Thursday, December 28, 2017

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

Chapter 21

1907 (Meiji 40)

The President Ōkōchi Age Begins

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

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

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

Edward Seidensticker, writing about Tokyo, observed: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miki Takeji, speaking of this Chūshingura, noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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