Wednesday, April 12, 2017

THE FIRST KABUKI-ZA (1889-1911): Chapter 15: 1901 (Meiji 34)

Chapter 15

1901 (Meiji 34)

Samuel L. Leiter

[Note: This is Chapter 15 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 Japanese original for specific contributions. Some material has been cut, some expanded, and other material added from different sources. Links are given selectively. Prof. Kei Hibino of Seikei University offered helpful comments during the preparation of this and all previous entries. Corrections and documented additions are welcome.]

When National Treasure nō master Kondō Kenzō (1890-1988)—a shite actor of the Hōshō school—was 97, he recalled his youth at the turn of the 20th century.

I used to visit my older sister who worked on the Ginza at Takiyama-chō, accompanied by my brother-in-law, with whom I often went sightseeing along the Ginza. Around where Shiseidō is now was an ices shop called the Hakodateya. The ice cream we had at a table in front of this fashionable shops on the brick-paved Ginza was really delicious

My sister took me to see theatre at the Ichimura-za and the Hongō-za, but mainly I went to see kabuki with my older brother at the Asakusa-za and the Ryūsei-za (in Asakusa), among others. But what really comes to mind is when, in 1901, at the age of 11, I became an apprentice under Master Hōsei Kurō in Fukugawa. The master took me for my first visit to the Kabuki-za, in Kobiki-chō. The lineup of remarkable actors included Danjūrō and Kikugorō, as well as Yaozō and Matsusuke, so it was only natural for my theatre temperature to rise. (From Kondō Kenzō, “Koshikata,” in Ginza Tengoku Hyakunen Kinen, GINZA Hyaku-chōme kara.)
The Ginza near the turn of the 20th century.
As the new century slipped into its first year, the expression “20th century” this and “20th century” that was everywhere, used constantly in writing and verbally, with businessmen shrewdly selling things by labeling them “20th century.”

In January, writer Takayama Chogyū was notably active in the worlds of literature and criticism when he became involved in an ongoing literary argument with Tsubouchi Shōyō and others.

In the theatre world, the late Kawatake Mokuami’s foremost disciple, Kawatake Shinshichi III (a.k.a. Takeshiba Kinsaku), 60, passed away on January 10. He had been welcomed to the Kabuki-za as head playwright (tate sakusha) in 1890 and, after his master, Mokuami, died in 1893, he was acknowledged as the foremost dramatist in the field, writing mainly for Ichikawa Sadanji I and Onoe Kikugorō V, being especially adept at dramatizing the kinds of human interest stories known as ninjō banashi and kōdan told by professional storytellers. His representative works include Kagotsurube (The Sword Kagotsurube), Shiobara Tasuke, Botan Dōrō, Omatsuri Sashichi, and Kiyomasa Seichūroku (Record of Kiyomasa’s Loyalty).

Kawakami Otojirō and Sadayakko Make a Brief Return

On New Year’s Day, the Kawakami Otojirō troupe arrived in Kobe, after its epochal nearly two-year journey across America and Europe, and shortly before yet another foreign tour. Kawakami had had a remarkably colorful career; he had begun by giving speeches on behalf of the democracy movement in Japan, touring the country with his “Oppekepe-bushi” song, becoming involved in the sōshi shibai (political theatre) movement, traveling to France, succeeding with his three-play series, Igai (Strange), Mata Igai (Strange Again), and Mata Mata Igai (Strange Again and Again), and again with his war dramas during the first Sino-Japanese War. He also had formed his Kawakami-za company, and run for office in the Diet. Then, seeking further achievements, he and his wife, the former geisha known as Sadayakko, who became an actress, had toured the West with their company from April 1899.

They were now back in Japan for a brief stay, gathering a large company of 90, including rising shinpa stars Fujisawa Asajirō, Fukui Mohei, Shizuma Kojirō, Takada Minoru, Yamada Kusuo, Akizuki Keitarō, Kōri Keichirō, Kimura Shūhei, to open on January 30 at Osaka’s Asahi-za in a program called “Shin Engeki Daigōdō” (Grand Union of New Theatre). The company changed its name from the Kawakami-za to the Kairyō-za.

