Chapter 8: 1894 (Meiji 27)
Samuel L. Leiter
[Note: This is Chapter 8 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on the project but none are identified for their contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material added from different sources. Links are given selectively and only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this entry. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]
I can still remember how it felt to go with mother by rickshaw from Minami Kayaba-cho toward Tsukiji, where the Kabuki-za was, my heart beating fast with excitement as we raced along. Mother still referred to Shintomi-cho, which in the 1870s had housed a licensed quarter called the “New Shimabara,” by that name; and so, crossing Sakurabashi bridge, we passed through “Shimabara,” where the Shintomi Theater now stood, turned south along the bank of the river just in front of Tsukiji bridge, and, approaching Kameibashi bridge, caught our first glimpse of the large, cylindrical section crowning the roof of the Kabukiza. The theater had been built in 1889, so it was only four or five years old at the time. Nearby were some eleven teahouses affiliated with the theater, and these displayed bright flowered hangings on their second floors whenever the Kabukiza was open. We always left our rickshaw at an establishment called Kikuoka and then, with hardly a moment to rest in the guest room, we were bustled off by the maids. Slipping into the “lucky” rush sandals supplied by the teahouse, we crossed a wooden-floored corridor and entered the theater. I remember how, after we had slipped off our sandals and stepped up into the theater corridor, the smoothly polished wooden floors felt strangely cool even through the thick soles of my tabi socks. Generally one felt a kind of chill in the air as one came in, with a breath of wind as cool as mint entering from the sleeves and from below one’s holiday kimono and prickling the underarms and nape of the neck. The slight sensation of chilliness was like the fresh, bright days of plum blossom viewing in very early spring, making one shiver pleasantly.
“The curtain’s going up!” Mother would call, and I would hurry so as not to be late, running down the cool corridors. (From Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Childhood Years: A Memoir, trans. Paul McCarthy.)
In January 1894, as was now usual, Tamura Nariyoshi occupied the Kabuki-za, this time with Kikugorō and company. The show opened on January 12 and ran till February 5 for 25 performances. First on the bill, which began at 10:00 a.m., came Kawatake Mokuami’s Yume Musubi Chō ni Torioi (A Dream of Butterflies Chasing the Birds Away at New Year’s), with the star playing the clog mender (getanaoshi) Chōgorō; it was followed by the two major scenes in the puppet theatre classic Honchō Nijūshikō (Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Virtue), with Kikugorō as Princess Yaegaki, performing in ningyō buri (puppet gesture) style in the “Okuniwa Kitsunebi” scene. The show ended with the domestic drama, Akegarasu Haru no Awayuki (The Crow Cries in the Light Spring Snowfall), with Kikugorō as Tokijirō.
It was Kikugorō’s first stab at Chōgorō, and, being the fastidious artist he was, he closely studied the kata or business for the role created by Kodanji IV, the original, called in an actual clog mender, and studied how to fix clogs by having the man work on 11 pairs of family clogs.
On January 29 Fukusuke took ill and his role of the handsome Katsuyori in Nijūshikō was taken by Onoe Kikunosuke, and the courtesan Urasato in Akegarasu by Onoe Eizaburō.
New Year’s Day corresponded to the holiday of Hatsumōde, when people make their first shrine or temple visit of the year, so the Kabuki-za personnel distributed 20,000 advertisements resembling good luck talismans to the crowds crossing Tenjinbashi Bridge and Hōon-ji Bridge on their way to paying their respects to the deities at Honjo’s Tenjin Shrine. Moreover, the workers at the teahouses gave out silver-backed sugoroku board games illustrated with woodblock prints of the plays, providing glittering publicity for the month’s program. But, when the midmonth performance came around, the program was still running too long, lasting over eight hours with drawn-out intermissions; despite an abundance of notes about the problem the problem remained unfixed, so eventually a sharp warning was issued to suspend the production. The show ran for 25 days, causing Tamura to say that the new play by Takeshiba Kisui at the Meiji-za, Date Moyō Konomi Oriwari, was January’s box-office winner.
Kabuki program (sujigaki) for January 1894. This old style program shows an illustration above and a cast list below. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
From February 23 to February 25 a charity production for the Fukuda Association Childcare Center was held at the Kabuki-za. It included a performance of imayō nō (a.k.a. Sensuke nō), a new style of nō starring Izumi Saburō, who created it during the Meiji period; it included a female performer (Izumi’s wife) and shamisen playing, and abandoned masks. Imayō nō died out in the Taishō era (1912-26). The Izumis performed Mochizuki, Funa Benkei (Benkei on the Boat), and Ataka, as well as three kyōgen plays, Nio, Tsuri Gitsune (Fox Trapping), and Sannin Katawa (Three Invalids). Supplementary entertainment included a performance of the tokiwazu dance Yamanba, with Sawamura Tosshō.
