• Performing Arts

Ichiryusai Teikyo Follows Father’s Form on Kodan Stage, Stays Faithful to Tradition

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ichiryusai Teikyo, right, receives a black haori with her family crest that was worn by her grandfather Ichiryusai Teizan VII from her current master Ichiryusai Teika, who had held on to the garment as a keepsake, during a press conference on Oct. 5 in Tokyo.

Popular kodan storyteller Ichiryusai Teikyo, who maintains a confident and dignified posture on stage, was promoted to shinuchi, the highest rank in her field, in October.

The rank is prestigious for the storytelling worlds of kodan and rakugo, where succession from generation to generation is not common.

Her family is said to be the first to span three generations of kodanshi storytellers, from her grandfather to her father to her.

The 37-year-old Teikyo is also a mother of four.

“I want to use all of my life experiences in my kodan performances,” said Teikyo, whose real name is Yasuyo Asai.

Her grandfather was Ichiryusai Teizan VII and her father was Ichiryusai Teizan VIII. Even her grandfather-in-law, Kanda Hakuryu, was a storyteller. But Teikyo said she never had the opportunity to watch kodan until she was 20.

The turning point came when she was 19 and studying in Canada for six months. As she listened to a Korean roommate talk about things from South Korea to be proud of, Teikyo found herself depressed, realizing she didn’t know anything about her own country.

After returning to Japan, she made efforts to learn about and experience Japanese culture. When she found a flyer for her father’s kodan show, she went to watch it.

“I wore a miniskirt and stilettos as usual,” she said.

Experiencing her father Teizan’s storytelling for the first time, she was impressed by his performance on stage.

“He was so cool and beautiful,” she said. “I couldn’t tell him about that feeling up to the day he died, but I hadn’t realized how something so beautiful was so near me.”

Takarai Kino, a pioneer in women’s kodan storytelling, also performed in that show.

“When I realized that women can perform kodan, I decided on that day that I wanted to enter that world,” she said.

She asked her father to become his disciple, but he kept turning her down.

More than a year and a half later in December 2007, just a few months before her college graduation, Teikyo was told to wear a kimono. She and her father then went straight to the home of living national treasure Ichiryusai Teisui.

She remembered her father asking Teisui, “What do you think about this girl who says she wants to be a kodan storyteller?”

The living national treasure replied: “She is your daughter. It’s only natural.”

That was what her father needed to hear to allow Teikyo to become his disciple.

The following month, she was officially accepted as Teizan’s disciple.

“Until then, we called each other ‘dad’ and ‘Yasuyo,’” she said. “But then we started calling each other ‘master’ and ‘Teikyo.’”

Teikyo continued her training with the determination to inherit Teizan’s style of being faithful to the basics. She studied works such as war chronicles and gishiden tales of revenge by lordless samurai.

In May 2021, Teizan suddenly died at age 73. By that time, Teikyo’s promotion to the rank of shinuchi had already been informally decided.

“It was all of a sudden,” Teikyo said. “There were many stories I wanted to learn from him when I became a shinuchi. I really am filled with endless regret.”

Since the death of her father and master, Teikyo has been performing on stage wearing mostly black or plainly designed kimono with a family crest.

“There was a time when I wanted to wear a colorful, flower-patterned kimono, but the patterns would get in the way of performing kodan,” she said. “I am Teizan’s only disciple and the only one who can preserve his beautiful stage posture.”

As a kodan storyteller and a mother of four children, ages 5, 3, 2 and a newborn — making her a kind of two-way player in the kodan world — her life is a daily hustle, Teikyo said.

The secret to balance, she said, “is loving them both.”

By having children, she could realize the love she received from her parents.

“Ever since I was a zenza apprentice, my master always watched me eat, which made it difficult for me to eat,” she said. “Now, I love watching my kids eat. I think my father felt this way about me.”

Teikyo is on tour performing at various locations to announce her promotion to shinuchi. The tour began with sold-out shows at Oedo Nihonbashitei in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 16 and 17, and will continue at other venues until the final performance on May 4, 2024, at the National Noh Theatre in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.