Monday, September 11, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 19. 1905 (Meiji 38)

Chapter 19

1905 (Meiji 38)

Russo-Japanese War Ends; Business Begins to Rebound

Samuel L. Leiter

[Note: This is Chapter 19 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 the 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 during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

We depart from Kyōbashi to
The glittering Ginza Street
 Along its brick-paved road
 Rows of willows and a cool breeze.
 [From Horiuchi Keizō and Inoue Takeshi, Nihon Shōka-Shū.] 
These lines are from the “Densha Shōka” (“Streetcar Song”), first heard in October 1905, and created by Tokyo’s three streetcar companies to help the public learn the city’s geography.

On January 1, 1905, the Japanese forces successfully took the Wantai Ravine; the Russians surrendered Port Arthur on January 2. As the New Year was ushered in, bells rang out along the Ginza’s brick-paved street to help sell newspaper extras announcing the victory, and celebrations were held throughout the nation.

This January saw Max Reinhardt’s magnificent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Germany, using a Japanese-influenced revolving stage. In Japan, Natsume Sōseki’s novel Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (I Am a Cat) began its serialization in the magazine Hototogisu, running through the following year. And his short story called “Rondon Tō” (“The Tower of London”) came out in Teikoku Bungaku’s January issues. On January 12, the great bunraku puppeteer Yoshida Tamazō, 77, passed away. And, on January 8, storyteller (kōdanshi) Matsubayashi Hakuen II died; he was 74. He was especially noted for stories about underworld characters and was even nicknamed “Dorobō” (“Thief”) Hakuen; many of his stories were dramatized by Kawatake Mokuami for kabuki.

The fall of Port Arthur was reflected in the theatre. Ichikawa Komazō (later Matsumoto Kōshirō VII) returned to the Kabuki-za from the Tōkyō-za, and Sawamura Tosshō also rejoined the Kabuki-za company, hinting that the first production of the New Year would signal the theatre’s recovery from the previous year’s setbacks. (Komazō also performed at the Tōkyō-za, in kakemochi style—playing at more than one venue.)The rival Meiji-za, following Sadanji I’s death, was now run by Sadanji’s 25-year-old son, Ichikawa Enshō, who—disregarding the risk of failure—continued introducing daring new plays based on foreign originals. For example, there was January’s adaptation by Matsui Shōō of Victor Hugo’s Hernani, March’s production of Schiller’s William Tell, starring Enshō and adapted by Iwaya Sayanami under the title Suisu Giminden (Tale of a Noble Swiss), and so on. 

As for Nakamura Shikan at the Tōkyō-za, such popular plays as Hototogisu, Chikyōdai (Foster Sisters), Makaze Koikaze (Winds of Evil, Winds of Love), and Ono ga Tsumi (My Sin), took advantage of shinpa’s rising popularity. Competing with the Tōkyō-za, where the traditionally trained Shikan had recently shared the stage with Komazō, was the Hongō-za, with shinpa stars Takada Minoru and Kawai Takeo and their new style of acting. The rivalry led to competitive performances of Chikyōdai by Shikan/Komazō and Minoru/Takeo in January. The critical consensus is said to have favored the former team while the box office results crowned the latter.

Meanwhile, the reason the Kabuki-za failed to garner popularity for any rivalry among new actors was that its policy focused on old plays. January 7 was its next opening day, beginning at 11:00 a.m. with the katsureki or “living history” play Sōma Heishi Nidai Banashi, rewritten by Fukuchi Ōchi as Miyako Ōji Isamu Harugoma. Next was Uzaemon XV in the nagauta dance Mochizuki, after which came Komazō in Hanagawa Doki Kioi no Manaita (the “Manaita no Chōbei” scene), with the program ending in a pair of dances: 1780’s kiyomoto piece Jūnidan and the tokiwazu piece Hatsugasumi Iro mo Sumiyoshi, better known as Kappore and based on the comic street performer’s dance of that name. During the show, the six-year-old son of Sawamura Tosshō, Takamaru, made his debut; he eventually became famous as Suketakaya Takasuke V).

The entire company—which included Ichikawa Yaozō, Ichimura Uzaemon, Onoe Baikō, Ichikawa Komazō, Nakamura Kichiemon, Onoe Kikugorō, and so on—appeared in the latter, and the famous musician Rinchū performed. It’s said that of the entire program, this last work was the most interesting, but that, despite the shows being tepid, the fall of Port Arthur was a godsend and attendance was so good the show did great business for 24 days, closing on January 30.

On January 22, a huge workers’ strike occurred in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital; when the marchers moved toward the Winter Palace the military fired on them with mass casualties. The day became known as Bloody Sunday and became one of the major steps that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. On January 23, Osaka actor Jitsukawa Enzaburō died at 42; a day later, he was followed by Osaka onnagata Arashi Minshi, who was 52.

From February 2 to February 8, the theatre hosted benefit performances for the Imperial Drowning Victims Relief Association (Teikoku Suinan Kyūsai Kai), the program consisting of movies of the Russo-Japanese War; outside the theatre a 60 foot wide triumphal arch was erected to celebrate the military exploits of Generals Tōgō and Uemura, and numerous national flags were flown over it. Packed houses attended both day and evening programs. For two days, February 11 and 12, Kabuki-za programs were sponsored by the Kyōbashi Ward Wartime Wives’ Association (Senji Fujin Kai) to raise funds for the nation’s armed forces, with guest performances by top musicians Tokiwazu Rinchū, Kiyomoto Enjudayū, Kineya Rokuzaemon, and Kineya Kangorō, as well as various actors.

From February 16, in celebration of the Hōchi Shinbun newspaper’s 10,000 issue, novelist Murai Gensai, a relation of Kabuki-za producer Inoue Takejirō, rented the theatre from him as a guest producer, and, using the Kabuki-za's acting company, offered a 25-day run of two of his own plays. The first was called Akoya after its famous heroine, the second was Shokudōraku (The Gourmand). Both were examples of the writer’s extreme amateurism; they lacked even a single saving grace and were both critically ravaged. The only novelty was having Onoe Baikō VI distribute cream puffs to the audience during the second play.

February 1905 also saw the introduction of Jintan, a widely popular breath mint cum health supplement manufactured by the Morishita Nanyōdō company. On February 14, Bandō Tamasaburō, the 23-year-old daughter of Morita Kanya XII, died while living in the United States. The Kabuki21.com website says:

Born in Tôkyô in 1883. Fifth child and daughter of the zamoto Morita Kan'ya XII, she started to learn many arts from an early age: NagautaTokiwazu, koto, ikebana, tea ceremony and Buyō. She joined in March 1888 a Kabuki women troupe and took the name of Bandō Kimie at the Shintomiza. She took the name of Bandô Tamasaburō III in March 1889 but the Kabuki women experience was a failure and the troupe had to disband. She went to New York in 1904, with a troupe of Japanese artists. Her performances were successful and she decided to settle in the USA to teach Buyō. She died in New York in February 1905.

On March 10, the Japanese army occupied Mukden after the Battle of Mukden; the Japanese and Russian casualties exceeded 160,000.

