1891 (Meiji 24)
Samuel L. Leiter
[Note: This is Chapter 5 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za. The earlier chapters can be found on this site in reverse chronological order. What follows is translated and 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; references and added passages from other sources are in bold. Links are provided only for new items. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]
Producer Tamura Nariyoshi, part of the early Kabuki-za team, wrote this in 1916:
One day in November 1890 a fire starting at my neighbors caused my own home to burn down. In January 1891 the Kabuki-za produced a fire benefit program for me. The plays were Kawatake Mokuami’s Nezumi Kozō (Rat Boy), the “Kinkakuji” scene (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) from Gion Sairei Shinkōki (The Gion Festival Chronicle of Faith), featuring Shikan and his son, Nakamura Fukusuke, and, as a finale, Supensā no Fūsen-nori (Spencer’s Balloon Flight), a dance play commemorating Percival Spencer’s lauded balloon flight, starring Onoe Kikugorō V. One of the next century’s greatest stars, Onoe Kikugorō VI, made his formal debut in the latter (in 1886 he had been carried on as an infant at the Chitose-za), under the name Onoe Kōzō. His role was to replace Kikugorō (his father) in a kabuki convention intended to make it look as if the balloon were far away by substituting miniature versions of both the balloon and the person in it. (From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari no Ni: Kabuki-za ga Dekite Kara,” in Shin Engei [April 1916].)
Onoe Kikunosuke II (1868-1897) had been disinherited by his adoptive father, Kikugorō V, forcing him to seek acting jobs under the name Onoe Shōkō in the Kamigata region, but he had been forgiven and was now being welcomed back to his father’s embrace as a member of the Kabuki-za company, appearing in the “Kuramayama Danmari” (“Kuramayama Pantomime”) scene of Nezumi Kozō with his name restored to Kikunosuke. (He also acted in the closing play, during which Kikugorō delivered a welcome back speech.) The great Nakamura Shikan IV and his son, Nakamura Fukusuke IV (later Nakamura Utaemon V), also made their Kabuki-za debuts in the pantomime. The greatest praise was given to Kikugorō for his work in Nezumi Kozō. Kanya and Kikugorō were responsible for initiating the fire relief program on Tamura Nariyoshi’s behalf; they quickly drew many supporters and the New Year’s production, which opened on January 8 and closed on February 11, ran for 35 days.
Next to General and Mrs. Grant the foreigner who got the most attention from the newspapers and the printmakers was probably an Englishman named Spencer, who came in 1890, bringing balloons with which he performed stunts, once in Yokohama and twice in Tokyo. The emperor was present at the first Tokyo performance. Parachuting from his balloon, Spencer almost hit the royal tent, and injured himself slightly in his efforts to avoid it. He drew huge crowds at Ueno a few days later, and this time landed in a paddy field. . . . The following year the great actor Kikugorō appeared on the Kabuki stage as Spencer, in a play by Mokuami. Coached by a nephew of Fukuzawa Yukichi, he even essayed a speech in English. There was a vogue for balloon candies, balloon bodkins, of course, balloon prints. (From Edward G. Seidensticker, Low City, High City.)
Mokuami’s program-ending, three-act dance-play, whose full title is Fūsen-nori Uwasa no Takadono, tied together Spencer’s feats with the opening of the Asakusa “skyscraper,” Ryōunkaku (a.k.a. Jūnikai or “Twelve Stories”); Kikugorō, having witnessed Spencer’s balloon flight, asked Mokuami to write the play for him, which was choreographed by Hanayagi Jusuke, with music by Kishizawa Shikisa. There were two acts, the first at the Ueno Park Museum, accompanied by a city orchestra and a tokiwazu orchestra, the second the Asakusa Park skyscraper, backed by kiyomoto music. It was a topical sensation, with an intense performance of Spencer by Kikugorō that included a speech in English written for him by Fukuzawa Yukichi himself which took the full house by surprise when he began, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Left: Onoe Kōzō as the miniature version of Spencer, played by his father, Onoe Kikugorō V, right, a convention to make the character look far away.
The review by Takenoya Shujin (Aeba Kōson) noted:
If you want to know the main reason the show was a sellout you can ascribe seventy percent to the final piece about the balloon flight, and one percent each to Yuki-hime [the principal character in Kinkakuji] or the pantomime scene (danmari) from Nezumi Kozō. It played a major role in drawing audiences. To be frank, if you take away this balloon dance’s novelty you’re left with a quite uninteresting and dull piece of theatre. However, this one-act piece was the reason for full houses. It was a gamble on a passing fad. . . .
