Thursday, December 28, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 21. 1907 (Meiji 40)

Chapter 21

1907 (Meiji 40)

The President Ōkōchi Age Begins

[Note: This is Chapter 21 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on that project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions. 

Each chapter includes not only data on the Kabuki-za but information regarding each important theatrical development of the specific year, including non-kabuki genres such as shinpa, shingeki, and so forth. Also cited are the major cultural and political developments of each year, as well as notifications of the deaths of important figures, mainly theatrical but often from other fields as well.  

Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material has been added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments and answered translation queries during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are always welcome.]

Edward Seidensticker, writing about Tokyo, observed: 

Improved transportation by the end of Meiji brought the Low City [Shitamachi] and the High City [Yamanote] closer together. The aristocratic wife of Edo scarcely ever went into the plebeian city, though instances are recorded of well-born ladies who attained notoriety by becoming addicted to the theater and actors. Now they commonly went shopping in Ginza or Nihombashi. Kabuki became an object of wealthy High City attention. Its base was more general. It was no longer the particular pride of the Low City. [From Seidensticker, Low City, High City.]

In January 1907, Izumi Kyōka’s Onna Keizu Yushima no Shiraume (The White Plum of Yushima), made into a movie in 1955, was published in the Yamato Shinbun. And, on January 18, the Hisago-za, in Yotsuya, burned down. More significantly, the long-lived theatre magazine Engei Gahō (Entertainment Illustrated) began publication under the auspices of the Engei Gahōsha company, staying in business until 1943 when it was merged with other publications into two magazines, Nihon Engeki (Japanese Theatre), no longer extant, and the still important Engekikai (Theatre World), which continues the same basic approach of its forebear.
Cover of the first issue of Engei Gahō. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi
The magazine was introduced with these words:

When you think about it you’ll see there is but a single theatre between earth and heaven, and that life is but a play. Truth, however, is in play just as play exists in truth. Life, thus, is of absorbing interest whether in plays big or small. Although I value the floating world as a dime a dozen, I wish to contribute something to art by telling truth in play. I wish our faithful readers much happiness and beg them to stop laughing. [From Engei Gahō, vol. 1, no. 1. Thanks to Prof. Hibino for his translation advice.]

The first issue contained 136 pages, with 38 pages of entertainment photos, and cost 36 sen. The editor was Suzuki Kyūtarō. In contrast to Kabuki magazine, edited by Miki Takeji and Ihara Seiseien, which was on A5 size paper and cost 25 sen, it was on B5 paper and cost 30 sen. While Kabuki was academically inclined, Engei Gahō had a more popular appeal, especially with its many illustrations. It included plays, actor interviews, actors talking about acting (geidan), theatre news, gossip, and so on, all the attributes of a contemporary magazine. It quickly attracted many subscribers, reaching 40,000 by 1910.

The Kabuki-za’s new managerial staff, headed by Ōkōchi Terutake, welcomed the New Year by renovating the theatre, inside and out. The front entrance was provided with a two-layered roof, and an 18-foot [30 according to another source] wide, 18-foot deep, Western-style carriage porch on either side of which were 48 feet of waiting places and storage spaces for shoes. Two positions for billboards were provided, one on the left and one on the right. Between the illustrated posters were others listing the program’s play titles. The raised takadoma seating was built of cypress wood (hinoki) on three levels and a cypress wood guardrail was provided for the special class of seats at the front of the second-floor balcony. A silk drop curtain was decided on, the dekata ushers were now called annaigakari (information clerks) and dressed in uniforms, and one could book one’s seats directly at the theatre. [From Yoshida Eiji, “Kabuki-za Kōgyō Ryaku Nenpyō” in Kabuki-za Fukkō Kinen.]
[The following passage was added on December 29.]

A word about the abolishment of draw curtains (hikimaku) is necessary. According to Ihara Seisein in Dan-Kiku Igo, until now only the Kabuki-za had drop curtains (donchō) made of satin with embossed figures on them. In addition to these up and down curtains, the Kabuki-za, like other kabuki theatres, also had traditional hikimaku that had been given to particular actors as gifts from their patrons. Henceforth, however, the new management decided to abandon hikimaku and use only donchō. Thus, if they weren’t the drop type, curtains were no longer going to be accepted as gifts. 

The reason given is that the theatre already had lots of hikimaku given as gifts but there was a limit to how many could be shown during the intermissions and they couldn’t all be used every day. When a particular actors’ patron group attended, that group’s gift curtain would appear. Unfortunately, groups sometimes didn’t show up or had grievances, creating disputes. This happened so often the stage crew was happy to take bribes for installing a group’s curtain but it caused too many problems for the front of house staff. And since drop curtains were expensive, there were few donors willing to pay for them. Thus hikimaku were forbidden and only donchō were permitted. Of course, the practice was eventually rescinded.

The banzuke program noted this big improvement: “If a customer insists on paying a tip, you cannot accept more than 20-sen per customer.” Also, after every act, a large warning banner flew in from above the stage with oversized writing saying “Donations of Draw Curtains Will Be Refused” and “Congratulatory Gifts Are Abolished.”
Picture postcard of the renovated Kabuki-za. 
The renovated Kabuki-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The first program under the new management system opened at noon on January 14 and closed on February 12, following a substantial run of 30 days. The prologue piece celebrated the fact that head actor (zagashira) Nakamura Shikan IV was an onnagata or female-role specialist—zagashira were typically male-role players (tachiyaku)—by starring him in Onna Shibaraku (Female Wait a Minute!). He played Tomoe Gozen, a female version of the super-masculine hero of the aragoto play Shibaraku on which this version was based. Then came a dramatization by Enomoto Torahiko of the late Fukuchi Ōchi’s newspaper-serialized novel Midare Yaki (The Tempered Blade), with the closing piece being Kawatake Mokuami’s tokiwazu dance play, Yakko Dako Sato no Harukaze (The Footman Kite and the Village Springtime Breeze).
Nakamura Shikan IV as Tomoe Gozen in Onna Shibaraku. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Shikan’s Tomoe Gozen was based on the kata of Segawa Kikunojō; he was praised highly for the uniquely cool beauty he brought to the role. “This play did nothing to betray the beauty and convenience brought to the theatre in the name of renovation; Shikan’s Onna Shibaraku achieved acclaim and success on a level not seen here recently.” [From “Shogatsu no Kakuza” in Engei Gahō,.]
During the rehearsals of Midare Yakil, the theatre’s recently formed group of seven leading actors (kanbu haiyū)—Shikan, Yaozō, Baikō, Uzaemon, Komazō, etc.—expressed dissatisfaction, leading to Enomoto’s anger and considerable tension. But the play opened to positive reactions and, being written for the actors, it rightfully had a big success. Since it was playing to full houses the planned 25-day run was extended for five days.

Up to now, the bonus envelopes distributed after shows proved to be profitable hits had been a silver ten-sen coin; from this production on the seven kanbu haiyū received theirs wrapped in a sheet of high-quality Japanese paper tied with a red and white decorative cord, with the words yūri kiren (有利喜連), or “profit gained, delight comes.” However, the backstage workers read it as uri kiren (売切れん), meaning “can’t be sold out.” Ōkōchi therefor changed the character for “ren” to “rei” () for “gratitude.” (Note: thanks to Prof. Hibino for helping iron out this wordplay.)
President Ōkochi Terutake. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
President Ōkōchi, second son of Viscount Ōkochi, lord of Kōzaki . . . had a tall, stately appearance. After graduating from Keio Gijuku he entered the business world. For such a splendid, well-educated, and socially respectable man to go into the theatrical business was unprecedented. Still, he was quite the connoisseur, was in love with a Shinbashi geisha called Gorō, known for her dancing talent, and was himself had hidden talents for both the flute and shamisen.
With such a president, the first program under his management—featuring Shikan, the chairman of the top actors’ group (kanbu haiyū), starring in Onna Shibaraku—was a great success. An opening ceremony garden party employed the services of a geisha group dressed in white collared, beautifully patterned kimono. They also attended the theatre, lined up in the sajiki gallery seating on the kind of tiered, red hinadan benches used in Girls’ Day displays of imperial family dolls, creating a spectacle such as had never before been seen. Moreover, this became a regular custom, with every production displaying rows of geisha attending the theatre in white-collared, beautifully patterned kimono. The Kabuki-za, so lonely after the deaths of Dan-Kiku-Sa, quickly sprang back to life and good business continued.

. . .
In brief, with Shikan’s return and the change of management, the Kabuki-za again became the head temple of kabuki, creating a period of achievement called “The President Ōkōchi Age.” However, Ōkōchi was to live only another two years before dying of stomach cancer. At that point, the Kabuki-za’s eminence would be challenged by the beginnings of the Teikoku Gekijō (Imperial Theatre), while simultaneously facing the invasion of Tokyo by Shōchiku, with sparks flying on the theatre world’s battlefield. [From Ihara Seiseien, Dan-Kiku Igo.]

January saw Kataoka Gatō III (fourth son of Kataoka Nizaemon VIII) take the name Kataoka Nizaemon XI at Osaka’s Kado-za. On January 20, Sudō Sadanori, one of the founders of shinpa after being active in sōshi shibai, died of nephritis at 41, while performing at Kobe’s Daikoku-za. Ichikawa Shōtarō achieved billing status (nadai) and changed his name to Ichikawa Dan’emon. And Ichikawa Danko (the future Ennosuke II), after three years of higher ed, returned to kabuki.
Shinpa actor Sudo Sadanori. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
A day later, the stock market crashed and a postwar panic erupted. When the year began a bushel of rice cost 1 yen 56 sen; the starting salary for civil servants at the time was 50 yen.

