1889 (Meiji 22)
Samuel L. Leiter
1889 (Meiji 22)
Samuel L. Leiter
[Note: This is Chapter Two in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za. For the introductory chapter and Chapter One see Entries 1 and 2. What follows is adapted from Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi, edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers is listed for the volume but none are identified for particular chapters. Nonessential material has been cut.. Links are provided only for new items. Thanks to Prof. Kei Hibino for his help with several passages. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]
One of the products of Morita Kanya XII’s passion for Westernization and reform was Kawatake Mokuami’s 1879 play about foreigners, Hyōryū Kidan Seiyō Kabuki (Wanderers’ Strange Story: A Foreign Kabuki; 1879), whose play-within-a-play section included a visiting British troupe from Hong Kong playing in English. It was a serious flop that sent Kanya into considerable debt and a gradual state of decline. Then came the announcement about the building of a new type of theatre in Kobiki-chō, within hailing distance of Kanya’s Shintomi-za; it hit him like a bolt of lightning.
The year of the Kabuki-za’s opening, 1889, was filled with momentous occurrences. That year Japan witnessed the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution; the assassination of Education Minister Mori Arinori; a terrorist bomb that caused Foreign Minister Ōkuma Shigenobu the loss of a leg because of dissatisfaction over his treaty revision negotiations; a bad harvest resulting from poor weather and violent storms; a rise in the cost of rice; rice riots; and Japan’s first economic panic. In the literary realm there was the conflict over the Japanese rhetorical styles of genbun itchi and gazoku setchū. Mori Ōgai published Shigarami Sōshi (Weir Magazine), and German literature flourished upon its introduction to Japan.
|The first Kabuki-za, early in its history. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
The Theatre Reform Society quickly vanished, having achieved nothing concrete other than, perhaps, the imperial command performance of kabuki. One of the society’s members, Fukuchi Ōchi (Fukuchi Gen’ichirō), journalist and politician, set out to build an ideal reform-based theatre with himself as its leader, and with funding provided by the financier Chiba Katsugorō. This was the Kabuki-za, of course. Chiba, a.k.a. Chiba Katsu, had amassed a fortune through money lending.
Ōchi consulted with his adviser, Jōnō Saigiku, a founder of the Yamato Shinbun newspaper, beginning with guaranteeing the theatre’s site. They had their eyes on a vacant lot, a bit less than 2,000 tsubo (1 tsubo=3.95 square yards), at Kobiki-chō, 3-20, Kyōbashi-ku, once the secondary daimyō mansion of Horikawa Ecchū no Kami, and now used as a fairground. A request for a permit in the name of Jōnō Saigiku was granted by the Tokyo government. Chiba then paid for the plot at 4 yen per tsubo and the property, in Jōnō’s name, was turned over to Chiba.
The entire project was in the hands of the Ōkura Engineering Company (Ōkura Toboku Kaisha); when fencing went up around the property it became necessary to decide on a name for the theatre. At first, Ōchi came up with “Kairyō-za” (Reform Theatre) and “Kairyō Engekijō” (Reform Playhouse) but these felt too dry and dull; thus, midway through, he replaced them with Kabuki-za. For the theatre’s crest (mon), to adorn its drum tower (yagura), the design of a phoenix within a circle (hōryūmaru) was selected. This is because a tea master named Tanimura, who had been providing various ideas, said it was used on the treasures at Hōryū-Ji Temple in Nara and on the decorative nail heads in the temple’s formal rooms (zashiki). He was so enthusiastic that the crest was chosen. (From Iwaya Shinichi, “Kabuki-za Monogatari,” in Kabuki-za.)
Unlike the period when the three great Edo theatres (Edo sanza) ruled and professional managers and producers put up theatres, this one was under the guidance of amateurs from outside the theatre world; the idea of “reform” was bound up in their work, with revolutionary significance. However, during the theatre’s construction Chiba began to have cold feet about his financial involvement. If things continued as they were then he, as the sole financial backer, stood a good chance of taking a big hit, so he announced that he’d like to get out. Greatly concerned, Ōchi sought to stop him by making him the theatre’s chief advisor. Ōchi would put Chiba in charge of the theatre while he went off to study how theatres were run in the West; an application to this effect was filed with the Metropolitan Police Department.
|The teahouses of the first Kabuki-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
At first, Morita Kanya seemed unperturbed at what he dismissed as the work of amateurs but seeing the new theatre going up so close to his Shintomi-za made him very uneasy; he thus commenced planning countermeasures. First, he planned to corner the market on actors, convincing Tokyo’s other major theatres, the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, and Chitose-za, to join with the Shintomi-za in a “Four Theatre League” (Yonza Dōmei). Its actors were led by the three greatest stars, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, Onoe Kikugorō V, and Ichikawa Sadanji I, with Nakamura Sōjūrō, Nakamura Shikan, Takasagoya Fukusuke, Bandō Kakitsu, and Sawamura Gen’nosuke right behind them; these eight stars agreed that when they played in Tokyo they would do so only at these four theatres for a five-year period beginning in 1889.