For the March Kabuki-za program, which ran for 25 days from March 10 to April 3, beginning daily at 11:00 a.m., Chiba Katsugorō tried replicating Tamura Nariyoshi’s managerial success. His program began, unconventionally, with a domestic play, Mokuami’s Miyakodori Nagare no Shiranami (Black-headed Gulls and the Flow of White Waves), starring Kikugorō as Nin no Sōuta and Fukusuke as Matsuwaka. It was followed by Danjūrō as Yaegiri in Komochi Yamanba, with Kikugorō as Genshichi, with the final play being a classic history play, Imoseyama, starring Danjūrō as both Daihanji and Fukashichi; the scenes were those at Yoshino River and the palace.
The unusual arrangement of beginning with a domestic and ending with a history play, when the normal practice was the opposite, arose because Danjūrō was also performing at the Meiji-za that month in a kakemochi (acting at more than one theatre) arrangement. At the latter venue he acted in the newly commissioned Kiyomasa Seichū Roku (Record of Kiyomasa’s Loyalty), which opened the bill, after which he rushed over to the Kabuki-za for its middle play, which made doing Imoseyama first impossible. The result, though, was that both the first and second plays at the Kabuki-za were sharply panned while Imoseyama was highly praised in the newspapers, with Danjūrō being lauded for his Daihanji and Kikugorō for his Teika, and with the Yoshino River scene considered outstanding. Still, audiences stayed away in droves and the production barely eked out its 25-day run.
On March 28, Kim Ok-kyun, leader of the Korean progressive movement who sought to resist the influence of the Western powers in Asia, and who had long taken refuge in Japan, was assassinated in Shanghai. In May followers of Korea’s nativist, anti-foreign Eastern Learning (Donghak or Tonghak) religion went on a rampage which prompted China and Japan to send troops to Korea in keeping with their mutual national interests; a dangerous standoff between them continued. In the U.S., on March 25, thousands of unemployed marched in Coxey’s Army, the country’s first major protest march.
In the midst of this drumbeating turmoil Danjūrō’s troupe opened the Kabuki-za’s May program (25 days, from May 8 to June 1, beginning at 10:00 a.m.) with a new play by Fukuchi Ōchi, Nichirenki (Chronicle of Nichiren). It was considered a valuable contribution to the extensive dramatic repertory—called Nichirenki mono—already in existence dealing with the life of the foundational Buddhist priest Nichiren Shōnin (1222-82). Then came Act Four of the classic history drama Genpei Nunobiki no Taki, followed by Namiki Sōsuke’s Yotsu no Ito Urami no Kagekiyo (Four Strings and the Bitter Kagekiyo), whose “Biwa no Kagekiyo” scene starred Ichikawa Danjūrō as Kagekiyo. The program concluded with the dance piece, Hana Tachibana Gogatsu Ningyō (The Flower Citrus and the May Puppet).
There was a major religious display (kaichō) of Nichiren artifacts at Fukagawa’s Jōshin-ji Temple this month, the coffin (reiyo)—presumably with the saint’s remains—traveling on a course from Mibusan via Shiba Kanasugi’s Endama-dera Temple to Jōshin-ji but the event, expected to give the dull business at the Kabuki-za a shot in the arm, with 140 religious groups mobilizing 20,000 people, did anything but. Instead, it gathered less than 1,000, leaving many seats empty. Meanwhile, the Meiji-za was doing the dance play Ori-hime (Princess Weaver), which drew textile makers from Kiryū and Ashikaga, while the Shintomi-za presented Ichikawa Kyūzō in the title role of Sakura Sōgo, which attracted religious groups from Narita. Thus the three big Tokyo theatres were vying for visitors from regional centers with the result being that the Meiji-za came in first, the Shintomi-chō second, and the Kabuki-za last.
On May 31, Osaka actor Arashi Rikan IV, who played both leading female and males roles, passed away, at 57.
The third general election was held on May 15 with the Seiyūkai (Association of Political Friendship) gaining 193 seats, the Kensei Hontō (True Constitutional Party) getting 65 seats, and the Daido Kurabu (Club) gained 29.
From June 15 to June 19, the Kabuki-za was turned over to another charity performance, this one for the Red Cross. The program opened at noon with the prologue, Act Three, and the attack on Moronao’s mansion in Chūshingura. Then came the premiere of Ninin Bakama (Two Men in Hakama Trousers), a matsubame mono adaptation by Fukuchi Ōchi of a kyōgen play, with tokiwazu and nagauta music; it starred Danjūrō. Fujima Kaneimon did the choreography and the score was by Kineya Seijirō. Kanjinchō came next, with Danjūrō as Benkei, followed by the nagauta dance Shunshoku Ninin Dōjōji (Two Person Dōjō-ji Temple amidst the Spring Scenery). The lengthy program ended with Mokuami’s 1879 play Ningen Banji Kane Yo no Naka (Money Makes the World Go Round).
