Sunday, February 4, 2018

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 22. 1908 (Meiji 41)

Kabuki Woogie began in 2010 as a way to record my research trips to Japan funded by a Mellon Fellowship in 1910 and 1911. My day-to-day experiences on that trip, including videos and photos, can be found at the beginning of the blog by using the archive menu at the right. For the past couple of years, Kabuki Woogie has been used to post entries based on my research into the first Kabuki-za, Japan’s leading kabuki playhouse, founded in 1889, and still on the same site. It continues to be extremely successful, albeit after multiple reconstructions.

Samuel L. Leiter

Chapter 22

1908 (Meiji 39)

Ichimura-za Age Begins

[Note: This is Chapter 22 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.]
Miki Takeji. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
No sooner had the New Year begun than, on January 3, the Tokyo Stock Exchange crashed. On January 10, Miki Takeji (né Mori Tokujirō), Japan’s first modern theatre critic and editor-in-chief of Kabuki magazine, died of an ulcerous pharynx. The brother of the great writer Mori Ōgai, he was only 42. His own coverage for the periodical included criticism, the recording of performance kata, and the introduction of Western drama; in particular, the unique and thorough format of group criticism he created was of such high quality it established a standard for the future.

At this time Kabuki-za President Ōkōchi’s perpetual carousing in the Shinbashi geisha quarters led to daily throngs of happily jabbering geisha at the theatre’s box office, while backstage the contemporary horse racing craze enthralled the actors so that it even pulled their attention from the stage. Taking advantage of this fascination, one of the plays on the January program actually focused on a horse race. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi: Kabuki-za volume.]

Opening day was January 14, at noon, with the first piece being the celebratory Kichirei Soga no Ishizue (Annual Soga Cornerstone), a version of the play best known as Soga no Taimen, with Nakamura Shikan as Kudō, Onoe Baikō as Soga Jūrō, and Ichimura Uzaemon as Gorō. It was followed by Kawatake Mokuami’s 1869 history play, part of Danjūrō’s Shin Kabuki Jūhachiban collection of hits, Zōhō Momoyama Banashi (a.k.a. Jishin Katō), with Ichikawa Yaozō as Katō Kiyomasa. Its closing scene featured two child actors who became famous traditional dancers (nihon buyō), Onoe Kikutarō (later Hanayagi Jusuke II) and Fujima Kakitarō (later Fujima Tōtarō). Then came Enomoto Torahiko’s horse racing play, Kurabe Uma Haruno Sakigake, with the final work being a dance called Tsūzoku Saiyūki (A Popularized “Journey to the West”).

Enomoto’s horse racing play was an adaptation (hon’an) of a French play into Japanese circumstances. Overcoming resistance from the Metropolitan Police Department it went so far as to use real horses and was a sell-out throughout its 25-day run. Ihara Seiseien wrote that:

It was a shinpa play inspired by the horse racing of the day, a business ploy designed to compete with the star package at the Tōkyō-za and the reform drama at the Meiji-za but its characters were coarse, its tone low, and both its writing and acting flopped. Only the final piece, Saiyūki, succeeded, with its amusing “flying” (chūnori) part featuring Ennosuke I.]
Street program/poster (tsuji banzuke) for March production at Kabuki-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
The Meiji-za production, opening the same day, featured Ichikawa Sadanji II, recently back from his year abroad, which had made him the first kabuki actor to visit the West. What he’d seen abroad convinced him that Japan’s theatre was backward and needed radical updating. Among his managerial reforms was changing the old practice of obtaining seats through an affiliated teahouse by introducing a reserved-seat ticket system, and abandoning the traditional dekata usher system, which had given the dekata the job of finding seats for theatergoers. The ushers were now to be paid a fixed salary and not to depend on tips and the like. Also, eating and drinking in the auditorium were forbidden. All of these changes did not go down well with Tokyo’s theatergoers.

Sadanji's reformist program--which he planned with the advice of his “brain,” playwright Matsui Shōō¸ also just back from a foreign study tour, playwrights Oka Onitarō and Kimura Kinka, and Meiji-za administrator Kawarazaki Gonnosuke VIII—included Shōō’s Kesa to Moritō (Kesa and Moritō) and Sadanji as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

The former was an attempt at modern playwriting that emphasized character portrayal; it used realistic staging and Western scenic and lighting methods, the latter introducing the Western spotlight, a major change from traditional lighting methods. Further, actresses played the female roles, including the late Danjūrō IX’s daughters, Horikoshi Jitsuko (later Ichikawa Suisen) and Horikoshi Fukiko (later Ichikawa Kyokubai); Gonnosuke’s’s daughter, Sadako; and Sadanji’s sister, Kazuko.

