Kirk Kanesaka

Kirk Kanesaka

Kirk Kanesaka

Assistant Professor

Japanese Studies: Premodern Japanese literature with an emphasis on Early Modern (1600-1868) popular fiction and plays; Japanese performing arts; East Asian cinema, anime and popular culture.

Kirk Kanesaka is a native Southern Californian who is a second generation Japanese-American.  His interests in Japanese culture began when he was three under the influence of his grandmother who wished all of her grandchildren learn some aspects of their heritage. Kirk began by learning Japanese classical dance (nihon buyō) which eventually lead him to earn his natori (equivalent to a Master's) and then his shihan (equivalent to Ph.D) from the Bandō school of Japanese classical dance.

Kirk's passion for Japanese classical dance eventually led him to study aboard at Tokyo University during his undergraduate years while he was attending UCLA.  This lead him down a different path where he was recruited into the Kabuki theater, becoming the first non-Japanese citizen to become a professional Kabuki actor since the theater's founding in the late 1500s. He is apprenticed to National Living Treasure, Sakata Tōjūrō who bestowed upon him the acting name of Nakamura Gankyō.

This passion for the Japanese arts fueled Kirk's passions to have a better understanding of the plays and texts created during the Japanese Early Modern Period.  His love for literature, performing arts and popular culture has influenced his various research topics that has additionally shaped the courses he has created to share with his students.

Kirk has created the first Japanese Award at George Mason University in honor of the donor entitled: Ogomori Award for Excellence in Japanese Cultural Studies.  The Ogomori Award for Excellence in Japanese Cultural Studies will be awarded to the top graduating Japanese minor every Spring, starting in 2022. 


Current Research

Currently, Kirk is working on his manuscript that examines the intersection between the emerging genres of Early Modern popular fiction and the performing arts while also continuing to work on other research projects that entails the representations of the supernatural in Japanese arts, the role of the theater in the formation of the Japanese national identity, and the impact Kabuki has on the contemporary culture.

Selected Publications

“Labour of Love: Chinese to English Fan Translations of BL Web Novels.” Co-authored with Gladys Mac.  Forthcoming Chinese Popular Culture in Translation and Transmission (Forthcoming 2023).

Grants and Fellowships

Aratani Field Research Fellowship, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California, Los Angeles 2018.

Dissertation Year Fellowship, University of California, Los Angeles, October-September 2017-2018.

Haruhisa Handa Professorship for Shinto Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, June-August 2017.

Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities Fellowship, University of California, Los Angeles, September 2016.

Aratani Field Research Fellowship, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California, Los Angeles 2015.

Fulbright Fellowship (IIE), Tokyo, 2013-2015.

Sanakawa Fellowship, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California, Los Angeles 2012.

Courses Taught

JAPA 201: Intermediate Japanese I

JAPA 202: Intermediate Japanese II

JAPA 240: Introduction to Japanese Civilization 

JAPA 310: Introduction to Japanese Popular Culture 

JAPA 320: Introduction to Japanese Cinema

JAPA 340: Special Topics in Japanese Literature

     "Japanese Tales of the Supernatural" 

     "Tales from the Floating World"

JAPA 360

     "Introduction to Anime" 

JAPA 370

     "Video Games and Japan"

JAPA 380

     "Japan in Motion"

JAPA 420

     "Ecocriticism and Japanese Culture"


University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.

Ph.D., Asian Languages and Cultures, Fall 2018.

Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan.

Department of Japanese Language and Literature, Visiting Researcher Fellow, 2013-2015.

Department of Theater, Visiting Researcher Fellow, 2013-2015.

Tokyo University, Tokyo, Japan.

Department of Literature, Visiting Researcher Fellow, 2013-2015.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.

M.A., East Asian Languages and Cultures, August 2010.


Recent Presentations

“Teetering Between Boundaries: Topographic Demarcations of the Deranged in Ihara Saikaku’s Sensuality of Five Women.”  Association of Modern Language Association.  San Francisco, California.  January2023.

“Engulfed in Flames: Oshichi’s Transformation from a Criminal into an Exemplary Maiden.”  Association for Asian Studies.  Honolulu, Hawai’i.  March 2022.

"Beauty in Motion, Beauty in Stillness: Japanese Dolls." Presented by the Japan Information & Culture Center Embassy of Japan Washington D.C.. Washington D.C., January 2022.

"Kabuki: The Popular Art of Edo, Today!" Otokon hosted by the Japan Information & Culture Center Embassy of Japan Washington D.C.. Washington D.C., August 2021.

"Strike a Pose: The Floating World of Kabuki and Prints." University for Arkansas. Fayetteville, Arkansas, April 2021.

"Navigating the Academic Job Search in the time of the Pandemic: Academic Job Search Panel with ALC Alumni." University of California, Los Angeles. Los Angeles, California, February 2021.

"Viewing Kabuki from the Center Stage: How the Serpent at Dōjōji Temple Slithered into Our Heart." University of Alberta.  Alberta, Canada, November 2020.

“Peaking behind the Striped Curtain: Highlights of The Lion Dancer from Echigo.” University of Wisconsin. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 2019.

“The Actor’s Gaze: Ohatsu for the Modern Woman.”  Occidental College.  Los Angeles, Ca.  April 2019.

“Early Modern Performative Transformation of The Genpei Wars: The Battle Chronicles of the Two Leaves at the Valley of Ichinotani.”  Association for Asian Studies.  Denver, Colorado.  March 2019.

“Senjaku’s Gaze: Kabuki for the Modern Woman.” Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance of Royal Holloway 2nd Annual Symposium.  Egham, England. May 2018.

“From One Generation to the Next: Secret Transmissions in Staging The Maiden at Dōjōji Temple.” University of Southern California.  March 2018.

“Peaking Behind the Stripped Curtain: Producing a Kabuki Performance.” University of California, Los Angeles. January 2018.

Anime to Nihon kenkyū” (“Anime and Japanese Studies”). Key Note Speaker. Japanese Language Unified School Kyōdo System. September 2017.

“The Gaze that Triggered the ‘Senjaku Boom.’” Association for Asian Performance. Las Vegas, NV. August 2017.

“Traditional Japanese Theater and Theater Studies in a Global Age.” The Yanai Initiative for Japanese Performing Arts Program at UCLA.  Los Angeles, Ca. May 2017.

“From the Drawing Board to the Center Stage: A look into the crossover from manga to the Kabuki Theater: One Piece.” Key Note Speaker.  California State University, San Bernardino. November 2016.

“Exploring the Actor’s Analects of Kyōkanoko Musume Dōjōji” in Japanese. Waseda Theater and Film Conference at Waseda University. July 2015.

“Viewing Kabuki from the Center Stage: An Examination of a Woman’s Sexuality in Kyōkanoko Musume Dōjōji.” Association of Asian Studies Conference. Chicago, IL. March 2015.

In the Media

Kirk was awarded the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific 2022 Heritage Award for his contribution in promoting the Asian and Asian-American cultures to the United States (Awarded as Gankyo Nakamura).

Kirk is featured in the Netflix action movie, Kate (release date: September 10, 2021).