1897 (Meiji 30)
Samuel L. Leiter
[Note: This is Chapter 11 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is loosely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on that project but none are identified for their contributions. Some of their material has been cut, some expanded, and other material added from different sources,, sometimes significantly. Links are given selectively. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]
In 1897 I moved westward from a place in front of the Kame no Yu bathhouse to a location on the street located right behind the Kabuki-za. Now on what has become Shōwa Dori Avenue [which runs directly in front of the Kabuki-za] it was a long, narrow house, around nine feet wide and around 24 feet deep. . . . Around this time deliveries of tempura became popular and I was hired as a tempura delivery boy. Since the entrance to the Kabuki-za dressing rooms was nearby we received many orders from the Kobiki-chō minor actors (ōbeya yakusha), stagehands, wigmakers, musicians, footwear attendants, and the front-of-house ushers who looked after the patrons. A tempura meal cost six sen then, and a plate of tendon (tempura on a bowl of rice) was 10 sen. The low-ranking actors who played the legs of horses (uma no ashi) and palanquin bearers (kagoya) would get hungry. No sooner had they left the dressing rooms than they’d be ordering, saying, “Tendon is 10 sen so pile on the rice and I’ll add two sen.” What with all the chatter about how to prepare the food and what not, someone, seeing that the uma no ashi were eating, gave the name of umadon to what they were eating. And it’s said the cops from the local police box (kōban) often used to eat what was called bandon. (From “Ginza Tengoku Monogatari” in Ginza Tengoku Hyaku Shūnen Kinen: GINZA 8-Chōme Kara.)
In January 1897 the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper began serializing Konjiki Yasha (The Usurer a.k.a. The Golden Demon), the masterwork novel of Ozaki Kōyō (1868-1903), a melodramatic blockbuster so popular it received five stage adaptations by 1903, some appearing while it was still in serial form. It also was made into several films, silent and sound. The story’s rendering of the people’s consciousness during the rise of capitalism in the mid-Meiji period had such a vast appeal that even “shop clerks and maids waited for the newspaper’s delivery,” and it fascinated readers everywhere.
Also, poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), who had cast a severe, youthful eye on the opening production of the Kabuki-za, was embarking on a revolution in haikai writing, marked by the publication in his hometown, Matsuyama, of Hototogisu (Cuckoo), a literary magazine whose title was inspired by the poet’s penname, Shiki, which also can be translated as cuckoo. It became the greatest bastion of the modern poetry world.
On January 11 the empress dowager, a widow for 30 years, passed away, aged 64. The empress dowager, wife of the emperor’s father, Kōmei, was not the emperor’s natural mother, who was the imperial consort Nakayama Yoshiko (later Nii-dono), but he considered her his mother and had deep filial affection and respect for her. Court business was suspended for five days and a year-long mourning period ensued. She was given the posthumous name Dowager Empress Eishō, an honor rare for either an empress or an empress dowager. Donald Keene (in Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World 1868-1912) notes that “Japanese were to desist for thirty days from song, dance, and music. . . ,” but, in actuality, theatres of all kinds were closed for just three days. The impressive funeral itself was in Kyoto on February 7.
|Yumi Hajime Haru no Shigedō. Ichikawa Danjūrō is at center, Nakamura Fukusuke at right, above. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Trouble continued to roil the Kabuki-za’s management, and, despite it typically being the busiest time of the year, they kissed January goodbye and didn’t open their first production of 1897 until February 14, with Danjūrō and Kikugorō costarring in one of the plays. The program began at 10:00 a.m. with Gojūsan Tsugi Ōgi no Shukuzuke (Inn-Hopping along the 53 Stages), in which Kikugorō was featured playing the cat of Okazaki, part of his “family art.” The play was Kawatake Shinshichi’s revision of Kawatake Mokuami’s 1887 adaptation of Tsuruya Nanboku’s 1827 Hitori Tabi Gojūsan Tsugi (Traveling Solo along the 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō). It concerns the possession by a cat spirit of Princess Morokoshi’s mother, who takes up residence at an old temple in Okazaki and practices cat witchcraft. Plays about magical cats were a popular subgenre in the 19th century.