The program included two plays, Yōkōchū no Higeki (Tragedy While Touring Abroad), about the hardships the Kawakamis endured during their tour, and Eikoku Kakumei-shi (History of the English Revolution.” They played for five days and then toured to Kobe, Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kyoto before leaving Japan again, in April, for another Western tour. In 1903, Kawakami would coin the word seigeki (genuine or authentic theatre) to refer to his production of Western adaptations, beginning with Osero (Othello), after which there would be many others. The plays presented in 1901 by Kawakami—deemed the most distinguished progenitor of shinpa during its formative years—were given in Western style, with elaborate sets and lighting, and were the forerunners of the Western drama that would soon become prominent in Japan under the name shingeki (new drama).

(Based on an account in Kabuki no 20 Seki: 100 Nen no Kiroku, published by Engekikai.)

January also saw Shirai Matsujirō beginning to produce plays at the Itani-za, in Shinkyōgoku, Kyoto. The influential Kobiki-chō boss, Ishisada (Takahashi Bunkichi), died this month, as did England’s Queen Victoria. And, on January 31, Yokohama’s Kumoi-za burned down.

The first program of the new century at the Kabuki-za opened at 11:00 a.m., January 13, after Kikugorō recovered from what was rumored to be a serious illness. Opening the program was Zōho Tamamono Mae (Princess Tamamono, Supplementary Version), an expansion of an earlier play. Onoe Kikugorō V played the title role, who is actually a magical fox. It was followed by Mokuami’s Nezumi Komon Harugi no Hinagata [or Shingata] (The Mouse and the Fine-Patterned New Spring Fashions), better known as Nezumi Kozō, with the concluding piece being the colorful dance, Noriaibune Ehō Manzai (Comic Performance on the Ferry Boat) featuring the great tokiwazu singer Rinchū. The show ran 25 days, closing on February 6.

Nezumi Kozō was sure to draw fans with Kikugorō in the lead but as soon as its curtain opened its plot began to raise censorship red flags. The plot was altered and its dialogue cut but it was so eviscerated it became a dull shadow of the original. The closing dance play was praised for Rinchū’s singing and the performances of rising young stars Bandō Kakitsu (later, Ichimura Uzaemon XV) as Manzai and Ichikawa Somegorō (later, Matsumoto Kōshirō VII) as Senzai, but the newspaper critics faulted the other two plays as absurd for the times and not worth seeing. 
There was no kabuki program at the Kabuki-za in February, but since it was vacant, a touring troupe of Australian actors led by the English-born Charles H. Taylor (1851-1919), unable to find another empty venue, rented it for a week, beginning on February 20, offering a daily matinee and evening performance. This was the beginning of Japanese theatres producing plays by independent Western theatre companies. The repertory included Charley’s Aunt and Rip Van Winkle, among the most popular Western plays of the time. There was also an unknown, one-act comedy. The large company included both actors and actresses, and came with its own props, sets, and costumes, brought from Australia. Its use of a cutout moon, a flowing river, and modern lighting effects, now common, were considered highly unusual and garnered considerable applause. However, the shows nonetheless failed at the box office.

The Australian Variety Theatre website describes him thusly:


(1851-1919) English-born actor, writer, manager, director/producer. 

Best known for his long association with actress Ella Carrington, Charles H. Taylor likely came to Australia in 1872 and over the next five decades carved out a reputation as one of Australia pre-eminent actor/managers. During his career he appeared in many locally-written productions (including pantomimes and burlesques), toured the Taylor-Carrington dramatic company for many years throughout Australasia and the Orient, and wrote a number of dramas and musical entertainments. Taylor continued acting (often alongside Carrington) up until his death, and was also worked as business manager/stage manager for Fullers’ Theatres during the mid-1910s.

.  .  .