February 4 through 7 were racked by a workers’ uprising at the Ashio coal mines, with the army being called out to calm things down. Also in February, a new Tokyo theatre, the Yūraku-za, was founded with a capitalization of 200,000 yen.

The new management's policy was to have four company-managed productions a year, plus one special production. The latter was to be created by having each board member bring in his ideas. The total of five annual productions was intended to keep the actors so busy they never grew idle. The March program, which began at 1:00 p.m. on the third, was a “temporary” one. The production money was at first advanced by the president and the profits was to be divided up among the business office (shikiriba), the backstage personnel, and the playwrights, a distribution for which the president was responsible.

First on the bill was Miyajima Danmari, followed by Takatoki, then Imoseyama Onna Teikin’s “Goten” scene, after which came Enomoto Torahiko’s adaptation of Mrs. Susanna Centlivre’s 1709  English comedy, The Busy Body (translated as Dai Seikō or “The Big Success”), with the finale being Kotobuki Utsubozaru, a dance play based on a famous kyōgen. The danmari or pantomime play, a type not produced in some years, was splendidly done, while Takatoki, one of Danjūrō IX’s Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban collection, starring the struggling Ichikawa Yaozō, was a flop. Playing opposite Shikan’s Omiwa in Imoseyama were Uzaemon and Komazō, alternating daily as Iruka and Fukashichi.

Specially printed banzuke programs were distributed for the production, opening day was integrated with the Inari Festival, and the opening got off to a colorful start; theatregoers complained, however, that the intermissions were overlong, attacks from the press deflated attendance, and a lack of bookings by patron groups and theatre parties saw some days when only around 100 people were seated in the pit (doma). Still, the flailing production hung on for 25 days.
The street poster/program (tsuji banzuke) for the June Kabuki-za program. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On March 16, shinpa actor Kimura Kanehira died at 45. On March 21, compulsory elementary school education was extended from four years to six. And on March 20, opening day at the Meiji-za, Ichikawa Tōshō took his adoptive father’s name and became Ichikawa Sumizō VI (later Ichikawa Jukai III), while Seki Hanasuke took his actual father’s name of Seki Sanjūrō V, with both actors achieving nadai status. Bunraku puppeteer Yoshida Tamazō died, aged 42, on March 23, and bunraku chanter Toyotake Rodayū died at 65 on March 30.

In April, the South Manchurian Railroad began operations, while in Tokyo the Mitsukoshi Dry Goods Store (Mitsukoshi Gofukuten) opened a restaurant on its premises. Sushi cost 15 sen, a meal was 50 sen, Western pastries cost 10 sen, Japanese pastries were five sen, and coffee or tea was five sen. And, on April 4, Kawakami Otojirō received permission to build the Western-style Teikoku-za, not to be confused with the coming Teikoku Gekijō, whose site in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district was settled on just two days later.

The April Kabuki-za production coincided with the Meiji Industrial Exposition that opened in Ueno Park on March 20, thus inspiring an advertisement that read: “The Kabuki-za will present a grand production with a company ranging from principal actors to supernumeraries (shitamawari) comprising 120 performers, led by a stylish team of stars.”

And, in order to attract visitors from the provinces, the theatre’s interior was redecorated, including a redesigned paneled ceiling. 

The show opened at 1:00 p.m. on April 10, beginning with Kasuga no Tsubone, followed by Kanjinchō, after which came Ichikawa Yaozō as Kyūsaku in Shinpan Utazaimon, and concluding with Sawamura Tosshō and Onoe Kikugorō VI in the dance play Shunshoku Ninin Dōjōji, a program created for eyes of visitors to the Ueno exposition. Ichikawa Ennosuke and Ichikawa Komazō alternated daily as Benkei in Kanjinchō, each having his strong and weak points; however, Komazō’s performance was totally in the style of Danjūrō IX while Ennosuke’s Benkei raised no red flags. Ichimura Uzaemon played his first Togashi to considerable approval and Shikan was an elegant Yoshitsune, receiving kudos for his beautiful appearance. 

On April 15, journalists from around the country were invited. The program kept drawing crowds and reached the very long run of 34 performances. Also on April 15, the Shōchiku Unlimited Partnership created its own comedy troupe, featuring Shibuya Tengai, a disciple of Osaka niwaka comedian Tsuruya Danjūrō, who changed his name from Shibuya Danji, and Nakajima Rakuō, who left the Soganoya Gorō troupe and changed his name from Hakuō. The troupe was later called Rakuten Kai (The Optimists).

This April was when Natsume Sōseki, the great Japanese novelist, joined the Asahi Shinbun. His long, first novel, Gubijinsō (The Poppy), was serialized in that paper from June through October. On the 28th and 29th there were disturbances at Hokkaido’s Horonai coal mines requiring the deployment of soldiers to suppress them. On May 1, inventor Honta Sakichi, founder of the huge Honda company, received a patent for an automatic power loom.

The budget for the Kabuki-za for this period showed a profit of 16,814,000 yen, 50 sen, 8 rin, with each three yen share receiving a twelve percent dividend.

May saw the Kabuki-za rented out from the 18th to the 24th to the magic shows of the Shōkyokusai Tenichi-Tenkatsu Company. Also that month, on May 25 and 26, kabuki actor Sawamura Sōnosuke and shingeki actor Arakawa Shigehide formed a company called the Western Drama Study Group (Yōgeki Kenkyūkai) to star, along with amateur shingeki actors and English teachers, in a well-received English-language production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Tōkyō-za. May was also when Kurushima Takehiko (the “Hans Christian Anderson of Japan”) and storyteller Amano Kijihiko formed the Fairy Tale Theatre Society (Otogigeki Kyōkai) and gave performances at the Kotobuki-za of stories like “Shin Momotarō” (New Peach Boy) and “Ushiwakamaru.”

From June 4 through June 7, disturbances at the Besshi copper mines in Ehime Prefecture once more forced soldiers to put them down. On the seventh, the extremely popular rōkyoku (a.k.a. naniwabushi) narrative singer Tōchuken Kumoemon visited Tokyo, performing works like Gishi Meimei Den (Legends of All the Loyal Retainers) to full houses every day for a month at the Hongō-za. On June 24, shinpa and shingeki playwright Hatakeyama Kohei passed away, aged 34. On June 1, 2, and 3, a group of Chinese students studying in Japan formed the Spring Willow Society (Shunryū Kai) to produce a dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin under a title meaning The Negro Slave Sighs to Heaven. The first full-length modern Chinese play, it inaugurated China’s modern spoken drama (huaju).

June 7 was also the day that the June Kabuki-za program opened. The program, which began at noon, led off with Mokuami’s Jūnitoki Kaikei Soga. Then came Honchō Nijūshikō, from the “Jishikō” through the “Kitsunebi” scenes, after which came Tsuyu Kosode Mukashi Hachijō Banashi (a.k.a. Kamiyui Shinza), with two concluding dance plays. One starred Onoe Baikō VI in a new, opera-like work called Kōchō (Butterfly), written for nagauta music by Enomoto Torahiko; the other was Itsutsu Jishi (Five Lions), also using nagauta.

Both Jūnitoki Kaikei Soga and Honchō Nijūshikō had been performed with practically the same casts at the Tōkyō-za the previous year, which led to criticism of the management for poor planning. Kabuki magazine’s Miki Takeji delivered this rebuke: “What we wanted to see today, even more than the theatre’s new décor or how the actors had grown, was the discovery of new plays.”

Twenty-four nadai actors are said to have been involved, which is to be expected with the Kabuki-za being the foremost theatre, and it’s said that people were surprised at this number, but when you consider it, it’s really quite foolish. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekijō-shi, Kabuki-za volume.]

Among those actors were three who were joining the company for the first time: Nakamura Matagorō I, Ichikawa (later Matsumoto) Komasaburō (formerly Ichikawa Momokichi), and Nakamura Takesaburō (formerly Nakamura Shikazō).

The production did moderately good business and filled out its 25-day run. On opening day, the theatre was reserved for the Ladies Cooperative Childcare Society (Fujin Kyōritsu Ikuji Kai), whose president, Princess Arisugawa no Miya, graced the performance with her attendance.
Announcement in the June 1907 Engei Gahō of a 10 percent discount at Tokyo's 11 theatres. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
A page in the June issue of Engei Gahō had a headline declaring “Tokyo’s Eleven Theatres Offering Discounted Tickets.” In other words, tickets for seats above second class were being offered as a “service” to subscribers for a 10 percent discount; it listed each theatre’s seating arrangements and prices.  

