Home > Books/Magazines, History, Theatre > Okamoto Kidō On The Kabuki Theatre Of The Meiji Period – Part Two

Okamoto Kidō On The Kabuki Theatre Of The Meiji Period – Part Two

Second in a four-part series by kabuki collector Trevor Skingle!

Published as a series in 1935 and then in full as “Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Moto ni te” (On the Theatre of the Meiji Period – Under the Lamp) by Iwanami Shoten in 1993. These extracts are from the serialisation which appeared in the late 1920s early 1930s in the Tokyo Kabukiza Monthly Kabuki Review magazine as Sugi ni shi Monogatari

Series Number 10, Part 2 (Magazine No. 62 –15th February – 1st March 1930, Pages 58 – 62):

Okamoto Kido

Strangely enough of course Danjūrō’s dynamism triumphed in that theatre. I went backstage, following behind my father, stealing Danjūrō’s time between acts because usually at this time during the performance he was very busy. His tone of voice indicated that there was to be an important kyōgen lecture. Firstly, he opinionated, by means of many satisfying cooperative script revisions and other especially enjoyable additions, ‘In what way is this book occasionally transliterated? What’s more, isn’t what Kawatake Mokuami and the rest say interconnected?  Understand! It’s not troublesome’ and so on. As I was a very regular client he chatted to me like an older brother. Besides, since the previous year’s Tomomori, it isn’t like I have to wait for an eternity to meet with him. It happened that I recognised this famous star as my guide; he who has a correct and constantly reconstituting fiery spirit. I feel dreadful in digressing so badly, but it’s because of reminiscing about someone I miss awfully.

Kawatake Mokuami

The fifth act of this kyōgen was Watanabe Kazan’s ritual suicide (seppuku) scene. At the point of the seppuku of Danjūrō’s Kazan, I wondered if there was a problem for Kawazumi regarding the participation of the chief retainer, an influential aged official. The scene then changed and the chief retainer’s folding picture screen accommodated Kazan’s body. His last moments were commendable, admirable and triumphant. The maid servant brought a metal wash basin to wash the blood off their hands, the old man’s confident mind in being able to mediate having been shaken, ‘to neglect water, something one needs for washing the hands clean of blood.  ‘Usual practice with blood* does not help to wash away a person’s death’ he said. I too have enjoyed reading the magnificent Eighteen Histories (Japanese link), and I know about the history of ‘usual practice with blood does not help to wash away a person’s death’. Also I thought hard, really hard, about trying to name Danjūrō’s tricky larger-than-life acting method. Mokuami, that venerable old man, personally wrote the script (and also unfortunately again repeated these lines) ‘to neglect water, something one needs for washing one’s hands’, as is usual practice with blood, and also other phrases and things. And there was no mie pose!? Is this Danjūrō’s own work? Is it something that might be his teaching? Anyway, I was a little dissatisfied in Danjūrō’s own adaptation, though actually experiencing this first different experimental revision was really worthwhile.

* ‘Usual practice with blood’ is a pun on kōshitsu no chi o hiite iru, to be descended from the Imperial House, implying that the death of Kazan at the time lay with the authorities

Tokyo Sensoji Danjuro IX statue

What’s more, under the auspices of various newspapers regarding ‘Yume Monogatarai’, the ‘new play’ was given unified praise by the dramatist clique of the remnants of Edo’s political opposition. In my opinion after this play everyone needed to have been allowed to express themselves about this topic and have many discussions. On this occasion it seemed likely that this would happen immediately, provocatively evoking many appropriate good luck wishes! Truly in that respect I too provoked provocatively.

In the matter of an existing working theatre the Shintomiza was often sold out. Indeed it was an enjoyable revelation even when and in spite of a wretched recession it was simultaneously in competition with the Chitoseza when it first opened (February 1885). For the most part competitively listing this named group of theatre people, a blurred parade of faces, Danjūrō, Sadanji, Kodanji, Shūchō, Gennosuke, Chitoseza’s Kikugorō, Kyūzō, Kakitsu, Matsusuke, Sumizō, Kunitarō, Dengorō was as likely as not to encourage competition. In challenging in such a competitive environment Chitoseza experienced a great many, interconnected, business conditions and a harsh and clear-cut defeat…

A zangirimono kyōgen (‘cropped hair’ play, new domestic dramas with actors who had cut their hair Western style) called ‘Koinoyami Ukai no Kagaribi(Japanese link) (Blazing Lovesickness – the Cormorant Fishermen) was performed with Kikugorō as Komatsu the Geisha and as Sasakotōge the wolf swollen from eating and, it was agreed, Kikugorō’s role as Kafusaku the cormorant fisher was truly a good display of a fisherman. Before opening day many various rumours were being banded about. Well now… every day’s consideration deemed the opening performance a gloomy and melancholy setting; didn’t it matter that not all the fans went? Poisonously selfish, every day I went to a poorly attended and idle theatre.Here, it appeared at first glance, was a ‘Tamagawa dry river bed’* case.