Taylor has been reported as being Australian, but his death notices indicate he that he was born in London. In 1880 Taylor and Carrington were arrested and charged with the murder of an infant. The charges were dropped when it was proven that Carrington had suffered a miscarriage.

On February 3, the great statesman and educator Fukuzawa Yukichi, founder of Keiō University, died at 60. Other deaths were those of the bunraku shamisen master, Tsuruzawa Bunzō IV, at 62, and the theatre artist Torii Kiyosada, at 58. Also in February, Okumura Ioko (1845-1907) gained the support of powerful politician Konoe Atsumaro (1863-1904) in getting the cooperation of the military to found the important women’s organization, the Aikoku Fujinkai (Patriotic Ladies’ Association), which began in March; it was created to provide moral and financial aid to the grieving families of Japanese soldiers killed or wounded in China. A member of the imperial family became president. Later, after the Russo-Japanese War, its membership rapidly leaped to 270,000.

In Yokohama, the Hagoromo-za opened on February 9. The Haruki-za was forced to auction its assets on February 15, and to hold another auction in March. Kabuki actor Nakamura Tomijūrō III died on February 21, at 43.

The theatre tax was revised at this time, with both theatre personnel and journalists protesting the imposition of heavy taxes when theatres could barely meet their expenses. 

Theatre criticism was popularized around this time, becoming omnipresent with each newspaper hiring its own critic and daily criticism being published. Thus the kind of criticism published in black-covered volumes during the preceding period by the Roku Ni Ren (Six Two Group) vanished. The major critics of the day were Takenoya Shujin (Aeba Kōson), Kōdō Tokuchi, Uda Torahiko, and Nakarai Tōsui at the Asahi Shinbun; Jōnō Saigiku at the Yamato Shinbun; Sugi Gannami at the Mainichi Shinbun; Matsui Shōō at the Yorozu Chōhō; Terayama Seien at the Jiji Shinpō; Seki Baiichi and Nabeta Hison at the Nichi Nichi Shinbun; Okamoto Kidō at the Kyōka Shinbun; Yamagishi Kayō at the Yomiuri Shinbun; Yamamoto Noriyuki at the Kokumin Shinbun; Hayata Shunchō at the Hōchi Shinbun; Nagamochi Tokuichi and Yamaguchi Momotarō at the Fuji Shinbun; Oka Onitarō at the Chiyoda Shinbun; Ihara Seiseien at the Miyako Shinbun; Okano Shisui at the Ni Roku Shinbun, and others, a rather impressive lineup.

March saw the publication of Kunikida Doppo’s short story collection Musashino, which extolled a new discovery of nature’s beauty based on his enlightenment after reading William Wordsworth. Another important publication appearing in March was the new theatre magazine, Engei Sekai (Entertainment World). Also this month, the managers of the minor theatres called the Masago-za and the Misaki-za announced plans for acting schools. And, on March 2, Osaka’s Yachiyo-za burned down.

The next Kabuki-za program opened at 11:00 a.m. on March 20, starting with Ōchi’s revision of Mokuami’s 1889 Zokusetsu Bidan Kōmonki, discussed in Chapter One of this series. The second play was Daitoku-ji Shūkō (Burning Incense at Daitoku-ji Temple). The final piece was a tokiwazu dance piece, Enmusubi Yahagi no Tawamure (Marriage and the Arrow Maker’s Game). Ōchi’s play was a ceremonial opening work and was so verbose that one of its acts was cut and replaced by another but Ōchi’s adaptation showed his usual chronic problems and was said to be difficult to understand. The tsunogaki or advertising slogan for the second play, Daitoku-ji, went: “Face-Off between Two Great Rivals at the Buddhist Services for the Decisive Battle.”