Also, Kikugorō’s performance as Tenmei Tarō in the danmari in which he performed his dramatic roppō exit differently every day was widely praised all over town.
During the run, Shikan came down with a cold and was substituted for by Kakitsu until January 27, while early in February Kikugorō had take sick leave, with Kakitsu assuming his roles, while his character of Masakiyo in the first play was taken by Hikojūrō.
In February, the troupe of Kawakami Otojirō, who had become popular with his “Oppekepe-bushi” song, satirizing the times, gained critical approval in the city of Sakai with their shosei shibai (or sōshi shibai) performances. This was three years since Sudō Sadanori, pioneer of the shinpa genre, had created his sōshi shibai in Osaka. February also saw the death of Danjūrō’s disciple Ichikawa Danroku.
In March, the Nikolai Cathedral (Nikorai-dō), an impressive Russian Orthodox Cathedral designed by Japan’s foremost foreign architect, Josiah Conder, who also designed the first Kabuki-za, was opened in Kanda’s Surugadai. That month the Kabuki-za program, which opened on March 14, with a 10:00 a.m. curtain, began with Fukuchi Ōchi’s (he was now chief playwright or tate sakusha) revised version of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s five-act Shusse Kagekiyo (Kagekiyo Victorious). The middle piece was Ashiya Dōman Ōuchi Kagami (A Courtly Mirror of Ashiya Dōman; a.k.a. Kuzu no Ha), in two acts, and the show closed with the dance “Kitsune no Michiyuki” (“Fox Travel Dance”), with tokiwazu, takemoto, and nagauta accompaniment, from Shinoda Zuma (Shinoda Wife) The starring roles of Kagekiyo and Kuzu no Ha in the first two were played by Danjūrō. Concerning his salary:
When the Kabuki-za opened Danjūrō was paid 2,000 yen, which was raised in increments of 300 and 500 for each production thereafter. In February 1891 the Kabuki-za proprietor Chiba Katsugorō and Danjūrō signed a contract requiring four productions a year from the actor (March, May, September, and November) for 350 days at 4,500 yen, with additional money for taking on extra roles. (From Ihara Toshio, Shakai Jii.)
Morita Kanya, who not only lost his friendship with Chiba but was fired from the Kabuki-za for embezzlement the previous November, returned to the Shintomi-za through the good offices of Tamura, a situation that also led Kawatake Mokuami to attempt severing his connection to the Kabuki-za. But Chiba didn’t easily agree and by July Kanya’s was wiped clean from the Kabuki-za slate.
The great novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was a child when he saw the first Kabuki-za program of 1891. In his autobiography, he wrote:
Thus even before learning about the history of the struggle between the Genji and Heike clans fro Owada Tateki’s Tales from Japanese History, I knew from the Kabuki play that there was a Heike warrior known as Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo. The one I saw was based on Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Shusse Kagekiyo (Kagekiyo Victorious), with the plot slightly amended by Fukuchi Ochi, and the whole turned into a five-act drama for the Meiji Kabuki stage by Kawatake Mokuami. I still vaguely remember he part where Danjuro as Kagekiyo, hoping to attack Yoritomo enters the Todai-ji Temple disguised as a carpenter during the reconstruction of the Great Buddha, but is discovered and taken prisoner—this against a background of petals from the huge lotus throne on which the Great Buddha sits; also the part where Kagekiyo, having escaped his cell, attacks and kills Juzo, the elder brother of his mistress Akoya. I have forgotten the famous scene in which Akoya brings Kagekiyo’s son to visit him in prison; but at the point where Kagekiyo cries out “Wait for me, villain, in the courts of Hell!” Danjuro’s tremendous dramatic skill made a deep impression even on a mere child like me. For a long time thereafter, whenever occasion arose, I would imitate Danjuro’s voice and manner and announce ‘Kagekiyo escapes from prison!’ or command ‘Wait for me, villain, in the courts of Hell!”. . .As for the second major piece, Ashiya Dōman Ōuchi kagami, Mother had previously told me the story of Kuzunoha the fox; but she had said that when th time came to write the poem ‘If you miss me, come and see me . . . ‘ on the sliding screen, Danjuro’s Kuzunoha would be holding her child her arms and using a brush held between her teeth. I was greatly looking forward to seeing that and was as a result a bit disappointed when Danjuro did the inscription in ordinary fashion, by hand.