|Onoe Kikugorō as the mysterious cat in Gojūsan Tsugi Ōgi no Shukuzuke. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Second was Yumi Hajime Haru no Shigedō (A Bow and the New Year at Shigedō), a history drama Mokuami had written for Danjūrō in 1878, now revised by Fukuchi Ōchi. This is the play that, when he saw its first production, inspired journalist Kanagaki Robun to coin the term katsureki (living history) to describe its preoccupation with historical accuracy. It is thus the first in the katsureki tradition, which died out in the 1890s because audiences found boring its abandonment of traditional stage conventions, beginning with its elimination of wooden clappers (ki) to highlight moments like the opening and closing of curtains. “Woodless” (ki no nashi) performances can be dated as early as 1871, in fact, and other 1870s examples of techniques presaging katsureki, usually starring Danjūrō, a devoted antiquarian, can also be cited. When Kanagaki saw the present play, then titled Nichō no Yumi Chigusa no Shigedō (Two Bows: the Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and Taira), in October 1878, he wrote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in the Kanayomi Shinbun newspaper:
The program at the Shintomi-za yesterday was finally complete, down to the domestic piece (sewamono). The representation of Saito Sanemori in the second play shows that the classical scholars are still in charge. His costume is the authentic one of his day, and the play might indeed by called “living history”. A historical play sandwiched in between two plays of every-day life, it is conspicuous for soberness of treatment. We shall hope for more of this. (Quoted in Komiya Toyotaka, comp. and ed., Japanese Music and Drama in the Meiji Era, trans. and ad. by Edward G. Seidensticker and Donald Keene.)
The closing selection was the important tokiwazu dance play Tsumoru Koi Yuki no Seki no To (Love’s Snowbound Barrier Gate), better known as Seki no To (The Barrier Gate). The program ended on March 15.
Fukuchi’s meddling with the middle play only made it more difficult to follow but Kikugorō’s “Cat of Ozaki” and the Dan-Kiku pairing in Seki no To received glowing notices that kept the seats full for 30 days. According to kabuki specialist Toita Yasuji:
Okamoto Kidō, writing in Meiji no Gekidan no Ranpu no Moto ni te about having seen Seki no To, whose narrative was sung by the famous tokiwazu singer Rinchū, and which starred Danjūrō as Sekibei, Kikugorō as Sumizome, and Kikunosuke as Princess Komachi, declared: “After becoming an adult, being able to see such theatre was the joy of a lifetime.” To me, born in the first year of Taishō (1912), it was precisely like a story of the old days and I often read it with considerable excitement. It was my bedside reading. (From Toita Yasuji, “Watashi no Issatsu: Ranpu no Moto ni te.)
One day, when Seki no To ended, the Kabuki-za was used for a trial showing of the new Vitascope motion picture technique, just introduced to Japan; it garnered considerable applause among contemporary celebrities and intellectuals who had been invited. But when Danjūrō learned of the planned showing of moving pictures (katsudō shashin) at the Kabuki-za, he said, disgustedly: “If something like this is done at Japan’s foremost theatre I’ll never appear at the Kabuki-za again.” The showings were moved to the Kanda Kinki-Kan, which was packed with interested spectators for what were the first presentations of a movie in Tokyo.
Edison’s Vitascope was an improvement over the Edison Kinetoscope, invented in 1894 and introduced to Japan in 1896. Only one person could watch at time with the Kinetoscope but the Vitascope allowed for multiple viewers. The Lumière brothers had recently sent their Cinématographe Lumière to Tokyo with several brief films showing bathing at the sea and a train arriving at the station. For the showings at the Kinki-Kan crowds of people were willing to pay high prices to see films that, regardless of the subject matter, used kabuki’s wooden clappers before each new reel, and which also used a narrator, the benshi, to explain what was on the screen, much like the narrators who accompany kabuki and bunraku plays.
Tanizaki Junichirō touches on these early films in Childhood Years, where he says:
According to One Hundred Stories of the World of Meiji by the late Yamamoto Shogetsu, the first presentation of a motion picture in Tokyo was around February 1897 at the Kabuki-za; and the Yurakukan must have begun showing them soon after. They were either simple records of actual events taken on the spot or trick shots, and the ends of the reel would be joined together so that the same scene could be projected over and over. (Trans. Paul McCarthy.)
Another interesting theatrical event, which opened on January 31, 1897, was the production of Hachijū Hiai Sekai Ishū (Around the World in 80 Days), based on Jules Verne’s novel, by Kawakami Otojirō at the Kawakami-za. His so-called shosei shibai (student theatre) productions were gaining much attention at the time.
From March 27 through April 5, the Kabuki-za offered a 10-day program of children’s kabuki (kodomo shibai) and motion pictures. The three plays shown were Togakushiyama no Danmari (Mount Togakushi Pantomime), Tamagawa Nuno Zarashi (Cloth Bleaching in the Tama River), and Mukaijima Hanami to Satsuma Odori (Flower Viewing at Mukaijima and a Satsuma Dance).