Years later, the program was remembered in this conversation between Fujiura Tomitarō, headmaster (iemoto) of the San’yūtei school of rakugo storytellers, and two theatre specialists:

Suzuki: What about theatre at the Kabuki-za during the Meiji period still burns in your memory?
Fujiura: The production of Daitoku-ji Shūkō on Japan’s greatest stage, with Danjūrō’s Hideyoshi, and Godaime’s [Kikugorō] Shibata Katsuie. This was a big history play hit for Otowaya [Kikugorō]. Takigawa Kazumasu was played by Kataichi [Kataoka Ichizō]. Yaozō (later Chūsha) played Sasa Narimasa.
Toita: You mean the father of the Kataichi we know now?
Fujiura: Yes. He was a Meiji star. The two sons of Oda Nobunaga were surely played by Kōshirō VII and Akasaka (Onoe Baikō VI). After that, I’d say Danjūrō in Jishin Gatō (Gatō and the Earthquake).
(From Fujiura Tomitarō, Toita Yasuji, and Suzuki Osahiko (moderator), “Zadankai: Meiji, Taishō, Shōwa Sandai o Kataru” in Kabuki-za Kaijō Kyūjū Nen Kinen Tokushūgo.)

Danjūrō wasn’t recovering quickly from his illness; he performed without incident for ten days but on the 11th he was stricken by a fever and grew very weak. He managed in the role of Mitsukuni but as Hideyoshi he soon was struggling, looking downward. The doctor said he had a kidney inflammation, which wasn’t that bad, but his lung disease was gradually worsening. Still, he carried on. Meanwhile, Kikugorō, recovering from his own ailments, was found to have albumin in his urine, which was worrisome. The health of Dan-Kiku kept their fans swinging wildly from joy to sorrow.

However, the production was a success and lasted a full 25 days, closing on April 13, with a total attendance of 35,198, to which can be added 10,670 who came to see only a single act in the section reserved for such casual visits. The proceeds for the month came to 28,000 yen.

A shareholders’ meeting was held on April 27 at which it was announced that for the first time in a four-year period dividends could be paid and, as long as there were no big losses during the next period, the payoff should be more than ten percent.

On April 6, Kawakami Otojirō and his troupe left for another foreign tour. That month Kyoto’s Shimabara-za opened. Also, at Osaka’s Kado-za, Kataoka Tsuchinosuke II took the name Kataoka Gadō IV during the memorial performance (tsuizen) honoring the seventh year of the death of his father, Kataoka Nizaemon X. He was the future Kataoka Nizaemon XII, who would be murdered in 1946 in connection with postwar food shortages.

In mid-April a bank panic swept the nation. And, on April 20, Nihon Joshi Daigaku (Japan Women’s University), the first women’s university in the nation, opened in Koishikawa, Tokyo. And, on April 29, Hirohito, the grandson of Emperor Meiji, and the future emperor of Japan, was born.

On May 3 the Yokohama-za opened. And, on May 4, two concert programs to raise funds for the mentally disabled were offered at the Kabuki-za. They were under the sponsorship of Ishii Ryōichi, the educator most responsible for advancing the cause of mentally handicapped people in Japan.
Dan-Kiku once more teamed up for the May production, which opened at 11:00 a.m. on the 16th and ran until June 9. It included the name-taking (shūmei) by Nakamura Fukusuke of Nakamura Shikan V (later Utaemon V). Play number one was Mokuami’s Yo ni Hibiku Taiko no Isaoshi (The Distinguished Service of the World Reverberating Drum). The second play, accompanied by ōzatsuma music, was the spectacular Sanmon Gosan no Kiri (The Temple Gate and the Paulownia Crest), in which a huge temple rises on a trap. It was followed by another Mokuami play, Hakogaki Tsuki Totoya no Chawan (The Precious Totoya Teacup and Its Certificate of Authenticity), while the concluding dance play was Rokkasen, with its kiyomoto, takemoto, and nagauta accompaniment. Fujima Kan’emon did the choreography. Danjūrō was still sick but played Sakai Saemon Iichi in the opening play, while Kikugorō somehow managed to be on stage throughout.
Nakamura Shikan V (formerly Fukusuke) as Ishikawa Goemon in Sanmon Gosan no Kiri. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
The middle play, Sanmon Gosan no Kiri, was performed as a memorial (tsuizen) in honor of the third anniversary of Nakamura Shikan IV’s death and the 50th of Nakamura Utaemon IV’s. The new Shikan, assuming his late father’s name, performed Ishikawa Goemon, a role considered his family’s art (ie no gei). The name-taking announcement (kōjō) was performed prior to the play, with Dan-Kiku appearing in haori jackets and hakama divided trousers.