Ichikawa Komazō in Rōei no Yume. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Inoue Takejirō took over again as Kabuki-za producer for the April production, which opened on March 29 at 11:30 a.m., the first offering being the classic, puppet-theatre derived Imoseyama Onna Teikin, followed by the first Japanese-created opera, Western-style composer Kitamura Sueharu’s Rōei no Yume (A Dream of Battle Camp), starring Ichikawa Komazō. The next play was another kabuki classic, Otokodate Gosho no Gorozō, with the concluding dance piece being Enomoto Torahiko’s Kosode Maku Genroku Moyō. In the opera, Komazō played a soldier away at war who dreams of his mother back in his home town. At the time, this piece, in which Komazō spoke dialogue as well as singing solos, was considered the apex of sophistication. Although it was a failure, it played an important role in the history of Japanese opera, as noted here.


Also interesting was Enomoto’s dance play, alternately known as Shin Hanami Odori (New Flower Viewing Dance) and Genroku Hanami (Genroku Flower Viewing). It was based on an 1879 dance similarly known as Genroku Hanami Odori and served as a colorful promotion tie-up with the Genroku Moyō (Genroku Period Style), a fashion in women’s wear then being popularized by the Mitsukoshi Department Store. Tamura Nariyoshi was involved in these arrangements since actors and geisha led the way in fashionable wear; the theatre’s zashiki galleries were ablaze with Shinbashi geisha dressed in Genroku-patterned kimono, and Mitsukoshi contributed costumes to the theatre. It was only natural to produce Genroku Hanami in this situation. Even before this the Genroku style had taken the town by storm. For the first time in a long while, the house was filled daily and the program ran for 26 days, two of them following the sosori tradition mentioned in the previous chapter, with the closing date being April 23.

The same month, the cartoon (manga) magazine called Tōkyō Pakku (Puck) began publication. At the Tōkyō-za, the program honored the memory of Nakamura Shikan IV. And, at the Shintomi-za, the comic brothers Soganoya Gorō and Soganoya Jūrō made their first Tokyo appearance, only to flop. On April 28, Tsubouchi Shōyō and actors Tōgi Tetteki, Mizoguchi Biyō, and Dohi Shunshō formed a public reading group called Ekifū Kai and gave a public reading of Chikamatsu Hanji’s classic puppet/kabuki drama Imoseyama Onna Teikin at the Seifūtei restaurant in Ushigome, Akasaka.

From the fifth of May, for five days, a proposal by noblewomen Madame Nabeshima and Madame Mori, of the Wives’ Division of the Imperial Navy Society (Teikoku Kaigun Kyōkai), led to their sponsorship of a Grand Entertainment for the Creation of a Volunteer Fleet, featuring eminent musicians in a program of nagauta, kiyomoto, and tokiwazu music; suodori (uncostumed) dance numbers by Komazō, Tosshō, Kikugorō, Kichiemon, Yasosuke, Eitarō, and Fujima Kanemon; and scenes from Youchi Soga, Rōei no Yume, Ataka no Seki, and Momijigari, starring actors from the April Kabuki-za production. The proceeds went to a military construction fund.

On May 9, the Morinaga candy company began to use its famous Angel trademark. And two important plays by Tsubouchi Shōyō premiered this month: one, Maki no Kata, starring Nakamura Shikan in the title role, at the Tōkyō-za (it had been written in 1896); the other, better known, was the Shakespeare-influenced Hototogisu Kojō no Rakugetsu (The Sinking Moon over the Lonely Castle Where the Cuckoo Cries), opened at Osaka’s Kado-za, with Kataoka Gatō as Yodogimi and Katagiri Katsumoto. The latter, a historical drama about “the decline and fall of the House of Toyotomi,” as the author put it, was a foundational work in the creation of what came to be called shin kabuki or “new” kabuki.
Nakamura Shikan as Yodogimi in Hototogisu  Kojō no Rakugetsu. From Kabuki no 20 Seki: 100 Nen no Kiroku.
On May 11, at 1:00, what gained the name “Literary Men’s Theatre” (Bunshi Geki) began when theatre critics from each newspaper created an amateur theatrical group called the Wakaba Kai (Young Leaves Society) to offer a program of plays. There were nine members: Uta Takehiko and Kurishima Sagoromo of the Asahi, Oka Onitarō and Okamura Shikō of the Ni Roku, Kashima Ōkō of the Hōchi, Isaka Baisetsu of the Jiji, Matsumoto Tōshirō of the Jinmin, Oide Rokusui of the Miyako, and Sugi Gannami of the Mainichi, with Miki Takeji of Kabuki magazine serving as their sponsor, negotiating with Tamura and Inoue for use of the Kabuki-za.
Various critics in the first of the amateur kabuki performances of the Bunshi Geki Kai. From Kabuki magazine.
The performances included Tenmokuzan (The Line Between Victory and Defeat), a history play by Okamoto Kidō of the Nichi Nichi Shinbun about the death of Takeda Katsuyori; Act 3 of the classic Chūshingura, in which Moronao incites Enya Hangan to strike him; Mori Ōgai’s Nichiren Shōnin Tsuji Seppō, which Ichikawa Komazō had starred in a year earlier; and the dance play Yasuna. Gannami’s Moronao, played in the style of Ichikawa Danzō, overwhelmed all the other performances. Onitarō’s Nichiren shrank in comparison to Komazō’s version, and Baisetsu’s Yasuna enjoyed the services of Onoe Kikugorō and Ichikawa Yasosuke (later Bandō Mitsugorō VII) as kōken holding butterflies on the ends of sashigane poles. Although the day was intended merely to introduce these individuals’ connection to the stage it somehow drew a full house, thus inspiring what eventually became the flourishing Bunshi Geki tradition.

The 16th budget for the Kabuki-za Joint Stock Corporation declared a profit for the second half of the previous year totaling 728 yen, 31 sen. In Osaka, Jitsukawa Shōjaku took the name Jitsukawa Enzaburō V.

May 22 was opening day for the next regular Kabuki-za production, which honored the third anniversary of the death of Kikugorō V and the 13th of the death of Bandō Kakitsu I. First on the program, which commenced at 11:00 a.m., was Enomoto Torahiko’s new work based on the play Shōzon but written as a history drama with the title Horikawa Youchi (Night Attack at Horikawa). Next was the popular nagauta dance drama, Tsuchigumo, starring Onoe Baikō VI, followed Ichimura Uzaemon XV in the historical classic, Ōmi Genji Senjin Yakata, a.k.a. Moritsuna Jinya. Then came Kikugorō’s first performance as Benten Kozō in one of kabuki’s fondest plays, here titled Benten Musume Meo no Shiranami but usually called simply Benten Kozō. Komazō undertook Nippon Daemon, while Uzaemon played Nango Rikimaru. Benten became one of Kikugorō’s most representative characters. Finally, there was Takeshiba Shinkichi’s dramatization of a rakugo story, Sangen Nagaya (Three-House Tenement). The program ended on June 13, after 25 showings.

Baikō played Tsuchigumo using the kata of his late father, Onoe Asajirō III, each one of which was excellent, and Uzaemon’s Moritsuna was thoroughly outstanding, being the production’s standout. Concerning Kikugorō’s first Benten, one critic said, “He was gorgeous when he appeared disguised as a young woman but after he reverted to his true self as Kikunosuke he was indescribably charming; there was nothing he could do about the plumpness of his hands and feet when sitting cross-legged, so unlike his late father’s, but taking this into consideration, his performance was surely superb” [From Kinsei Engeki-Shi.]

