Thursday, August 10, 2017

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

Chapter 17

1904 (Meiji 37)

Ichikawa Sadanji I Dies; the Russo-Japanese War Begins

Samuel L. Leiter

[Note: This is Chapter 18 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on the project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material has been added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting with this production stage rehearsals were regularized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsubouchi wrote:

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

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

Critic Atsumi Seitarō noted years later:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 17: 1903 (Meiji 36)

Chapter 17

1903 (Meiji 36)

An Era Ends: the Deaths of Kikugorō V and Danjūrō IX.

Samuel L. Leiter

[Note: This is Chapter 17 in a series devoted to the early history of the Kabuki-za (1889-1911). It is largely based on Vols. 1 and 3 of the Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi (A Hundred Year History of the Kabuki-za), edited by Nagayama Takeomi (1995). A team of 10 writers worked on the project although none are identified in the books for specific contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material has been added from different sources. Links are given selectively and usually only for items not so identified in previous entries. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Benkei and Onoe Kikugorō V as Togashi in Kanjinchō.

According to the January 1, 1903, issue of the Jiji Shinpō newspaper:

Up through December 1902 Ichikawa Danjūrō IX had played 429 roles and Onoe Kikugorō V 432. A breakdown of the former shows him to have played Ōboshi Yuranosuke or Ōishi Kuranosuke [the historical figure on whom Yuranosuke was based] in 37 productions; Benkei in Kanjinchō 11 times; and Tokugawa Ieyasu 10 times, among other characters. A breakdown of Kikugorō’s roles shows him to have played Benten Kozō and Soga Jūrō Sukenari six times each, Minamoto Yoshitsune [six times, as per the January 1 edition of the Jiji Shinpō: ed. note], and Tenjiku Tokubei, Okiku in Sarayashiki, and Hayano Kanpei five times each, among many others. [From Katō Hidetoshi, Iwasaki Jirō, Kata Kōji, and Gotō Sōichirō, Meiji Taishō Shōwa Sesō-Shi.]

The plague that erupted in Tokyo in the spring of 1902 turned even more furious after the New Year was underway. From January 4 a company of Chinese acrobats occupied the Kabuki-za for two consecutive matinees and evenings, with two tiny boys, one 2 feet 8 inches, the other 1 foot 8 inches, making a big hit.

The main producers of the time associated with specific theatres were Inoue Takejirō of the Kabuki-za, Morikawa Yahei of the Meiji-za, Suzuki Kintarō of the Tōkyō-za, Sasaki Seijirō of the Masago-za, and Yamakawa Kintarō of the Miyato-za; the leading unaffiliated producers were Tamura Nariyoshi, Takada Umekichi, Yamashita Seibei, and Koizumi Ushiji. Among the top critics were Aeba Kōson, Kōdō Tokuchi, Miki Takeji, Sugi Gannami, Oka Onitarō, Ihara Seiseien, Matsumoto Tōshirō, Wakana Kōchō, and Matsui Shōō. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi, Kabuki volume.]

As usual, Danjūrō didn’t appear in the Kabuki-za’s January program, which featured Kikugorō’s troupe. But Kikugorō was ailing so the same company that played without him the previous year opened under the leadership of Nakamura Shikan at 11:00 a.m. on January 13 and ran for 20 days, closing February 1. The opening piece was Ten Ichibō Ōoka Seidan; it was followed by the nagauta-accompanied Kusazuri Biki (Pulling the Armor Tassles), after which came Kawatake Mokuami’s Ningen Banji Kane no Yo no Naka, adapted from Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, Money, with Shikan playing Kikugorō’s role of Efu Rinnosuke.

Ichikawa Otora as Okura, Nakamura Shikan as Efu Rinnosuke in Ningen Banji Kane no Yo no Naka. Artist: Utagawa Hōsai.  

Oka Onitarō wrote:

Such plays as Tenichibō, Efurin [Ningen Banji], and Kusazuri Biki! Should audiences come to see them, you can ask them to pay, even though you bundle actors together and throw them away on stage. However, if you let company leader (zagashira) Shikan—who’s infuriated that despite his position he could not talk business with the management—make the choices, he’ll select such plays as Asahina, Amagoi Komachi [Kagurauta Amagoi Komachi], and Hosoka no Okugata, or, if not those, Jiraiya. Lo and behold, here came civilization and enlightenment. [From Kimura Kinka, Kinsei Gekidan-Shi, Kabuki volume. Transl. Kei Hibino.]

Since all the actors in this production were also moonlighting (kakemochi) this month at the Tōkyō-za or Minato-za, it was impossible to speak well of the plays or the casting. Things went so badly at the box office the show was forced to close after a mere 20 days.

Mori Ōgai’s musical drama Tamakushige Futari Urashima (Two Urashimas of the Jewel Box) premiered this month at the Ichimura-za, starring shinpa actor Ii Yōhō. Dance master and choreographer Hanayagi Jusuke I died at 83 on January 21. 

