Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (2)

Tsuruga Isedayu I and Izumi Kyoka

According to my family’s register at our temple, my great-grandfather was born in Gifu (formerly Mino). When he was young, he came to Edo by boat.

I don’t know why, but his son (my grandfather) had a rickshaw company.

His shop, called Musashiya, was on the right as you entered Honda Alley. At its most successful, he had upwards of 50 employees. He seemed to have had a monopoly on transporting the geisha in the pleasure quarters of Kagurazaka.

My grandfather had 6 children, all boys. If any one of them had had a flair for business, I might be the president of a taxi company now.

The youngest of the 6 children was my father, who became Tsuruga Isedayu I. He was a stylish, shy, and unconventional entertainer. He always tied on a long loincloth and wore a kimono. He was a nice looking man with a slender face; no doubt he was very popular with women.

It’s a pity that my siblings and I don’t resemble him. But because my voice is much like his, I’m satisfied.

I never asked my father why he went into shinnai. He was taught by a woman teacher named Tsuruga Chiyokichi who played shamisen and performed at Ushigome’tei vaudeville theater.

My father married a fellow student, Tsuruga Chiyonosuke. They lived in the same place where I live now, and had 3 children. It is strange that I, the youngest, came to be my father’s successor in shinnai. Chiyonosuke was, of course, our mother.

My father passed away in 1971, at the young age of 66. I became Tsuruga Isedayu II in 1973. Before the performance at Mitsukoshi Theater in which I would formally take that professional name, a small problem occurred.

The problem had to do with Onna Keizu, a story by Izumi Kyoka, which I was going to perform at that event. A few days before the performance, someone from Mitsukoshi Theater called me and said, “Meigetsu-san, Izumi Kyoka’s niece, has complained about your performance of Onna Keizu. You should go and visit her as soon as possible.”

Now I was at a loss. This was serious. At that time, it was less than 50 years since the death of Izumi Kyoka. Nevertheless, I was going to perform his work without authorization. It was totally my fault, and there was no excuse for what I was doing. In the worst case, I would have to cancel the performance. However, I had thought that because this work had been composed before the war and had been performed many times, any problem would have already been resolved.

The composer of the shinnai version of this story was the late shinnai master Tsuruga Tsuruga’sai, who was the master teacher at Shinchiyo, a geisha house in Kagurazaka. I had heard that she was a close acquaintance of Momotaro, the wife of Izumi Kyoka, who had been the model for Tsutakichi, the heroine of Onna Keizu, and I had carelessly assumed that she had got permission from Izumi Kyoka to use his story.

In an attempt to make excuses and apologize, I gingerly rang the bell at her house in Zushi, holding a box of candy.

Although I had expected a demon to come out, instead, a gentle Bodhisattva greeted me with a smile.

“Thank you for coming today. Please come in. I didn’t complain. I just tried to ask Mitsukoshi about…. Please go on with your performance. Kyoka loved shinnai, and especially because you are a native of Kagurazaka….” When she said this, it was as if she had a halo.

I went back home on a train from paradise.

Fortunately, the name-changing performance was a great success. Even now, I appreciate the connection between Kagurazaka and Izumi Kyoka. At the time, I was around 35 years old.

Incidentally, my father told me that he often saw Kyoka and his wife. It may have been when Kyoka visited the scary teacher Ozaki Koyo, who lived in Yokodera. It’s now nearly 45 years since I lost my father, who was a fine entertainer. The time has gone by quickly. Long ago, I passed the age at which my father died.

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