Saturday, January 5, 2019

ENGEKIKAI (#1) January 2019: cover and contents

Kabuki Woogie began in 2011 as a way to record a research trip to Japan I took on a Mellon Fellowship a year earlier. My day-to day-experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, are archived at the beginning of the blog. Over the past few years, Kabuki Woogie provided regular entries on the history of the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site after four additional incarnations. The series, which offered 24 chapters, ended recently with a chapter on 1911, when the theatre underwent significant renovation, ending its first incarnation.

In November 2018,  I began to post images of the cover of each month’s issue of the long-running kabuki magazine, Engekikai (Theatre World), which I’ve provided on Facebook for a number of years. I will also post any other items of kabuki interest as they become available, including my own writings. All previous entries remain intact and can be found by using the search box.
Photo: Sasayama Kishin

The cover of the January 2019 (#1) issue of ENGEKIKAI, the kabuki magazine of record, shows the actor-managers of the Heisei Nakamura-za troupe, Nakamura Shichisaburō II, left, and his brother, Nakamura Kankurō VI, in the company’s November 2018 production of Iyasakae Shibai no Nigiwai (which might loosely be rendered as The Excitement of a Prosperous Theatrical Production). Also shown are d sons, Nakamura Chōzaburō II (left) and Nakamura Kantarō II. The older brothers play a wife-husband pair of old time actor managers, and the younger brothers play their “young master” (wakadayū) sons.


The principal article in the issue is “Actors Born During the Heisei Era,” inspired by the imminent end of the era, which will happen on April 30, when Emperor Akihito abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne. His reign will have lasted 30 years. The issue also contains an interview with star actor Onoe Shōroku III; an overview of the 11th production of Kataoka Ainosuke and other actors at the Eiraku-za, an old style kabuki theatre built in 1901 in Toyooka City, Hyōgo Prefecture; the latest entry in a series by actor Matsumoto Kōshirō X, “One Thousand and One Nights”; a piece on the reopening of Kyoto’s venerable Minami-za, after extensive renovations; and a look at the traditional kaomise (“face showing”) program there this past November. Also noted is the provision of a kabuki actors’ calendar, sent to all subscribers, with each month’s page showing the image used for that month’s ENGEKIKAI cover in 2018.

Friday, January 4, 2019

YAKUSHA OR HAIYŪ: KABUKI ACTORS AT THE CROSSROADS, 1952-1965

Kabuki Woogie began in 2011 as a way to record a research trip to Japan I took on a Mellon Fellowship a year earlier. My day-to day-experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, are archived at the beginning of the blog. Over the past few years, Kabuki Woogie provided regular entries on the history of the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site after four additional incarnations. The series, which offered 24 chapters, ended recently with a chapter on 1911, when the theatre underwent significant renovation, ending its first incarnation.

Readers may also skim the blog for reproductions of the covers of Engekikai, kabuki's monthly magazine of record, which I began posting in November 2018.


The following is a paper I gave this past November at a conference held at Tel Aviv University. The conference was called Creation, Preservation, and Transformation of Theatre Traditions: East and West. My paper is based on a much longer chapter of the same name in my 2014 book Kabuki at the Crossroads: Years of Crisis, 1952-1965. Citations, omitted from the paper, can be found there.

Yakusha or Haiyū?: Kabuki Actors at the Crossroads

Samuel L. Leiter

The years 1952 to 1965 were among the most crucial in the modern history of Japan’s kabuki theatre. 1952 is the year the American Occupation, which began in late 1945, ended. During those seven years, postwar Japan greatly intensified the mission of Westernization it had been on since opening its doors in the mid-19th century.

Among the many stresses felt during the Occupation was the fear that, in the rush to westernize, or, rather, to Americanize, many of Japan’s cultural achievements would either disappear or be seriously weakened in competition with shiny new ones imported from abroad. Among the threatened standard bearers was kabuki, which the Occupation authorities originally subjected to censorship, objecting to its feudalistic values.

The details of how kabuki survived have been told in various books and articles over the past decade, but the story didn’t end there. From 1952-1965, many new stresses affected kabuki’s health, most of them chronicled in my 2013 book Kabuki at the Crossroads: Years of Crisis, 1952-1965. Today, I’d like to talk about several of the issues concerning kabuki actors and how they responded to these threats.

In 1954, a new theatre devoted to shingeki, or Western-influenced drama, opened in Tokyo. It was called the Haiyū-za. Haiyū means actor so the name could easily be translated as Actors’ Theatre. But no one would expect that the actors working here were from kabuki, since kabuki actors were traditionally known as yakusha.

Simply said, since the Meiji period, which ended in 1912, there has been a tendency for even kabuki actors to use the word haiyū, as if yakusha somehow smelled of a dishonorable past. Haiyū sounded more modern and respectable. Between 1952 and 1965, this trend intensified, and the principal kabuki institutions used the word haiyū in their names. Today, the words are often interchangeable.

The dilemma embodied in this seemingly minor disagreement over terminology is symbolic of a greater question: what was the future for kabuki actors in a westernized Japan, and how could they secure their niche within the world of postwar entertainment? Were they useless dinosaurs, or were they major artists seeking to advance a great traditional theatre and make it responsive to the needs of a recovering nation seeking self-respect and the world’s regard?

Kabuki actors were prominent cultural figures and were involved in numerous controversies, rivalries, experiments, and developments. It was a time when actors seeking career alternatives or supplements to kabuki’s perceived instability found them by acting in movies, television, and radio, as well as other forms of theatre.

This was part of a general movement toward self-determination among kabuki actors, who frequently found ways to declare their independence of kabuki’s feudalistic practices, doing the unthinkable of putting themselves before their group. Kabuki actors accepted the challenge of acting outside kabuki, including in Western classics, and in companies mingling men and women. The idea that actresses could hold their own in the traditionally all-male kabuki world was explored, with kabuki stars commonly acting with real women, not female impersonators or onnagata. Such mixed-genre productions put a spotlight on the future of the onnagata.

Kabuki has found various ways to make the past ever present. However, at a time when kabuki’s future was being debated because of economic problems and competition from other forms of entertainment, concerns were raised about proper training for the next generation as well as about ways in which to discover actors not born into the kabuki world.

The matter of proper training became even more urgent when the classical Chinese theatre form jingju toured Japan in 1956, led by female-role specialist Mei Lan-fang. Viewers were fascinated by the physical discipline of the remarkably well-trained Chinese actors.

Interest in Chinese theatre was renewed in the 1950s even before Mei’s visit because of two developments, 1) the forced exile there of a kabuki actor whose communist affiliations had forced him to flee Japan, and 2) a tour to China in 1955, kabuki’s first foreign visit since 1928. The musical and sketch-like dramatic elements of jingju were considered more like and kyōgen, but many thought its female impersonators, dramatic poses, painted faces, and acrobatic combats were reminiscent of kabuki. Yet closer comparison revealed strong differences.

The remarkable skills of the Chinese resulted from awesome dedication. When contrasted with the unified effect of Chinese acting, kabuki seemed filled with gaps. Not a crack in the facade was visible. This was attributed to the state support then received by jingju, with training units located throughout the country. Despite kabuki’s desire to provide the same level of training there would be no formal program until the National Theatre, opened in 1966, began one in 1970. Even then the actors involved were almost all bound for supporting roles.

A kabuki actor’s training was based on master-disciple relationships, with different masters for specialized arts, like music, dance, and chanting, and not part of a formalized system. Much of an actor’s education took place indirectly, by watching his elders and being on stage from childhood on.

The current stars were too overworked to worry about anything else than their next month’s roles, much less training their successors. The issue was among the many obstacles restricting kabuki’s healthy progress. Another was the movies.

The cinema was yet another threat to stability and health. Movies offered fame and riches to promising talents, robbing the theatre of its future pillars. A genre like kabuki can’t afford to see its best and brightest leaving for the movies. A sizable number of actors decided to venture into films, although some returned to the stage. Regardless, their departure revealed the problems of being a kabuki actor at a time when economic and artistic challenges were assailing the art form.

Japan’s film industry was experiencing its golden age, largely because of an explosion of great directors. The demand for actors capable of acting in period roles was strong, and few could do them as well as those with kabuki backgrounds.

Prewar kabuki actors who switched to movies were mainly those with unsteady stage careers, since kabuki is largely a domain where stars are born into or adopted by the families of other stars. It’s easy to see why lesser names might have chosen film careers.

Despite the occasional loss of promising prewar actors, it was nothing like what happened afterward, when budding stage stars, even those from major families, found film careers too seductive to ignore. The best example was Ōtani Tomoemon (later Nakamura Jakuemon IV, 1920-2012), who had a five-year movie star career, from 1950-1955. Tomoemon, originally a leading man, had become a respected onnagata before returning to male parts on screen. He had great talent but he had started late and, seeing limited opportunities, was persuaded to go into films. The difference between him and those who followed is that he never quit kabuki. Films were merely a way to boost his visibility.

He did a small number of kabuki performances during his film years, but when he returned to the stage for good, Shōchiku, kabuki’s producing company, exiled him to Osaka, where he remained, with brief exceptions, throughout the last half of the 1950s.

