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Japanese theatre star 'regrets' bar brawl

A star of traditional Japanese theatre who called in sick then went out drinking and ended up brawling in a bar apologised for a scandal that has embarrassed the rarefied world of kabuki.

Ebizo Ichikawa, 33, known as the "prince" of kabuki, gave a televised news conference yesterday hours after leaving a Tokyo hospital where he was treated for the facial injury sustained in the fracas, which has rivetted the nation for almost two weeks.

Originating in the 1600s, kabuki is a stylised all-male theatre that combines music, dance and acting to tell stories about samurai vendettas, love suicides and everyday city life in performances that use outlandish facial make-up and elaborate costumes

Mr Ichikawa, who is from one of the most respected kabuki families, has won fans with his telegenic looks and powerful performances. But he has been suspended indefinitely from performing kabuki by the theatre operator Shochiku Co. after the incident at a celebrity bar in Tokyo on 25 November. He went drinking after skipping a daytime media event, citing health reasons.

"I'm very sorry for causing tremendous trouble and concerns. I deeply regret what I did," Mr Ichikawa told reporters, wearing a dark suit and a tie with his left eye still bloodshot. He spoke sombrely and bowed deeply several times in apology.

Mr Ichikawa said he had been drinking with a group of young men he had just met, and later helped one of them who had passed out. He said this may have led to a misunderstanding as other men in the group attacked him.

At least three main sponsors have pulled TV commercials featuring him. Food company Yamaki Co, medical products maker Pip Co. and soft drink manufacturer Itoen Co. said they have temporarily suspended adverts featuring him "until all records are set straight", citing "social impact".