Konparu Zenpo (金春禅鳳)

Zenpo KONPARU (1454 - 1532?) was a Nohgakushi (Noh actor) in the late Heian period. His real name was Motoyasu HACHIRO (八郎元安) and his Homyo (a name given to a person who enters the Buddhist priesthood) was Zenpo TORIN (桐林禅鳳). He was a representative Noh actor in that period and was also famous for writing Noh plays, as well as books of theories of Nohgaku (theories of Noh drama).


He was a son of Soin KONPARU (also known as Shichiro Motouji), who served as Daibu (master) of Konparu-za troupe (also known as Enmai-za troupe), which was one of the Yamato-yoza (four sarugaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) performance groups in the Yamato Province) that is the origin of the current Noh, who identified themselves as the descendants of HATA no Kawakatsu. His grandfather Zenchiku KONPARU was a Noh actor and also a well-known writer of Yokyoku (Noh songs) and books of the theories of Nohgaku, and his wife was a daughter of Zeami, who made a career of Nohgaku. He was a great Noh actor and had relationships with Zenchiku, Soin and Kaneyoshi ICHIJO.

In 1460, when Zenpo was seven years old, he visited Jinson Daijoin Monzeki Temple accompanied by Zenchiku. Zenchiku died when Zenpo was 15 years old, and it is easily assumed that Zenchiku had a tangible and intangible effect on Zenpo. He achieved stable growth and took over Konparu-za, such as acting as a substitute for his father in a festival in Furuichi, Nara in September 1472 when he was 19 years old.

His father Soin suddenly died at the age of 49 in November 1480, after which Zenpo took the place of Daibu (master) of Konparu-za at the age of 27.

At that time, Kanze-za was the Nohgaku group that was enjoying great success, having produced Kanami, Zeami and Onami. After the death of Onami, Kanze-za was supported by his seventh son, Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE, and maintained its solid and stable position. Luckily, Shogun Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA had been a Kanze fan since Onami took over the group, and Konparu-za lagged behind.

In 1483, Konparu-za lost Genshiro HIYOSHI, who was the Dayu's cousin and a competent supporting performer, to Kanze-za at Yoshimasa's direction. In the past, Shichiro (or Yashichiro) MORIGIKU, a supporting performer, had also been headhunted, and both Zenpo as the brand-new Daibu and Konparu-za were deeply shocked and damaged.

However, Zenpo managed to overcome the crisis with the support of Choin FURUICHI, a priest of Kofuku-ji Temple, the Hatakeyama clan in Kawachi, and others. In July 1493, when he was 40 years old, Zenpo performed the first demonstration of a Noh play in Muromachi Imperial palace and after that, he was recognized as a well-qualified actor in the center.

As a result, he often had a chance to perform Kanjin-noh plays (performances held to raise subscriptions for the construction of shrines or temples) in Nara where they were based and furthermore in Kyo (capital), with the sponsorship of Masamoto HOSOKAWA and Yoshioki OUCHI, who were influential persons at that time. The principal Kanjin noh plays performed were those held in the Imakumano region, Kyoto in 1501 and in Awataguchi in 1505. The Kanjin noh play in 1501 had a large audience of Kugyo (top court officials) and court ladies, and the one in 1505 is well known as representing the peak of Zenpo's activities at the age of 52.

By March 1528 he had entered the priesthood and identified himself as Zenpo, and seemed to let his legitimate son Ujiaki KONPARU take over the position of Daibu. It is thought that he left for Bingo for his retired life, and his year of death is not certain. Others believe that far from wars and chaos in Kyo, he spent the last years of his life in Saigoku (western part of Japan (esp. Kyushu, but ranging as far east as Kinki) with the support of the Ouchi clan as one of his sponsors.


Based on "Nohon Sakusha Chumon" (list of Noh numbers' composers of Kanze lineage compiled by Kanemasa YOSHIDA on the basis of conversations with Yajiro Nagatoshi KANZE), the following five are Zenpo's works.