In July, for eight days beginning on the 15th, the over 200 ladies who made up the Greater Japan Women’s Charity Association (Dai Nippon Fujin Jizen Kai) sponsored a series of fund-raising, benefit performances to build a school for poor children and the offspring of female prisoners. The program included Mokuami’s Gishi no Homare (The Honor of the Loyal Retainers), based on the attack of the 47 rōnin and focusing on the men’s gathering at Ryōgoku Bridge. Then Uzaemon starred in Gion Sairei Shinkōki, the “Kinkakuji” scene, while Ōmori Hikoshichi closed the bill. Each play was well received. For the concluding dance play, there was Kokkei Ataka no Seki (Comical Ataka Barrier).
The 47 rōnin on Ryōgoku bridge in Gishi no Homare. Nakamura Shikan, at left, is playing Oishi Kuranosuke. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Taguchi Kikutei’s adaptation of Sardou’s Tosca was produced at the Shintomi-za in July with leading shinpa actors Kawai Takeo and Ii Yōhō. Kawakami Otojirō and Kawakami Sadayakko left with several actors for another Western tour this month. On July 8, the workers at Hokkaido’s Yubari coal mines went on strike. On June 24, 1907, the third Japan-Korea Treaty was signed, putting Korea’s internal affairs directly under the control of Japanese Prime Minister Itō. On August 1, the Korean Army ceremony was held in Seoul disbanding the Korean army. One military group resisted and fought with their Japanese replacements, with anti-Japanese uprisings spreading the following year.

On August 1, beginning at 6:00 p.m., the Kabuki-za was used for a film program. That day, Ichikawa Sadanji I’s brother, Ichikawa Arajirō I, died, aged 58. On August 7, actor Ichikawa Sadanji II and dramatist Matsui Shōō returned from their extensive study tour of Western theatre. On August 30, there was a strike at the Ikuno Kozan copper mine. In September, issue Number 9 of Shin Shosetsu (New Novels) magazine published Tayama Katai’s Futon, a milestone work in the naturalistic manner, which took the literary world by storm. Another important event of the month was the opening of the Singer Machine Sewing School for Women.

In September, Sano Tensei’s Dainō (The Rich Farmer), which won a prize from the Miyako Shinbun, was produced at the Hongō-za with Takada Minoru and Kitamura Rokurō. On September 5, shinpa actor Kojima Fumie (known earlier in kabuki as Ishikawa Yaogi) died, aged 33. On September 18, Nakamura Ginnosuke, adopted son of Nakamura Kangorō, died at 27.

The Kabuki-za was closed throughout August and September so that its exterior could be repainted. The managerial offices were moved next door to the box office and the theatre’s ceiling, sajiki galleries, and revolving stage were renovated. Then, in advance of the October opening of the refurbished theatre, a picture postcard accompanying the banzuke program had these comments:

On this occasion the plans for a Japanese-style theatre have been created by the head of Sugita Shoten, purveyors to the Imperial Household, and famed architect Yoshida Kichijirō, with an artistic décor that represents many years of diligent study. The expansive ceiling, occupying well over 100 tsubo, is surrounded by a curtain designed by master painter Katō Shihakudō. On the front railing are depicted brightly colored, mythical, half-human, half-bird karyobin figures based on those seen in bugaku dances; among carvings of the seven treasures are inserted all kinds of ancient musical instruments. The stage border (?高梁框椽) depicts a relief of pines, bamboo, and plums covered in gold foil, while the upper and lower sajiki all are backed with sliding doors on which gold mists are painted. Bamboo blinds hang at their fronts. The hanamichi has been entirely rebuilt. What you see when you enter is like walking into a magnificent palace. 

With its appearance completely renewed, the Kabuki-za opened on October 3 at 1:00 p.m. The first play was Mokuami’s “family dispute” (ōie mono) drama Hakozaki Bunko (Hakozaki  Library), the second was Enomoto Torahiko’s new play Aoi no Ue, based on the similarly titled section of the classic novel Genji Monogatari, the third was a comedy adapted into Japanese circumstances from a French play by well-made-play proponent Eugene Scribe, Futari Shinshi (Two Gentlemen), presumably based on his 1833 Bertrand et Raton, ou l'art de conspirer (The School for Politicians). President Ōkōchi, who often made plans based on what he’d heard in the “flower and willow world” of Tokyo’s geishas, figured this would be something good for Kikugorō and Kichiemon and prevailed upon them to perform it. Unfortunately, each play on the bill was panned and the recent boom collapsed, with the run concluding on October 28, after 24 days, one less than scheduled.

A charity for the education of poor kids rented out the theatre on October 3 and 4. And on October 14, the theatre was closed in honor of the funeral of the Meiji emperor’s mother, Nakayama Yoshiko. On October 29, the theatre presented a musical concert performed by well-known artists and the heads (Iemoto) of various theatre music schools.
Shinpa actor Yamaguchi Sadao. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On October 3, shinpa actor Yamaguchi Sadao suddenly died, aged 47, while performing in Iida City, Shinshu. From October 25 to November 30, “Bunten,” the first art exhibit sponsored by the Ministry of Education, was held. And on October 31, Hawaii’s St. Louis School’s baseball team visited Japan, where it played against both Keiō and Waseda University’s teams, winning two games and losing six. These were the first baseball games in Japan to charge admission.  On November 1, similar fares were adopted by all railway lines.

In Osaka, November saw a name changing ceremony at the Kado-za in which Nakamura Fukusuke III became Nakamura Baigyoku II, and his adopted son, Seijirō, became Nakamura Fukusuke IV. At the time there were two lines of actors using the name Fukusuke, the Tokyo one having the yago or guild name of Narikomaya, the Osaka one being called Takasagoya. From Fukusuke VI on, all have been Narikomaya. On November 11, Osaka actor Ōtani Bajū V died, aged 68. He was the father of shinpa actor Kawai Takeo. On November 26, Sanyūtei Enyū, founder of modern rakugo, died at 58. And a major theatre event occurred this month when, for its second production, the Bungei Kyōkai offered Tsubouchi Shōyō’s faithful translation of Hamlet at the Hongō-za, with Tsuchii Shunsho as the prince.
Ōtani Bajū V. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Opening day at the Kabuki-za was November 14, starting at noon, with a relatively full-length production of Kanadehon Chūshingura in which leading roles were alternated on a daily basis. The closing piece was the Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban dance play Momijigari. Among the alteryosnating roles and actors were Yuranosuke (Shikan, Yaozō, Uzaemon, Ennosuke); Kanpei (Baikō, Uzaemon, Tosshō, Kikugorō); Moronao (Yaozō, Ennosuke); Enya Hangan (Shikan, Baikō, Uzaemon, Tosshō, Kikugorō); Heiemon (Yaozō, Uzaemon, Ennosuke, Kichiemon); Okaru (Shikan, Baikō, Tosshō); Sadakurō (Yaozō, Uzaemon, Ennosuke, Kikugorō, Kichiemon, Jūzō, Danko), etc.

The predecessor to this idea of alternating the play’s roles was in late 1878 at Morita Kanya XII’s Shintomi-za, in which Danjūrō, Kikugorō, Sadanji, Nakazō, Sōjūrō, and Hanshirō, among others, had taken on both leads and bit parts, resulting in a big hit that had an unusually long run, lasting from November 27 to December 19, and then being repeated from January 4, 1879, to January 18. The 1907 revival included the Prologue and Act Three in a single act, Act Four in a single act, Acts Five, Six, and Seven in a single act, and Act Nine in a single act, each act separated by an interval. Acts Five, Six, and Seven were skillfully performed with puppet theatre-style scene changes.

Horse racing was very popular at the time and many actors were avid fans. They often wished to play lighter roles so that could run off to the races, selfishly saying something like today they want to play only Hangan. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari—Godaime Kikugorō no Dōzō,” in Shin Engei, April 1917.]

There were also scandals at the time concerning kabuki actors and well-off ladies. One such case, reported serially in the Yorozu Chōhō under the headline “Burying Komazō,” was so notorious even the Tokyo actors’ union couldn’t ignore it. A lawyer was assigned to investigate the adulterous relationship of Ichikawa Komazō (the future Matsumoto Kōshirō VII) and a certain lady. Because of this incident, his fizzling engagement discussions were quickly restored, a formal ceremony was held the next year, and he was disciplined by being benched for 1907’s final production.

Miki Takeji, speaking of this Chūshingura, noted:

In sum, the most successful results of this daily alternation of roles belonged to Uzaemon. His versatile talents proved that, in the not-too-distant future, he will be the one to take the lead among kabuki actors. After him came Ennosuke, a senior theatrical fixture capable of continuing ambition. Baikō aspires to leading male roles (tachiyaku) and Tosshō, of course, is an onnagata. Shikan and Yaozō are increasingly brilliant katsureki actors but, contrary to expectations, Kikugorō and Kichiemon showed a disappointing lack of development. [From “Chūshingura Ichinichi Gawari,” in Kabuki, no. 92.]

The financial results were not up to those garnered by Morita Kanya at the Shintomi-za in 1878 but were enough to achieve a standard 25-day run, which ended on December 8.

The Kabuki-za’s earnings for the second half of the year again paid out a 12 percent dividend. On December 11, Prince Pu Lun of China (Furin Bairoku in Japanese), nephew of the Chinese emperor and next in line to the throne, was visiting Japan when he and his party were invited to the Kabuki-za by Gōtō Shinpei, president of the Manchurian Railways company for a special performance in the prince’s honor. He and his entourage were entertained with performances of Yajima Kassen (Battle of Yajima); Kuni no Hana (National Flower), a dance executed by a group of Shinbashi geisha; and the kabuki dance Momijigari.

On December 28, the price of cigarettes rose, with the Fuji (Peerless) brand costing 12 sen, Shikishima 10 sen, Yamato 9 sen, Asahi 8 sen, Camellia 7 sen, and Bat 5 sen. During the year, songs in the enka style began using the violin for accompaniment, and the practice of families giving fruit—especially persimmons, mandarin oranges, apples, grapes, pomelos, pears, and bananas—became widely popular.

