Wednesday, April 21, 2010

#13: There'll Be a Change in the Weather . . .

On Saturday night I had dinner with Mari Boyd and Zvika Serper at a yakitori restaurant near Inokashira Park. Mari is an important scholar of Japanese modern theatre (shingeki) and puppet theatre--with a strong interest in British theatre--who teaches at Sophia University, a Jesuit institution in Tokyo. It's where I first met my own Japanese theatre mentor in Tokyo back in 1963--Father Benito Ortolani, who later gave up the priesthood to get married, and, strange as it may seem, got a job teaching at Brooklyn College, where he became Theatre Department chair and held the post for 24 years. Mari recently returned from a year of research in London.

Mari Boyd

Zvika and Mari

The temperature hit 61 on Sunday and the sun was shining. But I'm here to work so back I went to the Waseda library. But I did hit a milestone when I completed all the copying I have to do there. But, as noted below, I'd be returning to sift through their extensive database for photos. And I'd also be going back to the Shochiku Otani Library for more copying. But progress has definitely been made. By the way, going door to door from my apartment to Waseda, which--in Tokyo terms--isn't that far, takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

It was such a nice Sunday that the crowds were teeming in Kichijoji when I got back from Waseda. Here's a video clip of part of the route I took walking home. I've been too busy with my work to do much sightseeing, so I've posted more clips of Kichijoji than anywhere else so far. By next week, the clips should get more diverse, especially beginning this weekend with my trip to Shikoku, mentioned below.

Wish I'd been home to follow the Mets' epic struggle against the Cards today--2-1 win in 20 innings over nearly 7 hours! Or maybe I was better off just getting the results.

Monday was ultrabusy. It actually bordered on warm here and I was able to go jacketless for the first time. But nobody seems to have told the people working at the Shochiku Otani Library; when I walked in I was greeted by a blast of hot air such as I haven't experienced since hearing John Boehner's latest speech. I thought I was going to do a Frosty the Snowman and be little more than a puddle within five minutes flat. I recalled seeing a sign in the lavatory saying not to overuse the toilet paper, but I didn't care. I didn't have a handkerchief with me so, after mopping my brow and neck with the sleeve of my shirt, baseball pitcher-style, I dashed into the bathroom and nabbed enough of that precious tushy wipe to dab my perspiration with, and eventually my body adjusted to the tropical weather. By then, of course, I was perusing old programs in my BVDs, but since the place was fairly empty, the librarians either didn't notice or dismissed my near nudity as just another old gaijin's (foreigner's) eccentricity.

You'll recall that when I made my formal request for copies last week, they said I'd have to come back this week to pick them up. They must have begun to wonder if I'd ever come back, though, because this time the librarian in charge asked me to pay for my new copies in advance. This was Monday, of course, and when I finished selecting what I now wanted copied, I was told I'd have to return for the pages on Thursday. The Japanese are among the most efficient people in the world--but there seem to be pockets of resistance.

At 4:30 I met Kei at the Kobikido bookshop and spent most of my remaining cash on books, which I arranged to have shipped to New York by surface mail, which can take as long as two months. I once had to pay over $600 in overweight fees for the plane trip home because I'd bought so many tomes, so I'm not about to repeat that experience again. A couple of days later, when I learned that I couldn't insure surface mail, I opted to pay for a more secure, but much more expensive, airmail service.

We walked through a nearby underground shopping arcade--really just a few small restaurants and a movie theatre box office--but, as Kei pointed out, the place had hardly changed since the early postwar era. This is the Ginza area, all glass and steel and supermodern shopping emporiums, but here was one corner (or tunnel) that was still redolent of the old days. After a meal of Chinese shabu shabu on a local sidestreet (the restaurant was on the sidestreet, not the meal), we went to the Kabuki-za for the final program. This would be my last visit to this theatrical palace before its demolition, and I experienced a rush of nostalgia for the time when, as a 23-year-old graduate student in 1963, I first experienced kabuki here.

The stars of both plays on the present program were young and up-and-coming back then. (So was I, for that matter.) As per the kabuki system, they've all succeeded to new acting names. These actors include the present Nakamura Shikan, Matsumoto Koshiro, Ichikawa Danjuro, Onoe Kikugoro, and Kataoka Nizaemon. One of the plays was Sukeroku, which was the specialty of Danjuro's father, Danjuro XI (the current Danjuro is the XIIth), who was my favorite. Seeing the son, now in his mid-60s and--despite a serious recent illness--still capable of playing the play's eponymous dashing hero, was a remarkable example of the ghosting effect of kabuki, where many great actors never seem to die because they live on in the corporal presence of their sons, who, when wearing the standardized makeup of the great roles, often bear an astonishing resemblance to their fathers. And the sons of the current aging crop of stars, of course, are on their way up, eventually to inherit their fathers' names, as well as looks and talent.

On the way to the subway after the show, I stopped to have my picture taken at the famous Ginza intersection in front of the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Tuesday it rained, but I was at the library searching through hundreds of digital photos on the Waseda theatre database, trying to choose pictures for the book I'm researching. I'll eventually have to make a formal request for each picture, and pay a substantial sum for the copies and the publishing rights, but the photos won't belong to me. They come with all sorts of restrictions, including the necessity of returning them once I'm finished with them.

And it turns out that, despite my high hopes, the database is rather problematic. Its best feature is ease of access. (It's all in Japanese, by the way.) Since everyone has a different purpose in searching a database, let's follow mine to make the explanation easy. First I click on the link to "stage pictures." Then I select the genre I'm interested in--kabuki. Then I choose the specific time period I want to look at (of course, you can search by title, actor, whatever.) So I begin by typing in May 1952, when my project begins, the month right after the American Occupation of Japan ended. An array of thumbnail photos appears. I click on the ones I'm interested in and they open in larger size, with info such as the title, the actors, the date, the theatre, etc. I write down the picture number so I can order it later, and this goes on and on, for each month from 1952 to 1965.

But I found dozens of errors in identifying the actors' names, there were too many duplicates of certain pictures, too many photos were of poor quality, other genres were mixed in with kabuki, and many important shows were not even represented. I could get photos from the Shochiku Library, but their process is far more time-consuming and they don't have a database. Shochiku's prices also far more expensive. I wound up choosing 103 pictures, which I then whittled down to 41 because even at their cheaper price the cost for over 100 shots was too high. And there's no guarantee my eventual publisher will be able to use so many illustrations.

On Wednesday, Zvika left for Tel Aviv, but he's an avid user of Skype, so we'll stay in touch, as we always have.

As I said before, I'm getting ready for a very exciting weekend, and readers of this blog should find a real treat when I report on my trip to the old city of Kotohira on the island of Shikoku, where the oldest professional kabuki theatre, renovated in recent years, still exists. We'll take a step back in time and see what it was like to visit a kabuki theatre in the 1830s. And we'll have a new companion, in addition to Kei Hibino. I'm talking about Russell Lifson, the grandson of my wife's cousin, who has been teaching English since last year in a small town near Kotohira, and with whom we'll spend some downtime.

Wednesday was yet ANOTHER DAY IN THE LIBRARY! How thrilling is THAT! But the sun shone, the temperature climbed, my jacket was shed, my sleeves shortened, and my walk sprang (the knee is actually feeling a lot better). I finished the photo selection process and am nearing the end of the Waseda part of my research. I have to go back to formally request the pictures and pay my respects to Takemoto-sensei, the head of the Memorial Theatre Museum, who is also a well-known scholar of noh theatre. Oyasuminasai (good night), dear readers.

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