Years later, in my forties, I happened one day to see the puppet master Bungorō present Kuzunoha at the Bunrakuza in Osaka; and it brought back distant echoes of Danjuro’s performance. At the same time, I seemed to see the figure of my mother leaning close and whispering in my ear the meaning of what was happening on stage; and I felt a helpless yearning for those days so long and so irretrievably gone. In 1931 I wrote a work called Yoshino Kuzu (Arrowroot), and the links between that work and Danjuro’s portrayal of Kuzunoha which we so so many years before are impossible to deny. (From Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Yōshō Jidai, translated by Paul McCarthy as Childhood Years.)
Closing day was April 17; the program had run to full houses for 35 days. On April 18 and 19 the company produced a sosori program, a tradition according to which actors play role types they’re unaccustomed to or lesser actors take major roles and vice versa. In this case the low-ranking, unbilled actors (nadaishita) got to perform Shusse Kagekiyo and Ashiya Dōman, but since the oligarch Inoue Kaoru was scheduled to attend the program also included the famous dance-drama Kanjinchō (The Subscription List), for which Ōchi provided a personal introduction (kōjō); the cast, rather than wearing costumes and wigs, dressed in hakama and kimono, and performed only the part from the ennen dance on. Danjūrō played Benkei, Gonjūrō was Togashi, and Shinzō acted Yoshitsune, with the shitennō retainers played by Ichikawa Sumizō, Ichikawa Omezō, Ichikawa Enzō, and Ichikawa Raizō.
This was time of great financial stress; the previous year had seen rice riots flare up everywhere, beginning in Tōyama; further, the spinning industry was forced to curtail production, making the Ginza’s main shopping street look as lonely as if there’d been a fire there, and the crowds that typically went on flower viewing excursions were notably thinner. For all that, financial conditions at the theatre were fine, especially at the Kabuki-za, which continued to be blessed with full houses.
The actor Bandō Shiuka II (previously Nakamura Karoku II) died on April 7 at 56.
From May 2-4, a benefit for the Charitable Theatre Society of the Tokyo Poorhouse (Tōkyō Yōikuin) raised money with performances of two scenes from Ichinotani Futaba Gunki, including “Kumagai Jinya” (“Kumagai’s Battle Camp”), and the dance play Yamanba (The Mountain Hag). Danjūrō starred as Kumagai and Yamanba. The exercise space on the third floor was set up with sales booths and coffee shops by the sponsoring ladies.
On May 5, opening day at the Shintomi-za, Kikugorō’s adopted son Onoe Einosuke took the name Onoe Eizaburō V, while Kikugorō’s biological son, the seven-year-old Kōzō (later Kikugorō VI), who’d made his debut recently (see above), took the name Onoe Ushinosuke.
On May 6, Prime Minister Yamagata Aritomo’s cabinet was replaced by Prime Minister Masakata Masayoshi’s cabinet.
On May 11, 1891, Russia’s crown prince Tsevaravich Nicholas Alexandrovich, on a state visit to Japan, was attacked in Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture, by Tsuda Sanzō, a Japanese policeman in the security detail, whose failed assassination attempt is known as the Ōtsu Incident (Ōtsu Jiken), an incident with serious international repercussions. On the 27th, Chief Justice Kojima Iken, opposing the government’s demand that Tsuda be tried for high treason and given capital punishment, ordered that he should be sentenced to life in prison.
In advance of the June production’s opening day, Danjūrō and his actors, the Mimasu Kai, along with others associated with the Kabuki-za, made a pilgrimage to Toshogu Shrine in Ueno. Then, they visited Yujima’s Rinshō-in Temple (Karatara-ji), the family temple of Lady Kasuga (Kasuga no Tsubone), the subject of a play they’d be performing, to view a wooden statue of her and take part in a Buddhist service.
The June production, encouraged by March’s full houses, opened with the same acting lineup as the previous one. Play number one, which began at 11:00 a.m., was Fukuchi Ōchi’s new five-act play (touched up by Kawatake Mokuami), Kasuga no Tsubone (Lady Kasuga), which he’d stockpiled at the height of the theatre reform movement and for which Mokuami had provided revisions. The second piece was Kawatake Shinshichi IIIrevised version Banzui Chōbei, whose play-within-a-play, “Kinpira Hōmon Arasoi” (“Kinpira and the Holy Dispute”), enjoyed ōzatsuma musical accompaniment.
What must here be borne in mind is that the Kabuki-za’s production schedule was set for March, June, July, September, and November, and that—apart from September—Fukuchi Ōchi’s plays had to be represented on four programs; further, these were limited to actors belonging to Danjūrō’s guild. We should see in this the activity of Ōchi in making the transition from manager to house playwright; at the same time, of considerable interest is that his goal in putting pen to paper was to write characters for Danjūrō to play. Moreover, as one would expect from the praise lavished on these productions from the start, their success encouraged Ōchi and Danjuro. Until now, Danjūrō had had barely any approval in historical dramas at the new theatre, receiving negative reviews instead, but in June’s Kasuga no Tsubone, by Ōchi, he received remarkably widespread commendation, which gave Ōchi and Danjūrō considerable self-confidence for their future work. Also, the Ōchi faction of playwrights, who had faced opposition from the Kawatake faction in the Kabuki-za’s playwriting room (sakusha beya), saw their power enhanced and, since Danjūrō was the Kabuki-za’s most respected actor, his collaboration with Ōchi saw the above-mentioned issues, external and internal, resolve themselves on their own.
Ōchi was a history play (shigeki) writer and Danjūrō was a specialist in traditional history plays (jidaimono), so we can understand why it was relatively easy for these two to hit it off together. Danjūrō had found his own playwright while, for his part, Ōchi had discovered an actor who could perform his plays. After that, the pair, hand in hand, followed the age, their compact growing ever stronger as the so-called katsureki (living history) plays developed, leaving behind many achievements in the Meiji theatre world. On the other hand, they also were responsible for many ills, so the Danjūrō-Ōchi partnership has both positive and negative aspects. (From Akiniwa Tarō, Tōto Meiji Engeki Shi.)
In June, Danjūrō resigned as president of the Tokyo actors’ union and he was replaced by Kikugorō and Sadanji. On June 20, Kawakami Otojirō made his Tokyo debut at Asakusa’s Nakamura-za. On June 27, a new theatre, the Misaki-za, opened in Misaki-chō, Kanda.
Danjūrō and Gonjūrō took a vacation during the July production, with Danjūrō announcing that since the production expected to draw a crowd of servants on their summertime days off, it would be geared for the training of his company’s disciples, with admission prices lowered accordingly.
The opening play was Maiogi Urami no Yaiba (The Dance Fan and the Blade of Resentment), Ōchi’s two-act adaptation of Sardou’s 1887 play Tosca, written three years before Puccini’s opera version. Next came the “Kawatsura” scene from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), while the closing piece was an artless drama, based by Ōchi on the noh play Ama (The Pearl Diver), called Shido no Ura Ama no Tamatori (The Pearl Diver of Shido Bay). The show opened on July 14 and ran 20 days. But the heat and high ticket prices kept theatregoers away.
Kimura Kinka wrote:
A spectator in the third-floor seats carped: “One actor after the other comes on imitating Danjūrō, so if Ichikawa Shinzō is Danjūrō X, Somegorō is Danjūrō XI. Who needs so many Danjūrōs?” Around this time it actually was extremely common to see actors carrying on like Danjūrō by shaking their heads like paper mache tigers, walking about with their rear ends stuck out, saying everything in a nasal voice, and beginning their lines with the interjection, “una.” (From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Engeki-Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.)
On September 3, two days after railway between Ueno and Aomori was completed, Morita Kanya rented the Kabuki-za and produced a program headed by Shikan, his son, Fukusuke (later Utaemon V), Bandō Shūchō, Bandō Kakitsu, Ichikawa Yaozō, and Ichikawa Shinzō (the latter three also appearing at another theatre, a practice called kakemochi). It opened on September 3, with a program commencing with Kamakura Sandaiki’s (Chronicle of Three Generations at Kamakura) “Kinugawa Mura Kankyo” (“The Retreat at Kinugawa Village”) scene. This was followed by Zōhō Onnagata Narukami (The Female Narukami: A Supplement), in two acts and three scenes, using tokiwazu, nagauta, and takemoto accompaniment, after which came the great “Terakoya” (“Village School”) act from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (Sugawara’s Secrets of Calligraphy). The final piece was a dance play, Chūshingura Sugata no Miawase (The 47 Rōnin Story: Looking at One Another), backed by tokiwazu and takemoto music.