The young actors included 12-year-old Onoe Ushinosuke II (later Onoe Kikugorō VI), nine-year-old Ichikawa Dankō II (later Ichikawa Ennosuke II, Ichikawa En’o I), seven-year-old Ichikawa Eitarō (later Ichikawa Raizō VII), seven-year-old Bandō Mitahachi III (later Morita Kanya XIII), and 14-year-old Bandō Tamasaburō III, daughter of Kanya XII. Tamasaburō later moved to New York, where she taught Japanese dance but died in 1905, aged only 22. The involvement of Tamasaburō, a girl, is interesting, and her story is clearly one that needs further research, especially given the later prominence of Tamasaburō V. Also involved was Ichikawa Gonza, whose identity is unclear; Okamoto Kidō notes his existence only with the name Gonza, saying he was the son of Ichikawa Gonjūrō II, and that Gonza himself became “the previous Gonjūrō,” although no Ichikawa Gonjūrō III is mentioned in Nojima Jusaburō’s comprehensive dictionary of kabuki actors, Kabuki Jinmei Jiten.
March 1897 was when the new Tōkyō-za opened in Kanda’s Misaki-chō. The opening production starred Danjūrō, Fukusuke, and Shikan in Kokusenya Kassen (The Battles of Coxinga). It was very large theatre, with a floor space of 335 tsubo (1 tsubo=roughly 4 square yards). A special feature was the lack of any view-obstructing pillars for those in the second floor galleries (sajiki) or on the ground floor.
During this same month, actor Nakamura Karoku III’s eldest son, Tatsujirō, made his debut at the Ichimura-za, taking the name Kichiemon (which he never changed), and playing Senchiyo in Echizen Sōdō (The Echizen Dispute). His career began to take off almost immediately when, the month following the children’s kabuki at the Kabuki-za, he and 13-year-old Suketakaya Kodenji II (son of Sawamura Tosshi VII) became leaders of a new children’s troupe at the Asakusa-za. Unfortunately, Kodenji died a mere two years later, but Kichiemon went on to become one of the great pillars of 20th-century kabuki. The children’s company opened to raves on April 10, its members including Ichikawa Ginzō II (later Ichikawa Danzō VIII) and Sawamura Sōnosuke I (Kodenji’s brother). The troupe remained active for another five years.
From the last days of the Edo Period to the early part of the Meiji Era when its popularity began to wane Children’s’ Drama was extremely fashionable. A little while after that it was discontinued. Though I don’t know what the cause was this was when, in Meiji 30 (1897), it underwent a major revival. For a number of reasons in March that same year there were some Children’s’ Drama performances. . . . To begin with the reason it became fashionable in the short term was more to do with the promoters though it seemed unlikely that conventional feeling would show popular favour. Anyway it so happened that the revival of Children’s Drama found popular public acceptance. (From Meiji Gekidan: Ranpu no Moto ni te. Transl. Trevor Skingle.)
Also this month, 21-year-old future Shōchiku bigwig Ōtani Matsujirō was adopted into the family of Shirai Kamekichi, the chief concessionaire at Kyoto’s Ebisu-za, taking the name Shirai Matsujirō.
|The young Shirai Matsujirō. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
On April 2 a special meeting of the Kabuki-za shareholders was held at which the resignations of Kaigawa Shirō and Noda Jōjirō were accepted, and there was an election to fill the roles of directors (torishimeyaku). Several bylaws were amended and it was agreed to rent the theatre out when it was otherwise dark. The stockholders decided to give each of the Kabuki-za’s affiliated teahouses 50 stocks each, while their other business included naming Itō Kenkichi as president, Inoue Takejirō as head of production, Kimura Matsujirō as treasurer (ōfuda), and Ogasawara Shinbei and Imai Takejirō as managers (okuyaku). Among ongoing headaches was the relationship of Danjūrō and his disciple, Ichikawa Sadanji, who headed the Meiji-za; the dangerous possibility that Sadanji might lure Danjūrō away was worrisome enough that President Itō got Danjūrō to sign an exclusive contract with the Kabuki-za on April 5, thereby sealing Danjūrō’s connection to the theatre.
Then, on April 21, Danjūrō’s company, supplemented by Sawamura Gennosuke IV, an onnagata who came highly recommended from the Miyato-za, opened at 10:00 a.m. with a full-length (tōshi kyōgen) staging of Fukuchi Ōchi’s newest play, Otokodate Harusame Gasa (The Chivalrous Commoner and the Spring Umbrella; also read as Kyōkaku Harusame Gasa), a domestic drama (sewamono) based by the playwright on his own 1884 novel, with a dashing hero, Gyōu, modeled on kabuki’s most famous playboy, Sukeroku, but much more realistic. It got good reviews despite Danjūrō, so closely associated with the high drama of antiquarian historical dramas, playing against type.
|Ichikawa Danjūrō as Gyou in Otokodate Harusame Gasa. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Only two pieces were presented, the second being Wada Kassen Onna Maizuru (The Battles of Wada and the Female Dancing Crane), a 1736 history play by Namiki Sōsuke adapted from the puppets, with Danjūrō giving his first-ever performance of the female warrior role of Hangaku. The program was such a hit it was extended for seven days, reaching a total of 27. A newspaper even bantered that “The crowds continued, unlike the [usual] Danjūrō production.”