However, on opening day there were loud shouts of disapproval as well as heckling from the audience during Kesa to Moritō. The police had to be summoned to quiet the unruly crowd. Another factor in the audience’s misbehavior was a rumor that the Hisamatsu Bashi bridge, built by contributions from theatre teahouses, would be burned down. These factors led to the production’s failure and its closing after 21 days, with Sadanji having realized it was still too soon for his managerial reforms. Similar notions, however, went unchallenged when the Teikoku Gekijō opened in 1911. Meanwhile, Sadanji’s March production allowed the teahouses to operate as the had before.

When the program flopped, it was only partly because of the managerial reforms regarding teahouses and dekata. Even more influental was a widespread reaction against Sadanji and his cohorts for having become too westernized in their ideas. Matsui chose to take responsibility by retiring from the Meiji-za and joining a temple.

On January 17, the Tokiwa-za in Asakusa burned down. Also this month, Onoe Eijirō—son of Bandō Hinasuke and, briefly, the adopted son of Onoe Kikugorō V before returning to his birth family—joined the Kabuki-za company.

From February 17-23, beginning at noon, the Class NK (Nihon Kaiji Kyōkai, literally Japan Maritime Association), using the Kabuki-za’s resident company, sponsored a benefit production to raise money for the construction of battleships; for this presentation, the winning play from the previous autumn’s Class NK playwriting competition was performed. That play, which was awarded 500 yen, was Kaōmaru (The Ship Called King of Flowers), by Hasegawa Shigure, a work based on Japanese pirates. Then came two Mokuami selections, the first being the “Torime no Shisha” (Envoy from Torime) scene from Mokuami’s 1864 history drama Kokoro no Nazo Chūgi no E-awase. The second was the 1870 nagauta dance Mochizuki. It was followed by the 1772 jōruri classic Hade Sugata Onna Maiginu, with the final piece being the dance play Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi (Story of the Spider’s Web and the Night Watch).

Hasegawa Shigure was modern Japan’s first female playwright, the production of her play thus being a major historical event. The program was so successful it played to full houses for seven days.

From February 25, for three days, beginning at 2:00 p.m., performances were held celebrating the first full year of publication by the major theatre magazine, Engei Gahō. The show included suodori dances (wearing formal kimono and hakama but not costumes) featuring Onoe Baikō, Ichikawa Komazō, Ichimura Uzaemon, Ichikawa Ennosuke, Onoe Kikugorō, etc., along with musical selections in the several kabuki styles. Geisha from Shinbashi, Akasaka, and Yoshiwara also took part.

Also in February, on the 11th, Mikimoto Kōkichi, later known as the “King of Pearls,” obtained a patent to produce cultured pearls.

In March, the so-called “smoke incident” (baien jiken), a failed suicide attempt by novelist/scholar Morita Sōhei and Hiratsuka Raichō, took place, an event Morita novelized in Baien. The same month is remembered for the “peeping Tom incident” or, as the Japanese expression has it, the “bucktoothed turtle incident” (debakame jiken), involving a voyeur named Ikeda Kametarō, who had attacked a number of women, killing one named Kōda Oen, in the Okubo district near Tokyo; he was also known to have peeked in through knotholes at women in public baths. Kōda, in fact, was accosted on her way home from the bath, where Kōda had seen her and gone wild with desire.

From March 3-8 the Kabuki-za hosted gidayū (puppet chanting and shamisen) concerts featuring geisha from Osaka and Kobe, each program beginning at 4:00 p.m. This month, the Meiji-za hosted the name-taking of Ichikawa Raizō VI, previously Ichikawa Eitarō.

For the April production, which began at noon on April 24 and ended on April 22, manager Tamura Nariyoshi, who had begun negotiations the previous year, managed to lure Ichikawa Danzō VII back to the Kabuki-za. The 73-year-old Danzō, who had left Tokyo nine years earlier, spent the first part of March relaxing at the villa of President Ōkōchi in Itagami, where he had stopped on his way to Tokyo. On March 19, he left the villa by electric train for Shinagawa; from Shinagawa he took a streetcar to Shinbashi but ran into major congestion because of the inclement weather. This being the day he was supposed to arrive at the Kabuki-za, he had to take a horse-drawn carriage to get there in time.