Danjūrō’s performance of Sakai and Kikugorō’s of Mamushi no Jirōkichi in the first play were considered unusually fine, and were major highlights of these artists’ later years.

This month, the Chūō Shinbun newspaper published the results of an actors’ popularity contest, with the top position taken by Onoe Eizaburō (the future Kikugorō VI), and second place by Jitsukawa Enjirō. Among shinpa actors, Ii Yōhō came in first and Sudō Sadanori second. In the category of teenage actors the laurels went to the 16-year-old Nakamura Matagorō I and the 15-year-old Sawamura Sōnosuke I, respectively.
Onoe Eizaburō as Satomi Fuse-hime in Hakkenden Sumida Kōrō in a production at the Shintomi-za, October 1895. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.
Late in May it became illegal to go barefoot in Tokyo, with either geta or shoes required. Besides being unsanitary, bare feet were considered undignified for the Japanese capital after it had signed a treaty recognizing its equality with other nations.

In the midst of the May program, a request was made for a “Sugawara Michizane Thousand-Year Festival Benefit Production,” and discussions for one were begun at once. This led to a production that opened at noon on June 16, ran for three days, and included six pieces: 1) Kawanakajima Kassen’s (Battle of Kawanakajima) “Terutora Haizen” scene; 2) Mokuami’s Mibae Genji Michinoku Nikki’s (Diary of the Seedling Genji in Michinoku) “Ise no Saburō”; 3) Genpei Nunobiki Taki’s “Kurosuke Uchi no Ba” (“Kurosuke’s Home”); 4) Fukuchi’s Ninin Bakama (Two Men, One Hakama); 5)  the tokiwazu dance Ishiharano; and 6) Saya-ate (Saber Crossing). Dan-Kiku each played two roles, with Shikan and Yaozō, their main support, being assisted by a cohort of up-and-coming young stars who performed gratis. The show received good reviews and was financially successful.
During June the Kurosawa Shōkai, a shop specializing in typewriters, opened. In July the Nihon Kōkoku Kaisha (Japan Advertising Company) was founded in Yazaemon-chō. It merged in 1907 with Denpō Tsūshinsha to form Dentsū, Japan’s largest advertising agency.

On June 2, Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi resigned for the last time, and a new cabinet was formed under Katsura Tarō. On June 6, Kyoto’s Tokiwa-za, in Shinkyōgoku, burned down. On June 21 Hōshi Tōru, head of the Tokyo Municipal Council, was assassinated by Iba Sōtarō, a master swordsman, who thought he was a corrupt politician. Kikugorō considered making the incident into a drama; in fact, the incident was incorporated into the first piece on the Kabuki-za’s summer program, a play in which a 16th-century historical personage named Imagawa Yoshimoto is slain.

From June 23 to June 25, the Mio Group of amateur gidayū performers rented the Kabuki-za.

As usual, Danjūrō took off during the summer program. The Kabuki-za company, led by Kikugorō and Shikan, opened on at 11:00 a.m. on July 13 and closed on July 29, after only 17 performances. The play about Imagawa just cited was the first on the bill, being Mokuami’s Okehazama Narumi Gundan (The Battle Tale of Okehazama and Narumi Castle). Second was Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba, and the last piece was a tokiwazu dance called Natsu Geshiki Chimata no Nigiwai (Summer Scenery and the Lively Streets), about an ice seller.

