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.

















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