Tomoemon later said he didn’t consider his film work valuable to his stage acting: “There are some whose experiences acting in movies make them better kabuki actors, but for me, my heart wasn’t really in it and I usually did my job while longing to return to kabuki, so it had no use to me as an actor.”
Ōtani Tomoemon (later Nakamura Jakuemon IV)

Adapting to films wasn’t easy. He tried to do exactly what the director told him. If the director said “sleep,” he slept, if he said “walk,” he walked. But the director might say, “You’re walking funny. Don’t walk the way you do on stage, just walk as you do usually.” Then he would try to walk in a normal way but it would seem odd to the director. He might have to repeat this twenty times before the director was satisfied.

Tomoemon found that his heart was in kabuki and his body in movies, but he was trapped by his contract. There was only a verbal contract with Shōchiku, but in movies contracts were necessary. And taxes were so heavy that he kept feeling compelled to make another film to pay them off. He was in a vicious cycle; when he finally returned to kabuki, his long absence made it hard for him to catch up.      

Those who tried to work in both films and kabuki were sometimes criticized for the damage that movie acting brought to their art. Critic Tobe Ginsaku suggested in 1955 that kabuki actors should be banned from films because they had begun to bring an overly internalized approach to their work on stage. As an example, he stated that while kabuki dances traditionally end with the performers facing the audience directly, he had noticed a recent tendency for them to face each other instead. Similar stories could be told about kabuki actors and their activity on TV, which was introduced to Japan in 1953.

The restlessness among kabuki actors was also expressed in a rash of highly publicized productions of Western plays that began in 1960. Between that year and 1965 three of the leading kabuki actors starred in five major productions of Western drama, a field normally occupied by modern theatre or shingeki actors. In fact, the supporting casts in four out the five were dominated by shingeki players; the same four productions were staged outside a standard kabuki theatre.

The involvement of kabuki stars in these ventures didn’t mean that they were contemplating leaving for other genres. The trend was a reflection of the widening scope of possibilities becoming available as the greater social and artistic freedom provided by postwar conditions made it easier to attempt challenging experiments. Of the five plays produced during the 1960-1965 period, the best example was Cyrano de Bergerac, the sole example produced at the main kabuki theatre, the Kabuki-za.
Onoe Shōroku II as Cyrano, Yamada Isuzu as Roxanne, in Cyrano de Bergerac.

Onoe Shōroku’s Cyrano was supported by a large company of top kabuki actors, with actresses in the female roles. Shōroku, who was worried about slipping attendance at the Kabuki-za, saw kabuki settling into a stream of creative inertia. He came to believe that there should be thoroughly rehearsed presentations of different kinds of plays.

This production had far more rehearsal time than ever given to kabuki, which gets only several days between one month’s program and the next. Every night after their evening programs. Cyrano’s actors rehearsed, often till dawn. If a foreign play could benefit so much from such conscientious rehearsal, why couldn’t the same be true for kabuki itself?

Nevertheless, critics began to question what value these productions had for the stars, outside of relieving them of the tedium of playing in only traditional plays with actors of similar backgrounds. One critic felt kabuki actors would have been better off concentrating their experimental interests in the staging of modern kabuki plays. Shōroku insisted that he gained much from acting in Western classics, first, because he was able to satisfy his ambition, and second, because it allowed him to view kabuki with fresh eyes, especially after having the ability to rehearse for a full month instead of a few days.

The opposite phenomenon occurred in 1964 when a shingeki company tackled a kabuki play, Yotsuya Kaidan (The Ghost Story of Yotsuya), in a carefully rehearsed, four-and-a-half hour production. It had a realistic style that kept certain conventions while adopting various modern innovations. This production began a process of serious re-examination of classic scripts, which could only have been a benefit to kabuki’s progress. Seeing a kabuki play through the eyes of non-kabuki actors was a valuable inspiration for those willing to accept it.

In the time remaining, I’d like to touch on the ongoing dilemma of the presence of male actors playing female roles in modern kabuki.
Kyō Machiko

Kyō Machiko, the star of Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, was one of a relatively small group of actresses that began costarring with kabuki actors in various forms of the 1950s. Most of these actresses costarred at least twice with kabuki actors, some even more, both at mainstream venues like the Kabuki-za and at theatres that specialized in other genres.

Prewar examples existed but it wasn’t until the postwar period, with the “intermingling” of actors from different genres, that actresses and kabuki actors began to regularly share the same stage. Nevertheless, the closest such productions came to being what could be defined as authentic kabuki was in the realm of dance, and even that was rare. While it became fairly common to see the name of a famous actress on a kabuki program, their plays were almost always either new ones written for kabuki and dealing with historical events or from some other genre, usually shinpa.

And the actresses themselves were not artistically homogeneous, some having extensive training in kabuki-style dance, others having been trained as singer-actresses in the all-female Takarazuka Revue, others having worked mainly in films, and others specializing in modern drama. Most had some training in traditional dance, invaluable in providing the bearing for acting in period plays. Some, like Yaeko Mizutani, could hold their own against major kabuki dancers and would probably have been able to play certain classical roles if given the chance.
Yaeko Mizutani

A reminder of the potential ability of actresses to play kabuki was the unusual circumstance in 1961 when Yamada Isuzu was scheduled to appear at the Kabuki-za in four roles in two new plays but had to cancel because of illness. Filling in for her was not another actress, but three top onnagata. This demonstrated how easily the gender barrier could be crossed without doing serious damage, at least in modern kabuki drama.
Yamamoto Fujiko

The introduction of actresses could create problems, as one case in particular illustrates. Yamamoto Fujiko, chosen in 1950 as the first Miss Japan, was a successful film actress who had had appeared in a succession of movies, her range constantly expanding. But in 1963 her movie career came to a screeching halt when she demanded changes in her contract with Daiei. Daiei was so furious it blackballed her from ever appearing in a Daiei film and convinced the five top movie companies, parties to the Five Company Agreement (Gosha Kyōtei), not to hire her either. Many viewed the incident as an abuse of Yamamoto’s human rights, and it was even debated in the Diet, but she never made another movie. Announcing that she was “free,” she shifted her sights to the stage and television, and she signed with Shōchiku to costar in July 1963 with the recently named Danjūrō XI at the Kabuki-za. But Shōchiku acquired her commitment before asking Danjūrō for his; this was a mistake.
Ichikawa Danjūrō XI.
Danjūrō was disturbed that he had not been consulted and decided not to appear. Soon, a newspaper reported that Danjūrō canceled because he wanted July to rest before preparing for the upcoming ceremonial performances honoring Nagoya’s rebuilt kabuki theatre. Shōchiku wanted the production done in July to boost a slow summertime box office but Danjūrō refused to listen to Shōchiku’s pleas. He was also receiving floods of letters opposed to his costarring with a movie actress now that he had ascended from Ebizō to Danjūrō, kabuki’s highest name.

Meanwhile, Yamamoto insisted that she’d agreed only after pressure from Shōchiku. She declared that her good intentions were being met by Danjūrō’s reluctance, which her patrons and friends considered an embarrassment that Shōchiku could not explain away. As a compromise, Shōchiku proposed moving the program up a month to June but no one in the already planned June production was willing to move aside.

Yamamoto explained to a press conference that both she and Danjūrō were victims and that the proposed pairing of the great kabuki actor and popular film actress would not take place. Which it did not. However, in 1964, a persistent producer managed to arrange for Yamamoto to costar with Matsumoto Kōshirō, and even to reach the venerated Kabuki-za’s stage in 1965, costarring there with Nakamura Kanzaburō XVII, one of her roles having first been created by the great onnagata Nakamura Utaemon VI. Disappointingly, a critic wrote: “Yamamoto Fujiko failed in delivering her onnagata-style dialogue.” And while the mixing of actresses with onnagata in shinpa plays, where both were employed, was accepted, when such admired non-shinpa actresses appeared with onnagata the imbalance they created raised critical eyebrows.

The sudden increase in actresses appearing in newly written kabuki plays brought the subject of kabuki’s esteemed onnagata tradition into the spotlight. Female roles in these plays seemed better suited for real women than onnagata, and certain onnagata were even accused of offering a kind of “actress-like” performance. Critic Watanabe Tamotsu, for example, points to a 1958 performance by Ōtani Tomoemon when Tomoemon looked remarkably like an actual woman, a situation that eliminated the artistic effect of external femininity being undergirded by the power of an onnagata’s underlying masculinity. Thus, claims Watanabe, he resembled an actress when he should have been transcending the image of a woman and creating a phantasm of femininity, not actuality.

Watanabe describes another performance, two years later, in 1960, when this tendency peaked. Acting as a Chinese woman, Tomoemon really seemed to be female. Such acting, Watanabe notes, reflects a tendency to make the onnagata so real he becomes a mere substitute for an actress, which defeats the whole purpose of his existence by taking reality to an unnecessary level. He believes Tomoemon did it for three specific reasons, one of which he claims is Tomoemon’s having been influenced by acting with actresses in movies. The technical requirements of movies forced the actresses to be as close to real women as possible. So Tomoemon sought to bring a dose of reality in female behavior to kabuki, where naturalness is denied.

Epitomizing concerns for the future of the onnagata was a newspaper debate published in January and February 1956 between the respected kabuki scholar and critic Tobe Ginsaku and the controversial director-producer-critic Takechi Tetsuji. Called the “Onnagata Debate” (Onnagata Ronsō), it began in a column when Takechi questioned whether the onnagata was still necessary, to which Tobe responded that it was. Each contributed two essays. Takechi’s true motive may have been to argue about the decrease in the acting power of contemporary onnagata rather than to demand their elimination.

