Koji Yakusho's Early Life (1956 - 1983)
Six brothers ?
Koji Hashimoto was born on January 1, in Isahaya City, Nagasaki Prefecture. Now it is commonly reported that Koji was the
youngest of five brothers; but soon after he made his debut on TV in the early 1980s, he was introduced as being the youngest of
six brothers. The reason for this was that Koji did have five older brothers, but his eldest brother had in fact died while still very
"Koji YAKUSHO" was so named by Tatsuya Nakadai at the time when Koji was allowed to enter Nakadai's acting studio,
"Mumeijuku" or the studio for unknown actors, in spring 1978. Nakadai, who loved wit and humor, actually thought of three
surnames prior to Koji's debut, viz:- YAKUSHO, ISAHAYA, and YAOSAKU. Nakadai soon turned down the name Isahaya,
though, as it sounded too "smart" for Koji. YAOSAKU, too, was turned down, as it was the name of a nearby greengrocer's shop
whose owner was always very kind to Mumeijuku pupils. Then why did Nakadai settle on the name YAKUSHO? Well, please read
In the following year (1957), the major incident in Koji's life was that, during the night of July 25 - 26, there was a torrential
downpour over Isahaya City and the Honmyo River, which flows through the city, started flooding. Sadly, in the course of the
flooding, the Hashimotos' house was completely washed away.
Now, Koji's mother, Fukuyo, had gone upstairs with the baby Koji in her arms, but the water had risen even as far as that. She
had therefore turned a small table upside down, put Koji on it, and let herself and Koji be carried away on the streaming flood.
Much later Fukuyo reportedly mentioned (in a local TV program) that while being carried along in the flooded river , she kept on
murmuring to her baby , "Koji, let's flow together, Koji, let's flow together (Isshoni nagarete iko ne)." All the other family
members were unharmed, but still the Hashimotos do seem to have had a very hard time after the flood. Incidentally, Koji recalls
that as a small boy, since he was the youngest of five brothers, almost every piece of clothing that he had was a hand-me-down
from one of his older brothers.
It is interesting to note that the house of Shinichi Ichikawa, a well-known scenario writer, who used to live opposite the
Hashimotos and had been good friends with the Hashimoto brothers, was also washed away at the time of the flood. Much later
when Ichikawa and Koji appeared in a TV program, Ichikawa remarked to Koji: "If we hadn't become so poor after the flood, I
wouldn't have thought of becoming a scenario writer in Tokyo, and might well have taken over my father's camera shop; and as
for you, Koji- kun, you might not have become an actor.
Ichikawa wrote suchTV dramas in which Koji appeared as "Shinsekitachi" (1985), "Saharin no Bara"(1991), "Fuyu no
Majutsushi", (1992), "Hana no Ran" (1994) , "Keiji Kuma-san"(1997), and "Yukon"(1999), and as well as a stage drama,
"Musical: Azuchi, Uruwashiki Maou no Kuni".
Koji's first role in a stage drama
Koji's first role in a stage drama was at kindergarten as a wolf in Grimms' fairy tale,"The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats (Kids)
". He recalls that after he was selected for this role in class, he cried and cried at home that evening, as he really hated the very
thought of a wolf.
When asked about his image of a wolf while filming "Orora no Shitade/Under the Aurora" on a snow covered field in East Siberia
in the winter of 1989, Koji mentioned this episode. To think of the scene where Genzo (Koji Yakusho) feeds raw meat from his
mouth to Bran, a wolf-dog, who has been refusing to eat, is quite interesting!
Primary school days
In 1962, Koji entered Isahaya City Primary School. Koji says that he was actually a rather naughty boy. He did sword battles in
the mountain and went fishing in the river. From his 4th grade on, he started learning swimming at the city swimming pool. He
also recollects that during his primary school days, to get some spending money, he delivered newspaper before going to shool.
When he was nine or so, he injured his chin at school and had several stitches. In the interview in the program of "Shitsurakuen/
The Lost Paradise (1997), Koji recalls that when he was crying at the hospital, his father came to him with a model airplane and
some bananas, and that then he stopped crying. Shoichiro Kuki's last scene remark in the snow, in "The Lost Paradise", "When I
was nine, my dad bought me a baseball glove. I was so happy that I went to sleep wearing it." seemed to have remind Koji of this
Koji's Junior & Senior High School days
In 1968, Koji entered Isahaya City Junior High School. He belonged to the swimming club while in first grade and to the
basketball club while in second grade. During junior high school days, instead of delivering newspapers, he started delivering
bottled milk. He also started learning to play the guitar as he had been very impressed to hear one of his elder brothers ( then a
university student in Tokyo) play Joan Baez's "House Of The Rising Sun" on the guitar for him at home. After that Koji
immediately started working part-time to buy a guitar.
