1st Installment From Okamoto Kido’s Talks On Meiji Era Theatre – Under The Lamp
Part 14 The Scene at the opening of the new Kabukiza!
Kabuza Gossip – ‘Heart Warming Historical Tales of Kōmon’ (Zokusetsu Bidan Kōmon Ki) — Scholar, Amateur Kabuki Dramatist and Journalist Fukuchi Ōchi — The Appearance of Kabukiza Banzuke advertising posters – ‘The Fire Brigade Fight’ (Megumi no Kenka)
That year (1889), in November, the opening ceremony for the new Kabukiza Theatre took place. I remember that beforehand the plot of land on which the Kabukiza Theatre was built was vacant. Occasionally on the plot of land there would be a tournament or a circus, all show business events. On this plot of land, it was said, a new large theatre structure was going to be built. Rumours that were circulating widely about this were discussed a lot between me and a group of friends who were Kabuki aficionados. It wasn’t yet clear what the name of the theatre would be. It was said that it could possibly be called the Kabukiza, or maybe the Kabuza. However Kabuza (literally Turnip Gossip), which had been suggested as the name for the new theatre, was also an insult as Kabu means daikon or big turnip, an inauspicious name for a Kabuki Theatre as it is also an insult (bad actors are sometimes called daikon). Eeventually the vacant land was enclosed by wooden fencing and in the space where the Kabukiza Theatre was due to be constructed large hoardings were put up and at around that time it was made clear that the name of the theatre would be the Kabukiza. At that time I was making my way through Tsukuji’s Furitsu Junior High School and every day, without exception, I passed by the front of the construction yard. In view of being a theatre goer it was of some interest to me. Every day the construction work could be seen gradually progressing. As the deadline for the date of completion approached the rumours circulating in the newspapers didn’t dwindle; that the theatre structure that was built would be especially splendid, what kind of actors would be appearing on stage? What their names are could be anyone’s guess, and what would be the name of the person who would be designated as (za) gashira, the boss of the theatre? Alongside which many vague suggestions and opinionated guesses were frequently published, livening things up; that amongst these questions and rumours one way or another the head of the theatre was to be Chiba Katsugorō, that the boss of the Shintomiza Theatre Morita Kan’ya (XII) had already seen a report that said something similar. I was naturally secretive about these things, even though nothing was actually known for sure. Newspaper articles considered wide-ranging public rumours. In the circumstances the Shintomiza Theatre was no distance at all from Kobiki-chō where the new Grand Theatre was being built. This brought with it fear that this would become a great rival to the Shintomiza Theatre. Consequently Morita Kan’ya planned counter measures and in collaboration with the masters of the three theatres, the Nakamuraza, Ichimuraza and Chitoseza, formed one alliance of all four theatres which won over the remaining master actors resident in Tōkyō. For the next five years they said the major actors had agreed, to some derision, to increase the number of performances produced but that they would only work at these four theatres. It appeared that in this way they were attempting to taunt the new Kabukiza Theatre. Every day I passed by Kobiki-chō near to where they were putting up the long awaited theatre which, growing day by day, would eventually change the situation, something I hoped wasn’t going to bring a feeling of misfortune.
However, the situation in the world of the theatre was changing. As a group we, seventeen and eighteen year olds alike, thought that there would be an authorized draft text sent out to officials but this didn’t happen. With other unusual issues that we spoke about in our group the situation that unfolded was confusing; Danjūrō, Kikugorō, Sadanji are going to be starting at the Kabukiza theatre, Fukusuke, Kakitsu, Matsusuke, Kodanji, Gennosuke are all going to be gathering together to work there. As it was the opening ceremony to launch the theatre, which took place in the middle of November, went off without a hitch. The fragile four theatre alliance found itself in difficulty broke up. The new opening performance play was Mokuami’s work, ‘The Story of Kōmon: A Lecture for Youth’ (Kōmon ki Osana Kōshaku) which had been revised and supplemented by the amateur playwright and scholar Fukuchi Ōchi.