The April program started with the classic history drama Meiboku Sendai Hagi, then moved on to a prize-winning new play by Yamada Keika called Daigo no Hanami (The Flower Viewing at Daigo). It was followed by the familiar “Suzugamori” part of the domestic drama Gozonji Banzuin Chōbei (The Well-Known Story of Banzuin Chōbei). The program ended with the tokiwazu dance play Haru Gasumi Sora mo Sumiyoshi, written by Mokuami, which had several earlier names but is best known as Kappore.
Onoe Matsusuke IV as  Watanabe Gekizaemon, Ichikawa Danzō VII as Nikki Danjō in Meiboku Sendai Hagi. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Danzō starred as the villainous Nikki Danjō in Sendai Hagi. “Suzugamori” was offered as a memorial performance in honor of the 50th anniversary of the death of Ichikawa Ebizō (Danjūrō VII), Danzō’s mentor. His son, Ichikawa Momotarō—who played Shirai Gonpachi to his father’s Chōbei in “Suzugamori”—used the occasion to take the name Ichikawa Kuzō IV (later Danzō VIII), while Onoe Kōnosuke, son of Onoe Kōzō, changed to Onoe Monzaburō and was promoted to billing status. Their kōjō ceremony was held right after Sendai Hagi, with Shikan, Yaozō, Baikō, and Kikugorō offering support by their participation.

On March 27, Danzō sponsored memorial services at his family temple, the Jōshō-In in Shiba Park, in commemoration of Danjūrō VII’s 50th death anniversary.

In the writings of tanka poet Miya Shūji (1812-1986) is a passage where he links a poem of his own to one in which his teacher, Kitahara Hakushū, wrote about seeing, in his youth, the character of Nikki Danjō in a production of Sendai Hagi. During the performance, the old-time sashidashi (a.k.a. tsura-akari) convention of lighting an actor by a candle on a bamboo pole was reintroduced.

My teacher, Kitahara Hakushū, in a piece about his youth, wrote a poem about a snowy evening in early April when Danzō’s otherworldly Nikki was seen in the naked flame of candles.

My friend with a candle on a pole (tsura-akari) 
Under Nikki’s face along the hanamichi. 
[From Miya Shūji, “Nikki Yakusha,” in Kikan Kabuki, No. 4.]

This is included in Miya’s first poetry collection, Kiri no Hana (Paulownia Flowers). However, questions lingered about what night was being referred to, what year, month, and day, and what theatre Hakushū saw this at. The mystery was cleared up in Kuzō’s biography of his father, Shichidaime Ichikawa Danzō (The Seventh Ichikawa Danzō).

The Cellar Sashidashi

It was late April and the flowers were in full bloom but it was snowing heavily, electric and steam train transportation was suspended, electricity was cut off, and people all over Tokyo were buying up every candle in the city on the day the show opened. It was thought that attendance would be light on this day but, surprisingly, the house was full before the program started. On this day, Nikki’s “outside-the-curtain” exit in the cellar scene was too dark, so two sashidashi were used, which, however, only served to heighten Nikki’s spookiness. Furthermore, the old style was very theatrical and criticism was extremely positive, so even after the electricity was restored when the outside-the-curtain exit was performed the lights were turned off and the sashidashi appeared. [From Ichikawa Kuzō, Shichidaime Ichikawa Danzō.]

This makes clear the inspiration for Hakushū’s tanka and gives us its backstory. There are also these comments spoken at a roundtable of kabuki old-timers recalling the impression Danzō made that “snowy evening.”

Toita: We just mentioned electricity but during the April 1908 production it was cut off because of a serious snowstorm. This was just when Nikki was making his exit in Sendai Hagi. Hanayagi Shōtarō says he happened to be there, watching Nikki from the agemaku room at the end of the hanamichi. He says that words can’t express how effective it was when the tsura-akari were brought into use.

Fujiura: That’s the old style, isn’t it?

Toita: It was springtime but it was snowing. The moon was full and the confluence of snow, moon, and flowers was highly praised. [From Fujiura Tomitarō, Toita Yasuji, Suzuki Osahiko, “Zadankai: Meiji Taishō Shōwa Sandai o Kataru” in Kabuki-za Kaijō Kyūjū Nenki Tokushū Go.]

Barrels of sake were piled high outside the theatre, the shopfronts across the way were displaying their noren half-curtains, and the decorations attracted great popularity. Business conditions were at their peak and the production had a long run of 30 days, 23 of them sold out. Even on April 9, the night of the snowstorm, the sajiki galleries were packed. The profits were an unheard of 50,000 yen so, as a congratulatory bonus the management gave each of the leading actors (kanbu haiyū) a gold watch worth over 200 yen and engraved with the Kabuki-za crest (mon). The lesser actors, without exception, received something for their efforts. This was truly the high point of the Ōkōchi presidency at the Kabuki-za.