A Past Story Under the Lamp pgs 60 and 61

* kawara mono(riverbed people) and kawarakojiki (riverbed beggars) are unflattering terms for actors and this idiom once again seems to imply that the opening of the Chitoseza theatre was a failure

Talking of which, here again the cover charge was really unsound. As it happened when leaning toward the Shintomiza I was unfortunately reliant on my father’s purse. Strange how very much my costs amounted to. However when leaning toward Chitoseza I often went with my friend Mr. S Jnr. and a couple of other spectators.  And I recall that, if my memory serves me correctly, my attendances cleared out the allowances from my needy purse on which I readily relied. That particular period of the competition between the Chitoseza and the Shintomiza resulted in especially discounted prices. Many said that from that point in time so many prices were so low it was difficult to believe how precisely insignificant they were. Certainly, a variety of pleasantly low prices was pleasing for sure. For me also my expenses were just one hundredth of a yen. I was happy to confidently go out on the cheap, a six footspace (one ken) gallery box (sajiki) for five people sharing was two yen eighty sen, a six footspace (one ken) raised box (takadoma) was two yen twenty sen, a six footspace (one ken) in the pit in the front of the stage (hiradoma) where people sat on reed mats (masu) was one yen thirty sen,  and besides for fifty sen utensils for the comfort of guests (shikimono) would be spread out on tatami in every six footspace (one ken) space for people to eat. Correspondingly a six footspace (one ken) in the pit in front of the stage (hiradoma) cost one yen eighty sen with a maximum occupancy of five people costing each only thirty six sen. Such a small fee to pay so anyone can watch a play and even though the cost might not vary much from that time to today the cost then was certainly to no more than three yen sixty sen, though it’s real value was ten times the cost of entry. So then… it’s an indisputable fact that some low prices were going to be chosen. What’s more at the time it was said that it was regretfully overcrowded because on opening day entry was free of charge and for another two days entry was half price.

Shintomiza Theatre

Included in the fee to watch a play there was also a broad variety of cheaply priced food and drink. There were three varieties of considerably good and inviting pastries and boxed lunches and sushi, a portion for one person at twenty two sen and what’s more it was first class. Their second grade selection of three varieties cost seventeen sen and that being the case it was said that they were rightly much sought after. Then we watched a play with food and drink whilst occupying our considerably good first class hiradoma (orchestra pit) for which we paid in total for two people one yen sixteen sen. Then at the appropriate time when we left the theatre we gave the usher a large tip, my contribution being twenty sen, in total no more than one yen thirty six sen. In spite of the play’s occasional small attendance we called encouragement (kakegoe) from where we were sitting. Our principle houseboy for the evening was in his five person standing box (doma) in the area around the stage. Even if at the time we did decide that it was reasonably expensive an entire day was spent watching the plays, eating box lunches (bentō) and sushi which cost exactly sixty eight sen a portion for one person. Of course we came to the theatre walking from Kōjimachi district to Hisamatsu-chō street.

It so happened on the opening day the entry fee was free, which incidentally was discussed very little. But on that day it was also noted as happens often those days, that there was the usually a fifty percent discount. Often worried about the expense when it was rumoured that there was free entry, when the Chitoseza and the Shintomiza were within walking distance of each other, we crossed the street. Though unable to understand why it was free and the unusual opening hours we often chose the Chitoseza. We were told it would open its doors at nine am sometimes ten am and that the advertised afternoon opening was at three pm and sometimes at four pm. Also the break between shows was two to three hours long and we were nervous, not realising that the plays were two to three curtains long before the theatre closed. Anyway, as there was no charge there was no reason for us to complain. When visiting we waited patiently to see the event in case there was something amiss. Free of charge it was pretty packed and though seemingly a bit on the quiet side at that hour in the event of boredom setting in the audience would probably have eventually got a bit rowdy.

A Past Story Under the Lamp pg 62

Nevertheless our excuse was as a result of the advertisement that it was free of charge. What an extraordinary decision it was! I fear that on the day the people were confused and I imagine the audience cynical. As for the actual circumstances even if there was no free entry charge it was half price anyway. On the opening day I was unexpectedly alone. In the event it was said from the start that on reflection the opening day performances were consistently good quality and the audience for the evening having engaged emotionally with the performances the fans’ expectations were fulfilled. Even though from the audiences point of view the situation with the disorderly theatre schedule was disappointing there were, similar to the cheap class tickets, all new opening day free entry and half price tickets. On opening day, whichever day of the month that might be, the visitors all invariably appeared and queued at the same time. As well as free entry, advantageously cheap admission was also advertised. Because visitors particularly chose opening day the availability of spare seats was very scarce. I accompanied opening day visitors not just as an enthusiast but as a dramatic expert for part of the audience. As was uniquely customary it was always an extraordinarily very full house on opening day. Also when whichever theatre on opening day had a small attendance I always decided to stay by the stage. Given that Edo’s maxim says ‘daughter-in-law do go and see the opening day’s play’ if it was decided for the daughter to go to the opening day play it was considered unusually enthusiastic. Also, without a doubt, women visitors almost certainly chose the same play. It’s not recommended to say something like that, even hesitatingly, to get women to do something. Even though this sentiment was felt from previous experience both in the past, and as happens today, the type of visitors on opening day never really varied or were remarkably different, though what will happen in the future will become clearer as time progresses.

Photographic images published before December 31st 1956, or photographed before 1946 and not published for 10 years thereafter, under jurisdiction of the Government of Japan, are considered to be public domain according to article 23 of old copyright law of Japan and article 2 of supplemental provision of copyright law of Japan

Okamoto Kidō On The Kabuki Theatre Of The Meiji Period – Part One

Author profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

Related Posts:

Tokyo Kabukiza Monthly Kabuki Review April – May 1930

Tokyo Kabukiza Monthly Kabuki Review 15th February – 1st March 1930

Meiji Era Kabuki: Three Shintomiza Tsuji Banzuke: 1891 Part One

Meiji Era Kabuki: Three Shintomiza Tsuji Banzuke – 1899 Part 2

Meiji Era Kabuki: Three Shintomiza Tsuji Banzuke Part Three – 1912

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