It’s impossible to sum up all the issues raised briefly, so I’ll touch on only a few. A full account is in Kabuki at the Crossroads. Takechi doesn’t specifically say that the onnagata is unnecessary. He seems more interested in raising questions than making definite recommendations. He writes about a play called Higashi wa Higashi (East is East) he directed in kyōgen style in 1954 , starring Takarazuka-trained actress Yorozuyo Mineko, whose resonant voice suggested that women could rival men’s vocal powers when playing onnagata roles. 
Yorozuyo Mineko.
He offers an historical overview of actresses in kabuki and other genres and insists that no proof exists to demonstrate their inferiority to men, blaming women’s disappearance from the stage on their declining status on the feudal government, whose oppression of the people turned kabuki into a decadent art. Then, by the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, onnagata acting had become too firmly embedded to be dislodged. Despite the failure of early 20th-century attempts to return women to kabuki, he believed that actresses like Yorozuyo proved the viability of the idea, especially when modern lighting made the male features of the actors so much more uncomfortably apparent than did candlelight.

Tobe argues that Yorozuyo’s performance in an experimental modern play had nothing to do with kabuki and that Takechi’s using her as an example because of her strong voice makes no sense. He says the bright lighting is simply part of accepting the experience of a man playing a woman and insists that the question of women replacing onnagata is minor. Kabuki is what it is because of its 300-year evolution, and the onnagata is more essential to its existence than anything else. 

Tobe declares that to deny the art of onnagata acting means the complete denial of present-day kabuki and what makes it special.

Among other things, Tobe disputes the adequacy of Takechi’s understanding of early kabuki history, when the mere existence of singing and dancing female performers was no proof of their artistic achievement, as opposed to later, when the conditions that forced kabuki to rely on men playing women demanded higher standards.

In the subsequent essays, the debate wanders, even introducing Takechi’s Marxist-based belief that the monopolistic profit motives behind kabuki production are responsible for the decline he sees in onnagata acting. Takechi denies being anti-onnagata, noting that he merely intended to point out how much of a woman’s natural expressiveness is lost when female parts are played by men. Yet his next thought is how, when watching the late onnagata Onoe Baikō VI and Nakamura Jakuemon III, he was able to appreciate their acting, even if it was a distortion of actual femininity, because of the quality of their artistry. Tobe notices this contradiction and throws it in Takechi’s face. 

Ultimately, Takechi, regardless of his eye-catching title about whether the onnagata is necessary, was not insisting that onnagata be replaced by actresses but that, because historical conditions had weakened kabuki, actresses should be sought as one more possibility. In fact, as they spar, neither Takechi nor Tobe ever provides a carefully reasoned rationale for the onnagata’s survival.

Nine years later, Tobe wrote an article summarizing major developments over the past fifteen years, among them the issue of whether actresses should replace onnagata. During that period, of course, there had been numerous instances of leading actresses intermingling with kabuki actors, but by 1965, Tobe noted, not one such actress had appeared in a true kabuki play in a role normally taken by an onnagata. There were no kabuki actors bold enough to break with precedent and challenge the convention. Nor, to my knowledge, has there been since.

This isn’t to deny the occasional experiments outside of mainstream kabuki in which all-women companies have presented kabuki plays. The Ichikawa Girls’ Kabuki, active in the fifties and sixties, was the most interesting example, but Takarazuka also offered limited productions by its kabuki study group, which was mentored by famous actors. The period even saw actresses from the then popular form called onna kengeki, or women’s sword-fighting drama, do a kabuki classic, but there was no critical coverage of these exercises, making it impossible to evaluate their effectiveness. Such presentations continued sporadically over the years, but always in the guise of showcases not meant for general public consumption.

As this paper has noted, during the period of 1952-1965 kabuki actors, worried not only about their own futures but that of kabuki itself found various ways to cope. They turned their attention to acting in other media, to the idea of emulating Chinese training standards, to crossing over into other theatrical genres, and to allowing actresses into their male-dominated precincts. Kabuki has never rested on its laurels. Time and again it comes to a crossroads and time and again whatever road it chooses infuses it with new life.  


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

ENGEKIKAI (#12) December 2018: cover and contents

Kabuki Woogie began in 2011 as a way to record a research trip to Japan I took on a Mellon Fellowship a year earlier. My day-to day-experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, are archived at the beginning of the blog. Over the past few years, Kabuki Woogie provided regular entries on the history of the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site after four additional incarnations. The series, which offered 24 chapters, ended recently with a chapter on 1911, when the theatre underwent significant renovation, ending its first incarnation.

In November 2018,  I began to post images of the cover of each month’s issue of the long-running kabuki magazine, Engekikai (Theatre World), which I’ve provided on Facebook for a number of years. I will also post any other items of kabuki interest as they become available, including my own writings. All previous entries remain intact and can be found by using the search box.

This is the cover of Engekikai for December (#12) 2018, showing Nakamura Kankuro as Satō Shirobei Tadanobu, in reality the fox Genkurō, in the “Yoshinoyama” (Yoshino Mountains) scene of Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees). The production was at the Kabuki-za in October. The issue’s contents headlined on the cover include a major section on Kyoto’s rebuilt Minami-za, that city’s famous kabuki theatre, with contributions from the great actors Sakata Tōjūrō and Kataoka Nizaemon, both of them exemplars of the acting style associated with Kyoto-Osaka kabuki. There are also interviews with Matsumoto Hakuō (father), Matsumoto Kōshirō (son), and Ichikawa Somegorō (grandson) regarding their recent ascension to these names. Other interviews are with actors Kataoka Hidetarō and Onoe Ukon, there’s a discussion between actors Nakamura Ganjirō and his son, Nakamura Senjaku, as well as a piece covering the visit of Shōchiku Grand Kabuki to Paris for the Japonism 2018 festival there.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

ENGEKIKAI #11 (November) 2018: cover and contents


Kabuki Woogie began in 2011 as a way to record a research trip to Japan I took on a Mellon Fellowship a year earlier. My day-to day-experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, are archived at the beginning of the blog. Over the past few years, Kabuki Woogie provided regular entries on the history of the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site after four additional incarnations. The series, which offered 24 chapters, ended recently with a chapter on 1911, when the theatre underwent significant renovation, ending its first incarnation.

With the current entry, I will begin to post images of the cover of each month’s issue of the long-running kabuki magazine, Engekikai (Theatre World), which I’ve provided on Facebook for a number of years. I will also post any other items of kabuki interest as they become available, including my own writings. All previous entries remain intact and can be found by using the search box.



The cover for November (#11), 2018, shows Nakamura Kichiemon II as Shunkan, the exiled priest, in Heike Nyogo no Shima (The Heike and the Island of Women), a.k.a. Shunkan, as performed at the Kabuki-za, October 2018. The issue’s main subject is a section on Japan’s foremost repository of kabuki research materials, the Engeki Hakubutsukan, at Waseda University. The Enpaku, as it’s commonly called, is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Actor Nakamura Tōzō recalls his days at Waseda, and actor Onoe Ukon talks about visiting the library/museum. The issue also contains interviews with kabuki stars Onoe Kikugorō and Kataoka Nizaemon, the latter regarding his performance as Sukeroku in Sukeroku Kuruwa Hatsu Zakura (Sukeroku and the First Cherry Blossoms in the Pleasure Quarters). There’s also a piece about female-role specialist Nakamura Fukusuke’s return to the stage after a long illness, an article about several young actors and their “study groups”: Nakamura Kashō and Nakamura Tanenosuke, and their Sōchōkai; Onoe Ukon and his Tōgi no Kai; and Nakamura Takanosuke and his Tobu no Kai. The issue also contains the latest monthly contribution to Matsumoto Kōshirō’s series, “Kōshirō’s Thousand and One Nights.”


Monday, September 10, 2018

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 25. 1911 (Meiji 44)


Kabuki Woogie began in 2011 as a way to record a research trip to Japan I took on a Mellon Fellowship a year earlier. My day-to day-experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, are archived at the beginning of the blog. For the past couple of years, Kabuki Woogie has been providing entries on the history of the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site after four additional incarnations. It continues to reign as Japan’s foremost theatre.

This is the final chapter in the saga of the first Kabuki-za.


Samuel L. Leiter


Chapter 25

1911 (Meiji 44)


“The Imperial Theatre (Teikoku Gekijō) Is Built; The Second Kabuki-za Is Born”
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[Note: This is Chapter 25 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911), the years of the first Kabuki-za. It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on that project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions.

Each chapter includes not only data on the Kabuki-za but information regarding each important theatrical development of the specific year, including non-kabuki genres such as shinpa, shingeki, and so forth. The series thus serves as a survey of Japanese theatre in the Meiji period (1868-1912), as well as a detailed account of the Kabuki-za in particular. Also cited are the major cultural and political developments of each year, as well as notifications of the deaths of important figures, mainly theatrical but often from other fields as well.

Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material has been added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments and answered translation queries during the preparation of this and all previous entries.For this chapter, additional advice regarding architectural features was given by Profs. Takayuki Hioki and Tadayoshi Kako.
 Corrections and documented additions are always welcome.


The year’s activities will again be provided in segments, the first covering January to June.]


1. January to March 1911

Seeing the audience’s mobile faces in the light shining on them created a feeling akin to that of an artist. With the light striking the people in front of the sajiki galleries, and the beams of evening light streaming in from the open doors behind the galleries, the effect of the rays falling on the spectators’ faces was quite fascinating. This was, at any rate, understandable since, within such a broad structure, light and shadow were being encountered where they normally never appeared.

