Cheeky Parade interviews celebrities! Vol.7 20th soke (head) of the Izumi school of kyogen, Motoya Izumi edition

The 9 girl idol group, Cheeky Parade will hold the last show of their Japan tour in New York in October. 
Chikipa is going overseas to hold the final show of their tour in New York. Before they took such an unprecedented step as an idol group, an interview project was launched, “Before the NY show, let’s learn the secret of overseas expansion from people who work all over the world!!! Cheeky Parade, learn about Japanese culture!”
The members of Cheeky Parade then became journalists and interviewed celebrities who play an active role globally in their own field while representing Japan.
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This time, Cheeky Parade leader Sekine together with Watanabe and Mariya Suzuki went to interview Motoya Izumi, 20th soke of the Izumi school of kyogen. Kyogen is a form of Japanese traditional theater that is 600 years old.

Sekine: What do you think about carrying on the tradition of Japanese culture that’s been around for 600 years?

Izumi: I took over my family when I was 21. 

Sekine: So young! Same as our age now.

Izumi: I had pressure, but at the time, I didn’t think I was young. Because soke (head) of the Izumi school of kyogen is hereditary and it was my fate. So, I started practicing when I was 18-month-old and debuted when I was 4 years old. An 18-month-old child learns things by mimicking other people. I started walking on the kyogen path when I was born. Therefore, my development as a person is equal to my development as a kyogen actor. Also my father, the former soke appointed me as his successor. 

I was interviewed when I was in middle school and high school. Because I’m in the world of traditional performing arts and to keep the tradition from changing, I was asked “Don’t you have a desire to express yourself?” People would ask me that sort of question, which means they think that I’m not allowed to express myself, right?

Of course, I have to keep the old rule and forms, so I don’t try to express my own identity. However, expressing your identity is not something you try, it’s something you can’t hide. So that is the fun and scary part of kyogen too.

So, the most important thing I think of when performing kyogen is to make my mind completely blank and honest instead of trying to express myself when I perform on stage. So the audience can feel the unswerving mind and tradition for 600 years through my body. 

Mariya: “So cool…”
Watanabe: You started practicing kyogen when you were 18 month old. Did you ever want to quit? Did you have any struggles?

Izumi: Struggles… Almost everyday! Lol 
The general rule of my father, who is my master was to memorize everything within 3 times. You have to be able to do perfectly what you learned the day before. The only way to teach kyogen is verbally. It is simple but very difficult. My father was a rather unkind teacher. Lol. But he taught me this way based on the theory that if you sweat with effort while you learn, your mind and body will never forget.   

My master performs seriously in front of me. That is pressure. You are supposed to steal the performing skills from your master!  If you find and learn something on your own, that will be your everlasting skill. 

It’s not easy to be expected to be able to do what you learned yesterday for the first time perfectly the next day. 
My father was very strict so he got loud and sometimes threw a fan at me. I used to cry practicing with him. Then he says, “Go ahead and cry, you will only lose your voice.” So I’m not allowed to cry and just have to learn everyday. 

But I could bear the tough lessons because the kyogen my father showed me was fun and cool. I admired him so I wanted to be able to do what he was doing. I never wanted to quit because I felt a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment everyday. 

When he says “Good,” the lesson is done for the day. He doesn’t complement me during the lesson but “Good” has so many meanings to me so I was so happy to hear it everyday. I’m so simple. 

Mariya: Like a doggy!

Izumi: That’s right! Lol. Like Pavlov’s dog. Just work hard to hear “Good.” Lol.

Sekine: He never praised you…. That ‘s amazing. 

Izumi: Since my debut at age 4, I performed on the stage with my father for 17 years until he passed; he praised me only a few times I believe. A professional performer is expected to perform perfectly. The apprentice has to perform with 120 % or 150% effort to impress the master. That was his theory.  

Chikipa members: OMG…. That is amazing….

Izumi: But, I do the same thing to my kids. Lol
Sekine: So you teach your kids the same way as your father?
Izumi: Yes. Lol
Sekine: Hardening your heart, right?

Izumi: That’s right. I harden my heart and am strict towards them because I care about them. The other side of love is not hate, it’s apathetic. There’s no point if the master is too sweet and the apprentices grow useless on stage.  I have to raise the performers who can continue this tradition when I’m gone.

Watanabe: How do you treat your kids after the lesson?

Izumi: I’ m sweet to them. Lol. My father was strict outside of the lesson too. I always used the polite form of speech to my father. He was 90% master and 10% father. I heard him tell someone else, “I’m 95% master and 5% father.” I realized he had complete dedication. 

My father didn’t do any housekeeping or taking care of children. But, I bath my children. 

Chikipa members: That’s awesome! Lol

Izumi: I bath them after the tough lessons. I feel that they understand my love being a strict kyogen master and sweet dad.

Sekine: We are going to have a live show at Times Square in NY in October. I’m sure that you have audiences come see your stage from overseas. Can tell us the key to grab foreign audience’s heart?

Izumi: We have audiences come from overseas but we, Izumi school of kyogen, also go overseas for shows. We’ve had shows in 40 cities and 13 countries so far. We don’t use English on stage when we perform overseas. We perform the same as 600 years ago. We explain the rules and forms of kyogen to the audience for 40 minutes before the show, so they can enjoy it fully. I think the audience can understand kyogen because kyogen fully utilizes human expression.

It’s important to understand what not to change. Use the same passion when you perform in front of anybody and anywhere. If you know what you want to show, it will reach the audience’s heart beyond language and culture.

I think entertainment doesn’t need explanation. You don’t need a reason to enjoy. I think the most important thing is to let the audience feel “I didn’t understand the language but it was wonderful!” “I was so moved!”  You don’t have to try to reach more than you can. Of course, we always have to try to reach higher though!  

Mariya: Can I ask you a question? Can you teach us a killer technique we can use in our shows overseas? 

Izumi: You are the instigator aren’t you? Lol.
If we had a half-year I would suggest you learn kyogen performance. Lol. Because this is Japanese specialty.  A killer technique… try performing without microphone to show your passion to audience – that might be a good idea. Oh! What about wearing kimono on stage?

Sekine: Our new costume has Ukiyoe design and is inspired by Kimono!

Izumi: That’s great!  That costume will help you show that you are from Japan. Kimono expresses Japanese unique sense of seasons with patterns and colors inside of a certain shape. That is unique to Japan. In kyogen world, we don’t change forms to show invisible “mind.”  Each of us comprehends the forms and mind we inherit and expand them to create something that overflows from them. Something that overflows from the traditional form and mind is our individuality. 

I hope you girls introduce the Japanese mind to the US without losing being yourself!
Your Japanese mind can be your killer technique. Lol. 


You can check the latest information about Motoya Izumi, who was so friendly and taught us about Japanese mind, at his official website and blog. Check out his Twitter and Facebook, too.

Motoya Izumi official blog:
Motoya Izumi official website: