The 66th feature exhibition

Kabuki actors and their haiku poet’s names
December 5 (Tue), 2017 – March 4 (Sun), 2018

This museum exhibits ukiyo-e paintings produced in Osaka in the Edo period. Most of the ukiyo-e paintings made in Osaka were portraits of kabuki actors. They depict kabuki actors playing in kabuki theatres around mainly Dotombori.

Each kabuki actor had his own ‘yago’ (literally meaning ‘house name’), other than his professional name. It is said that they used ‘yago’ because kabuki actors were not allowed to have a family name in the Edo period. Spectators called the actors on stage mainly by their ‘yago’.

Kabuki actors sometimes had ‘haimei’ (literally meaning ‘haiku poet’s name’, haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry), because they often enjoyed haiku in order to become sophisticated and communicate with their patrons. Some ‘haimei’ were inherited on succession, becoming to be used as a professional name.

In this feature exhibition, we focus on ‘haimei’ of kabuki actors. Enjoy the caption on the portraits of kabuki actors as well as the portraits themselves.


“Natsumatsuri Naniwa Kagami”, drawn by Shunkosai Hokushu
Ichikawa Ebijuro I plays Chotto Tokubei and Nakamura Utaemon III plays Danshichi Kurobei

“Haimei” is an alias that kabuki actors had other than their professional name. Some kabuki actors had their haimei as they enjoyed haiku in order to become sophisticated as an actor, but after the latter half of the Edo period, kabuki actors had their haimei even though they don’t enjoy haiku.

It is said that originally this practice of having haimei had come from the episode that Ichikawa Danjuro I was given haimei “Saigyu” by a haiku poet. Haimei was inherited on succession as well as professional name. Examples of famous haimei are : “Sansho ” and “Hakuen ” for the Ichikawa Danjuro family, “Baiko” for the Onoe Kikugoro family and “Shikan” and “Baigyoku” for Nakamura Utaemon family. Some haimei had become used as a professional name and were inherited on succession. Patrons were able to show their “connoisseurship” by calling actors by their yago or haimei, not by their professional name.

Kabuki portraits and their captions
kabuki. Patrons often had deep knowledge of art and literature, and it seems that kabuki actors expanded their network of people through hobbies like haiku.

“Surimono” were commissioned works of ukiyo-e, at a cost. They were gorgeously printed with Japanese traditional poems on them. Unlike ukiyo-e for sale, surimono’s purpose was to be given away to people within the network of art and literature in a variety of occasions such as New Year, birthdays and promotions.

Many ukiyo-e woodblock artists were also patrons of kabuki actors. They added captions on their production even if it was not “surimono” and that tells us how far their network had expanded. From the poems that artists added to the actors’ portraits we can know not only what actors thought but also about people who support kabuki and its actors.