On May 27 and 28, Japan’s Combined Fleet destroyed Russia’s Baltic Fleet in the Battle of the Japan Sea (a.k.a. Battle of the Tsushima Strait). On June 14 began the events that led over the following days to the mutiny aboard Russia’s battleship Potemkin and a revolt on the Odessa steps during which thousands were killed. Also in June, Ichikawa Komanosuke (later Ichikawa Jukai III) was adopted by Ichikawa Sumizō V and changed his name to Ichikawa Tōshō at the Miyato-za. And bunraku chanter Takemoto Kumidayū died on July 25 at 59.

For 15 days, beginning June 24, the Kabuki-za hosted a panorama-like presentation called Kineorama; business at first was good but as things progressed the situation worsened and the incompetence of the technicians was sharply criticized, resulting in poor attendance. Such devices were actually a quite popular entertainment in early 20th-century Japan, and famous writer Edogawa Ranpo described the Kineorama showing the Battle of Port Arthur in a 1926 piece, “The Port Arthur Sea Battle Hall” (Ryojun Kaisenkan):

The kineorama was a fairly large mechanism for its time. When the curtain opens, the surface of the stage is a giant sea. Blue sky above the horizon line and deep-blue undulating water beneath it. The kineorama lights create the illusion of waves moving on the sea. A high whistle blows and a sailor delivers a brief introduction. Then from one side of the stage a squadron of ships, led by the flagship the Mikasa, advances boldly, parting the waves. A fluttering Rising Sun flag, puffs of black smoke rising into the air, toy warships on the panorama-like stage—as I look it all seems real. Then a squadron of enemy ships appears from the opposite side. Slowly in the beginning and gradually more violently, the artillery duel is begun. The sound of gunfire assaults the ears. Introduction xv White smoke blankets the sea. Spray. Enemy ships on fire. Sinking ships. After that comes the night battle scene. The moon appears. The kineorama creates the illusion of clouds passing in front of the moon. Lights on the ship gunwales go on. A beacon shines. It reflects on the water and rolling waves gleam. Each time the cannon is fired streaks of red sparks appear. The beauty of the ships on fire. That was all there was to the show, but I was enchanted by it. [From Strange Tale of Panorama Island, tr. Elaine Kazu Gerbert.]

From July 15 for 15 days, the bunraku company of Takemoto Ōsumidayū occupied the Kabuki-za with a full repertory of puppet plays, but the critics turned thumbs down and business suffered. July also saw the Tachibana-za in Yotsuya change its name to the Hisago-za.

On August 1, the victims of mine pollution from the Ashio Copper Mines massed in great numbers in Tokyo to present a petition regarding their grievances. The same day, a concert hall opened in Hibiya Park. For ten days beginning on August 2, the theatre was used for a presentation of motion pictures depicting the Russo-Japanese War, under the sponsorship of the Imperial Motion Picture Association (Teikoku Katsudō Shashin Kai); the appearance of geisha from Yoshi-chō served as an additional attraction, and the show did good business, extending its run for two days.

An interesting theatrical event occurred in August concerning the notorious geisha Oume, released from prison in 1903 after 15 years for having killed her assistant and lover Minekichi in 1887. A biography of her had appeared called Meiji Ichidai Onna (Life of a Meiji Woman) and she now went on stage to act her story at the Yokohama-za, followed by tours to other cities. Copycat productions were frequent elsewhere.

On September 2, the Shōkyokusai Ten’ichi Company, celebrating its recent tour of the West, produced its big magic show at the Kabuki-za, where it ran for 15 days. Business boomed for three days and all seemed fine but on September 5, the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in Portsmouth, Maine, on September 5. When its contents were announced, the Japanese people, having believed their nation won the Russo-Japanese war, became enraged at what they considered a diplomatic disgrace; for all its positives, it neither granted Japan all of Sakhalin nor required a Russian monetary indemnity. An anti-peace movement arose and violence, including arson in Hibiya Park, occurred, making theatergoing out of the question. Theatres closed on the sixth and seventh and box office income took a big blow. Thus, on September 16, the entire day’s receipts were contributed to the volunteer fleet movement so that Ten’ichi could save face.

On September 6, the government placed the Tokyo region under martial law; from the seventh, numerous newspapers in eastern and western Japan, beginning with the Yorozu Chōhō, Miyako Shinbun, Ni Roku Shinbun, and Hōchi Shinbun, which had published articles on the anti-peace activities, were forced to stop publication.

September 23 was opening day for the next Kabuki-za program, which honored the death three years earlier of Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. The production, sparked by a suggestion of Kawarazaki Gonnosuke VIII, and proposals by Ichikawa guild members Komazō and Ennosuke, was to be performed by the actors gratis, with all income being put aside for a fund to build a statue in Danjūrō’s memory. The proceeds eventually came to 16,000 yen, which was the basis for the statue that ultimately was created. The production was given right in the midst of the arson in Hibiya stemming from the anti-peace disturbances of the moment. The statue is described on the Naritaya website as follows, under the rubric “Genroku Mie”:

In the pre-war period a statue of Danjuro IX performing this particular mie from the play Just a Minute! (Shibaraku) could be found in the grounds of the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Local residents whispered that it was thanks to the powerful pose of the statue that the temple was spared the fires that ravaged much of Tokyo after the great earthquake of 1923. Ironically, in the 1940s the statue was melted down for the war effort and the temple soon burnt down in an air-raid. In the Genroku mie, the actor poses with his left hand on the hilt of his sword, his right hand clenched above his head, and the left leg thrust forward. The power of the pose comes from the hips. It is a typical aragoto pose, replicated in several plays, including The Subscription List (Kanjincho) where Benkei poses with a scroll in his right hand and a rosary in his left. [From the “Danjuro Dictionary” section of the Naritaya website.]

The abundant program, which ended on October 9 after 17 days, began at 11:00 a.m. with Iwaya no Kagekiyo, moved on to Takatoki, shifted to Kanjinchō, then offered Ōmori Hikoshichi (in whose title role Komazō, Sumizō, and Ennosuke alternated on a daily basis), followed it with Yanone, backed this with Tsukiyo no Ryō (Moonlit Night Fishing), and concluded with a seventh piece, Ninin Dōjōji. Following the first play, the theatre’s entire staff, backstage, front of house, and acting company, as well as all the members of Danjūrō’s family, appeared on stage for a formal kōjō announcement memorializing Danjūrō IX. Speeches were given by Sumizō, Yaozō, Komazō, Enshō, Otora, Ennosuke, Kodanji, and Kikugorō. And Gonnosuke’s eldest son, Kawarazaki Toranosuke (later Kawarazaki Chōjūrō), made his stage debut by sitting among the others during the ceremony.

Most of these plays were chosen from either the Danjūrō line’s Kabuki Jūhachiban collection of favorites or from Danjūrō IX’s Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban grouping. Ichikawa Ennosuke I, who had played Benkei years earlier in a production of Kanjinchō at Osaka’s Naka-za not authorized by the Ichikawa family head (Danjūrō IX’s son-in-law), had been banned from the family guild (a procedure called hamon), having to perform for a time under the name Matsuo Ennosuke as a result. All was now forgiven and he performed the role again, this time legally, while Danjūrō’s daughters, Jitsuko and Fukiko, as they were then known, who had studied for several years with choreographer Fujima Kanemon, played the dual shirabyōshi roles in Ninin Dōjōji, adding to the buzz.
Ichikawa Ennnosuke as Benkei. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Donald Keene, in Modern Japanese Diaries, includes a chapter called “Mineko’s Diary,” in which he discusses the diary of Mori Mineko, mother of the great Meiji writer Mori Ōgai. This cultured woman, whose relations with her son’s second wife, Shigeko, were rather strained, seems to have found her principal pleasure in theatergoing; she went to see kabuki regularly and wrote up her theatre experiences, reflecting her sharp opinions. She referred to this December 1905 program honoring Danjūrō’s third death anniversary with these biting words: “Went to the Kabuki Theater. The ‘Eighteen Famous Plays of Danjūrō’ were performed by actors well matched in their ineptitude. There must have been many people who, remembering [actors of] the past, wept.” [Donald Keene, trans. Modern Japanese Diaries.]