Death poem and photo of Onoe Kikugorō V. [From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.]
Kikugorō, who had been convalescing since December, appeared to be on the mend, and hoped to be back on stage in March. Preparations began for him to play Owasa in Benkei Jōshi and Chūbei in a new adaptation of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Koi Bikyaku. Publicity posters were even being prepared to announce his return. But on the evening of February 15, after he left rehearsal, during a post-examination consultation with his family doctor, Hashimoto, of Hirakawa-chō, Kōjimachi, he fainted and lost consciousness. Finally, at 6:21 on February 18, at his home in Shintomi-chō, he passed away, aged 60, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Newspaper obituary for Onoe Kikugorō V, published in the Miyako Shinbun, February 19, 1903. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

Kikugorō V’s death was announced along with that that of Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito, who died the same day; the actor’s passing shared the front page of the special editions published to announce news of the prince’s death.

On February 20 at 6 p.m., the Oshiage Daiunji Temple held a burial service for Kikugorō, and on March 6, at 1 p.m., the actual funeral ceremony was conducted.

About 4,000 people participated in the funeral procession, including theatre colleagues, ushers, patrons, upper-class citizens, wealthy businessmen, friends, show business performers, and so forth. It began at Kikugorō’s home in Shintomi-chō and led to Oshiage, with spectators piled high along both sides of the route; it was a funeral of rare splendor.

After leaving Kikugorō’s home the procession first passed the home of Ichimura Kakitsu (later Uzaemon XV), my own home, and then those of Danjūrō, Shikan, Inoue (Takejirō), Daikon Gashi (Daikon Riverbank), Shimoshin, and Akita in Hama-chō (home of Kikugorō’s mistress, birth mother of Kikugorō’s third son, Bandō Hikosaburō VI), stopping in Minami Futaba-chō in Honjo before the home of late playwright Kawatake Mokuami, where incense was respectfully burned. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari 6—Gose Kikugorō Ikete Kara” in Shin Engei, August 1930.]

On the same day, a film was shot of the funeral ceremonies at the Kabuki-za, it being the first time ever that an actor’s funeral was filmed.

From February 25 novelist Kosugi Tengai’s Makaze Koikaze (Winds of Evil, Winds of Love) began its serialization in the Yomiuri Shinbun, running until September and receiving high praise. February also saw Kawakami Otojirō, Sadayakko, Fujisawa Asajirō, and their company produce an adaptation (hon’an) of Shakespeare’s Othello (Osero in Japanese) in a genre Kawakami dubbed seigeki (sei=pure, orthodox, legitimate, etc.; geki=drama). It was a landmark production that assimilated the story into a Japanese context, updating the action to contemporary Taiwan where it was set in the Japanese colonial headquarters. Joseph L. Anderson, who describes it in Enter a Samurai, notes that “it was one of the first twentieth century productions anywhere to make Shakespeare relevant and workable in a modern context.”

By the way, on the eve of Kikugorō’s all-night vigil, two things were decided. One, based on a suggestion of Inoue Takejirō, was that Ichikawa Gonjūrō I be hired to take Kikugorō’s place in the Kabuki-za company. Gonjūrō (an Osaka actor known before 1874 as Arashi Rikaku III) and Kikugorō had not been on good terms, which prevented this Kamigata actor from joining the troupe before. This is probably connected to a crime that sent Gonjūrō to prison. As noted in the entry for Gonjūrō on the Kabuki21 website:

1871: Rikaku is sent to prison because of his involvement in a murder by poisoning. This story is about a notorious dokufu, so-called “poison-woman”, who was named Okinu. She was of humble origins but became a famous geisha in Edo. Later, she was nicknamed Yoarashi Okinu (literally Night Storm Okinu). She poisoned with arsenic her current “official” lover, a man named Kobayashi Kinpei, in order to be freely with her new lover, who was none other than Rikaku. The actor was himself involved deeply in the plot; he was arrested and initially condemned to death along with Okinu. Since Okinu was pregnant, however, her execution was postponed. Rikaku’s sentence was eventually moderated and he served “only" three years in jail. The same clemency did not applied [sic] to the murderer; after giving birth, Okinu was finally executed. Her head was cut off and displayed in public for several days. All the details of this poisoning case are well explained in a great article written by Trevor Skingle: “The Story of Kabuki Actor Arashi Rikaku and the Geisha Yoarashi Okinu’s Murder of Kobayashi Kinpei.”

Gonjūrō, aware that his health was poor and his future uncertain, wanted to perform alongside his master, Danjūrō IX, while he still could; he was waiting for a chance to retire gloriously so he welcomed Inoue’s idea with open arms.

The other decision made on the night of Kikugorō’s vigil was to ask Danjūrō to request of Kikugorō’s mistress, Okura, mother of Kikugorō’s eldest son, Ushinosuke, that he be allowed to take the name of Kikugorō VI. Danjūrō happily acquiesced and did all in his power to bring about the name-taking, which was to be accompanied by Kikugorō’s adopted son Eizaburō taking the name Onoe Baikō VI, and his other adopted son, Eizō, becoming Eizaburō VII.