The square, surrounding galleries of Japan’s theatre are kept open so when it moves from dusk to darkness it feels truly strange to see the color of the air inside the theatre changing as it moves through the muddying air of the pit to high and distant places. I once went to the Kabuki-za when it was rather cold. The unforgettable sight of the residential roofs outside, bathed in an indescribable purple, was more memorable than the performance itself, [From Nagai Kafū, Kōcha no Ato.]

In January 1911, the Shōchiku Gōmei Kaisha (Shōchiku Unlimited Partnership Company) changed its name to the shorter Shōchiku Gōmeisha, meaning basically the same thing. On January 2, the renovations of the company’s Shintomi-za were completed and Osaka sent such actors as Jitsukawa Enjirō, Ichikawa Seitarō, Arashi Rikaku, and Onoe Usaburō to star in the theatre’s first program under Shōchiku’s management. Goban Taiheiki was one of the plays they did.

Also this month, Okamoto Kidō’s still popular Shuzenji Monogatari (Tale of Shuzenji), one of the best modern kabuki plays, was published, with its stage premiere coming in May at the Meiji-za, starring Ichikawa Sadanji II as Yashio.

A new Osaka theatre opened in January, the Dōjima-za, with a bill starring Nakamura Ganjirō, Nakamura Baigyoku, and Ichikawa Sainyū. And, on January 31, the Tōkyō Haiyū Gakkō (Tokyo Actors’ School), founded for shinpa actors in 1908, began giving trial performances at its new experimental theatre, the Ushigomi Kōtō Engeijō, with a program including Kunikida Doppō’s Gyūniku to Bareisho (Meat and Potatoes).

Philosopher Nishida Kitaro’s Zen no Kenkyū (An Inquiry into the Good) was published in January as well. On January 20, skiing began in Japan, when it an Austrian, Gen. Theodore von Lerch, introduced it to Japan’s 58th regiment, in Takada, Niigata Prefecture.

On January 18, as Donald Keene describes it in Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, “the supreme court passed death sentences on twenty-four persons [including radical socialist Kōtoku Shūsui] who had been found guilty of planning to assassinate the emperor. Two other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor.” On January 19, because of the emperor’s request, 12 of the defendants in this case of high treason had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment; the rest (including anarcho-feminist Kanno Suga) were executed on January 24 and 25.

January 1911 also witnessed the death of 50-year-old bunraku shamisen player Toyozawa Danpachi, chief disciple of the late Toyozawa Danpei, who died backstage at the Tenka-za in Ogawa-chō, Kanda, Tokyo. In addition, the following actors rose to billboard (nadai) status: Ichikawa Kurisaburō, who became Ichikawa Kaijūrō II, and Bandō Sumigorō, who became Bandō Takegorō. Further, Nakamura Wakanosuke became a disciple of Shikan, taking the name Nakamura Kannosuke.

The January Kabuki-za production opened at 11:00 a.m. on the 14th, the two-part curtain raiser being the dances called Suzuna no Tanemaki (Turnip-Planting Time) and Soga no Harukoma (The Soga Hobby Horses). The first regular play was Enomoto Torahiko’s adaptation of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s original script for Nebiki no Kadomatsu (Uprooting the Pine). It was followed by Ihara Seiseien’s new play, Kasugayama (Kasuga Mountain), after which came Kami no Megumi Wagō no Torikumi (The “Me” Company of the Gods and a Harmonious Match), a.k.a. Megumi no Kenka (The “Me” Company Quarrel).
Nebiki no Kadomatsu, Kabuki-za, January 1911. L-R: Onoe Baikō VI as Azuma Tayū; Sawamura Sōjūrō VII as Yojibei; Nakamura Shikan V as Okiku. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The most prized part of the program was Nebiki no Kadomatsu’s second act, at Yamazaki Jōkan’s villa, with Kataoka Nizaemon XI, who was also appearing that month at the Meiji-za (appearing at more than one theatre during the same month is called kakemochi), gaining plaudits for his performance as Jōkan. Seiseien’s play borrowed a hint from Russian literature in a fictional account of early days of 16th-century daimyō Uesugi Kenshin. The Metropolitan Police interfered when they considered the story’s point about someone punishing his own brother for his bad behavior to be a corruption of public morals

Many years later, Nizaemon’s son, Nizaemon XIII, recalled:

At the time, the Kabuki-za was Japan’s foremost theatre. Even the dressing rooms were luxurious. First, my father’s dressing room was in a separate building whose entrance area (genkan) you reached via a long, board-covered passageway. There, at the right, was a 12-mat room with a tokonoma alcove, staggered shelves, and a dresser for father and me. To its right was a garden. The six-mat inner room to the left was used by my elder sister, Mineko, and the daughters of the late Danjūrō IX, Suisen and Kyokubai, who had been entrusted to my father’s care.

On crossing the passageway connected to the rear garden there was a lavatory to the left and a bathroom to the right. Inside a waiting room within the entrance area, were the wig dressers (tokoyama) and apprentices (deshi), and a six-mat room for the manservants (otokoshū), and it seemed like they passed through from there to inner room, as well. It was more like a house than a dressing room. Moreover, my father completely rebuilt the old rooms with a totally new bath and toilets. When both Narikomaya-san [Nakamura Shikan] and Ichimura-san [Uzaemon] saw this and noted that Matsushimaya [Kataoka Ichizō] had built a toilet and bath, they immediately undertook construction themselves and, soon, both Narikomaya-san and Ichimura-san’s dressing rooms had baths and toilets. [From Kataoka Nizaemon, Yakusha Shichijū Nen].

Manager Tamura Nariyoshi later wrote:

In the New Year production’s curtain raiser, Harukoma Soga, Onoe Baikō played the courtesan Tora and Sawamura Sōjūrō played the courtesan Shōshō. There was a moment when the pair entered on the hanamichi. The two of them, with no one else involved, were standing in the agemaku [the room leading on to the hanamichi] talking about something. Later. I learned in the street somewhere, that what they’d been discussing in the agemaku was moving to the Teikoku Gekijō (Imperial Theatre) one day. I, of course, I had no way of knowing if this was true or false. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Kokon Monogatari no Dekiagaru Made,” in Shin Engei, June 1917.]

Sure enough, during this production, Baikō, Sōjūrō, and Onoe Matsusuke announced that they were leaving the Kabuki-za for the about-to-open Teikoku, so the three were reviled as traitors. 4\

The newspaper mocked the Kabuki-za’s unpreparedness, the production was faulted, and the year’s first production limped through 25 performances, closing on February 7.

And, on February 10, the Teikoku Gekijō, or as we’ll henceforth call it, the Imperial Theatre, finally opened for inspection.

Edward Seidensticker has written:

The improvers still were not satisfied. Even after the opening of the Kabukiza, they lacked a place where a gentleman might enjoy, in gentlemanly company, the traditional theater. So, in the last full year of Meiji, the Imperial Theater was opened beside the palace moat, on the western edge of Mitsubishi Meadow. Plans were begun in 1906. Shibusawa Eiichi, most energetic and versa tile of Meiji entrepreneurs, was chairman. He was born in 1840, in what is now a part of metropolitan Tokyo. To the true son of Nihombashi he may have been a bumpkin, but his case further demonstrates that Osaka people were not the only successful ones in emergent Tokyo. He was everywhere, doing everything, among the organizers of the Bank of Japan, the First National Bank (the first incorporated bank in the land), the Oji Paper Company, Japan Mail Lines (N.Y.K.), and the private railway company that put through the first line to the far north. His as the somewhat Moorish house . . . that seemed so strange to the young Tanizaki and other children of Nihombashi. Among the other organizers of the Imperial Theater were Prince Saionji and Prince Itō.

The first Imperial, which survived the disaster of 1945, was a highly Gallic structure of marble, hung with tapestries, and provided with seventeen hundred Western-style seats. Initially it had a resident Kabuki troupe, but it never really caught on as a place for Kabuki. The High City liked it better than did the Low City, which had a happy simile: seated in the Imperial, one felt like a cenotaph in a family shrine. The Imperial was the place for gala performances when, in the years before the earthquake, celebrities like Pavlova began appearing. [From Edward Seidensticker, High City, Low City: 1867-1923.]
The new Imperial Theatre (Teikoku Gekijō). From Tōkyō Fūkei Shashin-Chō.
The Kabuki-za’s reaction is noted in a discussion years later:

Shibusawa (Hideo): Then, the next year, in March 1911, the Imperial gave its first production. How did Shōchiku feel about this?

Enzō Tameharu: Shōchiku hadn’t yet taken over the Kabuki-za when the Imperial was built. It was still under the Kabuki-za management, with Tamura Nariyoshi in total control of production. Tamura-san said that the Imperial was in Western style, but the Kabuki-za would always be in Japanese style. However, with the arrival of the Imperial, what was going to happen regarding the actors? Nishino Einosuke asked each of the actors about this.

Shibusawa: They worked for Tamura. At the time, Baikō went to him to ask for time off. He discussed it, saying, “I’ve served the Kabuki-za for a long time, and I’m truly grateful to have done so, but since I’m an onnagata I’d like to play Masaoka [in Meiboku Sendai Hagi] once. However, the Kabuki-za has Narikomaya—Shikan, soon to be Nakamura Utaemon V—and since Narikomaya is there, he gets the part and no one thinks I can do it. Again, won’t you let me play it? Luckily, the Imperial has asked me to perform there, so, if I go, I’ll be able to get cast as Masaoka.” Tamura agreed that this was okay and told him go ahead. It wasn’t going to be a permanent separation, so Baikō simply figured he was getting time off. He discussed it openly with Tamura, didn't he? At the time, Matsumoto Kōshirō VII, who was still Ichikawa Komazō, and Sawamura Sōjūrō, had similar inclinations, but they seem not to have caused much of a problem.