For important world events of 1907 click here; for world theatre events, including plays, musicals, and new theatre buildings, of 1907 click here.

Monday, November 13, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 20. 1906 (Meiji 39)

Chapter 20

1906 (Meiji 39)

When Prince Arthur of Connaught Saw a Kabuki Play about Will Adams

[Note: This is Chapter 20 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on that project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material has been added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments and answered translation queries during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

Funeral services for journalist/politician/playwright/producer Fukuchi Ōchi were held on January 8, 1906. The sky that day was bright from morning on, and it was unusually warm for mid-winter. At 1:00 p.m. the coffin emerged from Fukuchi’s home in Atago-chō and headed straight for Shiba’s Zōjōji Temple along the tramline route. A Kabuki-za pennant was flying, as were others noting the name and positions of the deceased, as both real and artificial flowers glowed beautifully in the sunlight while lively crowds packed the way. [From Oyama Fumio, Meiji no Isai Fukuchi Ōchi.]

Fukuchi Ōchi, born Fukuchi Genichirō and usually referred to as Fukuchi Koji (koji=a scholar), died on January 4, aged 66.

First-generation Meiji politicians Itō Hirobumi, Inoue Iwao, and Itagaki Taisuke were joined by such second-generation figures as Katsura Tarō and Hara Takashi, along with Diet members, journalists, literary personages, publishers, military and naval officials, and such theatrical stars as Onoe Kikugorō VI, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX’s adopted son, Horikoshi Fukusaburō, Ichikawa Yaozō, and Ichikawa Ennosuke. Also there were masters of the Fujima school of dance and the kiyomoto and tokiwazu schools of music, not to mention scenic master Hasegawa, prop master Fujinami, various front of house personnel, and the proprietors of various Shinbashi geisha houses. It was truly a small world representing a gathering of all social classes.  Over 2,000 mourners made this one of the age’s grand ceremonies. [Same source.]

The first Kabuki-za program of 1906 began on January 14, the initial offering being six scenes from Meiboku Sendai Hagi, in which Onoe Baikō VI played Masaoka for the first time, and Nakamura Kichiemon and Onoe Kikugorō alternated daily as Arajishi Otokonosuke, the aragoto hero in the famous cellar scene. Then came Ichikawa Yaozō, Ichimura Uzaemon XV, and Sawamura Tosshō in Gion Sairei Shinkōki (“Kinkakuji”), which was followed by Enomoto Torahiko’s adaptation of a work by Murai Gensai, Sake Dōraku (Lost to Drink). The show closed with the new nagauta dance, Takarabune Haru no Hatsuyume, which replaced the seven gods of the traditional Japanese treasure boat with seven men (shichinin otoko) dressed as chivalrous commoners (otokodate) lined up in Suruga-chō rather than on the boat.  This appearance was part of a publicity campaign for the Mitsukoshi clothing firm. 
Street postet for the January 1906 production at the Kabuki-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
The running time was overlong; it was the middle of winter yet it ran past 10:00 p.m. and earned complaints from uncomfortable patrons. The run, which closed on February 7, just barely made it to 25 days. The Kabuki-za’s resident playwrights were now Enomoto Torahiko, Takeshiba Takaji, Hama Masagosuke, Kema Teiji (later Kema Nanboku), and Segawa Jokō.

January 1906 also saw the publication of tanka poet/novelist Itō Sachio’s popular love story Nogiku no Haka (The Wild Daisy) in the literary magazine Hototogisu; the story later was adapted for several movies. Shimamura Hōgetsu, who became one of the founders of Japan’s modern theatre, became editor-in-chief of the literary journal Waseda Bungaku this month. On the social front, the Salvation Army began offering free housing to the unemployed homeless and offering introductions for them to prospective employers. And in politics, the cabinet of Prime Minister Katsura Tarō was replaced by that of Saionji Kinmochi.  

In February, the Shōchiku Unlimited Partnership Company rented the Naka-za in Osaka’s Dōtonbori entertainment district and began producing kabuki there with a company headed by Nakamura Ganjirō I. Beginning on February 10, for three days, Tokyo’s Kabuki-za produced fundraising performances sponsored by the Kyōbashi Patriotic Women’s Association (Aikoku Fujin Kai) to help disabled veterans. Over at the Meiji-za this month Kawakami Otojirō’s company presented Yamagishi Kayō’s translation of Maeterlinck’s Mona Vanna.

A group of writer/scholar Tsubouchi Shōyō’s young followers that came to known in 1905 as the Ekifūkai (Society for the Betterment of Manners) now called itself the Bungei Kyōkai  (Literary Society); its nominal head was Ōkuma Shigenobu and its promoters included Shimamura Hōgetsu, Tōgi Tetteki, Tsuchi Shunsho, Kaneko Umaji. On February 17, the Bungei Kyōkei offered an opening ceremony, at Shiba Park’s Momiji Kan, for what was the beginning of shingeki (“new theatre”), Japan’s modern, Western-style theatre movement. Ōkuma was the person in charge. Present among the guests were three important actors, Ichikawa Sadanji II, Ichikawa Danko (later Ennosuke II), and Kawakami Otojirō. The program included Imoseyama (Mt. Imose), based by Nagai Kūgai on the bunraku/kabuki play Imoseyama Onna Teikin, using scenery painted in the Western style and Nara-period language. The bill also presented Tsubouchi’s revolutionary history drama Hototogisu Kojō no Rakugetsu and his dance play Shinkyoku Urashima (New Urashima).

On February 24, there was a glittering gathering at the Kabuki-za in honor of the visit to Japan of Prince Arthur of Connaught, there to present Emperor Meiji with England’s highest honor, the Order of the Garter. Important business leaders in attendance included Shibusawa Eiichi, Masuda Takashi, Togawa Ryōhei, and Kondō Kanehira. Algernon Bertram Freeman (A.B.) Mitford (Lord Redesdale), distinguished Japanologist and diplomat, accompanied the prince and wrote a book about the visit in which he said of this event:

As soon as dinner was over we all, including the Imperial Princes and Princesses, drove off to the Kabukiza or Opera Theatre, where the business men of Tokyo had organised a theatrical entertainment in honour of Prince Arthur and of the Nichi-Ei-Dōmei, the Anglo- Japanese alliance. This was a very brilliant affair. The decorations were quite magnificent, the flags of the two countries being, of course, conspicuous everywhere. An immense box, taking up the opposite the stage for the use of the Princes and Princesses; and the body of the hall, what we should call the pit, was crowded with notable men and their wives. [From A.B. Mitford, The Garter Mission to Japan.]

Mitford, who had served in Japan as a British diplomat during the early Meiji period returned as a principal member of Prince Arthur’s entourage because of his deep knowledge of Japanese customs, even consulting on court practices that had since gone out of use. His description of the prince’s legation was published that year in London. He had served as secretary to the British legation in Japan from 1866-1870 and served as the interpreter when Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, became the first member of European royalty to visit the country, where he was received by the teenage emperor. This was Mitford’s second visit to Japan. 
February 24, 1906, Miyako Shinbun article about the visit of Sir Arthur of Connaught. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
In August 1905 the second Anglo-Japanese Alliance treaty had been signed drawing the two nations closer together so Prince Arthur’s visit was intended to further their mutual friendship.

In addition to the Kabuki-za’s resident company, actors seen by the prince included Nakamura Shikan and Ichikawa Komazō of the Tōkyō-za, the latter appearing at his both home theatre and the Kabuki-za that month as per the practice of kakemochi. Opening the program was Masuda Tarō Kaja’s new play Mukashi Gatari Nichiei Dōmei (The Anglo-Japanese Alliance), about a real-life English sailor-adventurer Will Adams, who lived in Japan during the early 17th century. Then came the Soga brothers’ revenge play Youchi Soga, which was followed by a new dance play, Chōkokushi no Yume (The Sculptor’s Dream). Mitford wrote of the first play:

The story of the play was based upon that of Will Adams, whom the Japanese call Anjin, "the Pilot," as a fitting subject for an entertainment designed to celebrate the alliance; and the second act gave an opportunity for the introduction at Anjin's marriage of a troop [sic] of the most famous geishas of the city, who performed a new dance and song composed in honour of the Wakamiya—the " young Prince." I annex translations of the story of the play, the programme of the dance, and the song made by our hosts.
. . .
Act I. Scene 1. Locality—By the sea-shore at Hemi in Soshu,Period—Autumn in the year 1609.Autumn flowers are blooming, and between the rocks waves are seen raging. On a rock in the centre of the stage Iwai Tetsunojo, a ronin (unattached samurai) of Osaka, stands holding the girdle of Otsu, a young girl who is gazing distractedly in the direction of the sea.