Keene goes on: “A mother’s natural partiality toward the work of her son did not temper the severity of Mineko’s judgments. On December 1, 1906, she attended a performance of Ōgai’s Nichiren Shōnin Tsuji Seppō . . . and commented, “It wasn’t good, but it was somewhat interesting.” This was in reference to a theatre event at the Meiji-za sponsored by the Mainichi Shinbun in which, according to Kimura Kinka’s Meiji-za Monogatari (Story of the Meiji-za), the role of Nichiren was taken by dramatist-critic Oka Onitarō.

The production was scheduled to run for only 15 days but when it began selling out on the second day two more were added to the run. The gross came to 16,000 yen, which was deposited in the bank until the statue project was able to begin. Also during the show, Ichikawa Saisaburō was promoted to nadai status and took the name Danshō.

In 1904, the Tokyo Urban Railway (Tōkyō Shigai Tetsudō), nicknamed Gaitetsu, began operations, its street cars passing the outer moat of the Imperial Palace. The “Streetcar Song” cited earlier, written in October, noted:

Again on the Gaitetsu from HibiyaFrom Sukiyabashi to Owari-chō
Crossing Miharabashi BridgeThe Kabuki-za at Kobiki-chō!
From Horiuchi Keizō and Inoue Takeshi, Nihon Shōka-Shū.]

October also was when Kaichōon (The Sound of the Tide), Ueda Bin’s epochal poetry anthology, was published, introducing symbolist poetry to Japan and blowing fresh wind into the country’s poetry world, where it had a major impact.

From October 10 to 19, motion pictures related to the fall of Port Arthur were screened at the Kabuki-za. On October 21, the Tōkyō Jitsugyōka Dantai (Tokyo Businessmen’s Group) sponsored a performance of kabuki actors and Shinbashi geisha at the Kabuki-za on behalf of several hundred British visitors who were in Japan in connection with the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance (Nichi-Ei Dōmei). The program offered Yashima Gassen (Battle of Yashima), a geisha dance, Renjishi, starring Uzaemon and Kikugorō as the twin lions, and Dōjōji, starring Komazō as the dancing girl and Uzaemon as the oshimodoshi character who repels the serpent.

The autumn program in November, which began at 11:00 a.m. on the second, featured Baikō, Uzaemon, and Tosshō, back from touring around Japan. The show opened with Hirakana Seisuiki’s “Genta Kandō” (“Genta’s Disinheritance”) and “Sakaro” (“Backward Rowing”) scenes, after which a new nagauta dance play by Enomoto Torahiko based on the play Fuji Daiko and starring Baikō. Next was Kajiwara Homare no Ishikiri, in which Kichiemon celebrated his having been promoted to nadai or “name” status, which allowed his name to appear on the billboards. During his name-taking kōjō, he was joined by Yaozō, Uzaemon, Tokizō, and Kashō. It was followed by Kawatake Mokuami’s 1881 Sanpuku Tsui Ueno no Fūkei (better known as Kumo ni Magō Ueno no Hatsuhana, with one-half referred to as Kochiyama and the other as Naozamurai), and concluded with the dance play Hidari Kogatana (Left-Handed Small Sword), a.k.a. Kyō Ningyō (Capital City Doll). It had been some time since the Kabuki-za resident company performed; joined to the appeal of Kichiemon’s promotion announcement, the production did rather well during its 25-day run.

From December 1 to December 3 the Kabuki-za was home to a joint benefit performance for local orphanages. On December 16 and 17, there were fundraising performances for disabled soldiers sponsored by the Hōchi Shinbun. And on from December 21 to December 24 the theatre’s staff offered amateur performances. 

Shinpa actor Honda Koichirō died at 43 on November 5. At Kyoto’s Minami-za, Kataoka Gatō’s (later Nizaemon XII) three-year-old son Chiyonosuke (later Nizaemon XIII) made his debut in the dance piece Teuchi (Hand-clapping). The same program included a hit production of Tayasu Gekkō’s new play, Sakura Shigure (Cherry Blossom Shower), starring Gatō.

In 1905 Albert Einstein produced his theory of relativity, among three other of his big contributions during what was called the “annus mirabilis” or “miracle year.” England’s greatest actor, Sir Henry Irving died at 68. It was also the year in which Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi designed Barcelona’s Casa Mili, American cartoonist Winsor McKay developed his comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis was published posthumously, the Bloomsbury group began to meet, American novelist Edith Wharton published The House of Mirth, Claude Debussy’s symphonic poem La Mer premiered in Paris, Richard Strauss’s opera Salomé opened in Dresden, fauvism shot into notice in France, and expressionism gained attention in Germany.

For other major events of 1905, including births and deaths, see here, while major new plays that opened and important theatres that were built that year can be found here.





Thursday, August 10, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 18: 1904 (Meiji 37)

Chapter 17

1904 (Meiji 37)

Ichikawa Sadanji I Dies; the Russo-Japanese War Begins

Samuel L. Leiter

[Note: This is Chapter 18 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 the 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 during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

During 1904 playwright and former Kabuki-za producer Fukuchi Ōchi’s flame flared in kabuki for the final time.

The 19th session of the Japanese Diet met the previous year in December only for the emperor’s rescript, read at the opening ceremony, to be challenged by Kōno Hironaka, new Speaker of the Lower House, when he called for the impeachment of the prime minister and his cabinet. This previously unheard of action led to the dissolution of the assembly, which lasted a mere six days, making it the shortest Diet session in history. In March a general election was held 20 days after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.
 Ōchi put himself forward as a candidate for the election and won handily. Ōchi entertained the spirit of the “sons of Edo” (Edokko). . . .  He put his all into seeing national unity during the war but, in the autumn of 1905, after the war ended, Ōchi was already ill, and he never got to perform on the stage of the Diet. [From Koyama Fumio, Meiji no Isai Fukuchi Ōchi.]

With the nation on the brink of war, Ōchi, supported by the financiers Ōgura Masatsune and Shibuzawa Eichi, joined the True Constitutional Party (Kensei Hon-Tō), and won the election to represent Tokyo’s Nihonbashi-Kyō as a member of the Lower House.

Bando Hikosaburō VI's four-wheel automobile. From left to right, Onoe Kikugurō VI, chauffeur, Fujiura Sanshū of the Daikongashi Wharf, Hikosaburō VI, and Bandō Umeyuki. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

The Kabuki-za had suffered continuing bad business in the latter part of 1903 and, with the new year, the management put into operation a plan to restore its fortunes by introducing various new methods. For example:

1) The time of day that shows began was moved to 1:00 p.m. from 11:00 a.m., with the program lasting until 8:00 p.m.
2) Discounts were abandoned and from opening day the full price was charged for viewing the entire program.
3) The treasury office was renovated to become the box office, and cushion rental charges were abolished.
4) Pre-opening day rehearsals were instituted.