However, Atsumi Seitarō wrote in Shibai Gojū Nen (Fifty Years of Theatergoing) that Ōkōchi, who was earning a large monthly salary of 70 yen, jointly purchased with Miyake Hyōza around 30,000 yen worth of stock, which let them rake in profits of 5 or 6,000 yen for a single production. All the money was then by them spent partying nightly in Shinbashi, to the irritation of their colleagues. According to Atsumi, their professional ignorance forced Tamura Nariyoshi to take charge of things at the theatre.

April was marked by the move to Tokyo from Hokkaido of soon-to-be celebrated young tanka poet and writer Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912), for whom it was a turning point in his literary career. On April 25, Ajinomoto seasoning went on the market. And on the 28th, the first emigration of Japanese to Brazil occurred, involving 781 people. (Brazil now has the world’s largest Japanese population outside of Japan.)

From April 23-25, the Kabuki-za stage was given over to the two shows daily of the American trick unicyclists, William and Laura Elgit (?). On April 27, a general meeting of the Kabuki-za shareholders was held and the theatre’s 22nd balance sheet was presented. From October 1907 through the end of March 1908 the profits were 18,089 yen, 77 sen, 4 rin.  

April 1908 also witnessed the name changing at the Meiji-za of Nakamura Tokizō I to Nakamura Karoku III, and of Nakamura Kashō I to Nakamura Tokizō II. At the same time, Karoku’s relative, Nakamura Eijirō became Nakamura Moshio, and Ichikawa Kojaku took the name Ichikawa Komonji II.

For 10 days, beginning on May 1, the Kabuki-za hosted the Azuma Odori festival featuring 700 Shinbashi geisha, with two shows daily, day and evening. Mitsukoshi supplied the brand new costumes. It was intended as Tokyo’s answer to the geisha dance festivals of Kyoto, with its Miyako Odori, and Osaka, with its Ashibe Odori.  It was so popular that its planned seven days were extended by three. This was the predecessor of the Azuma Odori performed annually in April at the Shinbashi Enbujō since April 1925.

The next regular program at the Kabuki-za opened on April 21, beginning with the “Torii Mae,” “Tōkaiya,” “Daimotsu Ura,” and “Michiyuki” scenes from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura. The following piece was the late Fukuchi Ōchi’s Retsujo Shikinami (Shikinami the Heroine), after which came another Fukuchi piece, Ninin Bakama, adapted from a kyōgen play. Then came Mokuami’s Yuki no Akebono Homare no Akagaki, with the closing work being a new comedy (kigeki) by Masuda Tarōkaja called Hoken Girai (The Insurance Hater).

Danzō played both Tomomori in Senbon Zakura and Akagaki in the Mokuami play but his Akagaki was deemed better than his Nikki Danjō, or even his Tomomori or Chōbei; he may have been aging but he was now receiving renewed appreciation for his artistry. Okumura Shikō wrote ecstatically that “Tomomori, like the simple elegance of a Kano school painting, is a deity of ideal skillfulness. Akagaki was like the work of a brilliant ukiyo-e artist, like the art of ultimate truthfulness.” Oka Onitarō, however, was a tad sour, saying “Danzō’s Akagaki was quite fine but slightly doddering.”

On June 12, Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi and Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Tadasu attended the Kabuki-za together. Danzō, having accrued much honor, then went on tour with his troupe, playing in Yokohama before returning to the Kamigata area.

On June 16, Oshun, the 67-year-old mistress of the Kabuki-za’s Sansuke teahouse, known as the “Female Chōbei,” passed away. The same day a theatre party was held, beginning at 7:00 p.m., for pioneering German bacteriologist Dr. Robert Koch and his wife, in honor of which Uzaemon and Baikō, playing the fox-Tadanobu and Shizuka Gozen, performed the Yoshino Yama Michiyuki dance from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura; Uzaemon as Jūrō and Komazō as Gorō did Youchi Soga; and a bevy of Shinbashi geisha danced the nagauta piece Ninin Dōjōji for an audience of foreign visitors. Leading author Mori Ōgai even went so far as to write up synopses and explanations in German for their assistance.

On June 20 and 21, the Old Music Club (Kyū Ongaku Kurabu) was revived for a benefit on behalf of famed photographer Kajima Seibei, who had fallen on hard times. Danjūrō IX’s daughters danced Dōjōji, Komazō, Jūzō, Dan’emon, Shinjūrō, and others danced Tanjōbi (Birthday), and a tokiwazu instrumental selection Waga Sennin (Our Hermit) was offered. From June 24-30, the theatre was used for a program of Parisian movies.