Kiyomasa Seichu Roku with Danjūrō IX as Kiyomasa and Yaozō VII as Sakakibara Shikibu Shōsuke. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
When we consider the magnificent ceremonies for the March name-taking accession of Kikugorō’s three sons it’s not so hard to understand how lonely the company must have been in the wake of the great star’s death. Opening day was March 16, at 11:00 a.m., with the first play on the bill being the poisoned bean jam (“Doku Manju”) scene in Kiyomasa Seichū Roku, by Kawatake Shinshichi III, followed by the name-taking ceremony (shūmei hiro kōjō). Then came Kichirei Soga Ishizue (Annual Soga Foundation Stone Custom), usually called Soga no Taimen (The Soga Confrontation). It was followed by Fukuchi Ōchi’s Hanazakari Kabuki no Momijiba (Full Blooming Kabuki’s Autumn Leaves), with the program ending in a nagauta dance play, Tori Awase Otoko Mai (Male Dance of Chicken Gathering), with choreography by Fujima Kanemon.

The scene where Katō Kiyomasa awakens from a dream of being poisoned by a bean jam bun was truly excellent. I say “truly excellent” but that’s not how I thought of it at the time. It’s what I began to think ten years after Danjūrō died. After the dream scene, there was a blackout, and, when the lights came up there was a small house somewhat apart at stage left where Kiyomasa was dozing. After that, he woke up and said only “A dream?” (Yume ka) and the curtain closed, without the usual clappers marking the moment. It was that kind of very subtle curtain. In later years, I’d heard other actors murmur this phrase, “A dream?” and realized how difficult this little speech was to say. The Danjūrō I saw in his last years had lost his power and was no match for the masterpieces he performed, but just those words, “A dream?” were Danjūrō’s masterpiece. Even today, 50 years later, they remain in my mind. [Shiga Naoya, “Yume ka” in Dan-Kiku Sai Rokugatsu Kabuki: Kabuki-za Sujigaki, June 1958.]

Kichirei Soga Ishizue. The elevated actor is Danjūrō. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

The Soga play was the one celebrating the name-takings, with Baikō as Soga Jūrō, the new Kikugorō as Gorō, Eizaburō as Hachiman Saburō, and Danjūrō as Kudō and Gonjūrō as Asahina. The three brothers benefitted with good reviews from Danjūrō’s instructions and the production was recognized as the one in which the Meiji generation of actors passed along the baton to the new generation now coming into their own. It’s said that when Kudō looked at the Soga brothers, Jūrō and Gorō, and said, “Why, you two very much resemble someone I used to know,” tears gleamed in his eyes. In addition, this production fixed the kata or stage business for future productions of Soga no Taimen.

Onoe Ushinosuke as Soga Gorō in Kichirei Soga Ishizue, the play during which he took the name Onoe Kikugorō VI. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

The eloquent Danjūrō spoke these words during the formal announcement (kōjō) of the young actors’ name-taking:

The late Kikugorō and I were friends since our childhood. We teamed up for years and helped each other. In consequence, this spring, I, being old in age and still weak from my recent illness, feel as if one arm had been wrenched away. My sorrow is so unbearable. My only wish is for these three present. They are young and their art may hardly please you. However, please think of them as the late Kikugorō’s shadows. Please be chivalrous, help the weak, and pity the lonely. I beg every one of you to patronize them so they will be good kabuki actors. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, Zoku Zoku Kabuki Nendaiki. Transl. by Kei Hibino.]

Onoe Eizaburō as Soga Jūrō in Kichirei Soga Ishizue, the play in which he took the name Onoe Baikō VI. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

The audience was deeply moved and tears flowed freely on many faces.

Recent company addition Gonjūrō received excellent notices for his playing of the boorish country samurai Fujikura Iwanojō, the leading role in Hanazakari Kabuki no Momijiba.  However, once the production closed he became ill; Fujikura was the last role of his life. The program was a hit and closed on April 9 after 25 days.

On April 6, the Kairyō-za (formerly Kawakami-za) in Kanda burned down. Seven days later, on April 13, Japan’s elementary school regulations were revised and a system of state-required textbooks was instituted. The same day, Chiba Katsugorō, the chief financial supporter of the Kabuki-za in its early days, who had been under care for consumption for two or three years, suddenly took a turn for the worse and passed away. He was 71. After he had handed over control of the Kabuki-za’s corporation he had indulged himself in collecting curios and objets d’art to occupy his old age. On April 18 he was buried at the Minami Matsuji Temple, part of Yuinenji Temple, in Matsuba-chō, Asakusa. Another kabuki death was that of 49-year-old actor Onoe Kikujūrō, a disciple of Kikugorō V’s, who passed on April 30.

After the Meiji Restoration, Katsugorō’s adoptive father, Tsunegorō, was active as a theatre backer; he was called Yama no Shuku-sama after a district in Asakusa in recognition of his theatre work and was treated with considerable respect. Under Katsugorō’s leadership, the family business prospered greatly. The sources of his fortune aren’t that clear but according to what I’ve heard he turned the 350,000 yen he inherited from his father into 2 million yen by the time he died.