Enzō: Sōjūrō was a good actor, wasn’t he?

Shibusawa: I realized that later but the Imperial picked only those who could dance, you know. That included Baikō, of course, but also Komazō and Sōjūrō. The only dancer left at the Kabuki-za was Ennosuke. When Kanjinchō was done at the Kabuki-za, it was Kōshirō [Komazō] who played Benkei [in Kanjinchō]. [From Shibusawa Hideo, Enzō Tameharu, “Rensai Taidan Kabuki Yomoyama Banashi,” in Kikan Kabuki, No. 2.]
Interior of the Imperial Theatre. From Tōkyō Fūkei Shashin-Chō.
When, on February 10, the Imperial was opened for inspection, visitors noted the dominant influence of French Renaissance design. Covering 640 tsubo (1 tsubo=3.95 square yards), with a frontage of 67 ken [1 ken=1.818 meters], and a depth of 33 ken, it was an impressive building, five stories high, including the basement, with an exterior wrapped in white brick, a standing statue of the nō character Okina on the roof, and marble interior walls covered with paintings, tapestries, and sculptures, creating an extremely lavish effect. From the stage to the overhead beams was more than nine ken, with a stage width of eight ken. Box seats were situated on two levels at either side of the stage and a hanamichi could be installed on an as-needed basis. All seating was in Western style, with first-class seating on the first floor for 54, and on the second floor for 26. First floor, second-class seating held 282 patrons, and 170 on the second floor. Third-class seating totaled 390 on each of the first three floors, with an additional 250 seats on the fourth floor. Altogether, the theatre could hold over 1,700 paying customers. In addition, the theatre was equipped with restaurants, cafés, lounges, makeup rooms, an exercise room, and a roof garden.

Managerial reforms under Chairman Shibusawa Eichi included the prohibition of eating, drinking, and smoking at one’s seat, the sale of seat-numbered tickets purchasable ten days before a show opened, the delivery of tickets anywhere within the city, the abolishing of the tearoom and usher (dekata) system which was replaced by male receptionists and female guides, and the banning of tips and other gratuities. Some such things had been instituted at the Yūraku-za but with their introduction at this new theatre they spread and were welcomed widely.

According to Imano Nobuo:

Mitsukoshi was contracted to design the interior and the drop curtain (donchō). As a result, each newspaper ran ads like the following:

“Don’t talk about theatre without seeing it at the Imperial. Don’t discuss fashion without visiting Mitsukoshi. Just as the Imperial is Japan’s foremost new theatre, Mitsukoshi is the Orient’s prime department store. We, the Mitsukoshi Dry Goods (Gofukuten), manage the Imperial’s costumes.”

From early on, Mitsukoshi had targeted well-off female theatregoers. In 1907, an Ichimura-za pamphlet had printed this ad; “Please visit Mitsukoshi Dry Goods. Theatre is truly interesting but since the gorgeous draperies and the like on display at Mitsukoshi Dry Goods are red and eye-opening it’s a place you’ll enjoy seeing at least once. Anyone at the theatre today, be doubly sure that you go to Mitsukoshi tomorrow or the day after.” The Kabuki-za’s ads urged: “The day after seeing the play we must certainly pay a visit to Mitsukoshi.” [From Imano Nobuo, Kōkoku Sesō—Kopii no Genten o Saguru.]

Beginning with the Kabuki-za, theatres large and small felt the impact of the arrival of this impressive new theatre, located in the Marunouchi section, across from the Imperial Palace in the heart of the capital city. Thus, this new playhouse was asserting its emerging power by pilfering the Kabuki-za’s Baikō, Sōjūrō, and Matsusuke, the Meiji-za’s Ichikawa Komazō and Sawamura Sōnosuke, and welcoming Osaka’s Nakamura Ganjirō for its premiere production.

Avoiding the folly of a direct reaction, the Kabuki-za moved its contracted players, Ichimura Uzaemon, Ichikawa Yaozō, and Ichikawa Danshirō, from Nagoya, where they were appearing, to Osaka and sought to open with the Ichimura-za’s young actors. However, Nakamura Kichiemon, Nakamura Karoku, and Morita Kan’ya were contracted to appear at Osaka’s Kado-za, so, faced by a lack of manpower, the Kabuki-za had to make do for two months with a company led by Onoe Kikugorō VI, which also included young Bandō Mitsugorō.
The February Kabuki-za program opened on the 17th, at 11:00 a.m. The curtain raiser was the pantomime, Danmari Momoyo Guruma, followed by Hasegawa Shigure’s new play Sakura Fubuki (Cherry Blossom Blizzard), with Kikugorō scoring highly as Kachiko. The play was also published in Engei Gahō. Then came the kyōgen­-inspired dance play Tsuri Onna (Fishing for a Wife), the popular domestic play Bunshichi Mottoi, and the jōruri dance closer Yayoi Matsuri Sanja no Nigiwai.

Top honors went to Kikugorō for his first-ever performance in Bunshichi Mottoi as the plasterer Chōbei, which mirrored the style of his late father, Kikugorō V. He went on to perform the role 14 times over the years in his inimitably forceful way. His outstanding work succeeded in drawing packed houses for the 20-day run, leading Tamura Nariyoshi to declare with wry determination: “Even though all the leading actors (kanbu haiyū) have run off to the Imperial Theatre, we didn’t suddenly collapse.”
Bunshichi Mottoi at the Kabuki-za, February 1911. Onoe Kikugorō VI (L.) as Chōbei, the plasterer; Bandō Mitsugorō VII as the clerk, Bunshichi. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi. 
However, the Kabuki-za, without Baikō, Sōjūrō, and Matsusuke, soon began to have play selection and casting difficulties, creating serious programming headaches. This month at the Kabuki-za featured the promotion to nadai status of Onoe Kikugorō V’s disciple Onoe Kikumatsu, who changed his name to Isaburō. And Onoe Kōshichi took the name Onoe Kosaburō.

On February 11, the Bungei Kyōkai leadership was reorganized, with Tsubouchi Shōyō as its chairman. On February 18, bunraku chanter Takemoto Ayasedayū II died, aged 46. On February 20, the Ministry of Education awarded a doctorate in literature to novelist Natsume Sōseki, which drew public attention. On the 21st, the revised Japanese-American Treaty of Commerce and Navigation was signed, after which other countries signed similarly revised treaties with Japan. On February 22, bunraku shamisen master Nozawa Kichibei died, aged 71. And the Shinjidaigeki Kyōkai (New Age Theatre Society) produced its second offering, Kusuyama Masao’s translation of Gogol’s The Inspector General (Kensatsukan), at the Yūraku-za. Also on the program was Mayama Seika’s Daichi Ninsha (Man of the First Rank).

In March, Ōtani Takejirō of Osaka’s Shōchiku Gōmeisha cooperated in the opening of the Imperial Theatre by making available the services of Nakamura Ganjirō, which began a close relationship between Shōchiku and the Imperial. In Osaka, the Naniwa-za held a memorial production honoring Kataoka Nizaemon X, with a company including such relatives as Nakamura Karoku and Nakamura Kichiemon, who traveled there from Tokyo.

On March 1, 1911, the Imperial Theatre officially opened, with ceremonies honoring the occasion. Among the company members introduced were the actresses Mori Ritsuko and Murata Kakuko, who went on to have distinguished stage careers.

The first day for production was March 4, with a program that opened with a prize-winning historical drama, Yamazaki Shikō’s Yoritomo, starring Komazō as Yoritomo and Baikō as Masako. The next play starred Ganjirō as Masaemon in the “Manjū Musume” (Bean Jam Bun Girl) scene of the classic Igagoe Dōchū Sugoroku, while the closing dance play starred Baikō in Hagoromo. The show was a big hit, filling seats daily, and running until April 3 with numerous members of the elite in attendance.

On March 5, Ichikawa Danzō VII presided at the Narita Temple over the unveiling of statues honoring Ichikawa Danjūrō VII and Danzō’s father, Danzō VII. On March 10, the Antarctic expedition led by Lt. Shirase Nobu got only so far into the Ross Sea before being forced to return to Sydney, Australia. Also in March, the soon-to-be-famous Café Plantain opened near Kyōbashi, in Tokyo, at the south end of the Ginza, where it remained until 1945. Edward Seidensticker writes in Low City, High City that it was the first of a rash of such cafés, where “elegant and alluring female company came with the price of one’s coffee, or whatever." And from March 25 to March 26, the Kabuki-za hosted a dance concert featuring Fujima Masaya.

2. April to June 1911:

The next Kabuki-za program opened at noon on April 7 with Enomoto Torahiko’s new play Yoshino Shūi (Yoshino Gleanings), followed by Kanjinchō starring Danshirō as Benkei, Uzaemon as Togashi, and Kikugorō as Yoshitsune. Then came Igagoe Dōchū Sugoroku’s “Numazu” scene, with Nizaemon as Heisaku, and, instead of a dance play to close the show, the popular bandit play, Benten Kōzō, starring Uzaemon as Benten, Shikan as Tadanobu Rihei, Yaozō as Nango Rikimaru. Kanjinchō, with Uzaemon as Togashi, Danshirō as Benkei, and Kikugorō as Yoshitsune, was notable for the successful collaboration between the nagauta musician partnership of Ijūrō and Kangorō with Okayasu Nanpo and Rokuzaemon. Ihara Seiseien noted that “Compared to them, the acting on stage was like something pale and lifeless.” The program played to full houses through May 1, a total of 25 days.

