Monday, August 1, 2016



Samuel L. Leiter

Chapter 2
The Waterfront and Edomae1

[Note: This is Chapter 2 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za. For the introductory chapter go to Chapter 1.  What follows is translated and adapted from Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi, edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers is listed but none are identified as having written specific chapters. Inessential material has been cut; references and added passages from other sources are in bold. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

In recent years the Tokyo waterfront has been in the spotlight as a place for advancing the internationalization and communication abilities of Japan’s capital city. Development plans by the city of Tokyo and the Japan Land Agency, from the coastal area to the river banks, include intelligent buildings with high-level communications, heliports, international conference facilities, apartment houses, sports and pleasure venues, and the mingling of people from all walks of life.

[Note: this was published in 1995, so much of this already is in place. The most detailed previous account of the material found in this chapter is in Komiya Toyotake, comp. and ed., Japanese Music and Drama in the Meiji Era, Vol. III (Music and Drama), trans. Edward G. Seidensticker and Donald Keene (Tokyo: Ōbunsha, 1956), and Theatrical Performances and
Theaters in the Meiji Era. For the best account of the Shintomi-za, see “Kabuki Goes Official: the 1878 Opening of the Shintomi-za” in Samuel L. Leiter, ed., A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2002).]

There are snobbish-sounding English-language names for the area, like Waterfront or Tokyo Bay City, but the name with the closest connection to Tokyo is surely Edomae. The dictionary defines edomae (Edo-Before) as the sea fronting the Edo areas of Shiba, Shinagawa, etc.; its use began when the fish in these waters came to be appreciated as edomae products.  

The location of the Kabuki-za, now designated as Ginza, Chuo-ku, 4 chōme, 12-15, was called Kobiki-chō until August 1961.  Up until the Keian period (1648-52), this area, is said to have been called Edo Minato (Edo Port) and was the city’s waterfront. The origin of the name Kobiki-chō (Sawyers’ Street) comes from the many saw sellers who lived here when Edo Castle was rebuilt.
There were homes along the Sanjūkkenhori Canal, daimyō storehouses lined the eastern bank, the smell of the sea was in the air, and the sound of waves lapping at the shore could be heard. During the Manji period (1658-61) a land reclamation project was undertaken, moving the shoreline further away. And, after the great fire of 1657, the place where Shōchiku’s main offices now are located was filled in, giving the location the name Tsukiji, or “Built-Up Land.” When the project of reclaiming tideland was completed in 1658, the Nishi Hongan-ji Temple of Hama-chō, which was seeking additional land, was given a sizable plot covered by seawater; it’s said that the land was reclaimed by jworshipful fishermen. The temple faced the sea, the Bōsō Hill Range could be seen in the distance, and it occupied a substantial section of the bay area.

2. Tsukiji and Kobiki-chō

During the Kan’ei period (1624-44), Edo surpassed Kyoto as the largest city in Japan, but in 1657 the Great Fire of Edo, sparing only Nishimaru, destroyed Edo Castle. The government began rebuilding the city based on fire prevention plans; the daimyō mansions of the three branches of the shogunate house were relocated, as were the temples and shrines; these sites were rebuilt as firebreaks, the main streets were widened, and residential areas were reorganized. 

As a result, the areas of Mita, Honjō, Asakusa, Yanaka, and Fukugawa were added to the surrounding urban areas occupied by temples and shrines; the Yoshiwara brothel district and Kyōbashi’s Kobiki-chō were created in Tsukiji on the eastern side facing the sea; and land was prepared for new townsman housing. From then until the Meiji Restoration the neighborhoods of Kobiki-chō and Tsukiji were occupied by the residences of daimyō bannermen (hatamoto), after which the filled-in border of the Sumida River became South (Minami) Odawara-chō, with rows of fishmongers and small local shops.

