An English translation of ‘Meiji Gekidan: Ranpu No Moto Ni Te’ (Talks On Meiji Era Theatre: Under The Lamp) By Okamoto Kidō
Translation was undertaken for Kabuki fans who are unable to read Japanese!
Born October 15th 1872 to Okamoto Keinosuke (a samurai retainer of the Tokugawa Shōgunate who, after the Meiji Restoration, went to work for the British Legation as an interpreter) Okamoto Kidō is best known outside of Japan for his mystery novel ‘The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi’. His family were avid Kabuki fans and well-connected in the theatre world. Though Kidō announced his intention at an early age to become a Kabuki playwright as a consequence of his father’s bankruptcy he had to skip University and become a journalist, theatre critic and newspaper war correspondent until his success as a Kabuki playwright was secured with the performance of his Kabuki play ‘Shuzenji Monogatari’ (The Tale of Shuzenji) at the Meijiza Theatre to popular acclaim in 1911. He was a prolific author and playwright with over 200 kabuki plays to his name. Unfortunately other than his Inspector Hanshichi stories not much of his work exists in English translation.
‘Meiji Gekidan: Ranpu no Moto Ni Te’ (Talks on Meiji Era Theatre: Under the Lamp), which has recently been translated into English, was initially published as the series ‘Sugi ni shi Monogatari’ (Stories of the Past) in the bi-monthly Kabukiza Kabuki Review Magazine between 1929 – 1932, then again as a series in 1935 by Okura, in its entirety in 1965 by Seiabo, and finally in 1993 and 2008 by Iwanami Shoten.
The book begins with Kidō’s birth in 1872 and his introduction to the world of Kabuki during the Meiji Era, the final chapters covering the deaths of the three foremost actors of the period collectively known as Dankikusa (Onoe Kikugorō V, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Ichikawa Sadanji I) between 1903-1904.
There are some charming reminiscences of his childhood, in particular his first meeting with Kabuki impresario Morita Kan’ya XII who was visiting his parents as well as a much later meeting when Kidō was much older and was with his father at a tea house when Kan’ya’s disastrous financial affairs had become public. The bulk of the book covers the greats of the time such as the playwright Kawatake Mokuami and the major Kabuki stars Dankikusa as well as some of the great (and not so great) performances. Kidō does also cover the lives and tragic deaths of some of the more obscure Kabuki actors such as Suketakaya Kodenji, Ichikawa Shinzō V, and Bandō Ayame. There are some notable reminiscences about drama critics, foreign Kabuki fans, the female Danshū (Danjūrō), Kawakami Otojirō and his new political category of drama, and the First Sino-Japanese and the Russo-Japanese Wars.
There are some notable reminiscences. One reminiscence in particular recalls a run in with a theatre author and his entourage who were recalled as having been particularly ill mannered about the script for the first performance of one of Kidō’s plays ’Kogane no Shachi Uwasa no Takanami’ (The Turbulent Tale of the Golden Shachi) at the Kabukiza Theatre in 1902 which led to a period of serious introspection when Kidō considered giving up his ambition to be a Kabuki playwright.
The translation was undertaken for Kabuki fans who are unable to read Japanese, opening up a window on the Golden Age of Meiji Era Kabuki and providing an insight into the mind of one of Japan’s most enduring authors and playwrights.
‘Meiji Gekidan: Ranpu no Moto ni te’ (Talks on Meiji Era Theatre: Under the Lamp)
Okamoto Kidō’s works at Aozora Bunko
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.
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.