Katsugorō not only increased his adoptive father’s wealth; what he bequeathed to kabuki must never be forgotten. [From Tamura Nariyoshi, “Kabuki-za Ima Mukashi Monogatari no Roku-Gosei Kikugorō go Ikete Kara” in Shin Engei (August 1930).]

On April 12, the Kabuki-za was rented to a gidayū musicians’ group, the Suigyo Ren. From April 25 to 28 the theatre was given over to a program of films, phonograph recordings, and acrobatics involving log-riding (maruta nori) by a performer named Ishigurō Masayuki, who had been appearing at many other venues as well.

The May production, which opened at 11:00 a.m. on May 9 and ran for 25 days through June 2, featured the name changing of Ichikawa Somegorō to Ichikawa Komazō VIII in a program that opened on the ninth with a top-notch company starring Danjūrō, Shikan, Yaozō, Kakitsu, Baikō, Kikugorō, and Eizaburō. The first play was Ōchi’s Kasuga no Tsubone; the second, during which Komazō’s name-taking was celebrated, was another Ōchi work, Sūo Otoshi, based on the kyōgen of that name; it used takemoto and nagauta musicians playing a score by Kineya Seijirō, with choreography by Fujima Kanemon. The closing piece, also by Ōchi, was Onnadate Komagata Osen (The Chivalrous Woman Komagata Osen).  

In Kasuga no Tsubone, Danjūrō played both Lady Kasuga, a female role suited to his age-weakened body, and the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, which he arranged with Ōchi to be rewritten so that he needn’t move much. While he was playing Ieyasu in the “Monju-an” scene, he summoned the character Uemura Dewa no Kami, played by Komazō. He then used the moment to announce the actor’s name change.

It didn’t help; Danjūrō had no vitality left, and his slow movements were a drawback. It was impossible not to be strongly touched by the sight of the Meiji period’s greatest actor, old and feeble, making his final performances in such a debilitated condition. In consequence, Danjūrō withdrew midway through the run.

On May 13 Danjūrō was visited in his dressing room by Kawakami Otojirō, with whom he’d never previously spoken. After their initial greetings were concluded, Kawakami suggested that Danjūrō should travel to England where he could see England’s greatest star of the Victorian era, Sir Henry Irving, who was about the same age. Danjūrō laughed loudly and said: “I’m at the point where I wonder how I can even visit my villa at Chigasaki so the idea of traveling to the West is out of the question. . . . If I went, that would be it for me and I’d never return to Japan.”

On May 22 the not-yet 17-years-old Fujimura Misao, a high school student and disciple of Natsume Sōseki, created a huge sensation when, after being rejected by a girl named Tamiko, he committed suicide by jumping into the Kegon Falls at Nikko. Before leaping he carved a now famous farewell poem, “Gantō no Kan,” into the trunk of a tree. According to the Miyako Shinbun newspaper of August 25, 1907, the intervening four years had seen 185 attempted and completed suicides at the same spot.

On June 1 Hibiya Park opened. Also on that date, Masaoka Shiki’s follower in revolutionizing tanka poetry, Itō Sachio, began publishing the poetry journal Ashibi, the organ of the Negishi Tanka Society. It continued publication until 1908, when Sachio founded Araragi with Mitsui Kōshi. On June 23, Taki Rentarō, musician and composer of Western-style music, died.

June also saw a dispute break out between kabuki and shinpa over Kawakami Otojirō’s production at the Meiji-za of Takayasu Gekkō’s Edo-jō Akewatashi (The Surrender of Edo Castle). According to Joseph L. Anderson’s Enter a Samurai: Kawakami Otojirō and Japanese Theatre in the West, the play—a poorly received historical spectacle about the 1868 handing over of the shogun’s castle to the imperial forces—was sneered at by kabuki actors he doesn’t name (they were Nakamura Shikan and Ichikawa Komazō), who called shinpa actors “a bunch of amateurs” unfit to play high-ranking Tokugawa era characters. This was a charge reminiscent of when kabuki actors were criticized for their ineptitude at playing soldiers in Sino-Japanese War plays.

Anderson adds:

Shimpa [sic] actors angrily responded that kabuki actors were claiming monopoly rights on plays set in the “closed nation” before 1868. With Edo-jō Akewatashi, Kawakami and his men were storming the historical stronghold of kabuki whose actors considered that anything set before the Meiji era had to be their preserve. For weeks, kabuki and shimpa antagonists attacked each other in denunciations that were reported in newspapers under headlines like “Bloody Feud in the Theatre World.” Kabuki actors further resented Kawakami’s earlier surly proclamation that actors need not dance. That was an attack on the kabuki core and its multitalent tradition.

The same program at the Meiji-za featured Kawakami’s next Shakespeare adaptation, a radically cut The Merchant of Venice (Machanto ofu Benisu), performed in conventional European costumes.