In 1624, Saruwaka (Nakamura) Kanzabūrō set up a drum tower (yagura) over his new theatre, the Saruwaka-za, in Kyōbashi’s wide Nakabashi Street; this was Edo kabuki’s official beginning. Soon afterward it was moved in the direction of Negi-chō. Also going up in this Kobiki-chō neighborhood puppet theatres (ayatsuri shibai), sermon halls (sekkyōza), and so on. From the late Kan’ei period (1640s) to the Jōō period (1652-55) it was an active amusement street. It thus formed the roots of today’s Shōchiku amusement center.  
Stone monument in Kyōbashi marking the site of the first Saruwaka-za. The wording says that on the 15th day of Kan'ei 1 (1624) Saruwaka Nakamura Kanzaburo raised the ceremonial drum tower (yagura) to signify the opening of the Saruwaka Nakamura-za on this site, said to be the southern part of Naka Bridge (Nakabashi). This stone was placed here in hopes that the spot where the national drama of kabuki was originated would long be remembered. July 1957. Edo Kabuki Historical Preservation Society.  
In the fifth month of 1644 Okamura Kōhei received permission to build the Yamamura-za at Kobiki-chō, 6-chōme, after which he changed his name to Yamamura Chōdayū; in 1648, Kawarasaki Gonnosuke built the Kawarasaki-za at 5-chōme; and, in 1660, the Morita-za was erected at 5-chōme by Morita Tarōbei. The Kawarasaki-za eventually became the alternate theatre (hikae yagura) for the Morita-za. These venues remained here for many years before being transferred to Saruwaka-chō, in Asakusa, in the early 1840s as part of the Tenpō Reforms; during the early Meiji period, the Morita-za, moved back to the area, taking the name Shintomi-za ( from its location at Shintomi-chō. The Yamamura-za was closed down officially after the Ejima-Ikushima Incident of 1714.

During the Edo period a wide boulevard running east-west within the grounds of the Ekōin Temple in Ryōgoku was an amusement center, as were Okuyama in Asakusa, Nakano-chō in Fukagawa, the Hachimonji temple grounds, the Fukiya-chō riverside, and Kobiki-chō’s Unemegahara. Unemegahara, located on the eastern side of Kobiki-chō, 4-chōme, was, until 1724, the site of the mansion of the Iyo Imahara clan lord Matsudaira Uneme no Kami Sadamoto.  After it burned down and the family moved, it was called Unemegahara. In 1728 it was a horseback riding place across from where the Kabuki-za now stands and the place was busy with storytellers and other public speakers (kōshaku and mamezō).
Two views of Unemegahara.
According to the Fuzoku Gahō the area from Uneme Bridge’s (Unemebashi) northern side to Mannen Bridge (Mannenbashi), the area along the riverside resembled an amusement street until the late Edo period. There were many small kabuki theatres (koshibai) and storytelling (kōshaku) and puppet theatre establishments surrounded by reed mats, as well as teahouses, archery ranges, fishermen’s inns, shops selling sazae no tsubo yaki (turban cooked whole in its own shell) and inarizushi (sushi wrapped in fried tofu), one after the other, not to mention the many streetwalkers who waited in the evening shadows.

From the crossroads of the Ginza’s Owari-chō toward Tsukiji, the first bridge was Mihara Bridge (Miharabashi), and from there past the Kabuki-za, and toward Mannen Bridge from Furitsu Kōgei Gakkō toward Honganji Temple there were daimyō mansions. Four bridges, Mihara, Mannen, Uneme, and Kobiki, formed the area within which the Unemegahara equestrian training ground was situated. Across the road running past the Kabuki-za’s location was a daimyō mansion with a namakokabe wall to whose east was an open field, while beyond the horse riding grounds were many closely packed shops.

As already pointed out, the English word “waterfront” is a new, popular word that originally came into use in connection with the strong business interests involved in redeveloping the Tokyo Bay area; it’s an economic term used in relation to youth culture and urban customs and it has a modern cachet as a katakana word that leads to its frequent use in writing for the younger generation. Crowds of young people can be found at the many restaurants and saloons facing the harbors and canals, in places such as the Sumida River and the converted warehouses of Shibaura. Noticing the boom, warehouse owners have created eating and drinking establishments aimed at the youth market, often with cultural spaces such as galleries and a wide range of offerings
Whether you say Waterfront or Edomae, history truly repeats itself. 