|Newspaper announcement for Kōmonki, first play produced at the Kabuki-za. From Kabuki Shinpō.|
For a time, after hearing of Kanya’s having created a syndicate controlling theatres and actors, Ōchi and Chiba sneered at the idea but, when their attempts to crush the alliance and to drive a wedge between Danjūrō and Kikugorō failed, Ōchi’s competitive spirit arose and he said that if he couldn’t get actors he’d don makeup himself and go on stage. After various complications, statesman Inoue Kaoru (1836-1915) entered as an intermediary and, finally, Chiba settled the matter for 20,000 yen by giving Kanya 10,000 yen and making a 10,000 yen gift to the Shintomi-za, thereby acquiring access to the actors.
Thus with the Shintomi-za troubles behind it, the Kabuki-za was able to put together a grand lineup of stars for its opening, including Danjūrō, Kikugorō, Sadanji, Takasagoya Fukusuke, Bandō Kakitsu, Kawarasaki Gonjūrō, Sawamura Gen’nosuke, Bandō Jusaburō, Ichikawa Kodanji, Bandō Shūchō, Ichikawa Yaozō, and Onoe Matsusuke. However, Ōchi, who had loudly advocated for reform and even had considered using the word “reform” in the theatre’s name, faced the possibility of being criticized for selling old wine in new bottles unless he offered new plays. But the time taken by the Shintomi-za troubles left him with a dearth of new material even as Chiba needed to see a return on his investment. Ōchi thus opted for safety by producing the play that had opened the Shintomi-za in 1877, Kōmonki Osana Gōshaku (The Story of Kōmon: A Lecture for Youth), by Kawatake Mokuami, with its original cast of Danjūrō, Kikugorō, and Sadanji (Dan-Kiku-Sa, as they were popularly known) along with the dance play Rokkasen (The Six Poet Immortals).
Mokuami’s play, originally titled Zokusetsu Bidan Kōmonki (A Great Traditional Tale: The Story of Kōmon), in which the central roles were Mito Mitsukuni, Fujii Mondayū, and Kappa no Kichizō, was revised by Ōchi, proponent of the reform movement, to include some of his reformist ideas. However, it showed signs that Ōchi’s plays and theatrical tastes were not going to be admired. (From Kaburagi Kiyokata, Koshikata no Ki).Even Ōchi wasn’t happy with this repertory since he considered such works nonsense. So, out of spite, he had the title printed as “A Great Traditional Tale,” beneath which came “The Story of Kōmon,” while the authorship was given in the program (banzuke) as, “Original work by Kawatake Mokuami, revised by Fukuchi Gen’ichirō.” This so enraged the usually mild-mannered Mokuami that after making an appearance at the first cast gathering (kaoyose) he is said to never have entered the Kabuki-za again nor write another play for it. (He died in 1893.) Okamoto Kidō recalled, however:
|Side cutaway view of Kabuki-za. From Kenchiku Zasshi.|
It’s a fact, though, that Danjūrō didn’t trust Mokuami. When I attended this play I went backstage with my father afterward and visited Danjūrō’s dressing room. My father faced the actor and asked him if a certain new scene (the one at Edo’s Ecchū) was by Mokuami. “Why on earth would Fukuchi write it? Couldn’t Mokuami have written it?” (From Okamoto Kidō in Fūzoku Meiji Tōkyō Monogatari.)
When the Kabuki-za’s construction was completed and its inspection finished, the peripheral fencing was removed, a placard was hung, saying “Opens on the 11th of this month,” and, that same day, the musicians offered a “large drum ceremony” (ōtsuzumi no shiki).
Here's what a contemporary account in Seiji Gahō had to say about the splendid new theatre.
Here's what a contemporary account in Seiji Gahō had to say about the splendid new theatre.
|Exterior side view of Kabuki-za. From Kenchiku Zasshi.|
|Top: Third-floor ground plan; middle: second-floor ground plan; bottom: first-floor ground plan; note hanamichi at upper left and revolving stage at right. From Kenchiku Zasshi.|
The theatre’s frontage is 15 ken (1 ken=around 6 feet) and its depth 30 ken, and it occupies 457 tsubo. It has narrow, vertical extensions (tsunoya) at either side, each as high as the main building. From the stage foundations to the beams is 30 shaku (1 shaku=around 1 foot), and the height of the left and right hallways is 20 shaku. The outside wall, based on the manager’s preference, is in classical Western style, covered in plaster with a design of musical instruments painted near the top so that a mere glance shows that the architect has built a theatre. The outside wall is built entirely of brick. Originally, it was planned that a statue of the auspicious Sanbasō character would adorn the façade but when it was realized that this might be dangerous the idea was abandoned. Inside, the theatre contains three floors in Japanese style, all of it made of cypress wood, which is not only beautiful but greatly enhances the acoustics.