From June 13 to 19 the Kabuki-za was used for showing movies. Then, beginning at 1:00 p.m. each day from June 24 to 28, it hosted five days of charity performances for the benefit of the Tokyo Female Prisoners’ Mobile Infant’s Nursing Society (Tōkyō Joshū Keitai Nyūji Hoiku Kai). The chief sponsors were the wives of Count Sakagaki and Viscount Kiyo. The actors included Shikan, Otora, Baikō, Kakitsu, Komazō, Kikugorō, and so on. Kabuki-za producer Inoue Takejirō and Danjūrō, however, were left out of the planning, with resulting bad feelings all around.

First on the program were the “Take no Ma,” “Goten,” and “Yuka Shita” scenes from Meiboku Sendai Hagi; second was Youchi Soga Kariba no Akebono; third was Momijigari; and fourth was Hoiku Kai (Nursing Society). The latter was a new work by Enomoto Kenji; Baikō scored highly as a female prisoner and Shikan’s bearing as a distinguished lady was said to be peerless. The performances packed the house but trouble created by the conflict between the Danjūrō-Inoue faction and the young actors led by Shikan was an unhappy byproduct.

The adopted son of Arashi Rikaku IV, Arashi Katsunosuke (later Arashi Rikaku V), who became a respected Kansai supporting actor, debuted at Osaka’s Benten-za in a shinpa play. On July 7 the Naniwa-za in Osaka’s Dōtonbori district screened the Danjūrō-Kikugorō movie of Momijigari. On July 15 the Kabuki-za presented a show of historical tableaux vivants, an idea brought back to Japan after his visit to Europe by painter Yamamoto Hōsui. It was panned because “watching actors who don’t move is useless.” It was a box office disaster. On the 25th, the Ebisu Beer Hall was opened in Meguro. At Osaka’s Meiji-za, in Shinkyōgoku, Shirai Matsujirō began his close relationship as Nakamura Ganjirō’s producer.

Interest in opera was taking hold in Japan at the time. In 1902 the Kageki Kenkyū Kai (Society for the Study of Opera) was formed. On July 23, 1903, Gluck’s Orpheus was produced in Japanese at Ueno, with a piano accompaniment instead of a full orchestra.

For 12 days, from August 11 to 22, beginning at 3:00 p.m. daily, Osaka’s Bunraku-za puppeteers took over the Kabuki-za with a program of six plays ranging from Oiwai Gishiki Sanbasō (Congratulatory Sanbasō) to scenes from Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura. On the 22nd the Tokyo Electric Railway Company (Tōkyō Densha Tetsudō Kaisha a.k.a. Machitetsu) went into business. Two years later, Ishihara Kazaburō andTamura Tora wrote the music and lyrics, respectively, of the popular “Densha Shōka” (Electric Train Song), which memorialized the places passed by a train along its route. August 24 saw the first installment in the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun’s serialization of Kikuchi Yuho’s Chikyōdai (Foster Sisters), one of his popular katei shosetsu (domestic romance) novels. It ran until December 26. 

Newspaper obituary for Ichikawa Danjūrō IX published in the Miyako Shinbun, September 15, 1903. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
A gret kabuki artist died on September 13. Ichikawa Danjūrō IX’s declining health and abilities had been increasingly evident this year in his March performances as Kiyomasa in “Doku Manju” and Kudō in Soga no Taimen, and his May portrayals of Lady Kasuga and Ieyasu in Kasuga no Tsubone. Still, he was scheduled to act Kumagai in Kumagai Jinya and to appear in Ōchi’s new play Shōnankō in the September program. Intending to depart from his Chigasaki villa for Tokyo, he suddenly fell ill on the eighth; he passed away at 3:45 p.m. on September 13 from a concurrence of his chronic uremia and pneumonia. He was 66.

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX as Kamakura Gongorō in Shibaraku. A statue based on this photo was later erected in Asakusa Park, but it was melted down during World War II to supply metal for military needs. However, in honor of the accession of Danjūrō XII to that name in 1985, it was recast and can still be seen today. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
On the 15th, his remains were delivered to his home in Tsukiji, and he was interred on September 20. As an early autumn rain fell, tens of thousands lined the route of his funeral procession to the Aoyama cemetery, where he was buried. During his Shinto funeral rites, Ichikawa Sadanji, acting as the representative of his disciples, delivered a eulogy, as did Kawakami Otojirō, reading one on behalf of Marquis Itō Hirobumi. Fukuchi Ōchi poured his heart into the one he had written. 

Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
His artistry deeply impressed Westerners then resident in Japan, especially those who had seen him for over thirty years since the 1870s at the Shintomi-za and Kabuki-za and who compared him to England’s leading actor of the same period, Sir Henry Irving, who had many things in common with Danjūrō IX. Interested readers will find my own comparison in my essay, “Parallel Lives: Henry Irving and Ichikawa Danjūrō IX,” reprinted in my book, Frozen Moments: Writings on Kabuki 1966-2001. An important Meiji-period foreigner who left a comment on Danjūrō’s death was the German physician Dr. Erwin Baelz, whose famous diary (Awakening Japan) has this:

Death mask of Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. Drawn by Nagahara Shisui. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

September 20: Tokyo

Today was Danjūrō’s funeral. His death means that Japan has lost its finest actor, perhaps one of the most magnificent actors ever. His artistry transcends the limitations of words to describe; it reached the depths of what it is to be human. His acting was something for sightseers to view, like visiting Nikko or Miyanoshita in Hakone. Many foreign travelers often went to see him and were deeply moved by his performances. Most of his roles were tragic or historical. As in the ancient Japanese manner, he would appear externally to be in full self-control in accordance with social norms while his inner feelings would be conveyed subtly through simple gestures, something that no one has equaled.

Further, this Danjūrō made an indelible mark on Japanese society for his times. During his youth (he died at 66), actors were still strongly despised and were practically excluded from human society. They were outcasts. Danjūrō’s father said, “Even if you wear fine clothes you’re still a beggar on tatami mats.” In other words, “Even if you’re clad in gold brocade you’re no more than a beggar in society.” At today’s funeral, Marquis Itō Hirobumi, Japan’s highest ranking statesman, was an intimate participant. Moreover, his eulogy lauded the late artist as one of the leading lights of the age. He took pride in having raised his status before the world’s eyes to a degree that hitherto wasn’t even dreamed of. This shows clearly Japan’s modern social revolution more than any other example. [Transl. from the Japanese version of Erwin Baelz, Awakening Japan: The Diary of a German Doctor.]

Within a half year, the greatest actors of the Meiji theatre world, the two great pillars who had held up the Kabuki-za, Danjūrō and Kikugorō, were lost, and the Kabuki-za faced a tremendous crisis. In other words, because of Danjūrō’s death, Fukuchi Ōchi, the playwright closely attached to him, and the Kabuki-za, the theatre with which he had become associated, could be said to have been facing an uncertain future. Furthermore, Shikan, Yaozō, and the Dan-Kiku disciples, who had been merely resident actors at the Kabuki-za, had little confidence in production; the last remaining member of the Dan-Kiku-Sa triumvirate of stars, Ichikawa Sadanji, was frustrated in his plan of being welcomed from the rival Meiji-za; the talented but rebellious Ichikawa Danzō, reigned at Tokyo’s small and mid-sized theatres; and Ichikawa Ennosuke I had barricaded himself at the Tōkyō-za.

On the other hand, Kansai was blessed with the stars Nakamura Ganjirō and Kataoka Gatō, while shinpa’s popular Kawakami Otojirō, aiming to pulverize the old school of kabuki, was a formidable enemy, putting the Kabuki-za at considerable risk.

When the Kabuki-za continued to produce flops, people would say: “Looks like the end for shibai.” Or “I don’t have any interest in going to shibai anymore.” The word “kabuki” certainly existed at the time, but most people preferred not to use it. It only became a regular part of people’s conversations after the Shōwa era. It was found mainly in specialist books and magazines, shibai being more common. “No kidding. Is anyone grateful to see Shikan and Yaozō’s shibai?” [From Atsumi Seitarō, Shibai Gojūnen.]

Thus Inoue Takejirō not only recalled Shikan from Kansai; he also summoned Kataoka Gatō and used them in the Kabuki-za's October presentation. He also sought to present the name-taking promotion of Ichimura Kakitsu to Ichimura Uzaemon XV. He thus created a company in which Gatō and the new Uzaemon were joined by Shikan, Yaozō, Baikō, Komazō, Otora, Matsusuke, and Ichizō, opening on October 17.

First on the bill was Mokuami’s 1878 “living history play” (katsureki geki) Matsu no Sakae Chiyoda no Shintoku a.k.a Ieyasu, followed by the new Uzaemon’s name-taking ceremony performance within Funa Benkei, after which came Gatō in his “welcome to Tokyo” performance of Kamiko Jitate Ryōmen Kagami’s “Daimonjiya” scene, with the grand finale being the dance piece, Koharu Doki Kabuki Nigiwai.

Matsu no Sakae Chiyoda no Shintoku,s with Yaozō, Shikan, and Gatō. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hōsai. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

A great deal of hope was pinned on Gatō’s drawing power but Matsui Shōō of the Yorozu Chōhō, Sugi Gannami of the Mainichi Shinbun, and Okamoto Kidō of the Ni Roku Shinpō started an anti-Gatō movement. This is because, previously, in 1899, when Danjūrō traveled to Osaka to participate in the ceremonies celebrating the opening of the Ōsaka Kabuki-za, Gatō behaved disrespectfully toward the Tokyo star; these critics now wished to reprimand him for that behavior.

Thus Tamura Nariyoshi got involved, taking Gatō with him to meet Matsui Shōō at the Yorozu Chōhō, and getting Gatō to go to Danjūrō’s gravesite and apologize to the late actor. This settled the matter for the moment but before long Gatō managed to make enemies of most of the critics. In response, Kabuki magazine’s critic, Miki Takeji, as well as Ihara Seiseien and others, became Gatō supporters, creating two camps that created quite a stir in contemporary theatre circles.

