Bandō Minosuke (Japanese, active 1832-1858) and Sawamura Kunitarō (Japanese, active 1798-1936)

Kabuki actors Bandō Minosuke and Sawamura Kunitaro are difficult to pinpoint precisely because, like many performers, they used stage names. Not only that, but names could be inherited or co-opted, thus allowing a theater name to subsist for generations. Kabuki is a form of theater that originated as comic dances and transformed into full dramatic productions. While both men and women acted in the plays originally, in 1629, the government banned all women from performances, believing that it was tied to prostitution. From that day forward, all the roles are played by men, with actors who specialize exclusively in female roles referred to as Onnagata (女形 or 女方), meaning “female style.”

The Bandō Minosuke in our collection is likely Bandō Minosuke III, who was adopted by Bandō Minosuke II and initially given the performing name Bandō Toyosaburō III. He assumed the Minosuke name in 1832 (when Minosuke II became Bandō Mitsugoro IV) and performed under it until 1851 when he took the name Morita Matasaburo. He disappeared from playbills in 1858.

The Sawamura Kunitaro image is likely of Sawamura Kunitaro II, who held that name from 1819 to his death in 1836, the year this print was made. Sawamura was a distinguished onnagata performer, who specialized in playing wives, commoner and noble, in domestic dramas and political intrigues.