Kikugorō’s Mitsugi in Ise Ondo, one of kabuki’s most popular summer plays, was so exceptional it was said not even a master painter could capture the beauty of his stage appearance. Even the famous artist Kaburagi Kiyokata praised Kikugorō lavishly: “This actor’s domestic play artistry gives rise to feelings of which I never grow tired, no matter when I see him, but his Mitsugi, especially, should be certified as an unequalled masterpiece of the past and present. His brilliance on each point is such that I don’t believe the late painter Yoshitoshi could have captured it. I won’t even attempt it but am content merely to gaze upon it.”

Ultimately, the assassination of Hōshi Toru ended up being presented that same month at the Meiji-za, in a play called Caesar Kidan (Caesar’s Colorful Story), starring Ii Yōhō. But the authorities got involved, the Kabuki-za’s attendance was poor, and the show was closed after only 17 days. Meanwhile, future writing great Nagai Kafū, who (as described in Chapter 14) only a year before had become an apprentice playwright, had no more patience for his job of striking the hyōshigi sticks, and resigned his Kabuki-za position.  And, on July 27, Danjūrō was injured after being thrown from his carriage near the Sukiya riverside. Riding with him was Kabuki-za manager Ogasawara Shinbei, who suffered bruises to his left hand.

At this time, Russia, planning an advance into the Far East, was moving south from Manchuria into Korea, which put it into sharp conflict with Japan, advancing onto the continent. The world was filled with voices foreseeing a decisive battle between these nations and Kuroiwa Ruikō, editor of the Yorozu Chōhō newspaper, took an antiwar position, which was embraced by Uchimura Kanzō, Kotoku Shūsui, and Sakai Toshihiko who formed a circle advocating pacifism founded on Christian belief and socialism. The government-sponsored Kokumin Shinbun, edited by Tokutomi Sohō, and the Nihon Shinbun, run by Miyake Setsurei, stood against them with their pro-military attitudes.

On the other hand, in the literary world the August issue of the magazine Tairō published Takayama Chogyū’s “Biteki Seikatsu o Ronzuru” (“On the Aesthetic Life”), which had a significant social influence, with the expression “the aesthetic life” being commonly used in mass communications and journalism. And, the same month, 22-year-old Yosano Akiko’s first collection of tanka poems, Midaregami (Tangled Hair), was published, gaining attention for being a woman’s pathbreaking praise of sensuality and emphasizing love-for-love’s sake in a world where most women still followed conventionally restricted lives, including arranged marriages. Her representative verse was (as translated by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase):

You have yet to touch
This soft flesh,
This throbbing blood—
Are you not lonely,
Expounder of the Way?

(yawahada no atsuki chishio ni furemomide
sabishikarazuya michi o toku kimi

Meanwhile, many novels were appearing by writers such as Horitsu Ryūrō, Oguri Fūyō, Izumi Kyōka, and Tayama Katei.

Playwright Namiki Zenjirō (Namiki Gohei IV) died at 73 on August 1, and actor Mimasu Inemaru III died at 44 on August 22. On August 24, the Suehiro-za (later renamed the Hisago-za) opened in Tsunomori, Yotsuya, with second-rank actors Ichikawa Kodanji V, Onoe Matsunosuke II, and Onoe Kōzō II taking part in the opening ceremonies. It was destroyed by fire in 1908.

The price of rice skyrocketed in August and the buying and selling of rice on Japan’s stock exchanges halted.

From August 4 to August 10, a week of two shows a day at the Kabuki-za was devoted to an acrobatic troupe headed by the Flying Jordan Company, an American aerial troupe; it did well enough to extend its stay for two more days, and even Danjūrō and Kikugorō went to see it. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, the company was captured by the Japanese and then released.

On September 21, kabuki actor Ichikawa Raizō, 25, a disciple of Danjūrō’s, died. On September 29, Bandō Shūchō II died at 54 from lead poisoning, a common actors’ ailment related to the makeup then in use. He was a respected onnagata who played opposite Dan-Kiku. On September 25, Yamashita Seibei became manager of the Ichimura-za. His first production featured Sawamura Sōnosuke I, recently elevated to billing status (nadai) in the title role of Akoya (a.k.a. Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki), which requires the playing of three instruments, and for which he received great praise.