Ichimura Uzaemon XV's unusual name-taking announcement, made alone in front of a photo of Danjūrō and Kikugorō. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.

In addition, Danjūrō had promised to speak on Uzaemon’s behalf during his name-taking ceremony but with the great star now deceased Uzaemon had no one else to rely on. Thus, following the first play on the program, he spoke his name-taking announcement alone, a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, he received a warm response for his efforts.

In “Daimonjiya” Gatō tackled three roles, Sukeroku, Sukuemon, and Gonpachi, covering the role types of gentle young man (wagoto), old man (rōyaku), and comic villain (handōgata). However, the company, fired with enthusiasm to overcome the loss of their two great stars, couldn’t hide the unsuitability of Shikan and the new Uzaemon in both Ieyasu and Funa Benkei, plays that were out of their line; the absence of Dan-Kiku only made things sadder and more unsuccessful. The show ran out its 25 days but ended in the red. Miki Takeji commented:

Since the company’s greatest weakness is its lack of judgment in play selection, with a lineup of merely uncertain plays that bore the audience, if it should fail it will mainly be for this reason. Hereafter, unless this drawback is addressed, regardless of whether Ganjirō is there or Sadanji is there, I think the corporation’s fate will remain doubtful. [From “Kabuki-za Gappyō” in Kabuki, no. 42.]

The relationship between Shikan, who was in this October program, and Inoue took a turn for the worse and the actor resigned, starring from the next month on at the Tōkyō-za. He did not appear again at the Kabuki-za until May 1906. This meant that Yaozō was promoted to the post of actor-manager (zagashira).

Atsumi Seitarō later wrote:

The Kabuki-za, Japan’s foremost theatre, where the nation’s greatest actors, Dan-Kiku, appeared, had done poor business for the previous five or six years, no matter what it produced, and the company continued operating in the red. There were various reasons for this. First: the actors. Danjūrō and Kikugorō were extraordinary; no one would object that they were responsible for the success of Meiji kabuki. But the inevitability of old age caught up with them and, as you know, they became inactive. Since they tried to get by with as little difficulty as possible and performed only plays that needed no rehearsal, there was no way they could be interesting. . . .

The second reason is that there was no gifted producer, so barely any consideration was given to theatregoers’ interests, contemporary trends, or the creation of new plays, while catering instead to the mainly to the whims of the famous actors. And, instead of hiring writers from outside to write new plays, they protected the old custom of using only playwrights on the theatre’s staff. When no talented playwright appeared after Mokuami’s death in 1893 they didn’t search for new plays of high quality.

The third reason is the production methods. Even though Western clothes gradually became universal they maintained the old seating method forcing four, five, or even six people to squeeze into small, square boxes. If you wished to relax a bit, you had to be prepared to use the teahouses or ushers, which made theatergoing an expensive proposition. During the economically hard times prior to the Russo-Japanese War there were few who wished to waste their money this way. To make matters worse, there were absolutely no ways to attract theatregoers. There was nothing like today’s raking in expense account users or provincial theatre parties. Only actors’ fan clubs came close to such groups. The majority of patrons went because they loved theatre. Thus they were all kabuki connoisseurs. Which is why they didn’t pay much attention to the vigorous, unpolished art of the young actors. [From Atsumi Seitarō, Shibai Gojūnen.]

These comments were influenced by the art and practices of Sadanji at the Meiji-za, where attention was paid to new plays, plays by literary men outside the kabuki world were solicited, scenery used Western methods, lighting was advanced, intermissions were shortened, shows ended earlier, Sadanji performed in all the selections, and, in general, novel methods appealing to popular standards were introduced.

Meanwhile, on September 22, 24-year-old writer Nagai Kafū, who once had served as an apprentice playwright at the Kabuki-za, traveled to America. On September 30, geisha Katō Oyuki (1881-1963) of Kyoto’s Gion district married American millionaire George Morgan, who redeemed her debts to the tune of 40,000 yen ($20,000). Their love story became a 1951 Japanese musical.

On October 1 Asakusa’s Denki-Kan (Electric Theatre) opened as the first permanent Japanese theatre dedicated to motion pictures. As Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie note in The Japanese Film, this was “several years before America and England broke away from storefront nickelodeons.” On October 30, writer Ozaki Kōyō died at the young age of 37.

Carmencella, the American danseuse.

For five days from October 11, American danseuse Carmencella, “Fire Dancer and Terpsichorean Marvel,” offered her Loie Fuller-style dances at the Kabuki-za. A description of her performances at various theatres in Japan can be found here (in Japanese). Also in October, Sadayakko, having become enthralled by children’s theatre while touring abroad, induced Kawakami Otojirō to produce a bill of children’s plays at the Hongō-za (formerly the Haruki-za). He called it otogi shibai (children’s theatre), the plays being Ukare Kokyū (Violin on a Spree) and Kitsune no Saiban (The Fox on Trial). These were the forerunners of Japan’s children’s theatre movement.


