Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#1: Something New

On Friday, April 2, I leave from JFK for a two month stay in Tokyo, supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Emeritus Fellowship. This fellowship is aimed specifically at retired professors who remain active scholars in their field. In my case, the field is Kabuki
theatre, one of the four major forms of traditional Japanese theatre. I have written prolifically about this traditional theatre, and in recent years have been concerned mainly with its postwar resurgence. Kabuki was seriously endangered during the Occupation of Japan, 1945-1952, by the censorship policies of the American military government under Gen. MacArthur, but by the end of the Occupation had managed to regain its footing. The story of kabuki during the Occupation is told in my book, Rising from the Flames: The Rebirth of Theatre in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952(2009), which also discusses the Occupation experiences of other forms of Japanese theatre, both traditional and modern. My present project seeks to take the history of postwar kabuki to the next step, the period from right after the end of the Occupation (May 1952) to the end of 1965, shortly after the death of one of the era's greatest stars, Ichikawa Danjuro XI. The narrative will discuss the numerous issues confronting kabuki during this tumultuous time, when Japan was rapidly recovering from the devastation of World War II and becoming an incredibly successful economic power on the world scene. The ability of kabuki--a theatre form that arose during a time of feudalistic domination by the powerful Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868)--to survive in the maelstrom of modernity that swept over the country in the postwar period is a fascinating phenomenon, and one I hope to explore more closely in the months ahead.

My blog will also record some of my personal experiences in becoming reacquainted with Japan, from which I've been away since 2004. I'll be alone in Tokyo for the first six weeks, with my family joining me in mid May. At nearly 70, I'm not especially thrilled to be away from loved ones for so long, but it's clear that being on my own, without the usual distractions of family life (as far as they can be avoided in the age of e-mails and instant messaging), will make the time I spend on my project before they arrive far more productive than otherwise. Let's see what happens.

Rising from the Flames: The Rebirth of Theater in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952