Giheijij father of Otsu, has gone to look for her brother who has been absent for many days on a fishing expedition, and the girl, fearing that her father also is in danger,was endeavouring to put out in a small boat to his rescue when the ronin Iwai interfered. This ronin is in love with Otsu, but being a man of bad character (one of a band by whom the people of the vicinity are much oppressed) he has been unable to obtain her father’s consent to their union. He now restrains Otsu from her desperate undertaking; points out to her that a boat managed by one weak woman could not possibly live in such a sea, and declares that the punishment of heaven has now overtaken her father for refusing her lover's suit. Otsu angrily repels him, and asks whether she could ever become the wife of a man who urges her to desert her father in his extremity. Iwai, rendered desperate by her resistance, threatens to use his sword, and is forcing her to accompany him when Anjin (Will Adams), attracted by the noise of the struggle, runs up and separates them. Iwai reviles him as a foreigner, and warns him that his life will be the cost of interference. But Anjin replies that all nations alike recognise the duty of the strong to succour the weak. Iwai attempts to cut him down, but Anjin gets the better in the struggle and Iwai flies. Anjin then, learning the cause of Otsu's trouble, leaps into the boat she had intended to use and succeeds in saving her father, who, on recovering from his swoon, tells her that all hope of her brother's life must be abandoned. Father and daughter then express profound thanks to Anjin, and, in the course of the ensuing conversation, they learn from him that if they are grieving for the loss of a son and brother, he has been nine long years lamenting his separation from his family in England, and is now rejoicing in the thought that a Dutch vessel has reached Hirado, and that he will be able to return to his country forthwith. He then insists on aiding Giheiji, who has not yet recovered from the effects of his immersion. But on the way they are attacked by a band of ronin with Iwai at their head; Anjin is seized and bound, and although Otsu and her father offer to take his place, the ronin carry him off.
Scene 2. Neighbourhood of the same place: Prince Tokugawa lyiyasu [sic] approaches riding in a “norimono” (palanquin), and with a large retinue of samurai. Giheiji runs up desperately and prostrates himself in front of the procession. He is quickly followed by Otsu, and father and daughter vie with one another in calling aloud for assistance. To present a petition direct to the Shogun being a capital crime, Giheiji and Otsu are seized and bound by the Tokugawa chiefs [sic] retinue. But on learning their errand, lyiyasu orders their release and sends a party of samurai under Giheiji's guidance to rescue Anjin. During the absence of the samurai lyiyasu questions Otsu, and learns from her the occasion that induced her and her father to brave death for Anjin’s sake. Presently the samurai return leading Anjin, Iwai, and the latter's fellow-ronin. Iwai, questioned by lyiyasu, accuses Anjin of dealing in necromancy and producing supernatural effects; but lyiyasu replies that he himself has been Anjin's pupil in the science of Western civilization, and that when the ronin, without any due authorisation, subjected Anjin to indignity, they were guilty of a direct insult to the Shogun. They are bound in ropes and led off in custody. Anjin then asks lyiyasu as to the latter's object in visiting Hemi, and lyayasu replies that it is to solicit the continued presence of Anjin in Japan. He explains that after granting permission for Anjin to take passage home by the Dutch vessel, he reflected that to perpetuate the peace in which Japan was now rejoicing, her intercourse with foreign countries must be extended, and that the assistance of Anjin would be essential for that purpose. Anjin nevertheless declares himself unable to abandon the hope of seeing his family once more, and then lyiyasu confesses that, apprehending this difficulty, he has already sent away the Dutch ship.

He declares that his first consideration must be for the good of the country which he has been trusted by the Emperor to administer, and that he is content to incur resentment if he can be conscious of having done his duty. Anjin becomes reconciled. He declares that it is the will of heaven, and he bows to lyiyasu's frank statement that if he has subjected his foreign visitor to a hard lot, it was done because of the high esteem in which he holds Anjin's services. The Shogun then expresses a desire to make some amends to Anjin, and suggests that as Anjin is separated from his sister, and as Otsu has just lost her brother, they should endeavour to console one another.

It is finally arranged. Iyiyasu laughingly observes that a woman's hair is proverbially strong enough to bind even a big elephant, and that a Japanese girl will soften the pains of exile for Anjin. He orders that an income of 50 koku of rice shall be given to Giheiji, who, in the excess of his delight, almost forgets to express his gratitude.

Act II. The interior of the Shogun's Castle in Yedo. lyiyasu, Anjin, Otsu, Giheiji, several nobles (Daimyo), and a number of attendants and dancing-girls are present. The occasion is the celebration of Anjin's wedding with Otsu, A congratulatory series of couplets are uttered by the Daimyo, each delivering a line separately until the last, when all speak in unison. lyiyasu expresses his satisfaction that Anjin is to remain. He says that though Japan is a small country, her people mean to make her the Japan of the world, and that the ceremony of this evening shows how close East and West are after all.

Anjin and Otsu perform the prescribed rite of exchanging wine-cups, and on its conclusion lyiyasu confesses that he has still one apology to make to Anjin: the Dutch ship has not been sent away from Japan; she is still at Hirado. Does Anjin still wish to return by her? Giheiji and Otsu await Anjin's answer with much anxiety, but he declares that he will remain in Japan. The ceremony ends with a geisha dance.

The dance was called “Wakamiya” (Young Prince), and the accompanying lyrics went (in Mitford’s translation):
 “A young Prince came to the land of rising sun.Chorus—Wakamiya WelcomeYoi, Yoi, Yoiya, Sa.He is the envoy of British Lion very very highly honoured.Chorus—Wakamiya WelcomeYoi, Yoi, Yoiya, Sa.Now, the two countries unite in love for ever, and ever, and ever.Chorus—Wakamiya WelcomeYoi, Yoi, Yoiya, Sa.”

According to Mitford:

The first scene, by the seashore at Hemin, was exceedingly well managed. The waves of the sea quite seemed to break upon the shore, while the trees were waving to and fro in the wind, an effect which I never saw on the European stage. The illusion was very well kept up. The second act was of great interest, because it might be taken to give a correct representation of a wedding in the house of a personage of exalted rank.

Mitford describes the party to which the guests were ushered midway through.

At the end of the second act we were all taken to a great room upstairs, where supper was served, at which all the geishas appeared and played at waiting upon the guests. Their pretty little ways, their dainty movements and graceful manners were very charming; but unfortunately they still had on all the coat of paint on face and lips, which to our eyes is excessive even on the stage, but off it, at close quarters, is anything but determined that we should be pleased, and we were as determined as they. So all was well.

I take it that this entertainment, from beginning to end, must have been a novel experience to the members of the Imperial family, who for once broke through the bonds of Court etiquette. At any rate I think everybody enjoyed it, and nobody more thoroughly than the Wakamiya, “the envoy of the British Lion.” The business men of Tokyo may congratulate themselves on the success of a show got up with lavish expenditure of thought and money, of which all their guests will carry away the pleasantest and most grateful recollection. It was a pretty thought to choose for our entertainment the “premiere” of a piece founded on the one episode in the old history of Japan in which an Englishman could be made the hero. Let us hope that author and actors may be rewarded by a great run. [From A.B. Mitford, The Garter Mission to Japan.]

The men wore either uniforms or swallow-tailed coats while the women wore Western evening wear with deep decollates or white-collared, multicolored kimono (montsuki) with dyed family crests. The decorations inside the theatre were undertaken by Mitsukoshi, with red- and white striped fabric, bundles of fresh cedar leaves, floors of unfinished wood, gold folding screens, live pine, cherry, and plum flowers, and so on. Good feelings flowed from Prince Arthur’s arrival at 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., when the gathering dispersed (although one source says this was 1:00 a.m.)

Chairs were used for seating throughout the theatre and a gas stove was provided near Prince Arthur’s seat but the Kyōbashi Station interfered and didn’t permit brazier heating in the orchestra seating so the dressed-up ladies and gentlemen had to shiver in the cold.

On February 26, Bandō Matasaburō, the Nissen Danshū (“Twopenny Danjūrō”), collapsed while acting at the Miyato-za. He was unable to return to the stage and died at 53. On February 27, Ichikawa Aragorō, a disciple of Ichikawa Danzō III, died at 74. That day also began a five-day series of charity performances at the Kabuki-za, running to March 3. It was under the sponsorship of Senge Takatomi, lieutenant governor of Metropolitan Tokyo, and an association of celebrity wives, to raise money for Tōhoku prefecture following a bad harvest season. The program included Youchi Soga, with Yaozō as Gorō and Uzaemon as Jūrō, Reppu Shikinami (The Virtuous Shikinami), starring Onoe Baikō, the kyōgen-based, tokiwazu dance play Utsubo Zaru (The Monkey Quiver), with Kikugorō as the female daimyō, and Oshi Musume (The Deaf-Mute Girl). One source, the Kabuki Nendaiki, says that the program ended with Chōkokushi no Yume.

On March 7, the Tōkyō-za gave the first full production of Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Hototogisu Kojō no Rakugetsu, starring Shikan as Yodogimi and Ieyasu and Ennosuke as Katsumoto. Also that day, a nō club called Yanō (Evening Nō) offered its first performance.

A day later, the March Kabuki-za program opened. Kataoka Ichizō, ecstatic at the safe conclusion of his son Jūzō’s military service as a sergeant proposed that the management produce a show honoring his son and 20 other actors who had served during the Russo-Japanese War. When he couldn’t arouse much interest in the idea he financed the show out of his own pocket, using the same scenery seen in the production for Prince Arthur. The bill began in mid-afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., with Oku no Kiroku (Record of Oku), a play that Miyazaki Sanmai had written for the Kyōfūkai (Japan Women’s Christian Organization), and that was revised by Kawatake Shinshichi III. Second was Gunjin Katagi (A Soldier’s Spirit), adapted by Takeshiba Umematsu from a work by a certain war veteran, and costarring Ichizō and his son, Jūzō. A dance play, Yakko Dōjōji (Footman’s Dōjōji), using tokiwazu, nagauta, and Western music ended the show; Jūzō starred. The victorious atmosphere fostered by victory in the Russo-Japanese War was still palpable and this production advertised as honoring actors who had returned from the military campaign filled the houses throughout the run. The actor-veterans themselves participated in a march organized at the Aoyama Parade Grounds for a ceremony in which the First Army honored its dead.