On October 25, following a proposal by Kabuki-za manager Inoue Takejirō and Tamura Nariyoshi, a tea party-like friendship association of theatre professionals called Gekidan Kai (Theatre Talk Association) held its first gathering, at the Kabuki-za’s Yamamoto Teahouse. It was intended as a forum for the exchange of ideas among literary figures, actors, and producers; the members were writers Ihara Seiseien and Oka Onitarō; actors Kataoka Ichizō and Ichikawa Yaozō; and producers Inoue and Tamura, among others, who were chosen by the group’s sponsors. A transcript of their first gathering can be found in issue #43 of the magazine Kabuki, “Dai Ikkai Gekidan Kai to Genzō no Kata to” (“First Meeting of the Theatre Talk Association Discusses Genzō’s Kata”), a reference to the standard ways of playing Genzō in the “Terakoya” scene of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami.

Also this month, Inoue, seeking to plan for the Kabuki-za’s future in the wake of Dan-Kiku’s passing, began discussions with Nakamura Shikan (later Nakamura Utaemon V), Ichikawa Yaozō (later Ichikawa Chūsha VII), Onoe Baikō, and Kataoka Gatō (later Kataoka Nizaemon XII).

Opening Day of the October Kabuki-za production was the 21st; the occasion celebrated the 15th anniversary of the theatre’s founding. The program began with three acts from Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami: “Dōmyōji,” “Kuruma Biki,” and “Terakoya.” These were followed by Tsubosaka Reigenki (Miracle at Tsubosaka), after which came an adaptation by Fukuchi Ōchi of Murakami Namiroku’s popular novel Mikazuki (New Moon), with the final work being Kuruwa Bunshō (Love Letter from the Licensed Quarter).

Gatō played Genzō in “Terakoya” in which he offered a blend of the kata discussed at the above-mentioned Gekidan Kai meeting. Mikazuki, the new play on the bill, went well but was criticized for being the kind of play selection that was 10 years behind what shinpa was doing.

War plays had ended as topical offerings but shinpa, which had frightened kabuki with its plays about the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), had made great progress by turning in the late 1890s to adaptations of Western plays and novels and, mainly, to modern family dramas based on the novels of the era’s Kenyūsha writers’ society. They increased the number of young, student audience members, and produced what came to be called the golden age of shinpa called “The Hongō-za Age” [named for its major playhouse].”

. . .

However, in [June] 1903, representative kabuki actors [Nakamura Shikan and Ichikawa Komazō] writing in the Jiji Shinpō newspaper, criticized [Kawakami Otojirō’s] production [at the Meiji-za] of Takayasu Gekkō’s play Edo-jō Akewatashi (The Surrender of Edo Castle), for which  [Kawakami] struck back with what was called “The Theatrical Face-Off Challenge” incident. Kabuki, saying its style was different, declined to pick up the gauntlet. . . . In this way kabuki handed over the path of reform to shinpa. [From Kawatake Toshio, Kindai Engeki no Tenkai.]

In a famous piece of criticism, Tamura Nariyoshi described Gatō’s performance as Mikazuki Jirōkichi in Mikazuki as delivering his speeches in the style of sōshi shibai, the political dramas that evolved into shinpa, speaking in a monotone, and sounding more like something from a novel than a play. The production did poorly but lasted out its 25 days.

The latter half of 1903 had seen one flop after the other at the Kabuki-za and its corporate management was deeply in the red.

On November 21 an electric train line opened in Tokyo between Shinbashi and Ueno. On December 22, the second Gekidan Kai meeting was held during which Kamiji—the abbreviated title for Kamiya Jihei (also known in different versions as Koi Bikyaku Yamato Ōrai, Meido no Hikyaku, etc.)—was discussed prior to its January production.

November also witnessed a Japanese adaptation of Hamlet called Hamuretto (Hamlet) at the Hongō-za, starring Fujisawa Asajirō as the prince, called Hamura Toshimaru. Kawakami played both Claudius and the Ghost, and Sadayakko was Orie (Ophelia).

Among major achievements of 1903 were the Wright brothers’ successful flight at Kitty Hawk, the importation into Japan of the Singer sewing machine and motorcycles, the electrical illumination of Asakusa, and the arrival of the aluminum age. Soprano Miura Tamaki, later famous in the West for her Cio-Cio-san in Madame Butterfly, sang her first opera. The famous stationery store Itō-ya opened on the Ginza, as did the Kikusui tobacco shop.

Internationally famous plays of 1903 included Octave Mirbeau’s Business Is Business in Paris, George Ade’s Broadway comedy The County Chairman, J.M. Synge’s In the Shadow of the Glen in Dublin, George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, W.B. Yeats’s On Baile’s Strand in Dublin, and Gerhardt Hauptmann’s Rose Bernd in Berlin. The year also saw Edwin S. Porter’s pioneering films, The Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery. For theatre buildings completed in 1903 click hereFor additional events of 1903, including births and deaths of notable individuals, see here.