Okamoto was not especially enamored of the first play:
[Fukuchi’s] characterisation and the performances on stage weren’t very good. Danjūrō’s Ōguchiya Gyōu and ’s Tsurigane Shōbei were both very popular and I should also say that their unprecedented popularity is probably what accounted for the full houses at the time. Gyōu appeared holding a janome ‘snake eyed’ umbrella . . . which for a while correspondingly became the increasingly fashionable thing to be seen with around town. However Danjūrō didn’t personally take to this role with his usual aplomb and even though, at the time, it drew full houses it was usually as a result of repeat visits by the same people. What someone said about the issue at the time was that ‘’, or something like that, which wasn’t really very fair. “Jiji Shinpō” (Current Affairs Newspaper) meted out scathing criticism about this Kabuki play joining the debate by writing that Kabuki plays at Japan’s foremost Kabukiza Theatre and Japan’s top actor, Ichikawa Danjūrō, should be advertised as being staged and performed for the Yoshiwara red light district, questioning whether his performance was much of a success. However, it wasn’t apparent that there were going to be any negative repercussions from this as the increasingly packed full houses continued. They also wrote that even though this Kabuki play did after all involve other actors would it have continued to be performed if it had been without Danjūrō’s involvement? . . . and that it was only as a result of his involvement that the play was pulling in full houses. (Transl. Trevor Skingle.)
Tanizaki Junichirō observed years later:
Ihara Seiseien wrote that “Danjuro’s attempt to look much younger than his age in playing the townsman Gyou does not suit him. After all, even a great actor cannot contend with the passage of the years . . . ,” and my own memories confirm Seiseien’s judgment. On the other hand, in the scene where Gyou delivers the line “It stinks, it does!” in an indirect insult intended for Tsurigane Shobei, Danjuro’s voice was so splendidly sonorous that for some time afterward I went about saying “It stinks, it does!” on every possible occasion in as close an approximation of Danjuro’s voice as I could manage. (From Childhood Years. Transl. Paul McCarthy.)
Recalling other performers of Shōbei, Tanizaki concludes that the performance by Yaozō in this production “was by far the best.”
There was something very real about the figure of Shobei, bested in a fight and crestfallen, following Gyou down the side ramp [i.e., hanamichi] barefoot and with the skirts of his kimono tucked up behind; or the melancholy expression on his face when he sits opposite Gyou in a second-floor room, in the hara-kiri scene; or his look of disgust when, reaching for his wallet, he finds he has lost it. . . . Seiseien remarks that “Yaozo’s Shobei had real presence and pluck, but after his suicide the play was quite disappointing.” Yet to this young spectator there was nothing disappointing about the performance—it seemed splendid, both before and after the hara-kiri scene. (Transl. Paul McCarthy.)
Kido also described Danjūrō’s performance as Hangaku:
The traditional script of Wada kassen onna maizuru was used unchanged; but the audience was amazed when the ‘breaking down the gate’ scene came and Danjuro as Hangaku appeared dressed in realistic historical drama style, with a headband bound behind over long, flowing hair, warrior’s formal garb, gauntlets and shin guards, and furred boots. There some who criticized this style on the grounds that “one can’t even tell whether the character is supposed to be male or female!” . . . Part of the original charm of this play was the sight of a beautiful woman in an elegant over-robe pushing against the gate with a wad of thin paper in her hands . . . This point was quite disregarded in the new production, and it was because of such willful misjudgments on the part of Danjuro that his realistic interpretations of historical plays often met with fierce criticism from a section of the audience. Thus Danjuro’s Hangaku was as unpopular as his Gyou was popular. (Quoted in Tanizaki, Childhood Years. Trans. Paul McCarthy.)
Before this production opened, trouble erupted in the playwright’s room. The rivalry between the Kawatake faction, which went back to before the Kabuki-za opened, and the Fukuchi faction was still alive. Beginning with Kawatake Shinshichi, who was the head playwright (tate sakusha). and his next-in-line, Kubota Hikosaku (Takeshiba Kōji), several writers holding the Takeshiba name and opposed to the Fukuchi-Danjūrō alliance walked out. On the managerial side, Inoue and two or three others decided that only Fukuchi and a few others were all the theatre needed and they planned to get rid of the others permanently. Of those who returned or stayed behind, three Takeshiba playwrights—Masatarō, Kenji, and Haritsu—were now under head playwright Fukuchi, with their Takeshiba names relinquished in favor of their private ones: Hayakawa Shichizō, Eto Kenji, and Emoto Torahiko. With Morita Kanya mediating, things in the playwrights’ room quieted down a notch during the production.