With this production, Enomoto Torahiko became the Kabuki-za’s head playwright (tate sakusha), the first time a writer from outside the traditional kabuki playwright (kyōgen sakusha) held this position.

March also saw the publication of Shimazaki Tōson’s Hakai (The Broken Commandment), a revolutionary novel about the burakumin pariah class; novelist Natsume Sōseki wrote to his disciple, writer Morita Sōhei, “If the Meiji period were published as a novel it would be The Broken Commandment.” On March 11, the actor Iwai Matsunosuke, 49, passed away while on tour. The same day, transfer savings accounts were introduced, while on March 14, the now highly institutionalized cleaning establishment called Hakuyosha began operating at Nihonbashi. On March 26, the Dai Nippon Bakushū (Great Japan Beer) company (predecessor of Asahi Beer) was established, and on the 31st the Railway Nationalization Act was promulgated.  

The Kabuki-za was used on April 1 for a martial arts convocation. Regular programming returned on April 11, which opened at 1:00 p.m. with Mokuami’s domestic drama Mekura Nagaya Ume ga Kagatobi, and then presented Yoshino Yama Yuki no Furugoto, a 1786 tokiwazu dance play, a.k.a. Myoto Gitsune (Husband and Wife Foxes). The closing piece was the kiyomoto dance play Modori Kago Iro ni Aikata. 

During this production, Bandō Yasosuke advanced to the name Bandō Mitsugorō VI, the formal announcement (kōjō) coming before the second play, and including Ichikawa Yaozō, Onoe Baikō, Ichimura Uzaemon, Kikugorō, and Kichiemon in the lineup. All were dressed in formal kamishimo to offer their verbal support. The new Mitsugorō’s performance as a man who reveals his true nature as a fox fitted him perfectly and showed how deserving of the new name he was. In Modori Kago Komazō was excellent as the kago bearer Jirōsaku, Uzaemon was a handsome Yoshirō, and Sawamura Tosshō as Tayori, the kamuro or courtesan’s handmaiden, also shone. The run ended on May 5, after 25 days.

April 4th saw the passing of actor Onoe Onozō, at 42. The same day, playwright Matsui Shōō left for a journey to the West. On April 15, Ichikawa Enzō II, a disciple of Danjūrō IX, died at 40. On April 16, the fastest express train began operations between Tokyo’s Shinbashi and the city of Kobe, traveling 44 kilometers per hour and making the trip in 13 hours and 40 minutes. On May 2, medical and dental practitioner laws were promulgated. 
Shinbashi Station, 1906. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
On May 6, the great musician Tokiwazu Rinchū passed away, aged 65. He was honored at the Kabuki-za by a concert of the music he’d created in October 1896 for Danjūrō IX in Yasuna, for Kodakara Sanbasō in November 1896 when the Kabuki-za’s joint stockholder company was organized, and for the 1897 production of Seki no To starring Danjūrō and Kikugorō.

On May 9, the Wakaba-Kai group of literary men cum amateur actors presented their second program, beginning at 1:00 p.m. It opened with Sugi Gannami’s Uchiumi Ochi, followed by the “Kumagai Jinya” scene from Ichinotani Futaba Gunki, and finishing with Uta Torahiko’s Kinpira Tengu Mondō (The Kinpira-Goblin Debate), done in old-school Tosa jōruri style. A critic wrote: “The house was full well before the scheduled curtain time. Their skill continues to mature and even ‘Jinya,’ so very difficult for professional actors, was performed smoothly throughout, which should show just how much these gentlemen put into this.”

On May 9, stage designer/painter Kubota Beisen died at 55. On May 23, the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen died. Also this month, Suzuki Miekichi published “Chidori” in Hototogisu.

June’s Kabuki-za program, which followed the recent practice of beginning at 1:00 p.m., featured Nakamura Shikan, returning nearly four years after a conflict with manager Inoue Takejirō. Opening day was May 27, beginning with Enomoto Torahiko’s new play Nantō Enjō (The Nara Conflagration), starring Shikan and Yaozō. Then Uzaemon starred for the first time as Sukeroku in the ever-popular Sukeroku Yukari Edo no Zakura, followed by Komazō making his first appearance as Benkei in Kanjinchō, a role he would play so often (as Matsumoto Kōshirō VII) it became associated with him. Then Kikugorō acted the lead in Totoya no Chawan (The Fish Shop Teacup), a shorter title for Kawatake Mokuami’s Sandai Banashi Totoya no Chawan (1882), a once-popular Meiji-period play. 
Nantō Enjō, with Shikan as the female character on the steps.From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
Since problems raised the previous year regarding Komazō’s performing Kanjinchō and Uzaemon’s doing Sukeroku were now resolved in one fell swoop, Shikan was concerned that his return after four years had little effect  on his casting, and Yaozō was angry about his seemingly secondary place on the program, even though his parts included Togashi in Kanjinchō and Ikyū in Sukeroku. So Shikan and Yaozō were placated by their roles in Enomoto’s new play only for Onoe Baikō to complain about his roles, further intensifying the managerial headaches.

A year earlier Ennosuke had gotten permission to perform Kanjinchō, which, as one of the plays in the Kabuki Jūhachiban collection, belonged to the Ichikawa Danjūrō family, by paying 500 yen for the rights. Tamura Nariyoshi, serving as the Kabuki-za’s representative, later wrote of how he got the rights to both Kanjinchō and Sukeroku, also a Kabuki Jūhachiban play:

Thus there was the matter of copyright, which last year’s story holds cost a single 500 yen payment. But I, as a way to show the value of the Jūhachiban, purposely offered four times 500 yen (2,000 yen) for each play, and Danjūrō’s widow said she’d throw in the costumes and everything else for another 1,000 yen so I avoided an aggressive bargaining dispute and happily agreed. This set the subsequent price for doing a Jūhachiban play. On the other hand, increasing the price strengthened the validity of the Jūhachiban. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari, Vol. 11: Kōmyō Jidai.]

For the first six days of the June production, the Japanese Railways Joint Stock Corporation celebrated its independence by buying seats for over 10,000 invited stockholders, with Tokyo’s foremost geisha attending to them in red aprons. This spurred business and the production was a sellout that closed on June 28 after a rare long run of 33 days. From midmonth on the teahouse men and the theatre’s ushers began the new custom of dressing in Western clothes, serving bentō lunches, and pouring tea from earthenware pots, a highly unusual sight in those days. Ushers were in black, teashop workers in gray. In the end, the production was so successful it not only covered the theatre’s deficits but allowed for a small dividend to be paid to shareholders. Starting from this program, the Kabuki-za’s longstanding sluggishness began to improve and, gradually, welcome an age of bright possibilities.

Other May theatre news included the name changing of Jitsukawa Enko to Jitsukawa Entarō (later Kawarazaki Kunitarō IV) at the Tōkyō-za. On May 2, Ichikawa Sadanji I’s disciple, Ichikawa Shōjaku died, aged 52. And on May 8, Ichikawa Sumizō V, one of Danjūrō’s leading followers, and the adopted father of the actor who would become Ichikawa Jukai III, died, aged 62.

The prosperity ushered in by the Russo-Japanese War didn’t last long. On June 7, an imperial edict established the South Manchurian Railway Joint Stock Corporation; the Japanese government capitalized it with 200 million yen, and its stock prices continued to jump. The situation changed in January of 1907 when the stocks began to decline as companies speculating on the war and small and midsize banks doing business with them started to go bankrupt.

Ichikawa Shōzō, a disciple of Danjūrō IX’s, was 49 when he died on June 6. June also witnessed the first appearance in Tokyo of the great shinpa female-role specialist Kitamura Rokurō since the founding of the Seibidan shinpa company 12 years earlier. He had been summoned by Takada Minoru, who needed someone to play a female role in Yanagawa Shunyō’s Yadorigi (Mistletoe) at the Hongō-za. His costars were Takada and Fujisawa Asajirō. Another June 1906 milestone was the publication of Sekine Mokuan’s Engeki Taisen (Theatre Encyclopedia).

From July 1 to July 4 the great dancer-choreographer Fujima Kanemon took over the theatre for a “once-in-a-lifetime” recital by his Onshū Kai (Rehearsal Company). It employed 11 kabuki traveler-curtains (hikimaku) and was a big success. This month also saw the establishment by Umeya Shōkichi of M. Pathe, Japan’s third major film company, which offered its first program at the Shintomi-za.

On July 14, at 5:00 p.m., the next Kabuki-za program commenced, with Inoue Takejirō and his brother-in-law, playwright Murai Gensai, serving as the independent producers of a “drama for the encouragement of morality” (kyōfū engeki). Murai, whose temperance drama, Sake Dōraku, had been done at the Kabuki-za in January, now oversaw the production of his Onna Dōraku (Woman Crazy), which called for ending the practice of concubinage. But the idea drew public protests, with journalistic attacks, including newspapers like the Chūō Shinbun printing headlines such as “Jōfū Engeki Otoko Dōraku” (Drama for Driving Away Immorality: Man Crazy), the first two words a play on kyōfū engeki and the rest, according to Prof. Kei Hibino, implying that indulging in men, i.e., actors, the idols of women and children, was a foolish means for improving morality. There was so much negative response that the production, which was scheduled for 20 days, closed after 17, making it a giant flop.