Around this time the Kabuki-za owner, Chiba Katsugorō, announced he was sick and tired of the business, wouldn’t be doing any more theatre for the time being, and was handing the managerial position of ōfuda over to Suzuki Kōhei. On June 7, sōshi shibai actor Sūdō Sadanori, who became a leader of the shinpa genre, made his Tokyo debut at Asakusa’s Azuma-za. And on June 30, Ichikawa Sadanji resigned as president of the Japan Actors’ Union (Haiyū Kumiai), with his position taken by Ichikawa Gonjūrō, and the vice-president being Kataoka Ichizō.
On July 14, the Ichimura-za, which had burned down in February of the previous year, was reopened with a new, three-story, ferroconcrete structure. Kikugorō and Shikan performed for its opening program.
On July 15, at 9:00 a.m., the next Kabuki-za program opened, starring Shinzō, Joen, Ennosuke, and Tosshō, rising young stars, with Tama no Ase Benkyō Kurabe (Beads of Sweat Study Competition). It included scenes from five classics: Koi Musume Mukashi Hachijō (Beloved Girl and the Old Silk Cloth), Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Precious Incense and the Autumn Flowers of Sendai), Kanadehon Chūshingura, Goban Taiheiki Shiraishi Banashi (Chronicle of the Great Peace on a Go Board), and Ashiya Dōman Ōuchi (A Courtly Mirror of Ashiya Dōman), concluding with the big dance piece, Kokkei Bakemono Yashiki (Comical Goblin Mansion), for which famous photographer Kajima Seibei created electrical lightning effects.
The young actors put their hearts and souls into their performances, sweating beads, as one of their titles suggests, but news of the breakoff of diplomatic relations between Japan and China had the nation sweating even more, and few people were in the mood to see kabuki. There were commotions at city police boxes, where draft notices were posted. Attendance was off so badly the show was forced to close on July 22, after only eight days.
Just at this moment, a French actress named Madame Théo arrived in Japan, someone who had played before the imperial family of Russia, and hoped to act alongside the famed actors of Japan. Through the good offices of politician and admiral Enomoto Takeaki, Ōchi, and Danjūrō, three days—from July 29 to 30—were set aside at the Kabuki-za for a joint Japanese-European performance. The bill began with Buyū no Homare Shusse Kagekiyo (Victorious Kagekiyo, Renowned Warrior); a one-woman play for Theo, Hakushi Chigai (The Doctor’s Mistake); and Tagai no Giwaku (Mutual Misgivings), in which Danjūrō and Théo played opposite each other in a play using Japanese, French, and English.
|Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (seated) and the French actress Théo. From Kabuk-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Little is known of this actress, then in her 40s; the best English-language account is in Loren Edelson’s Danjūrō’s Girls, which notes that Danjūrō and she, having been introduced through the mediation of a Russian diplomat, had struck up a friendship and—though neither spoke the other’s language—met several times before they acted together, “marking the first performance by an adult woman at the” Kabuki-za. Danjūrō, who thought her beautiful, was reported to have been very impressed by the truthfulness of her acting and came to feel that actresses should play a more important role in modern Japanese theatre, if not specifically in kabuki.
|Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Théo. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Audiences were listless, however, leading Théo to complain to Ōchi: “Japanese audiences watch theatre through very childish eyes, reacting to the most intense moments without a sound of appreciation while, on the contrary, applauding the most trivial bits.” (From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi. Volume on Kabuki-za.)
The production had been scheduled at European theatre hours, opening at 8:00 p.m. and closing at 11:00, and the foreigners who attended, many having made the trip in from Yokohama, bought programs printed in both French and English. The attendance for these three days brought in over 2,700 yen. Once expenses are considered, the remaining proceeds of 700 yen were exchanged for tobacco, which was sent to the soldiers at the front.
July saw a massive outbreak of cholera in Japan, with at least 39,000 fatalities. In Paris, Sarah Bernhardt began performances of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, which had been banned in England.
On August 1, Japan declared war on China and the military forces in Tokyo were mobilized. Shinbashi and Shibuya train stations echoed with the war songs “Thousands of Enemies May Come” (Teki wa Ikuman) and “Brave Seamen” (Yūkan naru Suihei). Kawakami Otojirō, who’d made his Tokyo debut in 1891, took advantage of the situation and immediately thought up a war drama, Sōzetsu Kaizetsu Nisshin Sensō (The Sublime, the Delightful Sino-Japanese War), which he produced at the Asakusa-za beginning on August 31.
|Kawakami Otojirō's Sōzetsu Kaizetsu Nisshin Sensō. Kawakami is the second from the left in the circular inset. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Kawakami played a war correspondent. The program declared: “We assume it goes without our saying, but we should like the audience to bow when the illustrious name of His Majesty the Emperor is mentioned,” as well as “To add to the dignity of the actors who play the parts of our soldiers and sailors, we have dressed them in formal uniforms. The audience will understand of course that for this reason our battle is somewhat different from the real thing.” (From 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.) And Okamoto Kidō reported: “During the battle scene they fired guns at Nanjing using live ammunition and launched exploding fireworks. The audience was in danger and frightened; it was a huge success.” (From Okamoto Kidō,
Moreover, since it drew unusually large crowds, other theatres began to compete with topical war plays. In September, the Haruki-za offered Ichikawa Yaozō and Nakamura Shikan in Nihon Daishōri (Japan’s Great Victory), while October at the Meiji-za featured Sadanji and company in Nihon Homare Chōsen Shin Hanashi (The New Story of Japan and Honorable Korea). The vivid scenes of battle and victory thrilled audiences and resulted in full houses. Seizing the main chance, the ambitious Kawakami traveled to the war front to see it in person and, in December, produced Kawakami Otojirō Senchi Kenbunki (Kawakami Otojirō’s Battle Report), in which he played himself as a “front-line observer.” This dramatized version of events at the front was another big hit.
On August 4, with Danjūrō’s support, a celebratory event was held at the Momiji-Kan in Shiba Park featuring actors and theatre personnel on behalf of those going off to war. On August 21 the actor Onoe Fujaku VII, a disciple of Kikugorō V, took ill during a performance at the Tokiwa-za and died.
The first issue of Kisha Kisen Ryōkō Annai (Guide to Train and Boat Travel) came out on October 5, beginning the regular publication of train schedules. Also in October, the newly rebuilt Ichimura-za in Tamaike, Akasaka, used the excuse of its reconstruction to rename itself the Engi-za. On October 15 Alfred Dreyfus was arrested in Paris for spying, beginning the infamous Dreyfus affair. (He was convicted of treason on December 22.) On November 1, Nicholas II became czar of Russia. The Port Arthur Massacre began in the port city of Lüschunkou on November 21, killing thousands of Chinese.
Because of the war the Kabuki-za was closed from late July until October but, eventually, the pressure was too much for the management and it became necessary to open again in November with a company led by Danjūrō and Kikugorō. However, by this time the city was on fire with the war spirit, and theatres, variety halls (yose), and woodblock prints were brimming with it, while kids played war with rifles, sabers, and trumpets. Picture-book stores were packed with crowds looking at the latest offerings about the Sino-Japanese War, Thus the mood was such that if the theatres didn’t provide plays smelling of gunpowder nobody went to them and even the Kabuki-za bit the bullet, so to speak, and decided to put on topical plays about the war.
The first play on November’s program, which began at 10:00 a.m., and ran from the first to the 25th, was Fukuchi Ōchi’s new war drama Kairiku Renshō Asahi no Mihata (The Rising Sun of the Japanese Flag Flying over Victories by Land and Sea), which Okamoto Kidō noted “was a dramatization of the negotiations of Minister Ōtori [sic] Keisuke and the storming of the Genbu Gate in Pyongyang by Harada Jūkichi.” (From Okamoto Kidō,
|Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as the sailor Kajizō. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
When Danjūrō wore his sailor’s uniform on his old body he looked more pitiful than heroic. And he looked splendid when, as Minister Ōmori, he wore formal clothes and a formal hat; beyond that there was nothing. “Actors appearing in war plays were like marginal notes on the newspaper accounts and Danjūrō and Kikugorō’s artistry was nothing but self-indulgent,” as the writer Takenoya Shujin (Aeba Koson) succinctly put it. (From Ihara Toshirō, Meiji Engeki-Shi.)
|Onoe Kikugorō V as Vice-Admiral Obuchi in Kairiku Renshō Asahi no Mihata. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
In November Waseda University Professor Tsubouchi Shōyō’s play Kiri Hitoha (A Single Paulownia Leaf) began its serialization in the important new journal Waseda Bungaku (Waseda Literature); it was considered the start of modern Japanese drama. And on November 11, opera was introduced to Japan in an excerpted version of Gounod’s Faust, sung by foreign amateurs at a Red Cross charity event at the Tokyo Music School (Tōkyō Ongaku Gakkō), whose students were in the chorus. And on November 22 journalist Kanagaki Robun, who had coined the genre term katsureki (living history), passed away.