way) in 1772 adding annotation and distributed to a part of Za-shu; and Munetake TAYASU, Motoaki's sponsor, transcribed a part of books owned by Kanze Tayu; and in 1818, Tanehiko RYUTEI obtained "Sarugaku Dangi" (Talks about Sarugaku), which was included in Ieyasu's collection and several men of letters around his transcribed it. However, no Zeami's works came out in public other than those cases.

In the 20th century, Togo YOSHIDA published the "Zeami Ju-Roku Bushu" (The Sixteen Treatises of Zeami) to introduce all of Zeami's Densho known at that time. Research on Zeami has progressed and has since identified, at present, 21 kinds of Densho from Zeami.

[Original Japanese]