May 17 saw the opening of the Misono-za in Nagoya, which remains in operation albeit after several reconstructions.
|Misono-za, Nagoya. Opened May 1897.|
For the Kabuki-za’s June production, which opened at 10:00 a.m. on the fourth, Danjūrō and Kikugorō joined forces. The first play was the full-length Uraomote Chūshingura (The Other Side of Chūshingura), whose scenes reveal what was behind each of those in the original play. The story of the 47 rōnin was also treated in the middle play, Jūkakkojō Mōshihiraki (Defending against 18 Questions), a little-known member of the Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban collection, while the closing piece was Fukuchi’s kiyomoto dance play Furyū Ōgi Tenugui (Stylish Fans and Hand Towels). For the latter, the musician Kiyomoto Enjudayū IV, known as the “Master of Hama-chō” (Hama-chō no Iemoto), having retired, his son, Eijudayū, used the occasion to become Enjudayū V. The music was by Kiyomoto Umekichi and the choreography by Hanayagi Jusuke and Fujima Kan’emon. During the performance, Danjūrō, playing a fan seller, and Kikugorō, playing a hand towel seller, made the name changing announcement (kōjō).
Since Kikugorō, who was obliged to the Kawatake playwriting faction, was in the production, he sought to get those writers reinstated but Fukuchi’s group was too strong and his request was passed over. Eventually, a compromise was reached by printing Morita Kanya’s pen name, Furukawa Shinsui, in the program alongside the other playwrights (presumably because Furukawa was the retirement name of Kawatake Mokuami, the founder of the Kawatake faction). Nonetheless, the production was a flop, despite its 25-day run.
On the final day, June 28, sad news arrived while Kikugorō was performing Enya Hangan in the seppuku scene of Uraomote Chūshingura. This was the news that Kikugorō’s promising, 30-year-old son adopted son (brother of musician Kiyomoto Enjudayū), the popular onnagata Onoe Kikunosuke II, was near death from lung disease. The show was stopped and Kikugorō immediately left in a carriage for his home in Shintomi-chō. Kikunosuke’s tragic story was novelized by Muramatsu Shōfu and later dramatized by Iwaya Shinichi for shinpa, which often produced it. It was also made into three films, including a 1939 classic by Mizoguchi Kenji called The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums in English. It starred the great shinpa star Hanayagi Shōtarō, who originated the role in shinpa.
|Onoe Kikunosuke II. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
Kikunosuke, born in 1868, the first year of Meiji, was the biological son of a gardener in the service the shogunate, and was adopted at three by Kikugorō. His debut was at the Nakamura-za in 1871 under the name Kikunosuke II. In 1886, Kikugorō disinherited him and he moved for a time to Osaka under the name Onoe Shōkō but he resumed the name of Kikunosuke in 1887 and returned to Tokyo, where he was reconciled with his father.
Tanizaki describes Kikunosuke’s funeral procession in Childhood Years.
On the thirtieth the funeral procession left the family house in Shintomi-chō, crossed Sakurabashi and Yoroibashi bridges, and passed through Ningyo-cho on its way to Daiun-ji temple. The route was known in advance, so the streets were crowded with young girls eager to catch a glimpse of the famous actors who would be part of the cortege. I too took my stand near the Miharado cake shop on Yoroibashi Street, waiting for the procession to pass. (I can hardly believe I would have dared to skip school in order to do this, so either it must have been a Sunday or the funeral was at a late hour, after we had been let out of school. I was certain that Ushinosuke [later Kikugorō VI, foster brother of Kikunosuke] would be taking part . . . , and indeed he was, riding in a rickshaw and wearing a formal crested kimono and hakama divided skirts, topped by a small derby hat.
“When our family was rich, I used to have clothes lie that too,” I thought as I watched Ushinosuke ride by; and I was overwhelmed with longing for those easy, innocent days of early childhood. (Transl. Paul McCarthy.)
Better news was represented on June 1 at the Meiji-za during the memorial production honoring the 27th anniversary of the death of Ichikawa Danzō VI, when Ichikawa Kuzō III changed his name to Ichikawa Danzō VII.
|Streetcorrner poster (tsuji banzuke) for Ami Moyō Tōrō no Kikukiri. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.|
The next production opened at 10:00 a.m. on July 11, starting with Mokuami’s 1857 Ami Moyō Tōrō no Kikukiri (The Mesh Pattern and the Lanterns with the Paulownia and Chrysanthemum Crests), an 1857 bandit play (shiranami mono) better known by its hero’s name, Kozaru Shichinosuke, played here by Kikugorō. It was followed by Onai Hitome no Sekimori (The Barrier Guard and the Look of Love), usually referred to as Munekiyo after its leading role, based on an 1828 play about Tokiwa Gozen. The final piece was another dance, Kaze Kurō Nanoha no Chō (Butterflies among the Windblown Rape Blossoms), whose main role is the love-crazed Yasuna, performed by Kikugorō. Unfortunately, for reasons noted below, the show closed on July 22 after only 12 days.