On August 18, a strike at the Kure naval arsenal turned violent; toward the end of the month, there was another strike at the arsenal in Koishikawa, Tokyo. On September 1, the popular cigarette brand “Golden Bat” was introduced. And, at Osaka’s Asahi-za, Iwasaki Shunka’s dramatization of Izumi Kyōka’s Tsūya Monogatari (The Vigil’s Tale) was presented. 
From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
The Kabuki-za was used on August 20 for the awarding of prizes to actors who were voted on in a national poll conducted by the Miyako Shinbun: first prize went to Onoe Eizaburō VI (later Bandō Hikosaburō VI), the runners-up being Yamaguchi Sadako (adopted daughter of shinpa actor Yamaguchi Sadao), and Ichikawa Enshō II (soon to become Sadanji II). Arriving in positions four, five, and six were Nakamura Kichiemon, Ichikawa Sakimatsu (later Ichikawa Shōchō II), and Ichikawa Ginnosuke. The program concluded with the awardees offering non-costumed dances (suodori) wearing regular kimono. From August 26 to September 1 the theatre showed movies from Paris.
From the program of the September Kabuki-za production. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
From September 8-17, shinpa star Ii Yōhō of the Masago-za produced an independent show at the Kabuki-za but, since the company itself was weak, Kawai Takeo of the Kawakami Company at the Hongō-za joined on for the ten-day gig. The first piece, which began at 5:00 p.m., was an adaptation of Alphonse Daudet’s French drama Sappho, the next was Mori Ōgai’s Tamakushige Futari Urashima, and the next was the comedy Shian no Hoka by Masuda Tarō Kaja. Attendance was good but a downturn was foreseen and the show closed after its tenth performance.

From September 19 to 25, the Kabuki-za showed two bills daily of Japanese and English films. The same month, the Meiji-za honored the three-year anniversary of Ichikawa Sadanji I’s death, with Ichikawa Enshō taking the name Sadanji II. For the occasion, he played the role of Marubashi Chūya in Keian Taiheiki. The production was a big success and was a warm payoff for the struggles he’d undergone in running the Meiji-za after his late father’s death. He then began planning an extensive trip to Europe.

The Kabuki-za Corporation’s balance sheet for the first half of 1906 showed a profit of 17,441 yen and 14 sen. Inoue Takejirō, who had been producing theatre at the Kabuki-za for 10 years, hearing that it would cost 850,000 yen to build a large theatre in Marunouchi, with business expenses amounting to 150,000 yen, said that the rising cost of managing a theatre had become so problematic he had abandoned the idea. A major Kabuki-za shareholder, he decided to sell his shares and retire from the theatre world.

During a gathering at Kagetsu, a Shinbashi restaurant, he was introduced by Miyake Hyōza to several people with deep connections to the family of the late Count Gōtō Shōjirō, among them Inoue Kakugorō, Fujiyama Raita, Okamoto Teikyū, and Ōkōchi Terutake, all distinguished men from Mita (also meaning they were graduates of Keio University) with an abiding interest in theatrical production. While holding on to the 50 shares that allowed him to remain on the board of directors, he sold the remainder of his shares, valued then at 17 yen each, at the inflated rate of 36 each. Inoue also owned the costumes and some of the privileges [whose specifics are unclear] regarding spectators in the low-priced ōmukō balcony section, where hardcore aficionados sat, but the ōmukō privileges or rights were sold to Ōkōchi Terutake while the costumes, along with house costumer Ōi Ichimatsu, were transferred to the Mitsukoshi Department Store for 20,000 yen. They became the basis for the Mitsukoshi Costume Collection. Inoue Takejirō felt greatly relieved, saying his descendants would have no connection to the theatre. He is said never to have had anything to do with the Kabuki-za again.

Meanwhile, Inoue, wanting to emulate the retirement of Kabuki-za founder Chiba Katsugorō 10 years older by going out in style, sought to invite Osaka star Nakamura Ganjirō to participate. He and Ichikawa Yaozō, with whom he was on good terms, along with Tamura Nariyoshi to serve as the negotiator, traveled to Osaka to work things out with producer Shirai Matsujirō, to whom Ganjirō was contracted. Ganjirō himself assented to going, and he thus set foot on the Kabuki-za stage for the first time in 17 years.

Nakamura Ganjirō I (1860-1935), son of Nakamura Ganjaku III, debuted at three but was soon separated from his father, who divorced his mother. He was adopted into his mother’s fan-selling family and was brought up to sell dry goods. However, at 12, he was introduced by dance teacher Yamamura Tomogorō II to the famous Kamigata actor Jitsukawa Enjaku I, and resumed his stage training. He debuted as Jitsukawa Ganjirō in 1873, while performing in Kyoto, He followed the unusual secondary path, from 1875 to 1889, of working as a puppet handler at Osaka’s Bunraku-za, using the name Yoshida Tamatarō. In 1877, he and his father, who was acting in Kyoto, were reunited for the first time in 17 years. A year later they acted together in Osaka when he took the name Nakamura Ganjirō I. He and Kataoka Gatō (later Kataoka Nizaemon XI) shared great popularity as rising young stars.  He thereafter became famous as an actor who typified the unique traditions of Kamigata.

In 1890, he took his talents to Tokyo’s Shintomi-za, where was praised as Sasaki Moritsuna, one of his best roles, in Moritsuna Jinya. Soon after, he formed his own company and returned to Kamigata, appearing in the plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon and other playwrights of the region. He became closely associated with Shirai Matsujirō, who cofounded the Shochiku Company, and served as standard bearer for Shirai’s efforts to produce top-quality kabuki, which helped Ganjirō become king of Kamigata kabuki.

He played often in Nagoya and Kobe, as well as in Kyoto and Osaka, before returning to Tokyo for the first time in nearly 17 years in 1906. He became a leading player at the Kabuki-za, periodically returning to Kamigata, and being recognized as one of kabuki’s greatest figures. Critics said he combined the best qualities of his teachers, Jitsukawa Enjaku, Sawamura Sōjūrō, Danjūrō IX, and Kikugorō V.

Ganjirō I was outstanding as both males and females, being handsome, sexually appealing, and artistically skillful. His was considered “the face of Osaka.” His abilities lay mainly in domestic plays (sewamono), with a specialty in the gentle style called wagoto, being particularly notable in the plays of Chikamatsu, as when he played Kamiya Jihei in the “Kawashō” scene of Shinjū Ten no Amijima (The Love Suicides at Ten no Amijima). He collected his greatest roles in the Ganjirō Jūnikyoku collection, among them Chūbei in Meido no Hikyaku and Izaemon in Kuruwa Bunshō. He also was renowned for period dramas like Chushingura, in which he played both Kanpei and Yuranosuke, and as Kumagai in Kumagai Jinya. His performance in Hiki Mado was so popular it revived interest in the piece, which became a regular part of the repertory. New kabuki plays in which he excelled included Akanezome, Tōjūrō no Koi, Koi no Shio, and so on. [Adapted from my New Kabuki Encyclopedia.]

Further, Ichikawa Ennosuke, now the company head (zagashira) at the Tōkyō-za, which was on a declining path, hadn’t been able to appear at the Kabuki-za for the special production honoring Prince Arthur and longed for a chance to return to its stage. He thus joined with Ganjirō for the production, which opened on October 10.

This was the first trip to Tokyo for Shirai Matsujirō, who accompanied Ganjirō, and was an important step forward in getting Shōchiku involved in the Tokyo theatre scene. Just two months earlier, Shōchiku had gained control of Kyoto’s principal theatre, the Minami-za.

The October program opened at 11:00 a.m. on the 10th and closed on November 4. The show opened with Mokuami’s Kawanakajima Azuma Nishiki-e. The second starred Ganjirō in the “Hiki Mado” (“Skylight”) scene of Futatsu Chōchō Kuruwa Nikki, belonging to his collection of family hits, the Ohako (Eighteen Best Plays), followed by Baikō replicating Kikugorō V’s performance in Inaka Genji. Then came the “Kawasho” scene from Shinjū Ten no Amijima, with Ganjirō starring as Kamiya Jihei, and the show concluded with Ganjirō, Kikugorō VI, and Mitsugorō VII giving highly praised performances in the dance Kioi Jishi Matsuri Nigiwai. Kichiemon was unwell so he had to step down from Kioi Jishi, his role taken over by Bandō Mitsugorō.

“Kawasho” was an attraction that spectators wanted to get out and see. In disposition and attitude Ganjirō’s Jihei was a portrayal that no first-class Tokyo actor could possibly embody or duplicate. Of course, Ganjirō held a monopoly on how he seemed to be someone living in the present day, a prodigal townsman with Osaka coursing through his veins. He was 47 at the time but had this been ten years earlier it would have been all the more the case. [Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi: Kabuki-za Volume.]

A sellout, it added a day onto its run, giving 26 performances.

After Inoue Takejirō sold his shares, his responsibilities were taken up by Ōkōchi Terutake and Fujiyama Raita, officials of the huge Nippon Yusen shipping line, as well as important businessmen like Inoue Kakugorō, Okamoto Teikyū, Itō Kinsuke, Tetsuka Takemasa, and other graduates of Keiō University (then called Keiō Gijuku), with Miyake Hyōzō acting as middleman. 