June was also when Ichikawa Sumizō’s son Ichikawa Danjirō took the name Dankurō at Asakusa’s Miyato-za, and when, on the 23rd, Kunikida Doppo, poet and leading naturalistic novelist, died at only 38.

The company’s top actors (kanbu haiyū) took off in July, so Onoe Kikugorō VI and Nakamura Kichiemon became the chief draw by leading the Ichimura-za’s young actors (wakate)—Onoe Eizaburō and Morita Kanya among them—in the Kabuki-za’s summer program (bon kōgyō). Kichiemon starred in Taiko no Oto Chiyū Sanryaku (a.k.a. Sakai no Taiko). Then came the dance play Tsuchigumo, starring Kikugorō as the monstrous spider, followed by Kikugorō making his first appearance as Sakanaya Sōgorō, which would be one of his best roles, in Shin Sarayashiki Tsuki no Amagasa.
Nakamura Kichiemon I as Sakai Saemon no Jo in Sakai no Taiko. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
In Sakai no Taiko Kichiemon, playing Sakai Saemon no Jō, overcame his slightness by employing the kata of Danjūrō IX and was applauded by his fans but he was criticized for slackness in the role’s key points. As Sōgorō Kikugorō followed his father’s style precisely, leading critics to say that the late Kikugorō was happy even in his grave. Good houses continued for 20 days, with opening day charging a flat admission fee of 30 sen. Lavatories were installed for this production on the second floor, with toilets made of Paleozoic age striped limestone and white marble. Tamura Nariyoshi declared that this production was the actual beginning of the famed Kiku-Kichi combination formed by Kikugorō and Kichiemon.
Onoe Kikugoro VI as Torii Hiko'emon in Sakai no Taiko. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Nariyoshi also pointed out that:

The Kabuki-za again appeared in poetry. However, while I’m unable to comment on the quality of the writing let’s take a look at what poet Yoshii Isamu’s friend, poet Kitahara Hakushū published in the February 1909 art magazine, Hossun (Square). It was written in roman letters (romaji) under the title “Makuaki Mae” (Before the Curtain Opens). It records the moments before the curtain opened at 11:00 a.m. and is a rare example of a romaji poem among Hakushū’s work. The title is printed as “Maku-aki Mae” by “Kitahara Rukichi." Rukichi refers to Kitahara’s real name. It begins:

Toki, 41nen, 7gwatu, 9niti.
Basyo. Kobikichō, Kabukiza.
(Time: 1908, July 9.
Place: Kobiki-chō, Kabuki-za.)

Here, Tamura tells the reader he will transpose the difficult-to-read, old-style romaji into standard Japanese writing.

11:00: Green, black, faded red, horizontally striped curtain (dandara maku). The sound of a plectrum creating constant sounds like the crying of katydids.
The pounding of the ōdaiko (large drum).

11:10: Stifling yellow tobacco. The busy coming and going of people in the pit (doma).
Red, tawny cushions.
Every now and then, a slight ruffling of the curtain, the voice of a zoo bear
Men calling across to friends.

11:15: The ōdaiko stops pounding.
The fragrance of hair, people looking up.
Ornate golden hairpins, faded iron arms, descend from the ceiling,
Wild, Medusa-like hair surrounded by
24 shaded bulbs shining weakly. Like the demon
Of illness. Even the lights don’t burn.

On the empty ceiling, a ceiling painting.(うつけたる天井の、天井の絵。)
Breathing the distracted air.
The sultry evening's rain and clouds
Like the steamy outside light.

The gloomy atmosphere and Western women’s feathered hats
And flowers—praise for a spot of carmine.

11:30: Young men carrying seats come and go on the hanamichi.
Again, a bear’s voice. And a security guard’s response.

11:35: The ushers (dekata) in black, peering out at the audience from a gap in the curtain near the stage right pillar.
A refined gent in a vertically striped outfit. Holding the end of the curtain, one hand on the stage pillar, he idly surveys the distant connoisseurs’ seats (ōmukō). A breeze as the curtain billows open. A small, black room suddenly seen, no one there, lights up.
Someone carrying a long, thick, square board. . .
Sound of the board being placed on the stage floor.
The third-floor balcony erupts noisily.
The sound of the ki clapper, a shout . . . katan . . . battari . . . katan . . .
In front of the small, black room is placed a paper wall painted with tree trunks. An open window between the tree trunks. Where the musicians’ play, just like a jail cell!
The sound of nails being hammered.