The goal was to provide a Kyoto style, low-priced, evening program opening at 4:00 p.m. Even with the most popular actor, Fukusuke, playing Miuranosuke in Kamakura Sandaiki and the nun Narukami in Zōhō Onna Narukami, turnout was poor and, on September 26, “Kuruma Biki” (“Pulling the Carriage Apart”) and “Ageya” (from Gotaiheiki Shiraishi Banashi [The Tale of Shiraishi and the Taihei Chronicles]) were put in as substitutions; they also changed the curtain time to 1:30 p.m., but even this couldn’t turn the tide, and the bill was forced to close on September 27 after only 25 days. It should be noted that there was a typhoid fever outbreak in Tokyo this month.
Also in September, at Osaka’s Kado-za, Nakamura Emitarō (son of Arashi Rishō II, adopted son of Nakamura Jakuemon III, took the name Nakamura Shibajaku IV. And on September 3, actor Bandō Kichijūrō died at 54.
In October, the literary magazine Waseda Bungaku (Waseda Literature) was published, with an essay by leading literary scholar Tsubouchi Shōyō on Mori Ōgai’s literary journal “Shigarami-Zōshi” (The Weir) that set in motion the so-called “submerged idealism debate” (botsuri ronsō). Extremely popular at the time were “beef and rice shops” (gyūmeshiya) where you could get a bowl of rice topped with beef for one sen. On October 28 there was a major earthquake in the Nobi Plain in which 9,700 victims were killed.
Danjūrō starred in the November production—November 1-29 (29 days), with an 11:00 a.m. curtain—with his Ichikawa troupe, the opening piece being the premiere of Fukuchi Ōchi’s five-act Taikō Gunki Chōsen no Maki (The Tycoon’s Military Chronicles: Korean Volume), the second being a new work by Shinshichi III written for Gonjūrō and based on a kōdan story, Katakiuchi Takadanoba (Revenge at Takadanoba), with the closing piece being Ōchi’s young woman’s three-part dance play (shosagoto), Setsugetsuka Mitsu no Nagame (Snow, Moon, and Flowers: Three Views), accompanied by music in the tokiwazu, takemoto, and nagauta modes.
In the first play, Danjūrō’s character of Katō Kiyomasa demonstrated his customary eloquence, and the actor’s elocution in the speech about the power of life and death was beautiful. Also, in the final scene he demonstrated his inimitable art as the tycoon (taikō) Hideyoshi. However, regarding this play’s contents, Ihara Toshirō noted in his Kabuki Nenpyō that on November 20 the fourth act, “Ōji Toriko,” of the first play was cut, being replaced by Yoshitsune Koshigoejō, while the opening scene of the second play, not originally on the program, was added.
Nothing helped spur attendance, though, a main reason being the effect of the Nobi Plain earthquake disaster. The same month saw the name of the Shintomi-za changed to Fukano-za after that of its new proprietor, Fukano Eiji. On November 15, the Seibikan company, which, with the backing of scholar-theatre critic Yoda Gakkai, was interested in modern innovations like shinpa and performances featuring both actors and actresses, commenced putting on plays at Asakusa’s Azuma-za (later the Miyato-za). The actors II Yōhō, Mizuno Yoshimi, and the actress Chitose Beiha, all still amateurs, were involved; there was only one program but it was an important step forward for modern Japanese theatre.
On December 4, the newly rebuilt Haruki-za in Hongō, which had burned down in 1890, opened, its celebratory first program including Ichikawa Yaozō, Ichikawa Ennosuke, and Nakamura Shikaku. Nakamura Tomijūrō III, Azuma Tōzō VI, and Nakamura Baiju all had name-taking ceremonies (shūmei).(The theatre had originally opened in 1873 as the Okuda-za and was renamed the Haruki-za in 1875 after going bankrupt.)
In 1891 the shakuhachi flute became very popular among Japan’s students, and the harmonica was introduced from abroad. Abroad, the most important new plays of the year were Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Major new theatres included London’s Palace Theatre and the Zurich Opera House.