In 1971 Koji entered Nagasaki Prefectural Omura High School of Technology and took the civil engineering course. Together with
his friends, Koji got together a music small band and also performed on the stage. He did not show any interest in the stage
dramas, though. In a "Kinema Jumpo" interview in 1994, Koji recalls that in those days he looked down on the boys who did
drama club activities; in fact he thought those who performed stage plays were rather sissy!
Chiyoda Kuyakusho days
In 1974, having already passed the civil service exams, Koji graduated from high school, and he went up to Tokyo to work for the
Chiyoda Kuyakusho (Chiyoda Municipal Ward Office, where he was allocated to the road construction section of the civil
Koji mentions that he was actually supposed to have been employed by the small construction company in Nagasaki which one of
his uncles ran, but that he had wanted to see Tokyo before working there. The reason he decided on the Chiyoda Municipal Ward
Office was that it was located in almost the center of Tokyo. It is quite moving to relate that before Koji left Isahaya for Tokyo,
his mother had herself made him a set of futon (Japanese style bedding).
Seemingly, his early life in Tokyo was rather tough for him. He lived in a very small flat in Koenji, where he could commute to the
Chiyoda Kuyakusho by subway. Koji recollects that the Tozai line subway train became so jam-packed during the morning rush-
hours that he often became sick and had to get off the train on the way.
In the summer of 1976, a lady colleague happened to give Koji a stage drama ticket, saying that she was not able to go herself.
Now the ticket happened to be for the Haiyuza Theater Group's performance of "Donzoko" ("The Lower Depths" by Maxim
Gorky), starring Tatsuya Nakadai; Koji was very intrigued by the whole drama.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun (newspaper) he remarks: "It was a drama about people staying at a cheap inn ("at the
bottom of society" as it were) who talk about their own life philosophy. Actually their sentiment must have matched mine at a
time when I felt like leaving Tokyo to return to Isahaya. As it was, for the first time, I felt that stage dramas were really worth
Being interested in stage dramas from then on, Koji started seeing lots of plays; and in due course, he felt like becoming an actor.
Then he happened to find an article in a newspaper saying that an audition was due to be held by Mumei-juku which was headed
by that same Tatsuya Nakadai, the famous actor, together with his wife Yasuko Miyazaki --herself, an actress and playwright.
Incidentally, it was the second time that Mumei-juku began an audition for the public and it was Koji's fourth year at the
Kuyakusho. Koji actually thought of taking the audition just to try his luck prior to going back to Isahaya.
縲�br> Mumei-juku audition
In the spring of 1978, Koji took an audition for Mumei-juku (studio for unknown actors) at Nakadai's home in Setagaya in Tokyo
and was selected as one of four lucky ones out of 800 candidates. He then quit the Chiyoda Kuyakusho office and engaged in
training as an actor under the Nakadais. Just before he left the Kuyakusho, his colleagues held a special party for him at the
Kuyakusho cafeteria both to celebrate his success and to encourage Koji in his new start.
Here are some interesting and legendary episodes about Koji's early Mumeiju-ku days.
1. Self-introduction in the application form in which Koji completed
'My face is long and looks is stern, but my heart is quite gentle. On finding people in trouble, I will go to rescue them, even if I
am in a penniless situation myself.'
2. The first test at the audition
( a ) Acting - Pantomime style
The theme given was:-
'While meandering happily in a park, you find somebody's wallet on the ground, when all of a sudden along comes a car.'
Koji started acting out this theme without knowing what a pantomime actually meant and dancing something like a ballet (
without even knowing what ballet was) in order to show his happy feelings. The strange action which Koji took when he
supposedly noticed the car, puzzled the examiners somewhat. What Koji did was to try to catch the car by hand!
( b ) Reading aloud
While reading the designated passage, he became faint and collapsed. He had thought that reading in a very loud voice was the
best he could do to impress the examiners.
3. Mumei-juku Entrance Ceremony
On the very morning of the Mumei-juku Entrance Ceremony, Koji was late because he overslept! The reason was that he had been
so excited the previous night that he had not been able to sleep at all. As a result, he was three hours late for the ceremony! And
that was not all. Koji was very impressed to find that Tatsuya Nakadai was still there waiting for him notwithstanding that he had
Koji recalls that Nakadai then advised him that in future he should come to any meetings at least one hour beforehand. Ever since
then Koji has paid head to that injunction. Nakadai himself has stated in a TV interview that Koji has never been late since then,
adding that Koji was spotted on one occasion, waiting for the opening of a film studio before the scheduled gate opening time.
Training at Mumei-juku studio
In the middle of May in 1978, nearly 20 days after Koji had joined the studio, Rui Tsuda, a noted drama critic, paid a visit to
Mumei-juku. In the August issue of the magazine, "Higeki Kigeki"(Tragedies and Comedies), Tsuda made a report about the
Mumei-juku as well as how the Mumei-ju pupils were trained by the Nakadais. In essence, what he said was:-
Tatsuya Nakadai and Yasuko Miyazaki's Mumei-juku studio activities actually started in the spring of 1975, when some young
actors and actresses who respected Tatsuya Nakadai gradually came to start visiting a rehearsal room which Nakadai had had
built in his garden to use for his own acting practice. While giving these young people some advice about acting, the Nakadais
came to think of recruiting the people from the general public so as to be able to train them in acting skills.
