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Great Masters

Kingo Misu (1832-1910)

Famous Kotsuzumi Player Who Preserved the Edo Style

Deformed Ribs from Intense Practice

Kingo Misu was a famous kotsuzumi player in the Kō School who had great success in the Meiji era. His father, Heizaemon Misu, originally a kotsuzumikata in the Kō School of the Kaga Domain, left for Edo and played for the Nakagawa Clan that ruled the Bungo Taketa Domain. Kingo was born in 1832 (Tenpō 3) as Kinnosuke. Ever since he began practicing the kotsuzumi at eight, he never put it down, and dedicated himself to the art. He developed a deformity in his ribs due to his intense practice, and a large bump grew on his left side.

Kingo’s talent was visible from a young age, and Gorōjirō Kō, a famous player at the end of the Edo era, took him in from age eleven to thirteen and taught him as his own son. Kingo’s first performance was at thirteen, when he appeared in a Tamura of the Hōshō School. He then developed incredible talent, and appeared in grand performances. During the period of confusion surrounding the collapse of the Shogunate through the start of the Meiji era and the accompanying decline of Nohgaku, Kingo served for a period for a feudal lord and lived in Bungo Taketa (currently Taketa, Oita Prefecture). In 1878 (Meiji 11), he returned to Edo to support the world of Noh, which remained in crisis, and further polish his skills, and appeared in important roles in performances by the various Noh schools. He played in Sekidera Komachi twice (with Minoru Umewaka and Kurō Hōshō as shite), once in Higaki (with Minoru Umewaka as shite) and once in Obasute (with Tetsunojō Kanze as shite). These plays are collectively known as Sanrōjo, and are considered some of the most difficult plays in Noh.

Kurō Hōshō, a famous shitekata and supporter of Meiji-era Noh, yearned for a return to the peaceful period of growth in Noh experienced through the end of the Shogunate, and is said to have been overjoyed with the return of Noh from the Meiji era. Hōshō praised Kingo Misu’s talents as comparable to that of the famous hayashikata of years past.

Living Humbly, Studying His Art, and Teaching the Next Generation

Kingo Misu was a humble man who spent his days pursuing his craft. He persevered even while forced into a life of poverty during Noh’s period of crisis in the Meiji era. Even in his later years when he became more affluent, he remained committed solely to Noh. But he was not miserly, and would known to invest in his interests without reserve.

Kingo never stopped pursuing his craft. He was strict with his students and gave no special treatment to even nobility or wealthy students, not allowing those with insufficient skills to participate in the more difficult practices. He would even harshly scold his own son and successor in front of anyone if he felt something was lacking. But he would also allow students of little means to study for free if they showed talent, even without their asking. His humility and fair approach to his craft were reflected in the natural impression he left on those he encountered. He was respected by many in the world of Noh and developed a lofty reputation for despite his own humility.

Kingo Misu passed away in the summer of 1910 (Meiji 43) at the age of 78 of pneumonia, and the voices mourning his death seemed to never cease. His funeral was attended by more than 300 including many members of the nobility including members of the Hachisuka, Nabeshima and Hosokawa clans, making it a truly rare gathering.

“The Gentle Air of a Kotsuzumi Master”

Kingo Misu was also blessed with the ability to judge the skill of others and was considered an excellent teacher. He worked to teach the next generation of performers, training many capable kotsuzumi players in both Taketa and throughout Kyushu and being blessed with many students after returning to Tokyo. He trained his son Heiji Misu to become an excellent successor and brilliant practitioner of Kō School Noh. It was his keen eye that also identified Yoshimitsu Kō (Gorō Kō), who would become one of the biggest names in Noh of the Showa era. One of the children that passed by his home on his way to school was a particularly good singer, and this child would become Heiji’s adopted son and later Yoshimitsu Kō.

Gakudō Yamazaki, a famous architect and Nohgaku scholar, described Kingo as “a master of kotsuzmi with a gentle air.” Gakudō said that most kotsuzumi players fell into two categories, those that played too hard and lost the sound of the kotsuzumi, and those who played “by the book” and lost the artistic feeling of the instrument. However Gakudō felt that Kingo Misu was able to achieve a superior harmony with the other hayashi and shitekata without standing out, creating an unparalleled level of performance. Gakudō was a student of the ōtsuzumi himself and once had the opportunity to play with Kingo, his impression of which survives as a living testament to Kingo Misu’s artistry.

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