The Shinjidaigeki Kyōkai offered its third and final production at the Yūraku-za this month before disbanding. Two European and one Japanese play were performed, the former being Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s The Gate and the Death (Der Tor und Der Tod) and Leopold Lewis’s The Bells (an adaptation of Erckmann-Chatrian’s The Polish Jew [Le Juif Polonais]), one of Sir Henry Irving’s greatest hits. Inoue Masao was the star. The Japanese play was Nakamura Shun’u’s Shin Kichōsha (The New Returnee).

On April 9, 1911, a great fire in the Yoshiwara district burned down the tatami rooms that Ichikawa Danshirō was renting out for entertainment purposes. The fire, which cost many prostitutes and entertainers their livelihood, was dramatized in the film Tokyo Bordello (Yoshiwara Enjō). And on April 20, Sawamura Shirōgorō IV, actor-manager of Nagoya’s Suehiro-za, died at 51. And the Imperial Theatre put a group of Kabuki-za musicians under contract for its next production, among them nagauta artists Kineya Kangorō V, Kineya Rokuzaemon XIII, Yoshimura Ijūrō VI, Okuyasu Nanpo, Mochizuki Tazaemon VII, and Tanaka Denzaemon IV. This forced the Kabuki-za to scramble for replacements.

The only thing at the Kabuki-za in May, from 15th to the 17th, was a series of railway lecture meetings.
Elsewhere in May, the Shōchiku Gōmeisha company took over Osaka’s Dōtonbori theatres, the Naniwa-za, home to the Nakamura Baigyoku troupe, and the Kado-za, from producer Takagi Tokubei, and began producing at them in June. At the Meiji-za, Danshirō disciple Ichikawa Kichibei changed his name to Sawamura Tsuruzō. Shamisen master Kiyomoto Umekichi, composer of the music for Sumidagawa, died on May 14. Shūzenji Monogatari premiered at the Meiji-za, as mentioned earlier, starring Sadanji. And the Imperial presented its first production with the actresses who had just graduated from its acting school.


And the Bungei Kyōkai, which had presented four rehearsal-like performances of Hamlet at its center in March 1910, now performed a full, five-act production at the Imperial for a week, beginning Ma 20. Doi Shunshō was Hamlet, Matsui Sumako was Ophelia, and Tōgi Tetteki was Claudius. Company head Tsubouchi Shōyō, it is said, “frayed the skirt of his hakama walking back and forth between the dressing rooms and the audience each day.” [In Komiya Toyotaka, Japanese Music and Drama in the Meiji Era, tr. by Edward G. Seidensticker and Donald Keene.] The production played at Osaka’s Kado-za in July.

May 1 saw the opening of the Chūō Line. That date also marked the opening by Kobayashi Ichizō of the Takarazuka Shin-Onsen (Takarazuka New Hot Springs) in the town that would soon be the home of the Takarazuka Revue. On May 30th, the Imperial Gift Foundation, created in February, contributed 1,500,000 yen to the relief of the poor. And, as described as early as Tokutomi Roka’s popular 1898 novel, Hototogisu (The Cuckoo; translated as Namiko), the tuberculosis epidemic flooded clinics.

On June 10, the fifteen members of t4he first class to graduate from the Bungei Kyōkai’s theatrical training school received their diplomas. Among them were Katō Seiichi, Mori Eijirō, Hayashi Yawara, Yokogawa Tadaharu, Takeda Masanori, Sasaki Tsumoru, and Matsui Sumako.  And the Tōkyō Haiyū Gakkō gave its new graduates their first production, at the Yūraku-za, with Satō Kōroku’s Haiba (Worn-Out Horse).

The same month, the Jiyū Gekijō gave its fourth public performance, at the Yūraku-za, with Nagata Hideo’s Kanraku no Oni (Devil of Pleasure), Yoshii Isamu’s Kawachi-ya Yohei, and others.

The Kabuki-za opened on June 5, at noon, with a program including Shikan in Enomoto Torahiko’s “heroine drama” (retsujo mono) Onna Rōnin (The Female Rōnin), the classic “Kinkakuji” section from Gion Sairei Shinkōki, Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Shinjū Yoi Gōshin, and, as the conventional nagauta dance piece closer, Rokkasen, showing the “Bunya” and “Kisen” segments. Rokkasen featured a name taking ceremony for Kiyomoto Umesaburō, the son of the musician Kiyomoto Umekichi, who succeeded to his father’s name. Both musician Kiyomoto Enjudayū and actor Nakamura Utaemon V gave speeches in his honor.
Shinjū Yoi Gōshin at the Kabuki-za, June 1911. Kataoka Nizaemon XI (L.) as Hanbei; Nakamura Utaemon V as Ochiyo. From Hyakunen Kabuki-Shi.
Enomoto’s play was based on one by the late Fukuchi Ōchi dealing with the Meiji Restoration and emphasizing loyalty to the emperor; at the same time, another imperial loyalty-themed play, was being produced at the Imperial Theatre, creating an unexpected loyalty to the throne rivalry, but Onna Rōnin losing the battle. The Kabuki-za even opened an exhibition room on its second floor to display artifacts belonging to distinguished patriots involved in the Restoration.

Shikan was an excellent Yuki-hime in “Kinkakuji,” Aeba Kōson saying, “With superb presence, admirable tone, and perfect form, his performance was first-rate.” Uzaemon’s Hisayoshi was also outstanding but poor houses did the show in, although it got racked up 25 performances, closing on June 29.

This June was also when Kitahara Hakushū’s collection of lyric poetry Omoide (Memories), was published. And Shōchiku gave up its management of the Asahi-za, in Tokyo’s Shin Kyōkoku. Also this month, Osaka actor Onoe Usaburō II moved to Tokyo with his son, Onoe Kakutarō (later Kitsusaburō).

3. July to September 1911

When the June production ended, the Kabuki-za, on July 1 and 2, offered a memorial concert for the 13th anniversary of musician Kiyomoto Oyō, the presentation being under the leadership of Kiyomoto Enjudayū V. When it ended, the theatre was closed down for several months at Tamura Nariyoshi’s suggestion so that it could undergo a thorough internal and external renovation. 

Since the Kabuki-za will hereafter be competing with the Imperial Theatre, it’s necessary for the former to begin by making extensive renovations. The Imperial Theatre’s beauty comes from its Western-style architecture. However, the Kabuki-za is in the old Western style, it has been roughed up by wind and rain, its faded walls are crumbling, and its outside is an eyesore. In contrast to the Western-style Imperial Theatre I want by all means to rebuild it in pure Japanese style. I’ve therefore made this proposal to the board. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Baishū Mondai,” in Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari.]
The second Kabuki-za, rebuilt in pure Japanese style. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
With the appearance of such a strong rival, the Kabuki-za, once the home of the great Dan-Kiku combination, could no longer take it easy. Not only was this true with regard to the contrast between new and old architectural styles. but also in the production system. While the Imperial Theatre abolished its teahouses and dekata usher system and adopted a low price method of theatergoing, the Kabuki-za still felt like it was still mired in outdated customs.

The theatre closed down for the summer and Yokohama shipping magistrate Kashiwagi Tashichi contracted with the Nagoya Shimizu Group to reconstruct it. Leaving the structural frame as it was, the place was completely rebuilt in pure Japanese style and enlarged, with construction being hurried and the exterior completed with, as opposed to the Imperial, the look of an ancient palace. The carriage drive in front was in Chinese gable style (karahafu), with two large, bronze-encased pillars, a coffered ceiling, and copper-thatched hanging eaves. A pair of one-story structures at either side had the same gables. That on the right led to the third floor sajiki gallery, that on the left to the one-act only seating (hitomakumi). Inside the main entrance was a lobby with a mirrored ceiling, with offices to the right and a customers’ information stand at the left. 

Passing through the wide lobby one entered the auditorium, with its second and third-floor omukō balconies with Japanese cypress (hinoki) railings that ran all the way around. Over the orchestra or pit was a two-fold, gold-plated, coffered ceiling, with two, large chandeliers providing 5,000 candlepower illumination. All around were numerous electric lights. Behind the upper stories were corridors with lounges for the general theatregoers, including separate Western and Japanese powder rooms. Moreover, the traditional teahouses attached to the theatre were abolished, and new information places installed. The theatre’s appearance was altered, including a drum tower (yagura) crest (mon) of a mythical phoenix dyed on a large curtain of purple crepe. Old folks passing by mistook the theatre for a place of worship and there are stories claiming they stopped to make offerings or otherwise show their obeisance. [From Kawajiri Seitan, “Kobiki-chō no Shibai,” in Kabuki-za.]

On July 17, Kanze Kiyokado, 23rd head of the Kanze nō school, died, aged 45.

