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Brief History of the Soke Fujima-ryu

From 1700's Beginning

The Sōke Fujima-ryu (宗家藤間流) – founded in 1704 – is one of the oldest and most respected among styles or schools of Japanese classical dance, with a history and tradition dating back more than 300 years. Among its practitioners are the majority of Kabuki actors, who find its elegantly refined style ideally suited for the demands of frequent performance.


The head of the Sōke Fujima-ryu, the Sōke, is considered to be the grandmaster of teachers of dance, often giving instruction to teachers of other dance styles. Some of the major dance schools in existence today – including Hanayagi, Nagoya Nishikawa, Onoe, Tachibana and Seyama schools, among others – are derived from the Sōke Fujima-ryu.


Early History

Fujima Kanbei I (fl. b. 1700-1769) is the founder of the Sōke Fujima-ryu, and its first grandmaster. He left his hometown of Fujima village – then located in the fiefdom of Kawagoe, Iruma County of Musashi Province (present-day Fujima in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture) – and, with his younger brother Fujima Kanzaemon, traveled to Edo. Fujima Kanbei trained under Nakamura Denjiro I, originally an actor, who became first grandmaster of the Shigayama-ryu. Well known for his choreographic skill and talent, Fujima Kanbei was among the first to become a professional dancemaster and choreographer as dance began to become a profession independent from acting. Becoming a theatrical choreographer after being recommended by Nishikawa Senzo I, Kanbei took the name of his hometown of Fujima, as his surname.


His son became Fujima Kanbei II, who was succeeded in the profession by his adopted son-in-law, Fujima Kanbei III, active from 1804-1818. Kanbei III was a child prodigy, bringing a golden age of dance to the Sōke Fujima-ryu, which by that time was solidly established. The third Kanbei was famous for developing a distinct style known as hengemono buyō, during which the actor or dancer makes several quick changes, returning each time to depict startlingly different characters. He was also a accomplished choreographer, with Shiokumi and Sambaso being two of his masterpieces.


Because of discord within his adoptive family, he left home, and in 1798 created the name Fujima Kanjuro I. Upon returning to the fold, he once again assumed his original name of Kanbei III. It may not be overstating the case to say that the development of bumpa – the branching out of schools in Japanese classical dance during early modern times – started with him. Leadership of the Sōke Fujima-ryu is handed down within the Fujima family itself, either to capable members, or by adoption of talented individuals into the family. Since the time of Fujima Kanbei III, it has become traditional to take the name Kanjuro upon assuming the position of Sōke.


Although the name Kanjuro originated with Kanbei III who created it and used it temporarily, his adopted child, Daisuke, is considered to be the first generation of the current Fujima family, assuming the name Fujima Kanjuro II in 1831. From the second to the fifth generations, the family name was inherited by women, who although they functioned as dancemasters at the highest level, did not choreograph for the theatre. Times changed, and Fujima grandmasters re-emerged as major choreographers for the Kabuki Theatre.


Fujima Kanjuro VI

In 1927, Fujma Kanjuro VI assumed the position of Sōke at the age of twenty-seven. He was appointed official choreographer of the Kabuki Theatre, at that time under the famous Kikugoro VI, one of the most highly respected and influential actors in its long history. Kikugoro VI, as a Kabuki actor of distinguished lineage, believed that when acting, the traditional ornate costumes, wigs and heavy makeup of the Kabuki Theatre were necessary to maximize stage effects and project dramatic expression, but that a truly talented dancer of pure, classical Nihon buyō should be able to convey feeling through dance alone, without the need of such elaborate attire. Each promised the other to dance only in his respective style, and the delicate, sophisticated style for which Kanjuro VI is so highly regarded – su-odori, or "uncostumed dance" – was born. Kanjuro VI, performing thereafter only in su-odori style, kept the promise made between them for the rest of his life.


Fujima Kanjuro VI was awarded many honors and titles during his lifetime, both for the artistry of his dance performance and for his original choreography performed in the Kabuki Theatre. Notable among his masterpieces of performance and choreography are Renjishi, Fuji Musume, Echigo-jishi, Sekidera Komachi, and Hachi no Ki. He was appointed a Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuho), honored with The Order of Culture (Bunka Kunsho), selected for the Japan Academy of Art Award (Geijutsu-insho), received the Award for Distinguished Cultural Service, and was decorated with the Order of Sacred Treasure, Third Class. In the Showa period, he represents classical Japanese dance and choreography at the highest level.


Kanjuro VI's last appearance, a performance publicly announcing and celebrating his daughter's succession to the name Kanjuro, was held at the Kabuki Theatre in September of 1990, one week before his ninetieth birthday, and two months before his death. He appeared in the same program with Kanjuro VII (now Kanso III), Michinori II (now Kanjuro VIII), his granddaughter Mai, Bando Tamasaburo, and Nakamura Kankuro. At this celebration of the Sōke Fujima succession, forty-four dances were performed in four programs, lasting two days, by over 100 dancers of the Sōke Fujima-ryu. Appearing among the dancers were 50 distinguished Kabuki actors, many of them Kanjuro VI's direct students, as well as twelve heads of other schools and representatives of different styles of classical Japanese dance.


Fujima Kanjuro VII

Kanjuro Fujima VII (the current Fujima Kanso III) became the seventh head of the Sōke Fujima-ryu, succeeding to the name Kanjuro in 1990. Performing onstage from the age of three, in 1966, after making a commitment to become a professional dancer, she accepted the challenge to dance the difficult Kagami-jishi at Fujima-kai, a concert celebrating dances of the Sōke Fujima-ryu that takes place once every four years. In 1969, as a result of tour de force performances in The Second Koko no Kai and Fujima-kai, firmly establishing her reputation as a genuine virtuoso performer, she was awarded the Talent Award of the Minister of Education, Science, and Culture.

Fujima Kanjuro VIII

<to come>

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