The leading Nadai actors settled on were ‘The Popular and Moving Story of Kōmon’ (Zokusetsu Bidan Kōmon Ki). Additionally the last piece of the day’s programme, the Ōgiri Grand Finale, was a production of the ‘Rokkasen’ Jōruri. Anyway, I had many questions before the opening. The building was the first to be called a Grand Theatre and it seemed that, as the first of its kind in the theatre world, it was increasingly said that it didn’t seem so bad. Now though I differ in my views from those of the public. Around about the seventh day, on a Sunday, I went to watch and was just waiting around at the back of the pit area where I was only the third person so attendance was a bit sparse. It wasn’t packed and had by no means drawn a full house. The entrance fees were, for a furnished sajiki gallery single room four yen seventy sen, upper pit takadoma raised box three yen fifty sen, hiradoma level dirt box in front of the stage two yen eighty sen.
While I was watching that Sunday I was told that Kikugorō was ill and that he would be substituted by Kakitsu who would be playing the role of Kappa no Kichizō, and would also be substituting for Kikugorō in the role of the poet Kisen Hōshi in the Jōruri recitation with shamisen piece Fujii Mondayū. Danjūrō was certainly appropriate as Mitsukuni and was in general very popular with the public in that role. I was obliged to greatly admire the Fun’ya no Yasuide Jōruri recitation with shamisen and as I watched I was in ecstasy during the entire section of “Fujiya Asama”. Today though, and since then, there are no actors with good enough dancing skills who can do that. It’s impossible to find actors any more who have that calm, unconstrained refinement, and naturally light and easy touch, or so it seems. It’s strongly hoped that the actor Kōshiro, an acceptable heir to this scene, would like to perform it. Kikugorō also had a reputation at being good in the role of Kappa no Kichizō. The most unpopular was Fukusuke’s fish shop dealer Hisagorō. Right from the start he was to blame for overdoing the role and his appearance was pitiful. Comments were made like ‘it’s a fish merchant, not a greengrocer’. Anyway that rounded chubby figure persisted with the Kamigata style acting but it must be said that a true Edo resident, an Edoko fish monger appears as though from a working background but there was nothing that could be done to solve it. I now vividly remember that my heart was fluttering a bit while I watched the fish merchant though I didn’t give up very often on the Jōruri recitation with shamisen.
That day I went with my father to Danjūrō’s dressing room (gakuya) when, for the first time, I met the scholar, amateur dramatist and journalist Fukuchi Ōchi. There were about fifteen gentlemen all lined up, sitting there wearing black silk kimonos with small family crests (mon) and black silk crepe formal haori jackets. Bowing I was introduced to Danjūrō. When he was introduced Danjūrō was simply referred to as “sensei”. In these circumstances I recall that I was sitting right next to Ōchi. My shy greeting completed Ōchi turned towards me and, speaking quietly said ‘Mr. Junior, I’d like to enquire, is it you of whom it’s said are an expert on all sorts of drama? Is it true?’ Once again bowing my head I replied, ‘Yes’. Ōchi smiled frequently as he spoke. ‘Still young, aren’t you? Is it your intention to study and if so have you studied diligently for a while before? Are you really very good at English?’. I was particularly good at English specifically and had acquired the language with more than a little practice. ‘Yes, if circumstances allow, its English’, I answered boldly to which he replied, ‘That is good. By all means you ought to study more and more. With the little man I’m also progressing’, he said, a very frank exchange at this, our first meeting. In a newspaper editorial there was a short article called “What if?” (Moshiya Sōshi) that I looked through and I guessed that this was written secretly by Ōchi the appearance of which belied the impression I had of him from the easy going informality of our first meeting. In some way I was, I thought, quite pleased. It so happened that later on, Ōchi was provoked about his views. At that time Danjūrō was playing the role of Mitsukuni in a scene inside Edo Castle where the priest of Goji-in, the Guardian Temple, was explaining about (the Buddhist concepts of) destruction and decay. Ōchi commented on this issue, asking “Why is Kawatake writing in such a scenario when I believe the opposite to be true?” and went on to comment on other issues as well. It appeared that Danjūrō’s admiration of Ōchi was felt from the heart.
Published as a series in 1935 and then in full as ‘Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Shitanite’ (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’ (Stories of the Past).
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.