Arashiyama (Noh)

Ikkaku sennin (One horned hermit)

Atsumori IKUTA

Tobosaku (Noh)

Hatsuyuki (Virgin Snow; Noh)

In addition, it is confirmed that 'Kurokawa' (also known as Kurokawa Ennen (singing and dancing performed by priests and pages after Buddhist services in temples, which started from the middle of the Heian era)), which is not performed nowadays, was written by Zenpo, and there seem to be many music pieces made until his late middle age, which were removed, disposed of, or scattered. He renewed 'Noh of Fuji' (Mt. Fuji of Noh). According to "Jika Densho" (Noh books handed down from Konparu lineage compiled in 16th century), 18 works, which are completely different from the five above, were also made by Zenpo, but this idea has not been paid much attention, because of the discrepancy with the former selection. However, some believe that, based on the characteristics, 'Takebun' (HADA no Takebun) (discontinued) was a work of Zenpo.

Writing style

Zenpo's Noh works are appreciated to 'be ambitious works with new features about subject matter, concept, and performance style' and 'exceptional Noh.'
Unlike the subtle and profound beauty pursued by his great-grandfather Zeami and his grandfather Zenchiku, most of Zenpo's works are more elegant Noh plays focused on gorgeous actions and spectacles such as a pageant, 'Arashiyama,' 'Ikkaku sennin.'

A person who is often compared to Zenpo in terms of works is Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE, who was four years older than him. Their works have some features in common, such as visual gorgeousness and the nature of entertainment.
Zenpo wanted to become more competitive than Kanze-za ahead of their group and seemed to feel extremely conscious about Nobumitsu's works; for example, 'Ikkaku sennin' is found to have been influenced from 'Momijigari' (viewing autumnal leaves) (Noh) of Nobumitsu and there is a view that rivalries toward 'Funa Benkei' (Benkei in the Boat) also exist in 'Takebun.'

Zenpo's works focus only on amusement, pleasantness, and fun, rather than horrific or fierce aspects, which are occasionally seen in Nobumitsu's works. In addition, his works are thought to be full of 'fantastic and exotic taste,' because of characteristic subject matters included in many relatively short stories and proactive use of Kokata (child performers).

Characteristics of Zenpo's theory of Nohgaku

The theory of Nohgaku was discussed for the first time in Zeami's "Fushikaden" (The Flowering Spirit). After Zeami's death, his son-in-law Zenchiku authored unique books, and Zenpo also left many theories of Nohgaku, succeeding the achievements of these two seniors.

In modern times, while Zeami's Nohgaku theories have been extensively studied and read by many people, Zenchiku's theories have tended to be thought of less for the reason of being 'ideological' and 'difficult' and drew little attention after Zenpo appeared.
In fact, after Zenpo, Nodensho books (secret treatises for Noh theater) written between the late Muromachi period and the early Edo period had the clear features of a textbook or technical guidance book of fleeting and practical nature and were very different from Zeami's and other people's theories of art seeking 'What Noh is.'

Many of Zenpo's books are classified as those types of books, but he also authored books of grave character, such as "Motoyasubon Goon no shidai" (a Noh book handed down from Konparu lineage compiled by Zenpo). Noh' had been completed and established by the period when Zenpo wrote great works, so all what Zenpo could do was refine and polish Noh technically. In other words, Zenpo can be evaluated to be a transitional author who served as a bridge between Zeami's and Zenchiku's theories and the modern theories. Given the above, his books are the best and primary materials to know how Noh was continued and was changed in the era of Zeami and Zenchiku and also had significant influence on Nodensho of later years.

In "Zenpo Zatsudan," special aspects of Zenpo's theory of Nohgaku include references to the words or statements made by masters in other categories of art, including Juko MURATA in Japanese tea ceremony, Sozei in Renga (linked verse), Senjun IKENOBO in flower arrangement, and Monami (聞阿弥) as a musician of Shakuhachi bamboo flute.