Miyake thereafter took on the burden of running the Kabuki-za. He came before the board to boast of his decision to revolutionize the theatre’s interior: “You shareholders now are the so-called seven Mita men but you’re a bunch of quibblers so I’d like to ask that from the tenth we fix up the venue; if we ignore it the place will soon grow filthy and will never become the best in Japan.” Thus began the meeting, with Ōkōchi elected chairman, and Fujiyama, Okamoto, Itō, and Tetsuka elected as board members (torishimariyaku). Miyake became the official advisor, and Tamura Nariyoshi was production consultant. Others were chosen to serve in various other managerial posts, including treasurer.  

It was also necessary to select actors to become what were called “Principal Actor Members” (Kanbu Gigei Iin) and to prevent actors from performing the same month at both the Kabuki-za and elsewhere (the kakemochi tradition), including the incipient Imperial Theatre, which was just then getting off the ground. The Principal Actor Member system was conceived as a countermeasure to the Kabuki-za’s coming rival, where the actors would want to play while also performing at the Kabuki-za. The Principal Actor Members were Shikan (soon to become Nakamura Utaemon V),Yaozō (the future Ichikawa Chūsha VII), Baikō, Uzaemon, Komazō (later Matsumoto Kōshirō VII), Ennosuke (later Ichikawa Danshirō II), Tosshō (later Sawamura Sōjūrō VII), and Ganjirō, a total of eight, while the secondary (jun kanbu) members were Kikugorō, Kichiemon, and Onoe Matsusuke. Shikan was elected committee (iinchō), a title that became a nickname—“Iinchō!”—called out by fans in the ōmukō section until the end of his career. The term thus became the modern equivalent of the word zagashira to refer to an actor-manager. 

In October, Iwai Kujirō took the name Iwai Kumesaburō V at the Tōkyō-za. During the same show, Okayasu Kikujirō took his late father’s name of Okayasu Kisaburō. On October 14, master prop maker Fujinami Yohei I died, aged 78; he had been responsible for developing the craft of making stage properties in accord with the needs of modern kabuki’s development. October also saw Kawakami Otojirō’s staging of Sardou’s Patrie! (Sokoku in Japanese), translated by Taguchi Kikutei.

On October 18, at the Ginko (Bank) Club in Sakamoto-chō, the first general meeting of the Teikoku Gekijō (Imperial Theatre) Joint Stock Corporation, was held, its supporters including statesman Itō Hirobumi; this new theatre would prove to be a formidable rival to the Kabuki-za several years down the line. The committee chair was Shibusawa Eiichi, and its members included Fukuzawa Sutejirō, Sōda Heigorō, Fukuzawa Tōsuke, Hiki Ōsuke, Tanaka Jōtoku, Tetsuka Takemasa, and Nishino Einosuke.

October also saw the publication by Fusanbō of the Nihon Katei Hyakka Jiten (Japan Family Encyclopedia), and the Asahi Shinbun’s serialization until the end of December of Futabatei Shimei’s Sono Omokage (An Adopted Husband).

At noon on November 6, the Miyako Shinbun sponsored another artistic achievement awards ceremony at the Kabuki-za, honoring various musicians for specific works.  

Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Bungei Kyōkai gave its first regular performance, introduced at the Kabuki-za on November 10 by scholar Ihara Seiseien, beginning at 5:00 p.m. with the Katagiri Mansion and Nagara Riverbank scenes of Shōyō’s Kiri Hitoha, followed by Shōyō’s translation of The Merchant of Venice’s courtroom scene. It was followed by Tokoyami (Everlasting Darkness), one of Japan’s earliest operas, with libretto by Shōyō and music by actor Tōgi Tetteki. It used a Western orchestra and a chorus of over 70, with a full company of 120 performers. Forty male and female performers appeared in costumes from the Age of the Gods, with the 26-year-old Fujikage Shizue playing the role of a girl. Fujikage was a pioneer of the shinbuyō (new dance) movement, which allowed anyone who wished the chance to study kabuki-based dance, leading to the proliferation of female-dominated dance schools, of which there are nearly 170.

In The Merchant of Venice Portia was played by Dohi Shunshō (1869-1915) opposite Tōgi Tetteki’s Shylock and Mizoguchi Biyo’s Antonio, each of them a shingeki actor and each praised for his performance. The production was another milestone in the development of early shingeki.  It was the fourth Japanese production of The Merchant of Venice, the first having been in April 1885 at Osaka’s Ebisu-za (later, Naniwa-za) under the title Sakura Doki Zeni no Yononaka, a kabuki adaptation that set the story in Japan among Japanese characters. However, this program lost a lot of money, a burden Shōyō assumed himself.

Later in the month, for four days starting on November 22, the Bungei Kyōkai’s dramatic section (engeibu) was at the Hongō-za, where it offered Shōyō’s translation of Hamlet, his Daigokuden (Great Hall of State), revised by Sugiya Daisui, and his dance drama Shinkyoku Urashima. Its four days’ run showed a growing interest in the group’s work, which led Shōyō to assume direction as its artistic director.

Elsewhere this November, Tamura Nariyoshi, Kawarazaki Gonnosuke, and Takeshiba Kisui were responsible for a production at the Shintomi-za during which a memorial service was held for Morita Kanya XII, with his third son, Bandō Mitahachi being promoted to billboard status and taking the name Morita Kanya XIII during a performance of Renjishi. And, at the Hongō-za, Kitamura Rokurō starred in Kyōenroku by Satō Kōroku, who became a regular shinpa playwright following this hit. Kitamura’s performance as Bandō Takeshi became one of his most popular roles.

A charity performance of kabuki for the Tokyo Poorhouse was given for seven days, from November 24 to 30. It began with three acts of Ehon Taikōki, followed by the dance plays Fukitori Zuma and Chūjō-Hime, and concluding with Enomoto Torahiko’s comedy, Arabiya Yobanashi (The Arabian Nights). Shikan’s Mitsuhide in Ehon Taikōki was a big flop, it being said that while there were those who recommended that he play it, he was just as wrong as them in accepting it. It was also noted that while Ennosuke and Tosshō performed in pure gidayū style, Komazō, Yaozō, Komasuke, and others acted in realistic katsureki style, creating a rather poor ensemble.

On December 1, the Shōchiku Corporation purchased Kyoto’s Minami-za from Mr. Yasuda of Gifu, becoming the theatre’s producers. They renovated the place and then, calling it a Commemoration Honoring the Renovation Completion, they produced a kaomise production starring Ganjirō and Ichikawa Udanji. The same day, and through December 5, the Wakaba-Kai group of literary men cum amateur actors was absorbed by the Mainichi Shinbun, at the suggestion of Sugi Gannami. As a literary men’s theatre group belonging to a division of the company, it followed the rules to acquire a license and opened at the Meiji-za as the Mainichi Shinbun Engeki Kai (Mainichi Newspaper Theatre Association) for its first production.

Also on December 1, beginning at noon, another Miyako Shinbun awards ceremony was held at the Kabuki-za, with performances from a variety of plays from different genres although it’s not clear what the prizes were for. And from December 10 through 16, starting at 1:00 p.m., the Kokumin Shinbun sponsored charity performances for the Okayama Orphanage. The regular Kabuki-za company appeared in Ichiharano Danmari, a pantomime with tokiwazu music; the “Kuruma Biki,” “Ga no Iwai,” and “Terakoya” (with Yaozō playing Genzō opposite Uzaemon’s Matsuō) scenes of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami; Saikai Suzuri (The Ink Stone of Saikai) a.k.a. Nasuno Yoichi; and the kiyomoto-nagauta-takemoto dance play Rokkasen.

On December 2, Ichikawa Sadanji II departed from Yokohama on the Kamakura Maru for an extended study tour of Western theatre, making him the first kabuki actor to do so. Sadanji had an enterprising spirit; fascinated by the Western travels of his close friend, the theatrical soldier of fortune Kawakami Otojirō, who urged him to go, and by what he’d learned from playwright Matsui Shōō, just then studying in Paris, he decided to go. As a bright young actor, he realized how valuable such a trip could be for the development of the modern Japanese stage. Writing in a theatre periodical, he said:

To be frank, I had earned a considerable profit from my father’s memorial production that year and, for a time, considered using it to build a statue in his honor. But then I realized that he’d be very happy in the hereafter if, rather, I used the money to travel abroad, learning about theatre. Finally, I resolved to do so. [From “Meika Shinsō Roku” in Engei Gahō, 1909, No. 11.]

On December 11, Kataoka Ichizō, a leading player of villain roles (katakiyaku) died. He was 56. On December 30, the first meeting was held of the Teikoku Gekijō (Imperial Theatre) board, led by Chairman Shibusawa Eiichi. On December 6, the Tokyo Underground Electric Railway Company was established. On December 11, a strike broke out at Osaka’s arsenal, and on December 13 the Tōkyō-za showed films rendered in natural color.

The year 1906 saw a general social and economic upturn following the Russo-Japanese War’s armistice. Partly, this was reflected in the upsurge of nouveau riches; these conditions also were reflected in the theatre. Esperanto found popularity and trumpet music was widely played. The military color of khaki was created, and the number of newborn female babies registered dropped off radically because it was a “Fire Horse Year” (hinoeuma), which comes every 60 years, with women born during such years believed to make terrible wives.

For information on world events of 1906, including births and deaths, click here. Important plays of the year are here and major theatres completed in 1906 are here.