Kozaru Shichinosuke was written for Ichikawa Kodanji IV (1812-1866) at the height of his fame but times had changed since then. Okamoto Kidō notes that there were strong objections to the play on the grounds of its morality:
All of Tōkyō’s many newspapers almost simultaneously ganged up together in agreement and with one voice launched a critical attack. The newspapers were all filled with drama critics’ comments saying that the play was cruel, obscene, immoral and quite literally loathsome. Though Kikugorō, a servant of the theatre, had personally presented this Kabuki play, listening to this and with due consideration he was unsure about whether to continue advertising it. . . . Anyway, though this Kabuki play drew it’s [sic] really sad and gloomy atmosphere from a brutal real life incident there was no possible way it could have stayed in its original form and it was expected that the . . . Police Department would discontinue its license. . . .
Within the space of one week of performances, and bowing to seething public opinion, the . . . Police Department issued a suspension order preventing any further performances. As a consequence of the suspension order a replacement was pulled together as a substitute performance. At first it was only the middle act of a . . . full length play which showcased Yaozō as Munekiyo, and Fukusuke as Tokiwa Gozen that was performed. This ‘Munekiyo’ . . . was performed in the tokiwazu style of jōruri sung narrative with shamisen accompaniment. Inevitably, as a consequence of the suspension order, the entire tōshi kyōgen full length play was performed as a substitute piece. Later on, when it was around about mid-summer, people who had seen these Kabuki plays were becoming increasingly hesitant about seeing new ones. It was at this point that, accepting that its success was uncertain, the Kabukiza Theatre completely suspended all performances. It was determined that the responsibility for this lay with Kikugorō himself for his obstinacy in presenting only his Kabuki plays. I heard that he had been extremely annoyed and had very indignantly commented ‘’. Still the . . . Police Department, because it had taken what it felt was a justified view had, when the script (for Kozaru Shichinosuke) was first delivered, deemed it unsuitable and it was subsequently returned. Furthermore, it was decided that once the script had been sufficiently revised an appeal could be lodged for its approval. After two or three times of it going back and forth and taking advice it was finally given the approval to go ahead. Even so when I saw it on stage it still wasn’t very good. The public were especially passionate in their criticism. . . . What was the further consequence of such severe criticism being voiced? It was that the Kabukiza Theatre closed its doors until November of that year. The problem that resulted in the suspension order was a special case. It was one of Kikugorō’s parts in the middle of this Kabuki play that generated such animosity and which was deemed so scandalous. The character Kozaru Shichinosuke visits the house of, and continues to torment and curse the departed soul of, his father Amiuchi Shichigorō. It was a sewa’ba [sic] scene depicting a life of suffering and poverty in which he played opposite Fukusuke’s character Shichigorō. A statement of condolence to Kikugorō had only recently been announced. . . . It couldn’t be helped but for everyone to feel very, very sad and many tears were shed alongside the idle grumbling with someone commenting that this was ‘’, and that he had ‘ ’. (From Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Moto ni te. Transl. Trevor Skingle.)
On July 9, only days after Kikunosuke’s death, kabuki lost another very promising actor, the 37-year-old Ichikawa Shinzō, one of Danjūrō’s “four great disciples” (shitennō). Komiya notes:
Tanizaki witnessed Shinzō’s funeral as well as Kikunosuke’s. He wrote:
Like his fellow student Yaozo, he was good not only at martial arts and realistic portrayals of steady, loyal types but also at love scenes and female roles. The two young actors were natural rivals but, Shinzo enjohed an advantage in that he was also an excellent dancer, while Yaozo was not. . . . He was eloquent in speech and a gifted writer, publishing a novel entitled The Cold Winds of Winter [Kogarashi] and contributing articles to the magazine Friend of Learning [Manabi no Yū]. He studied traditional Kyogen farces of the Sagi School under Yata Keisai, calligraphy under Ichikawa Man’an, and painting under Nakano Kimei. . . . Danjuro . . . said of him, “I have no hopes any longer that my ideas for reform of the Kabuki will be put into practice. When I’m on stage, the other actors defer to my wishes, but, left to themselves, they do as they like. Shinzo could put up with that, and carry on. He was a fine actor—that’s why he was able to do what he did . . . If he had lived, perhaps my reforms could have been carried out, even after I’m gone . . .” (Transl. Paul McCarthy.)
Tanizaki adds that Shinzō was very aware of his being Danjūrō’s successor, even gaining the nickname “the Tenth.” As this blog has sometimes pointed out, he suffered from an eye disease, which struck him in 1893 and sometimes forced him from the stage and into a hospital bed. Some whispered it was the result of syphilis. When necessary, he appeared in character with a patch over his eye. For all his talents and achievements, his funeral at Tokyo’s Yanaka Public Cemetery was sparsely attended. Tanizaki claims “A lot of people resented him and were jealous of his rapid rise . . . ; and he seems to have taken a rather too obvious pride in his own skill.” (Transl. Paul McCarthy.)