Zenpo's Densho (books handed down from ancestors)

"Motanshichinsho" (The Motan Collection) and "Hogoura no sho" (Notes on the Back of Used Papers) were included in "Zenchikushu" (Collection of Zenchiku works) which was published in 1915 and revised and annotated by Togo YOSHIDA, and Zenpo's authored books were published relatively early. Speaking of "Zenchikushu," however, particularly "Hogoura no sho" (third volume), is not available for research purposes at present because of lots of corruptions. Except for "Zenpo Shomotsu Utsushi" (copy of Zenpo's books), Zenpo's authored books were included in "Konparu Kodensho shusei" (Collection of the Ancient Treatises of Konparu) by Akira OMOTE and Masayoshi ITO (published by Wanya Shoten in 1969) and also "Zenpo Zodan" (Miscellaneous conversations with Zenpo) was included in "Collection of theories of art in the ancient and the medieval period," a collection of philosophical thoughts in Japan (Iwanami Shoten, publishers) (revised by Tadahiko KITAGAWA).

"Motanshichinsho" (currently existing Motanshichinsho)

"Hogoura no sho" (volume 1 to 3)

Both of these are unfinished books. He seemed to continue writing for a comprehensive Densho "Motanshichinsho." The "Hogoura no sho" trilogy was a memorandum for his writing, and the existing 'Motanshichinsho' is not a complete version and is thought to be the transcript of the first draft. There are many overlapping areas in those books.


Originally, this book was untitled. It has an Okugaki (postscript) dated September 1511. The first half of the book presents his idea, which is almost the same as the theories described in Zeami's "Goongyokujojo" (Various Matters Concerning the Five Modes of Musical Expression) and Zenchiku's "Goon no shidai," "Goon Jittei" (Five sounds and ten styles), and "Go’on sankyoku shu" (An account on the five modes and the three styles) and the latter half of the book shows Zenpo's unique theories related to "Motanshichinsho," and so on. Popular Utai (the chanting of a Noh text) of that time is known. Handed down to his legitimate son Ujiaki.

"Ongyoku Goon" (Songs with Shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo) accompaniment and Five sounds)

This book also seems to have been originally untitled. This book contains the transcripts of two Densho, and the first half of the book was Okugaki dated January 1517 and the latter half was Okugaki dated March 1528. Both were addressed to Saemon Goro ARAYA (新屋左衛門五郎), who was probably an amateur pupil in Nara.

"Hayashi no koto" (Musical Accompaniment)

In 1505, it was handed down to Yazaemon MIYAMASU, who was a Tsuzumi (hand drum) master and later moved to Kanze-za. It is in a letter style and talks about how a Tsuzumi player should be.

"Zenpo Zatsudan"

It can be called "Zenpo Sarugaku Dangi." It is a Kikigaki (account of what one hears) of what Zenpo talked about art over 13 years from 1512. It covers a wide variety of topics and is considered valuable historical material for knowing the actual status of Noh at that time. The author was Touemon, who was probably Zenpo's pupil and is believed to have died at the age of 76 in 1553.

"Zenpo shomotsu utsushi"

A piece of paper without title. It might have been handed down to his daughter's husband Kanze-dayu (the chairman of Kanze) Doken (道見) and transcribed by Zenpo's grandchild Sosetsu KANZE.


One of his children was Ujiaki (also called as Ujiteru) KONPARU, who took over the position of Konparu Dayu. His grandchild Yoshikatsu KONPARU was well known as the master of Shojin SHIMOTSUMA. His great-grandchild Yasuteru KONPARU succeeded Zenpo's theories and left his authored books. Seventh Sosetsu KANZE was his daughter's son; his younger brother Shigekatsu HOSHO (宝生重勝) was adopted to take over the Hosho school, and his three grandchildren each served as Dayu of three groups of Yamato-yoza (four Sarugaku performance groups in the Yamato Province).

[Original Japanese]