Onoe Kikugoro I was born in Kyoto in 1717 as the son of Otowaya Hanpei, an usher at the service of spectators at the Miyako Mandayu-za theatre. His name as a young boy was Taketaro and his original stage name was Baiko.
He took the name Onoe Kikugoro after becoming apprenticed to Onoe Samon and made his stage debut at the Sakakiyama-za theatre in Kyoto in a wakashu (young male) role at the age of thirteen in the eleventh month of 1730.
He transferred to the Nakamura Tomijuro-za theatre in Osaka at the age of 23. In 1741, the following year, he was patronised by Ichikawa Ebizo (Danjuro II), who was appearing with the Sadojima Chojuro-za troupe in Osaka, and was entrusted with the role of Taema-hime, playing opposite Ebizo in the role of Narukami in the play Narukami Fudo Kitayama Zakura. This was the role that made his name. In the winter of 1742 he was invited by Ebizo to appear in Edo.
As a good-looking actor with his own seductive appeal, Kikugoro was entrusted with both female and young male (onnagata and wakashu) roles. But he found it hard to achieve success in Edo and in 1752 he made the transition to tachiyaku adult male roles at the suggestion of the company's manager Ichimura Uzaemon. In 1753 he appeared in Katakiuchi Ganryu-jima (Vendetta on Ganryu Island) together with Matsumoto Koshiro II, playing the roles of Shinoda Saemon and Tsukimoto Mushanosuke. Kikugoro's wife was the daughter of Bando Hikozaburo I, and Kikugoro played the role of Mushanosuke in exactly the same way as his father-in-law. His performance was acclaimed as one of the finest ever renditions of this role and it was this performance that sealed his reputation as a tachiyaku actor.
The tradition of actors bearing the name Otowaya to combine female and leading male roles dates back to the first Kikugoro.
As a side occupation Kikugoro also ran a shop dealing in stage cosmetics in the Sakai-machi quarter. However, at around 3 o'clock on the 29th day of the second month of 1766 the vat of oil being used to prepare the cosmetics caught fire when a youth from the teahouse next door threw in some burning tobacco, as a consequence of which two of the three main Edo theatres, the Nakamura-za and the Ichimura-za, were razed to the ground. The two theatres soon recovered and began presenting performances again, but Kikugoro's house in the warehouse style escaped unscathed, much to the resentment of the general public, as a result of which Kikugoro was forced to return to Kyoto.
Kikugoro's roles in Kyoto included Yuranosuke, Kanpei and Tonase in Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers), Kan Shojo and Matsuomaru in Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (The Secret of Sugawara's Calligraphy), Sonobe Hyoe in Shin Usuyuki Monogatari (The Tale of Usuyuki), and Rokuyata in Ichinotani Futaba Gunki (The Chronicle of the Battle of Ichi no Tani). He achieved an outstanding reputation for his performances in a series of leading roles including Obiya Chobei in Katsuragawa Renri no Shigarami, and in less than three years his enhanced reputation enabled him to return to Edo.
From 1773 he appeared for six years at theatres in Osaka, and it was not until the fifth month of 1780 that he returned to Edo once again to appear at the Ichimura-za together with Matsumoto Koshiro IV in Deiri Minato, which resulted in the occurrence of a famous dispute that has gone down in the annals of the Kabuki theatre. Although Kikugoro was known for his easy-going character, Kikugoro and Koshiro developed a mutual antipathy that resulted in Kikugoro hurling his wallet at Koshiro on stage and in his denouncing Koshiro colluding with the booking office manager Yahei in opening a theatrical tea house in Sakai-machi and a stage cosmetics shop named Matsumotoko in Nanba-machi. Kikugoro denounced Koshiro on stage to the audience for ruining the ambiance of the city. Kikugoro even attempted to lay into Koshiro with his sword.
Following this incident, Kikugoro left Edo and spent his twilight years in Kyoto. He appeared in the two roles of Enju and Hatakayema Shigetada in Hiragana Seisuki in the twelfth month of 1783, but he collapsed in mid-performance. This was his last appearance on the stage and was followed by his death in his 67th year.
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Kikugoro II was born in 1769 to Kikugoro I and his second wife, the daughter of Otani Hiroji II.
He made his stage debut at the Fujikawa-za theatre in Kyoto under the name of Onoe Ushinosuke. He travelled to Edo with his father in 1778 but returned to Kyoto two years later. In 1783 he changed from young male (wakashu) roles to young female (waka-onnagata) roles, and it was also in that year that his father died.
He possessed the same good looks as his father and had a superb voice. It was thought that he had the potential to become one of the great actors of his generation. He was known generally as 'Little Baiko' and succeeded to the name Kikugoro II in 1785. He formed a troupe together with Arashi Hinasuke I, but fell ill in the seventh month of 1787 while the troupe was on tour in Mitajiri. To general regret, he passed away before reaching his nineteenth birthday.
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