11:50: The curtain’s hem billows. Lights up.
[From Noda Utarō, “Shitamachi,” Vol. 1, in Tōkyō Bungaku Sanpō, Vol. 2, Tsukiji, Ginza, Nihonbashi Neighborhoods]

Interesting as is this firsthand description of the time preceding the opening of the curtain at the Kabuki-za, it should be noted that the July production didn’t open until the 13th and that the show started at 2:00 p.m., not 11:00 a.m.

In July, the Shōchiku Company took over direct control of Kyoto’s Nishijin district Iwagami-za, marking the beginning of a broad sweep of Shōchiku acquisitions. On July 14, the first cabinet of Prime Minister Saionji Kinmochi, in office since 1906, was replaced by the second one of of Katsura Tarō, which lasted until 1911.

In August, the Kabuki-za was closed as the actors abandoned the place during the summer heat and went on tour to the provinces or vacationed in cooler places. One of the touring actors, Nakamura Moshio, took sick and passed away while at a hot springs spa in Fukuoka.

September’s first Kabuki-za program was a showing on the second of hand-painted color movies produced by M. Pathe. This was a Japanese company formed by Shokichi Umeya, who, without permission, borrowed and slightly revised the name of the European company called Pathé. According to Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie’s The Japanese Film, Pathe’s 1908 movie was a costume spectacle based on the kabuki drama Soga Kyōdai Kariba no Akebono (Dawn at the Soga Brothers’ Hunting Grounds). “Accompanied by a full orchestra and singers as well, this film starred an all-girl Kabuki troupe.” 

Kabuki itself returned with the October production, opening at noon on September 26 and closing on October 19. The curtain raiser was Takeshiba Kisui’s Nishi Higashi Nishiki no Irodoki. The second play was Enomoto Torahiko’s adaptation of French playwright Eugene Scribe’s drama about the famous actress Adrienne Lecouvreur, which was Japanized as Onna Kabuki (Women’s Kabuki), and told the story of a Japanese actress. Then came a traditional play, Karukaya Dōshin Tsukushi no Iezuto, the “Kōyasan” scene. It was followed by another standard, Edo Sodachi Omatsuri Sashichi.
Nakamura Shikan V as Kiri Okuchikura in Onna Kabuki. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Sawamura Tosshō took the name Sawamura Sōjūrō VII during the production, the kōjō announcement ceremony being held before the first play on the program with all the actors seated in rows on the stage, and with Karukaya Dōshin serving for the new Sōjūrō’s celebratory performance. The new Sōjūrō’s eight-year-old son, Sawamura Yūjirō (later Tanosuke V), made his debut playing a food-delivery boy, Shinji, in Omatsuri Sashichi.
Suketakaya Takamaru as Ishidōmaru and Sawamura Sōjūrō as Shigeuki in Karukaya Dōshin. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Sōjūrō’s non-actor son, Sawamura Mikio, who became president of Bungei Shunjū, Japan’s leading literary magazine, wrote an essay, in which he noted:

When my father, Sōjūrō, took that name he was 36, a time when an actor is at the peak of his powers. Karukaya is a Sawamura family specialty (oie gei). Sōjūrō first performed it when he was 19, continuing to learn it. The sixth time he performed it, using the kata of his late adoptive father Sawamura Takasuke, he played with the childlike spirit he brought to the three times he’d played the young boy’s role of Ishidōmaru with him. [From Sawamura Mikio, “Meiji Yonjū-Ichi Aki Shibai,” in Kabuki-za Kaijō Kyūjū Nenki Tokushū Go.]

The general opinion held that Sōjūrō scored a perfect 10 as Karukaya Dōshin (in reality Katō Shigeuji). The play based on Scribe’s French original was praised both for its script and cast, Kimura Kinka said that: “All in all, the exquisite costumes and scenery, as well as the fine actors in the new play at this theatre, were like the unfolding of a gorgeous picture scroll.” Uzaemon XV’s performance as Sashichi in Omatsuri Sashichi was considered unparalleled, Baikō looked lovely as Koito, and the sexual chemistry between the lovers was lauded. Nevertheless, the attendance was disappointing and the show came to a close after 24 days.
Kawakami Sadayakko's Imperial Training School for Actresses. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Meanwhile, on September 15, Kawakami Sadayakko held an opening ceremony for an Imperial Training School for Actresses (Teikoku Joyū Yōseijō). From more than 100 applicants, 15—including future actresses Mori Noriko (1890-1961), Murata Kakuko (1893-1969), Fujima Fusako (1877-1954), Kawamura Kikue (1870-1973) and Hatsuse Namiko (1888-1951)—were selected for a two-year program based on what Sadayakko and her husband, Otojirō, had observed both in France and at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The idea of professional actresses was still controversial and the school led to considerable public discussion. Sadayakko’s school lasted until 1923 when the Great Kantō Earthquake ended its existence after it produced seven graduating classes.