There was no kabuki at the Kabuki-za until the October program opened on the sixth, at 11:00 a.m. Dan-Kiku headed the company, which started off with Fukuchi’s Kanbasha Gishi no Homare, followed it with Chikamatsu’s Koi Minato Hakata no Hitofushi (Song of Hakata, The Port of Love), and concluded with the dance Kotobuki Utsubozaru (The Celebratory Monkey Quiver). The first was a new play depicting the story of 17 of the 47 rōnin led by Ōishi Kuranosuke in the famous Akō vendetta.

According to Miki Takeji’s very harsh critique, Fukuchi’s research was poor, noting that “The world considers Master Fukuchi senile, and there are people who say he’s slowly getting ever clumsier but this overrates someone who’s an extreme amateur. His writing of plays is the work of someone crazy about what he’s doing but not very good at it, so treating him as a professional is rather unfortunate.” By contrast the program’s second play was an audience favorite; when the drum beating the sound of waves was heard, the house began to stir excitedly even before the pale blue curtain (asagimaku) hiding the scenery boat fell.
Onoe Kikugorō V as Sōshichi in Koi Minato Hakata no Hitofushi. From Kabuki-za Hyakunen-Shi.
Danjūrō, performing the kata of his father, Danjūrō VII, played Kezori Kuemon, while Kikugorō portrayed Sōshichi for the first time in his career, even though it was a role in which his line specialized. The two great stars were lavishly praised as a peerless duo. With Shikan giving a wonderful job as Kojorō, the production was lauded for its remarkable trio, but since every newspaper went on the attack against Fukuchi’s play, attendance was terrible. Fukuchi’s son, Fukuchi Nobuyo, later wrote: “The production was such a flop that a mere 20 people were in their seats when the curtain opened.” The 25-day run lost so much that the next production was rushed into place as quickly as possible.

On October 13, Bandō Kichiroku, a disciple of the Kanya line, died at 71.

The Benten Kozō Copyright Affair

An important event in the history of Japanese copyright law occurred in October. Eight years after the death of the great playwright Kawatake Mokuami, one of his representative works, Benten Kozō, the popular name for Aoto Zōshi Hana no Nishiki-e, was given an unauthorized performance on the 19th of its two most famous scenes, “Hamamatsuya” and “Seizoroi,” at Tokyo’s Fukugawa-za. The title used for the production was Benten Kozō Meoto no Shiranami. Two years earlier, in 1899, Japan’s copyright law was established as Law Number 39.
Yoshimura Itome, daughter of Kawatake Mokuami.
Mokuami’s daughter, Yoshimura Itome, who held the rights to his work, sued the Fukugawa-za’s manager for copyright infringement. But he offered as rebuttal a document showing that some kōdan storyteller had used the same material in a story performed well over a hundred years before, arguing that Mokuami’s work wasn’t original. Also, he said the Fukugawa-za script predated the first performance of Mokuami’s play in 1862, and insisted that it had been performed by Onoe Kikujirō during the Kaei period (1848-54).

This position was opposed by the scholar, playwright, and translator Tsubouchi Shōyō, who served as an expert witness. He argued in a written document that Mokuami’s play was the original version. The first court decision ruled for the plaintiff but the defendant appealed to a higher court, so the case, which took three years before being resolved in 1904, eventually went from the court serving the Tokyo region all the way to the Supreme Court. Kawatake Toshio, Mokuami’s grandson, later wrote of the case’s significance in Sakusha no Ie: “This incident occurred very soon after the copyright law was established and served as a test case for the law’s authority. Further, to the family of the late Mokuami, it was a major event in their rise and fall, ebb and flow.”

(Based on an account in Kabuki no 20 Seki: 100 Nen no Kiroku.)

