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Two Lives Entwined: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII & Bando Shuka I

March 6, 2017 marks the 162nd anniversary of the death of Bando Shuka I (1813-1855), the famed onnagata performer of mid-19th century Japanese kabuki theater. Onnagata were male actors who specialized in female roles, a necessity ever since 1629, when women were banned from performing in kabuki productions. Shuka I played those roles with aplomb, so much so that in his heyday he was one of the most successful actors, perhaps second only to his frequent on-stage lover Ichikawa Danjuro VIII (1823-1854), the eldest son of Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859). These two A-listers together performed the lead roles from some of the most popular plays. Perhaps it is not surprising that two actors who spent most of their professional careers linked, would seem to follow as such in death. Danjuro VIII, the golden boy of his day, harbored secret debts and battled depression, committing suicide at an Osaka road-side inn in the 8th lunar month of 1854. Bando Shuka I followed him just months later, in the 3rd lunar month of the following year. 

– from Scholten Japanese Art