These services were created for the customers’ convenience. As will be noted below, it proved difficult to maintain the practice of 1:00 p.m. opening curtains.


The Kabuki-za as seen in a photo taken from a balloon in June 1904. The lines at the right are ropes attached from the balloon to its cradle. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The January program opened at 1:00 p.m. on the 13th, with the company including Ichikawa Yaozō, Onoe Baikō, Ichimura Uzaemon, Ichikawa Komazō, Onoe Matsusuke, Kataoka Ichizō, Onoe Kikugorō, Nakamura Kichiemon, and Kataoka Gatō, among others. The first play was Mokuami’s Chūkō Ume no Kanazawa (Loyalty and Filial Piety among the Plum Trees of Kanazawa), about the latter days of the Kaga Family Dispute (“Gonichi no Kaga Sōdō”). Then came Sanzen Ryō Haru no Kurairi (3,000 Gold Pieces and the Spring Storehouse Opening), the “Umagiri” (Horse Slashing) scene, followed by Kawatake Shinshichi III’s nagauta dance play Ōiso Wada no Sakamori (Wada no Sakamori of Ōiso), with choreography by Fujima Kan’emon. The closing play was the michiyuki dance, with kiyomoto and takemoto music, from Koi Bikyaku Yamato Ōrai. This program was unsuited to the acting company; the first piece, in particular, was criticized for being such a poor selection. The show flopped and closed after only 20 days.

Kataoka Ichizō’s son, Kataoka Kamezō III, who had been discharged from the military in November of the previous year, returned to the stage in this program and was promoted to nadai (“name” or billboard status) level; he took the opportunity to change his name to Kataoka Jūzō IV (later Kataoka Ichizō IV).

Starting with this production stage rehearsals were regularized.

This was when the Russo-Japanese War was on the verge of breaking out and a mood of uncertainty affected everything. Every theatre was having difficulty attracting audiences, the only one making a good showing being the Meiji-za, thanks to the fighting spirit of Ichikawa Sadanji and his troupe. After the January Kabuki-za program, Kataoka Gatō left the company and joined the one at the Tōkyō-za, to which Nakamura Shikan had moved earlier.

January also saw the beginning of the “Tensei Jingo” (Vox Populi) newspaper column in the Asahi Shinbun. At Osaka’s Asahi-za, the important new shinpa play Chikyōdai (Foster Sisters) by Iwasaki Shunka, based on a novel by Kikuchi Yūhō, was produced, starring Takada Minoru; it would come to Tokyo in 1905. At the Meiji-za, the program included Matsui Shōō’s Goto Matahei, starring Ichikawa Sadanji in the title role, with a Western-style painted background. With this hit production, Sadanji instituted reforms in the ticketing system, including reserved seats, and in other areas, such as the regularization of rehearsals.

On February 4, the Imperial Council at the Imperial Court ended negotiations with the Russians and formally decided to go to war. On February 8 and 9, Japan, with the backing of England and the U.S.A., preemptively struck the Russian fleet at Chemulpo Bay (Inchon, Korea), Vladivostok, and Port Arthur, and the Russo-Japanese War began. On February 9, Japanese troops occupied Keijō (Seoul) and, on February 10, Japan officially declared war. On February 23, Korea fell under Japanese domination. A day later, the Japanese put into practice their first plan to seal off Port Arthur.

Meanwhile, on February 11, Osaka’s Naniwa-za, in Dōtonbori, shifted from kabuki performances to those by the company of comedians Soganoya Gorō and Soganoya Jūrō, who had a big hit with their Muhitsu no Gogai (Illiterate’s Extra Edition), inspired by the war, and quickly rocketed to fame. On February 12, Tokyo’s Fukugawa-za lost a case in which it had been sued by the family of late playwright Kawatake Mokuami for producing Benten Kozō without permission. The show was forced to close after only five days. It was a milestone in Japanese copyright law. On February 18, the great bunraku shamisen player Toyozawa Hirosuke died at 74. And on February 25, a team of shinpa actors traveled to Keijō (Seoul), Korea, as observers.

For seven days, beginning on February 9, the Onkyoku Meijin Kai (Shamisen Music Masters’ Society) held its second series of concerts at the Kabuki-za, with a lineup of traditional theatre musicians including Yoshimura Ijūrō VI, Kineya Rokuzaemon VIII, Takemoto Datedayū, Toyozawa Senzaemon (later Danpei III), Kiyomoto Umekichi II, Fujimatsu Kagadayū VII, Kiyomoto Enjudayū V, Tokiwazu Rinchū, Kishizawa Mojibei, and so on. The classical dancer (nihon buyō) Fujima Kan’emon II also performed, and there were appearances by kabuki actors Baikō, Uzaemon, Kikugorō, Komazō, Eizaburō, Kichiemon, Yasosuke, etc. For good measure, there was a screening of the Danjūrō-Kikugorō Momijigari film.

In February, future pioneer of Japan’s Western-style theatre (shingeki) Osanai Kaoru, then a student at Tokyo University, became friends with leading shinpa actor Ii Yōhō at the Masago-za in Tokyo’s Fukugawa section.

On March 1, the nation held its ninth general elections. The Seiyūkai Party gained 134 seats, the Kensei Hontō Party 104, the Jiyūtō 22.  It was then that Fukuchi Ōchi was elected to the Diet. The same day, all of Tokyo’s newspapers announced the decision of actor Ichikawa Gonjūrō, who had taken ill the previous April, to retire in the headline “Haigyō Kōkokujō” (Going Out of Business Declaration), using the thick-stroke calligraphy called kantei ryū seen mainly in kabuki and sumō. Also on March 1, the Tōkyō-za premiered Tsubouchi Shōyō’s revolutionary play, Kiri Hitoha (A Single Paulownia Leaf), starring Shikan and Gatō in what is often called the beginning of the shin kabuki genre.

On March 2, an American female mentalist/magician whose name was transliterated into Japanese as Konora, and who had been performing for several years at various Japanese venues, took over the Kabuki-za for seven days with her “Weird Artistry” (Fushigijutsu), but audiences were thin. On March 16, musician Kiyomoto Enjudayū IV, who had created the background music for such Mokuami classics as Izayoi Seishin, died at 73. On March 26, one of Japan’s greatest war heroes, Hirose Takeo, was killed at Port Arthur. A day later, Ichikawa Gonjūrō died at 57. Also in March, Ihara Seiseisen’s (Tōshirō) Nihon Engeki Shi, the first modern history of Japanese theatre, was published.

The Kabuki-za—with Shikan’s departure for the Tōkyō-za, who was followed there by Gatō, Komazō, and Otora—was in a bad way; it offered no production in March. Meanwhile, Gatō had a dispute with Shikan and chose to move back to Osaka after only a single production with him. At the same time, economic conditions in the country were being adversely affected by the war, further worsening the Kabuki-za’s situation for the immediate future. 

On March 23, rising writer Tayama Katei joined the war effort as a war correspondent with the Second Army, whose medical division was headed by the great writer Mori Ogai, a new play of whose was on the Kabuki-za's April bill.

The Kabuki-za, having just lost several valuable actors, was shaking in its boots, with the only one of its major actors not moonlighting at other theatres (kakemochi) after the death of Danjūrō being Ichikawa Yaozō, who had vowed to defend the Kabuki-za to the last. This encouraged Inoue Takejiro and the other management officials to raise Yaozō to the role of company leader (zagashira). He was on good terms with such popular young actors as Baikō and Uzaemon so the managers determined to try moving forward with them in the troupe, feeling confident in their next program, which opened at 2:00 p.m. on April 1 and ran until April 24.

