Kabuki Changed a Spanish Man’s Life

Victor Ugarte is the director of Institute Cervantes de Tokio. At the entrance, there are many kabuki characters exhibitions from a glamorous princess to a chic-looking Edo-period merchant. Ugarte says “To understand Japanese, you should first watch some kabuki,” so that he is one of those who was changed their lives by encountering kabuki.

When he was 12 years old, his grandfather brought back a kabuki record and poster for Ugarte after attending an academic conference in Japan. This was his first encounter with kabuki. Although he did not understand why, the traditional theatrical art form soon captivated the boy with the mysterious sounds and words. He listened to the record so many times. Later, Ugarte majored in Art History at Barcelona University and studied Asian arts for receiving a PhD. Besides this study, he also acquired finance because he realized that art alone would not help him make a living. So he worked in the real estate industry as director of two companies in Barcelona, and then moved to Shanghai to work as chief financial officer for a Spanish multinational company in China.

In 2001, the Spanish government opened Casa Asia in Barcelona which was an official consortium to improve relationship between Asian and Pacific countries. Having heard that Casa Asia recruited staff member well-versed in Asia, Ugarte found himself in living in a completely different industry and turned over. He welcomed Casa Asia’s visitors by theatrical performances, movies, anime events and go games. In 2005, finally he came to Japan and saw kabuki in Kyoto for the first time. His love affair with kabuki for 30 years got fulfilled and it made him trembling.

After a while, Ugarte heard that the Institute Cervantes wanted a person who could find suitable location in building a center in Tokyo. He had worked in real estate industry and he is well-versed in Asia, that is, Ugarte was the person. In November 2008, the Institute Cervantes de Tokio was officially opened by Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. There are events ranging from Spanish language lessons to cultural lecture, for example film screenings and concerts, organized by 14 staff members.

Shochiku Co.’s kabuki event was held in this June. Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate, watched the performance by Nakamura Kyozo and said female roles in kabuki came into the inner workings of women themselves, which moved Ugarte deeply. Sometimes an encounter with a foreign language and culture has so strong influence that it can change one’s life into exactly different one. In Ugarte’s case, it was the kabuki record.

by Chisato Morito

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