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  • Votive Paintings of the Kabuki Actors Ichikawa Danjūrō at Naritasan Shinshōji Temple
  • Hilary K. Snow (bio)

In 1814 a resident of Edo 江戸 named Uematsu Chōbei 植松長兵衛 (dates unknown) commissioned from the ukiyo-e 浮世絵 print artist Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国 (1769–1825) a painting of the famed actor Ichikawa Danjūrō VII 市川団十郎 (1791–1859) (Fig. 1). In the painting Danjūrō performs the Shakkyō 石橋 (Stone Bridge) dance, as he often did on the Kabuki stage. Unlike other such images, which were produced as woodblock prints or as advertisements to hang on theaters, this image was made as an ema 絵馬 (votive painting) and was offered as a donation at Naritasan Shinshōji 成田山新勝寺, a Buddhist temple in Chiba 千葉 Prefecture.1 The religious donation of a portrait of a Kabuki actor may seem strange, but is in fact evidence of a deep connection between the Ichikawa Danjūrō lineage of actors and Naritasan Shinshōji. The Danjūrō actors actively fostered this association by attributing their aragoto 荒事 (bravura) performance style to inspiration from Naritasan’s deity, Fudō Myōō 不動明王, and by publicizing their participation in pilgrimages and donations of objects such as ema paintings. This article will show that ema paintings at Naritasan representing the Danjūrō actors were a visual manifestation of the connection between the actors and the temple. Ema formed a crucial part of a network of publicity that promoted the popularity of both the actors and the temple and was intimately linked to perceptions of Danjūrō as channelling Fudō.

The Ichikawa Danjūrō Lineage and Naritasan

The Ichikawa Danjūrō lineage of Kabuki actors, founded by Horikoshi Ebizō 堀越海老蔵 (later known as Ichikawa Danjūrō I, 1660–1704) in 1673, is one of the most prominent and popular families of Kabuki actors. Eleven actors have held the name since Danjūrō I; the current holder, Danjūrō XII (b. 1946), received the name in 1985.2 From the beginning the lineage was closely associated with Naritasan and its principal deity Fudō Myōō, the Immovable King of Light (Acalanātha).3 Actors in the family still use the house name “Naritaya” 成田屋 in homage to the Naritasan Fudō Myōō. Ebizō’s father, Jūzō 重蔵, was born near Naritasan in Hataya 幡谷 village. He moved his family to Edo before Ebizō’s birth in 1660, but he continued the family’s relationship with Naritasan and regularly returned to worship there.4 When Danjūrō I became an actor, he established and promoted a connection between the family’s traditional devotion to the Naritasan Fudō and his distinctive acting style—a flamboyant roughness known as aragoto, which signified for the most part heroic commoners. As Laurence Kominz has shown, this style of Kabuki derived from Esoteric Buddhist beliefs, Shugendō 修験道 practices, and Fudō Myōō’s fierce aspect.5 Danjūrō I also expressed his devotion by writing plays about Fudō, including Naritasan funjin Fudō 成田山分身不動 (Another Form of the Naritasan Fudō, 1703), in which Fudō rescues the main human characters. He played the role of Fudō, and his descendants continued the tradition.6 By linking his acting style to attributes of Fudō and explicitly appearing as the deity in performance, Danjūrō I fostered a public perception that he was channelling the power of the god. The author of Yakusha zensho 役者全書 (All About Actors), a compilation of stories about Kabuki actors from 1774, described Danjūrō I’s acting style as follows:

His eyes looked exactly like Fudō[’s], frightening; the pupils would remain fixed for an extraordinarily long time. He was certainly inspired by the spirit of the god.7

Danjūrō I credited his devotion to Fudō with a tangible result. Without an heir until relatively late in life, he attributed the long-awaited birth of his son, later Danjūrō II (1688–1758), to the Naritasan Fudō. From his first Kabuki performance at the age of ten, Danjūrō II was promoted as a child granted by Fudō.8 [End Page 69]

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Fig. 1.

Utagawa Toyokuni (1768–1825). Shakkyō (Stone Bridge). 1814. Ema; polychrome on wood; h. 192 cm, w. 145 cm. Naritasan Reikōkan.

Danjūrō II followed his father in devotion to the Naritasan Fudō, both...