Kawakami Otojirō turned producer this month, presenting two reformist programs. One was at the Meiji-za starring Ichikawa Sadanji in Okamoto Kidō’s virgin effort, Ishin Zengo (Before and After the Restoration). The other one was at the Hongō-za featuring Sadayakko in Nihon no Koi (Japan’s Love). Kawakami, whose visits to the U.S. introduced him to the accomplishments of the great American producer, Charles Frohman, was determined to be “the Japanese Frohman,” hoping thereby to buck the kabuki establishment with his own productions. [See Joseph L. Anderson, Enter a Samurai: Kawakami Otojirō and Japanese Theatre in the West for fascinating details on these ventures.]

On October 5, the Kotobuki-za in Honjo burned down. On October 16, Japan instituted its first fingerprinting law, with every prisoner in Japan required to have his prints taken. The law later became controversial many years later because of claims it was used to discriminate against Koreans and other non-Japanese peoples. Also this month, Yanagawa Shunshō’s dramatization of Izumi Kyōka’s Onna Keizu (A Woman’s Pedigree) was given at the Shintomi-za, starring shinpa greats Ii Yōhō and Kitamura Rokurō, after which it was frequently revived as a representative work of the genre.

On October 22, the Tokyo Bank Family Association (Tōkyō Ginkō Kadankai) sponsored a theatre event at the Kabuki-za in honor of the visiting American fleet. Beginning at 8:00 p.m. it included Hoshi no Chigiri (Vow to the Stars), performed by a troupe of Shinbashi geisha; stars Yaozō, Baikō, Uzaemon, Ennosuke, Sōjūrō, and Kikugorō in Kosode Maku Genroku Moyō, a 1905 dance play; Miyakoshima Ryū Tsukikage (Moonbeams on Miyakoshima), with Baikō, Sōjūrō, Uzaemon, and Shikan; and Momiji no Bashi (Autumn Leaves Bridge), danced by Shinbashi geisha.

October 25 to November 3 saw the Kabuki-za occupied by 1908’s second Shinbashi geisha production. On October 27, it was announced at the Kabuki-za’s stockholders’ meeting that business had been good enough to permit a 20 percent dividend.

In mid-October the Ichimura-za, in Shitaya, was renovated inside and out, opening on November 17 with a mostly traditional repertoire of popular pieces, Shiki Sanbasō, Ichinotani Futaba Gunki (a.k.a. Kumagai Jinya), Kuruma Biki, Gosho no Gorozō, and Koji to Inu. The program failed but it was the beginning of one of kabuki’s most glorious decades, known as the Ichimura-za Age (Ichimura-za Jidai).The theatre had been operating as an alternate or substitute theatre (hikae yagura) for the Kabuki-za, under President Ōkōchi’s control, with its programming the responsibility of Tamura Nariyoshi, and its leading players Morita Kanya XIII and Bandō Mitsugorō VII. Now Nakamura Kichiemon I and Onoe Kikugorō VI were made its stars. Thus the period also was called the Kiku-Kichi Age.

The Ichimura-za Age/Kiku-Kichi Age

Following the passing of Morita Kanya XII, Tamura Nariyoshi evolved into Tokyo’s foremost producer, providing his services to the Kabuki-za for a spell while also running the Ichimura-za. From April 1907, its stars were Morita Kanya XIII and Bandō Mitsugorō VII, along with Onoe Fujaku (later Onoe Kikujirō III), Nakamura Komasuke (later Ōtani Tomoemon VI), Onoe Eizaburō (later Bandō Hikosaburō VI), and other rising young kabuki actors. In 1908, Tamura purchased the theatre for himself, renovated it, and hired the 23-year-old Onoe Kikugorō VI and the 22-year-old Nakamura Kichiemon I to lead its company. The opening production was in November, with Kichiemon playing Kumagai in Kumagai Jinya and Kikugorō starring as Gorozō in Gosho no Gorozō.

Thereafter, from the end of Meiji through the following Taishō period, Tamura fostered the development of Kichiemon’s artistry as a specialist in history plays (jidaimono), at the top of the program, and Kikugorō’s in domestic dramas (sewamono), at the bottom, with Kikugorō and Mitsugorō featured in each program’s dance plays.