The first piece was the premiere of an adaptation of a very popular novel by Murai Gensai, Sakura no Gosho (Palace of Cherry Trees), adapted by Fukuchi Ōchi. Then came the premiere of Mori Ogai’s Nichiren Shōnin Tsuji Seppō (Priest Nichiren’s Street Sermon), starring Yaozō, after which was Ōchi’s new war play Kantai Homare no Yashū (The Armada’s Glorious Night Attack), capping a rare lineup of new plays. The scenery and costumes were designed by Western-style artists Takahashi Katsuzō and Kubota Beisai.

The first play starred Baikō and Uzaemon playing roles that had been played in the same play in at the Miyato-za in March by Sōnosuke and Tosshi, and by Shikan and Komazō at the Tōkyō-za this month, creating a three-theatre competition. Its tale was of the tragic betrothal of two young lovers whose samurai fathers were forced to go to war with one another.

Anyway, the lineup of three new plays proved, in order, too sweet, too spicy, and incomprehensibly topical, leading to negative critiques; the show lasted for 24 poorly attended performances. Mori Ogai’s new play was elegant and high-toned. In his book, Mori Ōgai, J. Thomas Rimer declares that it “was an attempt to provide a psychologically acute sketch of Nichiren (1222-1282), a fanatic religious leader and patriot well known in Japanese history.” It was an early attempt of Ōgai’s to write modern drama, although he stopped writing plays until 1909.

Tsubouchi wrote:

In particular, to the extent that the first play [Sakura no Gosho] was boldly like a picture book or highly colored romance, the feeling produced after seeing the middle piece [Nichiren Shōnin Tsuji Seppō] was like that of going in early summer to see the floral wall of a certain landscape designer and taking one’s rest at a teahouse in the manner of the famed tea master Senke, and feeling the cool breeze blowing through the new leaves. [From Tsubouchi Shōyō, Nichiren Shōnin Tsuji Seppō o Mite” in Kabuki, No. 49.]

The Russo-Japanese War continued to have a negative impact on theatre business, while the financial world sank more deeply into a depression, so the April Kabuki-za production once more suffered a big loss. The management team met to discuss this and come up with a plan to restore the theatre’s fortunes. Should they stop all productions for the rest of the year? Seek outside financing assistance? Give up producing entirely? The result of their various arguments was a consensus to cut back on expenses, including a reduction in the actors’ salaries.

Critic Atsumi Seitarō noted years later:

Kabuki-za producer Inoue had no conception of how to grasp audience trends so his productions kept blundering as his ledger book grew redder and redder. Unlike today, the Kabuki-za had no program in place to bus in large groups of customers from the countryside and welcome them on their arrival with souvenirs piled high outside. By and large, since theatergoers decided to come based on the plays being performed, the repertory decided whether a program would be a hit or flop. The Kabuki-za was quite clumsy in this regard, so it was only natural that it would continue to end up in the red. [From Atsumi Seitarō, Shibai Gojū Nen.]

On April 30, Osaka’s Naniwa-za burned to the ground. Until it was rebuilt in 1910 a barracks-like structure was used in its place to show movies.

Regarding the war, on April 30, the First Army began the Battle of the Yalu River and occupied the Manchurian town of Chuliencheng on May 1. On the fifth, the Second Army landed on the Liaotung (Kwantung) Peninsula. On May 8, chaos broke out during a victory celebration lantern procession, resulting in 20 deaths. Also in May the Shinsei-Sha publishing company, which published the literary magazine Shinsei (New Voices), changed its name to Shinchō-Sha and the magazine became Shinchō (New Tides).

At the Kabuki-za, the next program opened at 10:30 a.m. on May 10, a production backed by the theatre’s front-of-house staff (omotekata) with the support of local big shot (kaoyaku) Kobayashi Sakujirō, featured the shinpa company of Fujizawa Asajirō. It was the premiere of a full-length, topical war drama, Senkōtei (Submarine), adapted by Emi Suiin from a story by Izumi Kyōka, but it lost audiences to the evening performances being given by the Hongō-za in Honjō, and it closed quickly, on May 22, after only 13 days.

From May 24 to May 30, the Kabuki-za bill consisted of movies.

Then, in June, Inoue Takejirō independently produced a Kabuki-za program that opened on the eighth at 2:00 p.m. and closed on June 27. It starred the current Kabuki-za favorite, Yaozō, in a production not under the auspices of the theatre’s management, with seven traditional plays on the bill under the slogan: “History Play Anthology” (Tōjiawase Jidaigeki). The selections were: 1) Suikoden Yuki no Danmari, 2) Shusse Taiheiki, 3) Ono no Tōfū Aoyanagi Suzuri, 4) Meiboku Kasane Monogatari, 5) the tokiwazu dance drama Tsumori Koi Yuki no Seki no To, 6) Futatsu Chōcho Kuruwa no Nikki’s “Sumō” scene, and 7) the nagauta dance Kuruwa no Saya-Ate.

At the Meiji-za this month Sadanji and Shikan were doing only new plays, in contrast to the traditional lineup on exhibit at the Kabuki-za. But, since no thought had been given to the running time at the latter, each play was overlong, and it was impossible to cut them all. The backstage personnel and playwrights were too weak to do anything and the whole enterprise smacked of managerial ineptitude. Little came from Baikō's feat of playing six roles and Uzaemon's of eight, and the show closed early after 20 performances.

Eizaburō, dissatisfied with the casting favoritism shown toward his brother, Kikugorō VI, and Kichiemon, quit the Kabuki-za, switching thereafter to the Tōkyō-za and the Meiji-za.

June saw Shōchiku become an unlimited partnership with Ōtani Takejirō as senior partner. Also this month, the literary magazine Shinchō began publication. And, in another important copyright case, Horikoshi Jitsuko, daughter of the late Ichikawa Danjūrō IX, sued Nakamura Ganjirō to stop his unauthorized production of Sukeroku, from the Danjūrō line’s Kabuki Jūhachiban collection, at Osaka’s Benten-za. Ganjirō was forced to stop production by June 5.

This June the Kabuki-za Corporation, which had suffered major losses in the latter half of 1903, had to inform its shareholders that the deficit was 8,581 yen.

A year earlier, in 1903, the annual baseball rivalry between the two top private colleges in Japan, Waseda and Keio, began, replacing the national interest in prep school baseball represented by the championship Team Ichikō (the First Higher School of Tokyo). Waseda won the game, and again in October 1904, in a rivalry called the “Sōkeisen” or Waseda-Keiō War, a competition that has continued to rivet the nation and that sometimes has been canceled because of the violence of its fans.

From July 1 for seven days the Kabuki-za presented films of the Russo-Japanese War. Also on July 1, tobacco began to be sold under a government monopoly, one reason being to help fund the war.

Onoe Baikō VI, Uzaemon, and others unhappy about the partiality given to Yaozō by Inoue, showed their dissatisfaction by making a provincial tour, an indication that they didn’t intend to return to the Kabuki-za for the time being. The remaining actors, including Yaozō, Ichizō, and Kichiemon, with the help of the minor, unbilled actors called shitamawari, put on a summer program (bon kyōgen) that opened for evening shows at 5:00 p.m. on July 12 and ran through July 23. From July 15 to 19, curtain time was 11:00 a.m.