The Mumei-juku studio was tuition-free, and the contract period was basically three months. Their principle was that if the
Nakadais judged that those newly- selected pupils had no realistic potential as actors, they would have to leave the studio for the
sake of their own future. The previous year, six pupils had been selected out of 700 candidates, but now only Daisuke Ryu ( seen in
" Ran" and "Kagemusha窶�) had remained. Among those who were already professional actors, was one Saeko Kawazu, who
was to become Koji窶冱 future wife.
About the training, Tsuda reported:-
Around nine o'clock that morning, led by Nakadai himself, the nine pupils started off by running as far as Kinuta park, which lay
just a kilometer from the Mumei-juku studio; then they ran around the Park once and did calisthenics. After coming back to the
studio, the pupils had vocalization practice; then Nakadai and Miyazaki taught them acting.
In addtion Tsuda happened to witness Koji Hashimoto playing a skit with a girl classmate. Tsuda noted that what Nakadai and
Miyazaki tried to teach their new pupils, first of all, was mainly how to breathe rather than how to act; that is to say, how to utter
lines and how to make a pause. This skit practice was repeated again and again for nearly two hours!
During that visit Yasuko Miyazaki said to Tsuda: "There isn't any graduation time in our Mumei-juku; those who have got trained
at this studio can return here whenever they confront 'walls' in acting, even after they have started their careers as professional
actors. Here they may actually discover a new way of performing since Mumei-juku also functions as a place for re-training.
Koji's debut as YAKUSHO Koji
Koji's life as a Mumei-juku pupil seems to have been quite tough financially; in fact during his Mumei-juku training , he had to
work part-time in order to earn the rent for his apartment.
Nonetheless, little by little, Koji was able to get started on his career as an actor. Nakadai gave Koji Hashimoto the stage name of
'Yakusho Koji' prior to his debut.
The reason for this naming can now be quite readily understood.. 'Yakusho' certainly derived partly from the fact that Koji had
worked at Chiyoda Kuyakusho office; but Nakadai seemingly also gave Koji the name of YAKUSHO for the reason that he
anticipated that Koji would be able one day to become a versatile actor. This we can surmise from the fact that Yakusho Koji can
also be read in Chinese characters (Kanji) as YAKUDOKORO HIROSHI, which indicates that his acting field is expected to be
In the autumn of 1978, Koji made his stage debut in the Mumei-juku performance, "Oedipus" starring Tatsuya Nakadai. His role
was as one of the chorus members. In 1979 Koji appeared in two films: "Yamino Karyudo" and "Eireitachi no Ouenka" . His TV
debut was in 1980 in the NHK serial drama, "Nacchan no Shashinkan".
In 1981 Koji was selected to perform a major character, Callimaco Guadagno, in an Italian comedy, "Mandragola", and his
acting was highly praised.
In May, 1982, Koji married actress, Saeko Kawazu, who was a senior member at Mumei-juku. Koji has not told much about their
romance. What Koji remarked during a TV interview, however, was that when he was in hospital due to a stomach ulcer, Saeko
often visited the hospital, giving him useful advice about food. Since her father had been suffering from a stomach ulcer for a long
time, she knew how to deal with an ulcer patient.
Koji reflected that at first Saeko must have been anxious about getting married to Koji because she was four years older than
Koji; moreover Koji's future as an actor was not yet assured. Koji mentioned his life with her in a magazine interview in 1985,
saying, "I learn quite a lot from her because she is senior in life as well as acting. I am the type of person who tends to be
absorbed in things, whereas she can quickly change her mood. We call each other 'Yakusho' and 'Shako'". In the early 1980s,
Koji and Saeko appeared in a curry commercial (You Tube).
The Roles of Oda Nobunaga and Miyamoto Musashi
What made Koji Yakusho famous was when he appeared in NHK one year TV serial drama, "Tokugawa Ieyasu", in 1983, as Oda
Nobunaga. When he appeared in this drama as young Nobunaga, viewers had a tremendous impact from the unknown young
actor's superb performance and became enhanced with his irresistible charm. Koji said that since his name was widely known
among viewers, he came to receive about 800 fan letters a day!
In 1984, Koji appeared in a year-long NHK TV drama, Ｍiyamoto Musashi and this secured his fame and popularity as an actor.
- - - o 0 o - - -
The following is the story of Koji Yakusho's earlier days which I
have gleaned from various sources.
Created on March 27, 05
Renewed on October 19, 05
Koji Yakusho as Miyamoto