As Miyake Shūtarō wrote:

Tamura had a rare love for kabuki theatre, an abiding respect for scholarly depth, and a thorough talent for direction. He was a leader in the acquisition of hard-to-get knowledge of modern kabuki, which he demonstrated by using the success of the late Dan-Kiku (Danjūrō IX-Kikugorō V) as an ideal to produce the superb pairing of Kiku-Kichi. It was only natural that the Ichimura-za would enjoy a golden age. [From Engeki Gojū-Nen Shi.]

Tamura continued to manage both the Kabuki-za and the Ichimura-za, providing the Ichimura-za actors the Kabuki-za stage when the older actors at the latter went on summer vacation. When the Teikoku Gekijō was opened in 1911, it, the Kabuki-za, and the Ichimura-za became the Taishō era’s three major theatres. Only when Kichiemon offered his resignation to Tamura’s son in 1921 (Tamura died in 1920) so he could join Shōchiku did the great popularity of the Ichimura-za come to an end.

Tamura, who had to retire in 1913 for a time because of illness, wisely made use of the talents of Kikugorō and Kichiemon, even sometimes furthering a rivalry between them by producing plays in which they alternated daily in the leading roles, thereby stirring great audience interest. His policies were right on target and the sparks that flew from each actor’s artistry enflamed the passions of their respective fans, bringing growing success to the theatre.
Yūraku-za. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On November 1, Japan’s first Western-style theatre, the Yūraku-za, opened in Yūraku-chō, near Sukiyabashi, in Tokyo’s Kōjimachi district. Equipped with chairs throughout and dining establishments as well as lounges, it “was originally designed as a small theatre for high-grade drama, and from its stage much of the Meiji and Taishō Shingeki was introduced.” [From Japanese Drama and Music in the Meiji Era.] 

Other important November events included the acquisition by the growing Shōchiku Company of the Asahi-za in Osaka’s Dōtonbori entertainment district. There was also the showing of a new dramatic movie, Ono ga Tsumi (My Sin), at the Sanyūkan movie theatre in Asakusa, which made it the precursor of many shinpa-based films. And, finally, Fujisawa Asajirō, a longtime colleague of Kawakami Otojirō, opened his Tokyo Actors’ Training School (Tōkyō Haiyū Yōseijo) for a males-only student body.

The November Kabuki-za production opened at 12:30 p.m. on the 12th. Opening the show was Kabuki Jūhachiban piece Kagekiyo (a.k.a. Rōyaburi no Kagekiyo or Kagekiyo Breaks out of Jail), restored after years of not being performed. Second on the bill was Mokuami’s 1872 history drama Sangoku Busō Hisago Gunbai, in whose “Daitoku-Ji” scene Ichimura Uzaemon’s 13-year old apprentice Bandō Uzaburō made his debut, playing a noble’s page. The next selection was the better- known Modori Bashi, which preceded the famed puppet play about a fox-woman, Ashiya Dōman Ōuchi Kagami (a.k.a. Kuzu no Ha), with the takemoto instrumental Shinoda Zuma (Wife of Shinoda) completing the bill.

Komazō looked good as the powerful hero of Kagekiyo, his tone was right, and everything he did clicked. The combination of Sōjūrō and Shikan as Yasuna and Kuzu no Ha did nothing to sully the theatre’s reputation but, midway through the run, the box office began to suffer, with losses greater than any since the management had been reorganized; somehow, though, the show managed to stay alive for 25 days, closing on December 6.

December 12 saw the founding by poet/sculptor Takamura Kōtarō and others of the Pan no Kai (Pan Society), a group of modernist visual and literary artists named for the mythological satyr-like creature. Participants included Kitahara Hakushū, Kinoshita Mokutarō, Nagata Hideo, Yoshii Isamu, and others. Later, director Osanai Kaoru and actor Ichikawa Sadanji II became active participants. Meanwhile, in contrast, Japanese literature was inundated with the tides of naturalism, achieving its crowning period of glory. Moreover, in the world of tanka poetry, the magazine Araragi followed in the path of Ashibi, from which it broke away. The next year, Itō Sachio and Saitō Mokichi became its editors, making it the chief poetry magazine of the Taishō and early Shōwa years.

At the Kabuki-za, for seven days from December 11-17, a bunraku troupe led by Takemoto Setsudayū performed a wide variety of puppet dramas to packed houses.

In 1908, the Meidi-ya (Meiji-ya) grocery chain began using advertising vehicles, Matchbook collecting became popular this year. For world events of 1908 click here, and for specifically theatre-related events click here.




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