3. Before the Kabuki-za

Kaburagi Kiyokata, born in 1878 in Sakuma-chō in Tokyo’s Kanda section, was an artist specializing in paintings of Japanese beauties (bijin-e), including the three works called “Akashi-chō” (19270, “Shintomi-chō” (1930), and “Hama-chō Kawagishi” (1930). He lived from age eight to 16 in Kobiki-chō. His father, Jōnō Saigiku, a journalist and novelist, was a patron of Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Onoe Kikugorō V so he came to be called Jōnō Dankiku. In his autobiography, Koshikata no Ki, Kiyokata recalls Kobiki-chō and Tsukiji’s Shintomi-chō as they were in the late 1880s.

Before the construction began this area was part of Unemegahara, with street performers’ stalls, and the place was a great one for kids to enjoy themselves. Knowing that a theatre would soon be built there I remember going there with a maid on a moonlit night to fly my little kite. Then they began to build it and it was unlike any that had ever been seen before. When you looked at the auditorium and stage from the third floor it was like peering into a deep valley from a mountain peak.

Before the Kabuki-za went up the Shintomi-za was the representative major theatre; it also possessed a cypress wood stage (hinoki butai). It contained a substantial amount of Edo-period features, including a lineup of illustrated billboards (e-kanban) over a low “mouse door” (nezumi kido) audience entrance that Kiyokata always went to see first. These billboards were painted in distemper using thick lines and showing the actors dressed as their characters with their personal crests painted in brilliant Dutch ultramarine and their role names painted in red against a circular white background. Beneath the gabled roof beams was a black lacquered stucco circle in which was painted a wood sorrel (katabami) design representing the crest of the Morita-za. Two story-high teahouses were located to either side, colorful, crest-decorated Chinese paper lanterns hanging from them, creating the very picture of a theatre street.

The theatergoing experience that began with the Shintomi-za involved spending 13-14 hours in these theatres; it goes without saying that food and drink were necessary to get through such a long day. In Western theatres the intermissions between acts are short; to prevent the audience getting bored an orchestra is placed at the front of the stage, with the orchestra playing whenever the curtain falls. In our country’s theatres, though, the intermissions run for an hour. Since nothing is done to relieve the audience’s eyes and ears during these interludes, the spectators, cramped together buttock to buttock, take their pleasure by sipping tea, munching on pastries, downing sake, and eating food, both lunch and dinner, while breathing in the foul air. What looks like a theatre becomes a saloon creating a disgraceful scene of a crowd stuffing themselves in the large, crowded space. No matter how patiently you observe it, the bizarre sight of these spectators in an enlightened country is so shocking it’s if you were watching a competitive exhibition of Japan’s bad manners. (From Nakamura Zenpei, “Gekijō Kairyō Hō,” Meiji Bunka Zenshū, vol. 12.)

Clara Whitney, whose father came to Japan in 1868 to teach at what is now Hitotsubashi University, and who later married Katsu Umetarō, third son of statesman Katsu Kaishū, touches on the subject in her autobiography, Clara’s Diary: An American Girl in Meiji Japan (1979), which covers her life in Tokyo from the early through middle Meiji period. The teenage New Jersey girl left several descriptions of going to the Shintomi-za, including a minutely detailed record of the visit of ex-president Ulysses S. Grant in July 1887. Its depiction of the glorious event, with its glittering upper-class crowd, contrasts sharply with the first impression of those visiting kabuki at the long programs, filthy air, and patient endurance of the Japanese spectators.

Okamoto Kidō, one of the sharpest observers of Meiji kabuki, lovingly recorded the city’s customs and manners in a collection of essays called Fūzoku Meiji Tōkyō Monogatari, first published in 1987. In it, he wrote:

At the time, Kobiki-chō, 3-chome, was a desolate place while the other side at Uneme-chō had one house after the other. The 3-chōme side, that is, where the Kabuki-za now is, was all empty grassland. Aside from the circus and sumō matches occasionally held there, among other performances, it was just a vacant lot in the middle of Kyōbashi. . . . I always passed through Kobiki-chō, 3-chōme, on my way to and from school, and examined the sumō posters. Before long, there were stakes in the grassland for the construction of a theatre. (From Okamoto Kidō, “Kidō Ichiya Banashi—Kabuki to Shinpa to,” in Fūzoku Meiji Tōkyō Monogatari.)