In early August, right after the Kabuki-za’s ridgepole raising ceremony, the theatre’s management ran smack into a huge internal problem. The Kabuki-za had been doing poorly of late, its June receipts taking a major loss. What happened involved a small group of board members, Inoue Kakugorō, Fujiyama Raita, Okamoto Teikyū, and Miyake Hyōza, who hailed from Mita, had gone to Keiō University, and were known as the Dōshi Kai (Association of Kindred Spirits). Going behind the back of Kabuki-za production chief Tamura Nariyoshi, they signed a contract to sell off their approximately 3,000 shares to Inoue Shizuo, the financier backing the rival Shōchiku Gōmeisha company, which was sinking its claws into the Tokyo theatre market. Naturally, Tamura was furious:

This group of Kabuki-za investors was always scheming to be on the lookout for an opportunity to unload the burden of their stock holdings. Inoue, Fujiyama, Okamoto, and Hyōza, all of them Keiō alumni, had connections with fellow Keiō alums who constituted the majority of the board at the Imperial Theatre, but were unable to merge with them, which made them their rivals. Since they frequently used their influence in other matters, they believed that if they could now make a profit on their holdings and simultaneously sever their connection with the Kabuki-za, they would be killing two birds with one stone. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.]

Hyōza was growing increasingly impatient with such things as the Kabuki-za’s June losses; Tamura’s making plans for himself, Kikugorō, and Kichiemon while paying little attention to the Kabuki-za; the departure of various actor; the unexciting play selections; the flight of theatregoers to the chair seating of the Imperial Theatre; the Kabuki-za’s renovation needs; sensing this, someone appeared seeking to buy Miyake Hyōza’s stock. Hyōza spoke to the other three board members and they decided to sell the 3,000 shares of the “Dōshi Kai” group for 60 yen each.

The contract listed seller Inoue Kakugorō as seller, and Inoue Shizuo as buyer, the transaction occurring over three days from August 21, when a 15,000 yen down payment was made. Tamura was so angry that when Hyōza said there was no way to revise the deal he considered stabbing him to death. At a discussion with the four members of the Dōshi Kai, Inoue Kakugorō said to him:

We “kindred spirits” bought our shares in the Kabuki-za with the aim of improving the quality of the drama. However, it’s indisputable that, thus far, absolutely no such improvement has made. Since our initial goal hasn’t been achieved there’s no need to hold onto these stocks forever. We were thinking that if there were a suitable buyer we’d like to sell our shares when, unexpectedly, a buyer appeared in the person of Mr. Inoue Shizuo of Kyoto. Later, when we learned that he’s the financier of the Shōchiku company we thought about not selling to him but with no better prospects we had no alternative than to sell to him. Our getting the jump on you ends here. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.]

Tamura replied that what Inoue said was quite reasonable but he wrote that business practice made it possible to break the contract by buying back the down payment for twice its value and that if they sold the shares to him he would bear the penalty costs. This incident was immediately picked up by the newspapers, almost every one of which came down hard on the Dōshi Kai for their unethical behavior.

Tamura Nariyoshi, a rube from the Kamigata area, in his conquest of Tokyo’s Kobiki-chō (home of the Kabuki-za), behaved like a true son of Edo in his money-raising attempts, with the papers reporting that he “will fight to the last to protect the Kabuki-za, a Tokyo landmark, and not hand it over to someone from Kamigata.” Such words inflamed Edo-centrism, leading to public support for his desperate maneuvers to buy back the shares. However, when the contract was canceled, Shōchiku’s Ōtani Takejirō made the momentous decision to hand back the 15,000 yen penalty for breach of contract, saying he would not take over the Kabuki-za until he had overcome resistance to his doing so. He paid an arbitrator a stipend and suffered considerable other expenses but, with this incident, Ōtani shifted from his policy of patience and prudence to a more forthright one, which was worth a lot more than an exchange of money. Many Tokyoites were impressed by his spirit, negative opinions of him softened, and he even gained sympathy. The loss suffered from the stock purchase ultimately became secondary to the acquisition of the Kabuki-za, and a new day was awaited. [From Kido Shirō, “Denki: Ōtani Takejirō” in Kikan Kabuki, No. 8.]

On August 27, through the intercession of the Kabuki-za’s biggest shareholder, Mitsuwa Zenbei, of the main branch of Mitsuwa Soap, Tamura and the 35-year-old Ōtani, making his first ever visit to Tokyo, were invited the Hyakuseki restaurant in Yoshi-chō. After each made various compromises they were properly introduced and the “Kabuki-za Acquisition Incident” (Kabuki-za kaishū jiken) came to a happy conclusion. The situation inspired this ironic take:

The Kabuki-za acquisition problem has been peacefully resolved. Along with Shōchiku’s admirable act of returning the 15,000 yen penalty payment, we have the brazen use of economic and legal power to break a contract while selling one’s one shares for an outrageously high price. Then, even though earning no salary from the theatre, behaving despicably by lecturing the house staff (dekata) like an ex-board member. The character of the so-called theatre man is enhanced while that of the so-called gentleman sinks. [From “Gekidan Jiji,” Kabuki, No. 136.]

As for why, in the first place, Shōchiku chose to acquire the Kabuki-za, we have this from Tamura himself.

The reason why Shōchiku originally decided to take over the Kabuki-za began with the Utaemon problem. Shochiku wanted its star actor, Nakamura Ganjirō, to succeed to the name of Nakamura Utaemon V. So Tokyo’s Nakamura Shikan got out in front of this to take the name himself, the ceremonial announcement clearly to be at the Kabuki-za. The acquisition of the Kabuki-za was definitely part of a plan attempting to prevent this from happening. Therefore, I absolutely had to buy the theatre back. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari—Kaishū Mondai,” Shin Engei, July 1917.])

There is thus a belief that the reason for the Utaemon name accession had its basis in a dispute over who should succeed to the name. Tamura wanted the first production at the newly reconstructed Kabuki-za to feature the name accession ceremony (shūmei hirō) of Shikan to Nakamura Utaemon V. Osaka’s Ganjirō, who heard the rumor, and was the illegitimate son of Utaemon IV’s adopted son, Nakamura Ganjaku, believed he, too, had the right to become Utaemon V, as did Shōchiku, to whom he was contracted and who wanted him to take the name. Thus, coursing beneath this conflict over the acquisition of the Kabuki-za between the great theatrical powers represented by Tamura and Ōtani/Shōchiku was the question of who should become the next Utaemon.

On August 10, the famous Café Lion opened at Owari-chō in the Ginza. On August 14, actor Jitsukawa Enzaburō, a disciple of Jitsukawa Enjaku I, died at 41. Also this month, the price of rice skyrocketed for a number of consecutive days and, on August 11, trading was suspended. And on August 30, the second Katsura Tarō cabinet replaced the second Saionji Kinmochi cabinet.

On September 9, a general meeting of Kabuki-za shareholders was held at the Shinbashi Club. Tamura. Tamura Nariyoshi was nominated for reelection to the board of directors, as were five new board members (torishimariyaku), with one of them, Namura Mataemon, recommended for chairman (kaichō). Further, Shikan and five other actors were installed as consultants (sōdanyaku). Tamura was head of production. The meeting also voted unanimously to abolish the Kabuki-za’s traditional teahouse system.

September 1911 also saw the first publication of the women’s literary magazine Seitō (Bluestocking), the organ of the burgeoning feminist movement; it continued until 1916. The first issue included Hiratsuka Raichō’s controversial declaration, “In the beginning, woman was the sun” (元始、女性は太陽であっ).
Ichikawa Danzō VII, From Kabuki-za Hyakuen-Shi.
Ichikawa Danzō VII, one of the era’s top actors, died on September 12, at 76. Great in villain roles, he made an indelible impression as Nikki Danjō in Meiboku Sendai Hagi, which still uses his kata. The month also saw Sawamura Chōnosuke become Sawamura Chōjūrō VI at the Imperial Theatre, while, at the Meiji-za, Ichikawa Kigan IV became Asao Kuzaemon IV, and Ichikawa Kisaburō became Ichikawa Kigan V (later, Onoe Taganojō III).

Also in September, the shingeki movement saw the completion of a 600-seat theatre built for the Bungei Kyōkai’s practice performances. It opened with a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with Matsui Sumako as Nora. The program also offered two experimental dance dramas by Tsubouchi Shōyō, Kanzan Jittoku (Kanzan and Jittoku) and Oshichi Kichiza (Oshichi and Kichiza). And on September 27, Okamoto Kidō’s Minowa no Shinjū (Love Suicides at Minowa), which became a staple of the modern kabuki repertory, opened at the Meiji-za, starring Sadanji II.

4. October to December 1911

On October 1, at a special general meeting of shareholders, three ex-board members, Inoue Kakugorō, Fujiyama Raita, and Okamoto Teikyū, presented a set of silver cups and a letter of appreciation to Miyake Hyōza for his accomplishments while in office. Also, this October, the Osaka publishing company Tachikawa Bunmeidō produced the first of its enormously popular children’s books in the Tachikawa Bunkō (Pocket Book) series, the first title being Sarutobi Sasuke, a kōdan-based story about a popular boy ninja. October 1911 was also when Katayama Sen and others founded Japan’s Socialist Party (Shakaitō), which was frequently suppressed. Further, on October 10, China witnessed the Wuchang Uprising led by the New Army, followed by the Revolution of 1911 (a.k.a. the Xinhai Revolution or Chinese Revolution), which overthrew the Qing Dynasty and gave rise to the Republic of China.

In November, the Kōdan Club was founded and the great novelist Shimazaki Tōson’s Ie (Family) was published. On November, the French crime movie Zigomar (Jigoma), the first in a series, opened at the Asakusa Kinryūkan and was not only enormously popular but sparked a big scandal.

Incidentally, with regard to the Utaemon V name-taking controversy, Shikan eventually was comfortable telling anyone who asked that he was Utaemon V. Ganjirō, for his part, said that, in the future, artistic standards would not be attached to a specific name so he gave up the idea of succession and the matter came to a satisfactory end.