July also saw the Miyako-za revert to the name Shintomi-za.
It is interesting to note that, in August 1807, on the day of Edo’s Fukugawa Hachiman Festival, when fireworks were exploded over the Sumida River, the Eitaibashi bridge collapsed, with thousands falling to their deaths, an event dramatized in several plays, including 1860’s Hachiman Matsuri Yomiya no Nigiwai (Much Ado the Night Before the Hachiman Festival) and 1918’s shin kabuki play Meigetsu Hachiman Matsuri (Bright Moon over the Hachiman Festival). On August 10, 1897, 91 years after the original disaster, as the great crowds once again noisily congregated to watch the fireworks, 10 feet of the nearby Ryōgokubashi bridge’s guardrail crumbled and more than 10 people fell into river and drowned. This bridge was the last great wooden bridge from the Edo era, but when rebuilt 20 meters downstream after the 1897 tragedy it was made of steel. (A similar catastrophe had occurred at this bridge in 1694.) Although it survived the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, it was torn down and replaced by the current span.
|Morita Kanya XII. From Kawatake Shigetoshi, Nihon Engeki Zuroku.|
On August 21, Morita Kanya, leading producer of the Meiji period, died, aged 52. He had been suffering not just from professional troubles but from stomach cancer. Kanya had taken his name at 18, became the period’s main theatrical iconoclast, gave free rein to his reformist aspirations, moved the Morita-za from Asakusa’s Saruwaka-chō (to which theatres had been forced to move in the 1840s) to the much more centrally located Tsukiji in 1872, built it with all the modern accoutrements for a major theatre, renamed it the Shintomi-za, set it up as joint stock company, got the national and international political and cultural leaders (including former President Grant) to attend, rode the cultural tide of “Civilization and Enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) sweeping the nation, and worked for kabuki’s modernization and social acceptance. He suffered a major financial setback in 1879 after producing a play with an entre'act that used foreign actors and entertainers who changed every week, after which his taste for Western things began abating, He produced “living history” plays and adaptations of Western plays and novels, oversaw the historic first imperial viewing of kabuki (tenran geki) in 1887, and was active in the Theatre Reform movement of the late 1880s. When the Kabuki-za Joint Stock Corporation was being founded he participated as a supporter of the Inoue Takejirō-Fukuchi Ōchi faction, in opposition to the Minagawa Shirō-Tamura Nariyoshi faction. However, his late years were racked by poverty and he died in dire circumstances.
August 1897 was also when Shimazaki Tōson’s novel Wakanashū (Collection of Young Herbs) was published, giving a major boost to the young writer’s career. In October the yen was frozen at $.50 and Japan’s currency was put on the gold standard. The rate remained fixed until 1931.
The only significant theatre events between August and November, when the Kabuki-za reopened, were 1) the publication in Shin Shosetsu (New Novels) of Tsubouchi Shōyō’s play Hotogisu Kojō Rakugetsu (A Sinking Moon over the Lonely Castle Where the Cuckoo Cries), whose eventual production would be a major milestone of the modern Japanese theatre, and 2) the production of two important new plays: Kubota Hikosaku’s shin kabuki version of rakugo master San’yutei Enchō’s story Kaidan Chibusa no Enoki (The Ghost Tale of the Wet Nurse Tree) at the Masago-za, and Fukuchi Ōchi’s Ōmori Hikoshichi, starring Danjūrō in the title role, at the Meiji-za. The first was revised by Segawa Jokō IV in 1915 for a Kabuki-za revival and, in 2014, was produced in New York by the Heisei Nakamura-za troupe. The latter, also still in the repertory, was added to the Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban collection.
Finally, the Kabuki-za reopened on November 2, at 10:00 a.m., featuring Danjūrō’s troupe, beginning with Fukuchi Ōchi’s Chinsetsu Yumiharizuki (The Moon Drawn like a Bow), which also was adapted for kabuki by Mishima Yukio in 1969. Fukuchi had written a new play called Yoru no Tsuru (Evening Crane), which had gone into rehearsal, but he was dissatisfied with it and it was cancelled. He then revised Yumiharizuki Genke no Kaburaya (The Drawn Bow and the Minamoto Family’s Whistling Arrow), an 1881 play Mokuami had adapted for Danjūrō from Yumiharizuki, an early 19th-century story by San’yutei Bakin, but its plot failed to register with audiences.