The auditorium ranges from 13 to 10 ken in width, the main hanamichi is 5 shaku wide and 10 ken long, and the temporary (kari) hanamichi is 2 shaku 5 sun (1 sun=1.93 inches) wide and 10 ken long. The pit (doma), raised pit sections at the sides (takadoma), and uzura (side boxes) contain a total of 225 sections; the second-floor galleries (sajiki) contain 80 sections (occupying over 40 tsubo); and the third-floor galleries are the same. The third floor is 13 ken wide and 4 ken deep. The theatre has been designed to hold from 3,000 to 3,500 spectators. . . . [It actually held 2,066.] The stage and dressing room area ranges from 13 ken to 16 ½ ken in width. In the usual theatre the distance from stage to mizuhiki border over the stage is 11 shaku but at the Kabuki-za it’s 17 shaku, which increases visibility for those on the third floor, even when the stage floor is raised (by adding platforming). Also, the outer revolving stage (mawari butai) has a diameter of 9 ken while the inner one is 7 ken, it being an example of the “snake-eye” revolve (janome butai), one disk within another, in accordance with Japanese traditional practice. (From Akiniwa Tarō, Tōto Meiji Engeki Shi.)
On the evening of November 8 the company assembled for its first gathering (kaoyose). Since the principal actors were then engaged at the Shintomi-za, this took place after their performance in the lobby leading to the Kabuki-za’s third-floor seats. Danjūrō, Kikugorō, and Sadanji were there, as were Kanya, Mokuami, Ichikawa Shinshichi, and playwright Takeshiba Kisui, all seated in a row wearing formal hakama trousers and haori jackets. Things began with Mokuami rising and crossing to sit before managerial rivals Kanya, Ōchi, and Chiba Katsu to read aloud the title of the main play. Then Kisui took over and read aloud the prologue (jomaku) of Kōmonki, followed by a congratulatory handclapping of the assembled parties, and, before breaking up, the mutual sharing of good wishes by all.
On November 10, the playhouse’s completion ceremony (rakuseishiki) was held. The managerial team and the troupe leader (zagashira), Danjūrō, presided over a gathering of over 100 persons; a Shinto ceremony of the “Eight Directions” was held as were prayers for the prosperity of the new theatre.
Anyone from the past seeing this theatre would have been astonished by its splendidness. I remember thinking how gorgeous were the gas lights illuminating the Shintomi-za when I saw them but the Kabuki-za was like a grand temple of high-quality wood. The stage was also big and, unlike any of its predecessors, the auditorium had a third story. It was here that the cheap seat theatregoers (oikomi) were found, with the standing room (tachimi) area behind them. In order to watch by standing you removed your clogs (geta); experienced theatregoers were actually surprised by this reform.
Hanging from the ceiling over the pit was a winch-operated chandelier. The entire pit was built of movable floor boards. Among the theatre’s novelties was being able to raise some of these boards for seating, but this wasn’t well received and was done away with. The theatre was popularly known as the Reform Theatre (Kairyō-za). Then came the Meiji-za and the Tōkyō-za, but these take us too far; for the moment, the Kabuki-za ruled. (From Endō Tameharu, “Hōgobari” in Kisetsu Kabuki, vol. XVII.)
November 14, a highly auspicious day, was chosen for the beginning of rehearsals; a day later, on the 15th, the musicians assembled and played the ceremonial music of Takasago. On November 17 the banzuke programs were printed. There was consideration for the spectators’ needs, including not using the hard-to-read kantei ryū calligraphy style, abandoning the listing of actors’ names by rank in favor of role names, and the inclusion of role names for each scene. According to Tamura Nariyoshi:
This theatre’s reputation for reform meant that the customary banzuke were revised. The poster art of the Torii family was abandoned in favor of the art of Yoshitoshi’s pupil Toshikata, there were no actors’ crests, the title was written by Ōchi, and the previous method of listing the actors by rank, beginning with the troupe leader, was replaced by the names of the characters in order of their rank (for ex., in Chūshingura [The Treasury of Loyal Retainers] it would begin with Ashikaga Tadayoshi). (From Zoku Zoku Kabuki Nendaiki.)
These new practices led to the banzuke being called “reform programs,” which is where modern programs originated.
On November 21, the day of the opening ceremonies, the theatre’s exterior was decorated in Western style while an orchestra played inside and floral split curtains (noren) along with globe-shaped lanterns hung from the eaves of the adjoining teahouses. A crush of spectators gathered outside, hoping to get in. By 3:00 p.m., the opening time, the crowd included horse-drawn carriages, an abundance of rickshaws, a crowd of invited governmental dignitaries, noblewomen, and other connected people. By 4:00 p.m., there was barely any space to breath.