The Kabuki-za reconstruction was now complete, with its pure Japanese style contrasting with the Imperial Theatre’s Western style, while the content and format of its productions would also undergo various reforms. But Tamura lamented that “The Kabuki-za, which was to be rebuilt for 30,000 yen, actually cost 120,000 yen.”

According to a contemporary anecdote:

Someone commenting on the reconstruction said, “It’s completely like Monzeki-sama,” to which someone else remarked, “It should be since that’s what Ōtani wants.” There were many jokes like this at the time. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.] s

The joke is based on the word monzeki (an important temple’s head priest), a nickname for the abbot of Hongan-ji Temple (which serves the nearby Kabuki-za) which was also used to refer to Hongan-ji itself. The ceiling and electric lights from the former Kabuki-za had been sold for re
use to the Ichimura-za, along with various other appurtenances, so patrons at the Ichimura-za are said to have had the illusion they were sitting at the Kabuki-za.
The name-taking ceremony (shumei hirō) of Nakamura Utaemon V during the opening program of the second Kabuki-za, November 1911. Notice how the  audience is squeezed into their boxed-in spaces on the auditorium floor as per traditional practice. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Finally, on November 3, 1911, the second Kabuki-za opened, the chief attraction being the name-taking ceremony of Nakamura Utaemon V, for which the Meiji-za’s Ichikawa Sadanji II hastened over to take part. The program opened with Enomoto Torahiko’s new play Kamakura Bukan (The Kamakura Book of Heraldry); the classic Ōmi Genji Senjin Yakata, starring Uzaemon as Moritsuna; the shūmei hirō announcement ceremony (kōjō), which immediately followed, with Nizaemon, Karoku, and Shikaku giving speeches; the popular nagauta dance play Kyōganoko Musume Dōjōji, starring the new Utaemon; Horikawa, with Kataoka Nizaemon in the lead; with the fifth and last piece being a tokiwazu-takemoto dance play, Ushiro Men Hagi no Tamagawa (The Rear-Facing Mask and Bush Clovers at the Tama River). 
Floor plan of the ground floor seating (hiradoma) in the second Kabuki-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The first play was an adaptation (hon’an) of Corneille’s 1636 French neoclassical drama Le Cid, set against the background of the Mongol invasion, with the new Utaemon in one of his popular pigtail roles. The second featured Nizaemon XII in the “Moritsuna Jinya” scene, which his son, Nizaemon XIII, recalled in this piece from the Kabuki-za program of January 1988:

NIZAEMON: In November 1911, “Moritsuna Jinya” was produced with Uzaemon XV as Moritsuna, my father as Mimyō, Ichikawa Chūsha (when he was still Yaozō) as Wada Hyōei, and Ichikawa Monnosuke VII (when he was still Otora). In addition, there were Nakamura Kichiemon as the messenger (gochūshin) Shigaraki Tarō, which he was playing for the first time, and Onoe Kikugorō VI as the comic messenger Ibuki Tōta. I recall Utaemon V saying to them, “It would be wonderful if you could do it.” 

This was during the youthful days of the Kiku-Kichi acting partnership, right? What a great cast . . .

NIZAEMON: They were probably in their twenties. Around this time my father’s disciple, Kataoka Tarō, was adopted by Uzaemon and took the name Ichimura Kamezō when he played Hayase in “Moritsuna Jinya.” [This is incorrect, as the actor became Kamezō at the Kabuki-za a few months earlier, in April 1911, during Kiri Hitoha. SLL] I played Koshirō, and the actor who became Uzaemon XVI (then called Takematsu) played Kosaburō. We were pals and I would call him by his real name, “Isamu-chan, Isamu-chan.”

. . .

This was when, in March, the Western-style Imperial Theatre had opened and the Kabuki-za followed with a purely Japanese look.

NIZAEMON: The interior was in authentic Japanese style. The auditorium of the previous building contained not only electric lights but, hanging over the regular and temporary hanamichi were huge gaslights. The switch to using only electric lights happened with the production of “Moritsuna Jinya.” As a child, I was overwhelmed by what we now call a chandelier, thinking “How great!” Tungsten filaments hadn’t yet replaced carbon in lighting instruments.

The Imperial’s seating was entirely in Western style. The renovated Kabuki-za used traditional Japanese style seating, including the retention of boxed-in masu seating in the pit. It had a hanamichi as well as a kari (temporary) hanamichi and was a superb theatre. [From Kataoka Nizaemon, “Kabuki-za o Kataru,” in Kabuki-za Sujigaki, January 1988.]

In his essay collection, Isasa Muratake (Isasa Village Bamboo), Prof. Uchida Hyakken has a brief piece called “Kichiemon” where he recalls the death of Nakamura Kichiemon I, who lived in the same neighborhood.

It was in 1910, or perhaps 1911, after I’d moved to Tokyo, that I saw Ōmi Genji Senjin Yakata at the old Kabuki-za. With the general, Moritsuna, facing front on stage, two messengers dashed breathlessly down the hanamichi through the agemaku curtain, one played by Kikugorō, the other by Kichiemon. This happened around 40 years ago so both were young and it was during the time when these actors were gaining great popularity as costars at the Ichimura-za, from which they had come to perform at the Kabuki-za.

I had just moved from the country so I was amazed at the excited reaction in the theatre. It compared to the tumult at a baseball game. First, Kikugorō [playing the comic messenger, Ibuki Tōta] came racing in. The connoisseurs already knew what was going to happen because the place thundered with shout-outs (kakegoe) in the moments before he entered. After Kikugorō had entered amidst the tumult and finished his message, he held a tiny folding fan in his palm and fanned his imposing face.

Then, the house sent up an even more enormous roar than before. I had no idea of what was going on until the youthful Kichiemon [portraying the traditional messenger, Shigaraki Tarō] ran onto the hanamichi. After delivering his speech—which resounded in every nook and cranny, suppressing the waves of excitement roiling the theatre—he, just like Kikugorō, took out with a fan but a much, much bigger one. It was the size of a zabuton cushion with a design on it, and Kichiemon struggled to fan himself with it, doing so very, very slowly. [From Uchida Hyakken, “Kichiemon,” in Isasa Muratake.]

These paragraphs raise some questions concerning the accuracy of Hyakken’s memory as he places the order of the characters’ entrances backwards; the traditional gochūshin appears first in the scene, not second. And, while Tōta always does some business with a tiny fan (and hat), Shigaraki, who is mainly concerned with martial movements using a sword, has no such business with a large fan, at least not in most performances. Either Hyakken simply misremembers or Uzaemon’s business has been discarded.

The November 1911 production, which celebrated both the opening of the second Kabuki-za and the name-taking of Nakamura Utaemon V, closed on the 29th, its full houses necessitating the addition of two days to the schedule for a total of 27. Profits surpassed 30,000 yen. Other actors who changed their names this month included Nakamura Komasuke, who became Nakamura Tōzō V (later Ōtani Tomoemon VI); Nakamura Kojaku, who took the name Nakamura Shishō, etc.

The same month, at the Imperial, Ichikawa Komazō took the name of Matsumoto Kōshirō VII, who would be one of the greatest kabuki actors of the next four decades. Also in November, the revolutionary actor-producer Kawakami Otojirō, one of the most important founders of shinpa, died at the young age of 48, leaving behind his widow and partner, Kawakami Sadayakko.

Tokyo’s first employment agency opened this November. In China, the Qing rulers summoned Yuan Shikai from retirement to become prime minister. A few days later, the “Nineteen Articles” were passed, ending autocratic imperial rule. On November 17, Japan’s cabinet decided to support the Qing government in its struggle against the Xinha Revolution.

Then, for seven days beginning on November 28, the Bungei Kyōkai revived its recent trial performance of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House for a professional showing (the company’s second) at the Imperial Theatre, with Matsui Sumako repeating her acclaimed role of Nora. As before, the bill also included Kanzan Juttoku and Oshichi Kichiza. And another important modern theatre group, the Jiyū Gekijō offered its fifth public production, Gerhardt Hauptmann’s 1891 drama Lonely People (Sabishiki Hitobito), translated by Mori Ōgai.

Major events of December 1911 included naniwabushi star Tōchūken Kumoemon making his first recording. On December 12, the Brazilian-themed Café Paurisuta (Paulista) opened in Kyōbashi. For three days, beginning on December 15, the Tōkyō Gekijō hosted a festival celebrating the work of 18 theatres, with young actors performing traditional dance and music. The money earned was put into a joint fund for the participating theatres. Rakugo star Katsura Bunji died at 66 on December 17. Onoe Baikō’s disciple, Onoe Kikutarō (eldest son of dancer Hanayagi Jusuke, and later Hanayagi Jusuke II) left kabuki to specialize in nihon buyō and took the name Hanayagi Yoshitarō.

The year 1911 ended on December 31 with a Tokyo streetcar strike, led by Katayama Sen, which lasted for three days until January 2. Over six thousand workers took part, forcing traffic to stop on New Year’s Eve.

Among major events of 1911, Japan’s production of raw silk surpassed China’s, making it number one in the world. Fur overcoats and the like became all the rage, as did sailor-style clothes for children and women. Dr. Hideo Noguchi discovered the agent of syphilis as the cause of progressive paralytic disease. And Roald Amundsen reached the geographic South Pole.


For all other major world events of 1911, click here; for theatrical events click here



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