The centerpiece was the history play Shiheikō Nanawarai (Lord Shihei’s Seven Laughs), with the last piece being an 1887 tokiwazu and takemoto dance play by Mokuami called Na mo Ōtsu-e Uwasa no Ichijiki. Shiheikō Nanawarai was Fukuchi’s adaptation of Namiki Gohei’s Tenmangū Natane no Gokū (The Rapeseed Offerings at Tenmangū Shrine), which he had turned into a katsureki play. It was deemed seriously inferior to his recent Ōmori Hikoshichi and was panned.
The show failed badly at drawing audiences and, from November 10, the prologue to the opening play was cut and replaced by the popular dance play Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi (Travel Dance of the First Sounds of Spring), which had been added to the classic drama Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura in the early 19th century. But even with Danjūrō as Tadanobu and Fukusuke as Shizuka, and the great Rinchū performing with the tokiwazu musicians, audiences stayed away, forcing the production to close down after only 22 days.
Many years later, Tanizaki recalled this production:
Since his favorite actor, Danjuro, was playing . . . , Uncle Kyuemon went to see [him] and brought back a program for us, but Mother and I were not invited to accompany him. It must have been around 1897 that I overheard him complaining about the rise in prices at the Kabukiza: the good boxes in the orchestra which had cost three yen fifty in 1893 now cost twenty yen, if you included all the miscellaneous expenses. “I can’t afford to just go to the theater when I feel like it anymore!” my uncle exclaimed.
Perhaps it was for financial reasons, then, that he took us to the cheaper Masago Theater in Nakasu for the New Year’s performance in 1898. (Transl. Paul McCarthy).
Another November event was the name changing at Osaka’s Naka-za of Jitsukawa Enzaburō’s disciple, Jitsukawa Ennosuke, to Jitsukawa Yaozō.
Around this time Ihara Seisein noted that there had been a striking increase in the number of actors living in Tokyo, with 1,240 having been accounted for by the end of October. Those who had attained the rank of nadai, which allowed their names to be printed on billboards and in programs, came to more than 70; divided up by the city’s 15 districts, the greatest number, 31, lived in Kyōbashi, followed by Nihonbashi with 21, Hongō with nine, and Honjo and Kanda with only five each, while not a single actor lived anywhere else in town.
The Tokyo theatres competing with the Kabuki-za in 1897 were the Engi-za, the Miyato-za, the Meiji-za, the Kawakami-za, the Asakusa-za, the Tōkyō-za, the Ichimura-za, the Shintomi-za, the Haruki-za, the Miyako-za, the Masago-za,
This year, for the first time in Japan, the major railroad stations introduced porters (akabo or “red caps”) to carry people’s luggage for them. They also sold train tickets. Aluminum lunch boxes (bentō) were produced, and women’s azuma-style coats continued to be popular. But rice prices soared and there were rice disputes in various places.
The major Western plays born in 1897 were Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Important theatres (many still extant) that opened include the Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton, England.; the Glasgow Empire Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland; the Grand Guignol, Paris; Her Majesty’s Theatre, London; the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, England; the Metropolitan Theatre, London; the National Theatre of Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica; the Oneonta Theatre, Oneonta, New York; the Swansea Grand Theatre, Swansea, Wales; and the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy.
Also, Joseph Conrad published The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” Rudyard Kipling published Captains Courageous, Henry James published The Spoils of Poynton and What Maisie Knew, Edward Arlington Robinson published “Richard Cory,” Gustav Mahler became conductor of the Vienna State Opera, Scott Joplin composed “Maple Leaf Rag,” and Henry Rousseau painted The Sleeping Gypsy.
On the world stage in 1897 the word computer was coined, William McKinley became the U.S. president, the first Boston marathon was held, the discovery of the electron as a subatomic particle was announced, Oscar Wilde left prison to become an exile on the continent, Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, a team of explorers died while ballooning over the Arctic, Jack London joined the Klondike Gold Rush, aspirin was first marketed, the First Zionist Congress convened in Switzerland, Edison patented the Kinetoscope, Boston opened America’s first subway, the Greco-Turkish war ended, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” was published, the Korean Empire succeeded the Joseon Empire (which existed since 1392), and “The Katzenjammer Kids” comic strip debuted in the New York Journal.
Cultural figures born this year included actress Marion Davies, actress Pola Negri, writer Dennis Wheatley, sculptor René Iché, romance novelist Denise Robins, composer Quincy Porter, actress Dame Judith Anderson, singer Marian Anderson, composer Henry Cowell, writer/historian Flora Eldershaw, composer Sim Gokkes, journalist Walter Winchell, radio host John B. Gambling, playwright Thornton Wilder, movie director Douglas Sirk, movie director Frank Capra, songwriter J. Fred Coots, musician Sidney Bechet, conductor George Szell, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, comedian Moe Howard (The Three Stooges), actor Frederic March, actor Walter Pidgeon, writer William Faulkner, writer Louis Aragon, director Rouben Mamoulian, costume designer Edith head, writer Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, actor Frank Fay, and musician Fletcher Henderson.