4. Ready to Be Born

Thus, against a background in which the voices of theatre reform in the 1880s became even stronger with the first performance imperial viewing of kabuki, the Kabuki-za suddenly came into the limelight in a corner of Kobiki-chō.

After the Meiji Restoration the first concrete sign of a new age in kabuki was the building of the Morita-za in Shintomi-chō in 1872. This was against a background in which Kabuki theatres became places for the social elite, and, under the new Meiji government’s theatre policies, tools for advocating loyalty and patriotism and educating the people.

In 1888 the government and the kabuki world quickly drew closer while walking in step toward Westernization; the producer Morita Kanya XII and the great actor Danjūrō IX, pioneer of the new living history (katsureki) dramatic genre, were at the heart of the theatre reform movement. In 1886 the Theatre Reform Society (Engeki Kairyō Kai) was formed; this was a substantial organization including important people from the worlds of politics, finance, and education, as well as theate. In 1887 their efforts resulted in the epochal performance of kabuki before the emperor.

At its heart, the Theatre Reform Society, created as it was during the “Rokumeikan period,” was to make the theatre serve as an instrument in the attempts of the Itō Hirobumi cabinet to further Japan’s primary goal of revising the unequal treaties with Western powers it had been forced to live under since the 1850s. One of the aims of the Theatre Reform Society, established in August 1886, was to build a theatre perfectly appointed for the presentation of theatre and both musical and vocal concerts. The group even hoped for foreign actors to display their skills on the new stage.
In Low City, High City, Edward Seidensticker writes:

Improvement became an organized movement during the Rokumeikan Period, shortly after The Mikado was first performed in London. There seems to have been a link between the two events. The Mikado was the talk of the Rokumeikan set, which thought it a national insult. Proper retaliation, it seems, was the creation of a dramatic form that foreigners had to admire, in spite of themselves. The Society for Improving the Theatre [i.e., Theatre Reform Society] had among its founders the foreign minister and the education minister. The wantonness of the old Kabuki must be eliminated. An edifying drama, fit for noble ladies, domestic and foreign, must take its place.

On October 19, 1886, a debate was held at the Bank of Tokyo on plans for the construction of a theatre, but on October 3, Suematsu Kenchō (Norizumi) delivered an address about theatre reform in the auditorium of the First Upper Middle School, Hitotsubashi, Kanda, Tokyo, an address that was widely disseminated in newspapers and magazines, as well as in book form. 

[Although Suematsu also touched on other theatre reform ideas] his purpose seems to have been to air his plans for building a new theatre: he would collect a capital of 150,000 yen and, in an appropriate location, build a three-storey brick theatre with chairs rather than the traditional straw-matted stalls. He would do away with the tea houses, and he would reform the system of footwear and the lavatories. He also proposed doing away with the hanamichi. . . . His argument seems to have been that architecture as the “base” on which the reformed theatre must rest. (From Toita Kōji, “The Theatre in Transition,” in Komiya Toyotake, Japanese Music and Drama in the Meiji Era.)]

On Empire Day, February 11, 1889, the Imperial Constitution, which remained in effect until Japan’s defeat in World War II, was promulgated and the city of Tokyo celebrated joyously. The same year saw the passage of the Imperial Household Act, which essentially established the Japanese imperial system. The emperor’s German physician, Dr. Erwin Baelz, who had come to Japan in mid-Meiji, noted with irony in his diary for February 9:

The entire city of Tokyo is making indescribable preparations for the promulgation of the constitution on 11th. Triumphal arches everywhere, plans for illumination and processions. The great joke is that no one has the least idea of what the constitution will contain! (From Erwin Baelz, Awakening Japan: The Diary of a German Doctor.)
Rendering of the first Kabuki-za. The vertical billboard (kanban) says: "Opening this month on the 15th." Actually, the theatre opened on November 11.
That same year, on November 21, the Kabuki-za was born.

Interior of the first Kabuki-za, May 17, 1893, during a production of Kanjinchō
The first Kabuki-za during its early years.

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