TOKYO - A star of traditional Japanese theatre who called in sick, then went out drinking and ended up brawling in a bar apologized Tuesday for the scandal that has embarrassed the rarefied world of Kabuki.

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

Originating in the 1600s, Kabuki is a stylized 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 makeup and elaborate costumes.

Although the audience still tends to be elderly, young performers like Ichikawa have revived interest in Kabuki in recent years by tackling TV shows and other works outside their genre.

Ichikawa, from one of the most respected kabuki families, has won fans with his telegenic look and powerful performance at home and abroad, including France, the U.S. and Australia.

But Ichikawa has been suspended indefinitely from performing Kabuki by theatre operator Shochiku Co. following the incident at a celebrity bar in a ritzy Tokyo neighbourhood on Nov. 25. He had been out 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," Ichikawa told reporters, wearing a dark suit and a tie, with his left eye still bloodshot. He spoke somberly and bowed deeply several times in apology.

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

He declined to give further details about the brawl.

Japanese media have reported that police have obtained an arrest warrant for a 26-year-old man for an alleged assault, but quoted one of the attackers as saying Ichikawa encouraged the fight.

The Kabuki star admitted he was very drunk. He said he suffered a fractured left cheek bone, two chipped front teeth, and multiple internal and head bruises.

The injuries have already forced him to cancel an appearance in a high-profile year-end show in Kyoto.

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 TV commercials featuring him "until all records are set straight," citing "social impact."

Japanese media reports estimated the damage from his absence on stage and TV commercials to be around 100 million to 200 million yen ($1.2 million to $2.4 million).

"A major blow to Kabuki's frontman," the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest, said recently of Ichikawa's injury and his scandal. "It could also hurt the overall image of the world of Kabuki."