For three days, from November 1 to 3, the Kabuki-za was again the venue for the Mio Group of amateur gidayū performers.

Opening day for the next kabuki program began at 11:00 a.m. on November 12, with Dan-Kiku again joining forces, appearing together in the popular history play Meiboku Sendai Hagi. The second play was Fukuchi’s Saga no Aki (Autumn in Saga), performed with takemoto and nagauta accompaniment. It was followed by Mokuami’s 1856 Shōchikubai Yushima no Kakegaku (The Yushima Painting of Pine, Bamboo, and Plum), whose plot retold the famous story of Greengrocer (Yaoya) Oshichi, with Shikan as Oshichi. Danjūrō played Lady Yashio and Nikki Danjō in Meiboku Sendai Hagi, while Kikugorō played the court lady Masaoka and the judge Hosokawa Katsumoto, but Danjūrō, still recovering from his illness, had low energy, while Kikugorō, on the verge of falling ill, was somehow forlorn. Not only were Danjūrō and Kikugorō’s performances panned, so were those of Bandō Kakitsu as Otokonosuke, and Kataoka Ichizō as Watanabe Gekizaemon, leading to such poor houses the show was shut down on December 1 after 20 days.

Miki Takeji took the Kabuki-za’s production methods to task:

When you think about it, the way the Kabuki-za has been lining up its plays of late has the stink of amateurism about it. Even laymen probably aren’t going to consider entering the place; it’s no surprise the result is failure. Since those in charge do nothing but accede to the actors’ requests and are unable to consider them objectively, only those plays the actors feel comfortable with are chosen, and criteria regarding the prospective audience’s interest are nonexistent. Since it’s a business it’s only natural it will fail. (From “Kabuki-za Gappyō,” in Kabuki, No. 19.)

In November Kunikida Doppo’s “Gyūniku to Bareisho” (“Meat and Potatoes”) was published. In Matsushima, another theatre called the Yachio-za opened, on November 2. On November 15, Danjūrō’s daughter Jitsuko (stage name Ichikawa Suisen II) married Inanobu Fukusaburō, a banker’s son, which made this a very unusual event in the kabuki world. Fukusaburō was adopted into the actor’s family as Horikoshi Fukusaburō (a family name as opposed to a stage name) but later became an actor as Ichikawa Sanshō V, being named Danjūrō X after his death.
Inside a kabuki theatre at the turn of the 20th century. From kyō Meiji Engeki Shi, reprinted in Kabuki-za Hyakunen-shi.

On December 6 Kikugorō suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed. It happened during a dinner at Hashimoto, a restaurant in Yanagishima, given by the Yūshoku Kai (Living in Idleness Society). This was a group of theatre connoisseurs that met twice a year, in the spring and fall, to eat food having some relationship to the theatre amid surroundings decorated with theatrical references.

On the 10th, liberal politician Tanaka Shōzō resigned from the Diet and appealed to the emperor regarding the pollution tied to the Ashio Copper  Mine.

The year’s final program at the Kabuki-za was not kabuki but bunraku, featuring the company of the great chanter Takemoto Ōsumidayū III. It ran for 14 days from December 4 to December 17, with a different program every day, the offerings totaling around three dozen plays, several given every day.

The Nobel Prize was established in 1901. The year was also notable for it being the first in which foreign automobiles were imported into Japan. The year was also noteworthy for the invention of radio by Italian Guglielmo Marconi, who broadcast radio waves from England to Newfoundland

For principal international events of 1901 click here and here. Major new plays written or produced in 1901 include Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Strindberg’s The Dance of Death and A Dream Play, and D’Annunzio’s Francesca di Rimini. See here for new theatres that opened in 1901 and still exist. Important novels of the year included Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Frank Norris’s The Octopus and The Pit, and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. Music was represented by Antonin Dvoraks’ opera Rusalka, and Sergey Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C Minor, among many other works in all aspects of music. For the year’s important art works click here.

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