On the reddish-brown drop curtain (donchō) made of silk damask was an embroidered image of Hōraisan (the mythical, inaccessible island included in classical Japanese gardens), with wave patterns to either side, creating a truly magnificent effect for a work of unparalleled luxury by master sewer Nui Hide costing 150 yen.
As 5:00 p.m. approached the curtain rose and Fukuchi Ōchi appeared, dressed formally in hakama and haori. He offered his thanks to the audience and, along with explaining the reform motives behind the construction of this theatre, said:
“Today’s productions, however, aren’t particularly reformist and don’t differ much from previous plays, which I think is my greatest regret. Sticking to my ideals, I will wait to offer true reform when we open next spring and ask that you reconsider your opinions.” He thus gave vent to his dissatisfaction at Chiba’s having prevented him from carrying out his ideas. (From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.)
Following this introduction, Kōmonki and Rokkasen were performed, with the show not ending until 11:30 p.m. The lateness of the hour and the disorderly throng of rickshaws waiting outside the teahouses raised a storm of angry protests among the theatregoers. There were also a good number of other complaints that irritated theatregoers, from the faux-reform production to problems related to the Western-style structure, such as the poor rake of the pit that made it difficult to see the stage and the inadequate acoustics produced by the high ceilings over the galleries. Snarky comments also arose because of disappointment with the difference between gas and electric lighting, the many speeches in Kōmonki of rough country characters, and the much reformed, unprecedentedly high ticket prices.
Eventually, on the ninth day, November 29, everything came off without a hitch, and with this the reform theatre came to nothing and was seen as little more than bluster. The only full house was opening day, with its invited audience, and attendance slipped from the second day forward. November 24, a Sunday, failed to sell out, it was December 1 before a full house was achieved. Despite being praised at the time as Japan’s foremost structure, and with a grand opening production featuring a cast headed by Tokyo’s top stars, Dan-Kiku-Sa, the Kabuki-za’s debut was a big flop. On top of all this, Kikugorō had to leave the show when he came down with a cold; he was onstage for only 28 days of the run.
Kawatake Shigetoshi summed up the significance of the Kabuki-za’s opening thusly:
1. The theatre’s innovative structure and system. 2. The theatre’s being the first to have a generic name (and its being representative of kabuki). 3. The presence as manager of Fukuchi Ōchi, an amateur with absolutely no theatrical background, who built it in accordance with his vision of a reform theatre. (From Nihon Engeki Zen-Shi.)
Akiba Tarō affirms what the Kabuki-za represented:
Thus the Kabuki-za—in its theatrical position, its structure, its production methods, its actors—truly stood head and shoulders among Tokyo’s playhouses. There really was absolutely nothing about it to detract from the Kabuki-za’s being in step with our country’s cultural development at the time and being the theatre of a civilized nation. There’s no doubt that the Kabuki-za’s appearance was a severe blow to the Shintomi-za, the Ichimura-za, the Nakamura-za, and the Chitose-za. From 1890 on kabuki’s fortunes were the same as those of the Kabuki-za. The foremost productions in Tokyo were those of the Kabuki-za. (In Tōto Meiji Engeki-Shi.)
Many years afterward, in 1951, when the Kabuki-za was rebuilt following its destruction near the end of World War II, Takahashi Sei’ichirō, then the director of the Japan Art Academy (Nihon Geijutsuin), and first director of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Properties (Bunkazai Hogō Iinkai), wrote in the program:
When the magnificent Kabuki-za went up in Kobiki-chō in 1889, it contributed greatly to the pride felt by kabuki actors. The list of goals established by the Theatre Reform Society when it was created in 1887 included one stating: “To build a properly constructed auditorium which will be used for theatre performances, music concerts, song recitals, etc.” (trans. Brian Powell), but the Society failed to bring this about. However, through the efforts of Fukuchi Ōchi and Chiba Katsugorō Japan’s first grand, genuine Western-style theatre was erected. It was a big honor for actors to trod this great theatre’s cypress-wood floor and those who had not yet set foot on it polished their art so that they one day might do so. (From “Kabuki-za to Kabuki Haiyū,” in Kabuki-za Sujigaki.)
As for culturally interesting developments in 1889 Japan, there was much ado about flannel shirts, rose-colored glasses, and imported rice. Osaka star Nakamura Sōjūrō I died at 55. The year also saw the opening of the International Exposition in Paris. Among other important theatres built that year were Paris’s Théâtre des Capucines, Vienna’s Volkstheater, and London’s Garrick Theatre. It also was the year Strindberg wrote Creditors and “The Stronger,” and Chekhov wrote “The Wedding,” and The Wood Demon.