The show began with a new play, an adaptation by Fukuchi Ōchi called Yoru no Tsuru (Evening Crane), then offered the “Shima no Tametomo” (“Tametomo of the Island”) scene of Kawatake Shinshichi III’s Yumiharizuki (The Crescent Moon), after which came the shinpa “comedy” (kigeki) Natsu Kosode (Summer Kimono). The first piece—a modern play performed in the dated zangiri mono style of Shimoyo no Kane (A Frosty Night’s Bell), with dialogue in 7-5 meter (shichigochō), offstage musical accompaniment, and the use of shinobue flute music to accompany a seppuku scene—was critically panned. The second, a dramatization of Molière’s The Miser based on Ozaki Kōyō’s adaptation, was a disaster, and the program proved an irretrievable turkey that was so badly received one performance had only six people in the pit and therefore refused to open the curtain. The debacle closed after only 12 days.

A hasty attempt to make up for recent losses led the Kabuki-za management to offer Bitō Yoshikazu’s kōdan storytelling troupe for what turned out to be just three evening performances, from July 15-17, while the regular dramatic program was playing during the day but attendance was similarly bad, with audiences unimpressed by lines like: “At that moment arrived hordes of Russian militia.” It was another embarrassing flop.

Also in July, Kojima Fumie, a shinpa actor, became a disciple of Ichikawa Yaozō, taking the kabuki name of Ichikawa Yaoshi. And, at the Tōkyō-za, Shikan’s eldest son, Nakamura Kotarō II (later Fukusuke II), made his debut.

From August 3 to August 9, motion pictures of the Russo-Japanese War were screened at the Kabuki-za, a program lasting seven days. On August 7, the final member of the great acting triumvirate of the Meiji period, Ichikawa Sadanji I, died at his home in Shintomi-chō of stomach cancer. He was 63.  His last performance had been at the Meiji-za in May, when his illness forced him to leave the stage while performing the role of Yatōji in a war play called Tekikoku Kōfuku (The Enemy Surrenders).

Together with Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Onoe Kikugorō V, he belonged to the great triumvirate of Meiji era . . . stars known as Dan-Kiku-Sa. He was born in Osaka, one of three actors sons of a theatrical hairdresser. In 1848 he debuted as Ichikawa Tatsuzō at Osaka’s Kado-za. From 1851 he was the pupil of Ichikawa Kodanji IV and, with the name of Ichikawa Koyone II, joined a kodomo shibai [children’s troupe]. He took the name Ichikawa Shōjaku I in 1862 and two years later was adopted by his master, changing his name to Sadanji I and going with his adoptive father to Edo, where Kodanji IV died a year later. Since he was still unpolished, he was ridiculed as a daikon [radish, a slur for a bad actor] and driven from the stage, but he received the support of Kawatake Mokuami. One of the first important things he did under Mokuami’s guidance, in 1869, was to develop his aragoto skills, for which he was highly lauded. He met with especial success in 1870 when he played the role of Marubashi Chūya in Mokuami’s Keian Taiheiki. . . . One of his other career highlights was participating in the first kabuki production ever witnessed by a Japanese emperor, in 1887. . . . He became zagashira [actor-manager] at the Shintomi-za . . . in 1890, from which period the term Dan-Kiku-Sa became popular. From 1893 on he managed the new Meiji-za, performing in eight roles at its opening. He continued to be active here although he made periodic trips elsewhere. This flawless tachiyaku [male role player] excelled in jidaimono, sewamono, and tachimawari, and had superb diction and voice. As a manager he was instrumental in producing numerous new plays, thereby establishing a precedent for the kabuki of the twentieth century. [From Samuel L. Leiter, New Kabuki Encyclopedia.]

According to Ihara Toshirō, “his character was mild-mannered, humble, generous, and highly virtuous. . . . It’s worth noting that he introduced managerial reforms at the Meiji-za and sought plays from outside the kabuki world, wafting fresh air into kabuki” [From Kabuki Nenpyō.]

Ichikawa Sadanji I as Marubashi Chūya in Keian Taiheiki. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi
In keeping with his wishes, his funeral was intentionally simple, with his “informal funeral” (kasō) being alongside his adoptive father and his benefactors, Mokuami and Morita Kanya XII, and there was no “formal funeral” (honsō). On August 9, at 5 a.m., his coffin was carried from his home and buried at the Jōshin-ji Temple in Fukugawa.

Sadanji came right after Danjūrō and Kikugorō as a great actor but he was notably modest; while I wouldn’t say his talent should be ranked with theirs, when one compares him with them, even if his skills were inferior, he excelled Danjūrō in friendly feeling, and his character eclipsed Kikugorō’s. Today, the reason we consider him important is not merely because of his artistry but surely because of the strength of his popularity. Of those actors who moved to Tokyo from Osaka, the only one who rose to stardom during the Meiji period was Sadanji. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi: Kabuki-za Hen.]

On August 10, the Russian fleet escaping from Port Arthur was defeated by the Japanese Navy in the Battle of the Yellow Sea. On August 19, the Japanese Third Army began its general attack on Port Arthur. On August 26, the minor actor Bandō Tarō died.

Osaka’s Tsuruya Danjūrō, who specialized in niwaka, a comic genre that parodied kabuki, and who had appeared seven years earlier at the Meiji-za, now opened with his troupe at the Kabuki-za under Tamura Nariyoshi’s management. All the actors had names that used the family name Tsuruya with personal names imitating kabuki ones using the first syllable “Dan”: Dankurō, Danzō, Dannosuke, Danzaburō, Danshirō, Danpachi, etc. On the evening of August 14, a lantern procession led from Shinbashi to the Kabuki-za. Osaka-style decorations adorned the theatre’s front. Opening day was August 16, the bill including Nunobiki Taki, Tamamono Mae, Kokkei Nagaya, Shūkyō Arasoi, Shusseijin no Wakare, and Ninin Bakama. But Osaka’s niwaka wasn’t to the comic tastes of Tokyo audiences and its unique humor bombed badly, forcing the show to close after just 14 days.

From September 8 for seven days the Kabuki-za showed movies of the Russo-Japanese War. 2,696 soldiers below the ranks of commissioned officers from the Imperial Army 1st Division were invited to attend, and the theatre was filled throughout the run. The same month poetess Yosano Akiko published her controversial poem “Kimi Shi ni Tamō koto Nakare” (“Thou Shalt Not Die”) in Myōjō. Turned into a song, it was considered an early antiwar protest inspired by news citing the number of deaths at Port Arthur. Its subtitle noted that it was in honor of her brother, a soldier there, whom she wished not to be turned into a “human bullet.” 

The string of box-office failures at the Kabuki-za following the deaths of Dan-Kiku-Sa continued and the theatre barely managed to survive by rentals to a variety of minor attractions. Many raised their voices in protest against what they said was the theatre’s decline into a sideshow house, and manager Inoue Takejirō decided to throw in the towel, choosing Tamura Nariyoshi as his successor. Tamura, charged with the theatre’s future affairs, declared that Inoue would no longer have a word in production matters and set up a committee system consisting of himself, Miyake Hyōza, Sakano Kyūjirō, Yanagii Ichitarō, and Ogasawara Shinbei. They were to be responsible for all production decisions, with Inoue relegated to purely financial responsibilities.

Productions were henceforth to run for 22 days, and the teahouses and actors were to be paid based on a percentage of the theatre’s attendance. The latter would get all their salary if the business was 50% or more, 80% if business was 40%, but 120% if attendance hit 60%. Income for a production would be projected before opening day and advance payments would be made accordingly. Rising young stars Onoe Baikō and Ichimura Uzaemon, who had been on the outs with Inoue, were persuaded to return and the October production opened with the new system in place.

During September the Tōkyō-za’s kabuki troupe produced the shinpa play Hototogisu (Cuckoo), by Tokutomi Rōka, starring Nakamura Shikan and Ichikawa Komazō, the future Utaemon V and Kōshirō VII. For this production, the late Bandō Shūchō II’s son-in-law, Bandō Katsutarō II, took the name of Shūchō III. The play became a staple of the shinpa repertory, being frequently revived. 

Shinpa actors Kitamura Rokurō and Ii Yōhō in a later production of Hototogisu. From Nihon Engeki Zuroku.
The premiere came at a time when kabuki—mainly at theatres other than the Kabuki-za—and shinpa were each attempting war plays, with the shinpa actors being better at them because they were able to behave more naturally than the kabuki actors, who were restricted by their classical style. The rivalry was intensified after a group of shinpa actors suggested a joint production with kabuki actors, which wasn’t accepted. When kabuki did this shinpa play on its own, it represented a victory for the upstart genre, according to Komiya Toyotaka, who observed:

It may have been the intent of the Kabuki actors to do battle with shinpa and to crush it, now that with the successive deaths of Danjūrō and Kikugorō its own future was uncertain, but these attempts instead served to prove that the shinpa had secured an unshakable footing in the world of the theatre, for the Kabuki performances failed. [From Toyotaka, Music and Drama in the Meiji Era, tr. and ad. Edward G. Seidensticker and Donald Keene.]

On September 15, Sadanji’s 25-year-old son Ichikawa Enshō (later Sadanji II), supported by playwright Matsui Shōō and actor Kawarazaki Gonnosuke, took over as the producer at the Meiji-za. On September 26, Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn), the period’s best-known interpreter of Japan to the West, who had himself become a Japanese citizen with a Japanese name, passed away; he was 54. On the 28th, the military draft was extended for 10 years.

Onoe Baikō VI as the demon disguised as a girl in Modori Bashi. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
October 13 was opening day for the new Kabuki-za program, which was produced by Tamura with the backing of Inoue. It kicked off at 11:00 a.m. with Mokuami’s Utsunomiya Nishiki Tsuriyogi, followed by a Baikō favorite, Modori Bashi, co-starring Yaozō. Then came another Mokuami play, Oatsurae Karigane Zome (Karigane Dyed, As Ordered), better known by the name of its bandit hero, “Karigane Bunshichi”; its Osaka world was revised to an Edo one, which only made an already uninteresting play even more uninteresting. Despite being panned, the production, which ran 22 days through November 3, was successful, the actors even receiving small bonuses, and the teahouses earning extra money as well.

Ichikawa Yaozō as Watanabe no Tsuna in Modori Bashi. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
November 13 brought the next opening day, beginning with the always popular Kanadehon Chūshingura, from the Prologue through Act 7, followed by Enomoto Torahiko’s adaptation of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Ataka no Seki (based on the iconic plot of Kanjinchō), performed with takemoto and nagauta accompaniment, and ending with Hidakagawa Shittō no Adanami (Jealous Enemy Waves of the Hidaka River), accompanied by tokiwazu. Sawamura Tosshō (later Sawamura Sōjūrō) was persuaded by Tamura to join the company, although the hiring was opposed by Inoue, and the actor played the roles of Ishidō Umanojō and Kiyo-hime. The year 1904 was generally a dark one for the Kabuki-za but its final two productions showed glimmers of a light at the end of the tunnel.

The program ran for 20 days and had relatively good crowds. On two days, several roles in Chūshingura were alternated, which gave Kichiemon a chance to play Yuranosuke in Act IV to high praise. This was in based on an Edo-period convention called sosori, which was the practice, on the last day of the run (senshūraku) of a hit program for a day presenting some audience-pleasing switch from the normal routine, such as an onnagata playing a tachiyaku role, or vice-versa, or minor actors switching roles with major ones.  Kichiemon, not yet a big star, made a big impression with his performance.

In contrast to the reform-oriented plays at the Meiji-za and the pathbreaking practices at the Tōkyō-za, themselves influenced by the Meiji-za, the hidebound, business-as-usual company at the Kabuki-za continued to repeat their mannerist plays, so there was little incentive for theatergoers to attend.

November 4 saw the publication of Tsubouchi Shōyō’s discussion of new dance drama, Shin Gakugeki Ron, while on November 8, his dance drama Shinkyoku Urashima, which put his ideas into practice, was published. That day also witnessed the accession of Nakamura Shikaku (later Nakamura Denkurō VI) to the position of producer (zanushi) at the Shintomi-za, with Nakamura Shikan, Ichikawa Sumizō, and other good actors appearing in his first production.

On November 12, the famous wooden bridge over the Sumida River at Ryōgoku was replaced by a steel one and a ceremony was held in commemoration of its opening. On November 26, the third general attack on Port Arthur began, followed by one bloody battle after the other until, toward the end of December, the troops under the command of General Nogi Marusuke seized 203 Meter Hill.

For 11 days starting on December 13 jōruri chanter Takemoto Setsudaijō and his bunraku company occupied the Kabuki-za with numerous classic plays on their agenda.

Summing up, this was a very troublesome year for the Kabuki-za. Immediate comparison to when Dan-Kiku were performing led to negative criticism and weak attendance, no matter who was on stage or what they were in. What with the ongoing hardships created by the war, the management suffered extreme financial setbacks in 1904.

On December 14, the Mitsui Dry Goods Store (Mitsui Gofukuten) was reorganized as a joint stock corporation. They then established the Mitsukoshi Dry Goods Store (Mitsukoshi Gofukuten), Japan's first department store, which later became the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

From December 27, for three days, Kyoto’s Kabuki-za, in Shinkyōgoku, celebrated its opening, with the support of the 28-year-old “Shōchiku” brothers, Ōtani Takejirō and Shirai Matsujirō. Forty-five-year-old Nakamura Ganjirō I was the star here, performing in Okazaki and Yoshidaya, thereby beginning his close relationship with Shōchiku and doing the spadework for November 1905, when Shirai rented Osaka’s Benten-za as the actor's base.

In 1904 a children’s card-flipping game called menko-asobi was all the rage; a hairstyle called “203 Meter Hill,” after the Chinese location where the Japanese won victories during the Russo-Japanese War, became popular; and lacework and amateur photography were among widespread fads.

Among major cultural events abroad, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard premiered in Moscow; Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, dedicated to producing Irish plays, opened, its first play being W.B. Yeats’s On Baile’s Strand; James Barrie’s Peter Pan premiered in London; John Millington Synge’s one-act “Riders to the Sea” debuted at the Abbey; London’s Royal Academy of Drama Art was founded; George Bernard Shaw began presenting his plays at London’s Court Theatre, offering 10 by 1907; the first formal movie theatre opened near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly opened in Milan; and George M. Cohan’s first major work, Little Johnny Jones, opened on Broadway.

For other important new plays and musicals of 1904, as well as new theatres opening around the world, see here. For major world events of 1904, including births and deaths, see here and here.