The Project Gutenberg eBook of Kabuki

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Title: Kabuki

The popular stage of Japan

Author: Zoë Kincaid

Release date: April 5, 2023 [eBook #70471]

Language: English

Original publication: United Kingdom: MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1925

Credits: Anonymous


The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.





The character of Kamakura Gongoro, a warrior of Old Japan, as presented in Shibaraku! (lit., Wait-a-Moment). A famous actor improvisation, or aragoto play, one of the hereditary eighteen pieces of the Ichikawa Danjuro family. From a painting on silk by Torii Kiyotada, the present head of the Torii School.










In my study of Kabuki I am deeply indebted to Mr. Seiseiin Ihara, the author of several volumes on the history of the popular stage of Japan. No progress toward an understanding of the development of Kabuki can be made without extensive reference to this valuable work. I wish particularly to acknowledge Mr. Ihara’s investigations into the mass of chronicles of the theatre, his lives of the actors, his painstaking researches into drama, also his collection of facts relating to the interference of the officials with the theatre and persecution of the actors. His Generations of the Ichikawa Family has also proved a record of great assistance.

Mr. Ihara has not only furnished me with data for study, but has been an indefatigable friend. A true lover of the theatre, he is one of the leading dramatic critics of Tokyo, and has not only given generously of his knowledge as a recognised authority on Kabuki, but acted on my behalf to smooth away a misunderstanding or straighten out a difficulty that sometimes arose concerning my attendance at the theatre.

To the late Mr. E. Motono, brother of the late Viscount Motono, I owe many of the first translations that opened up before me a new theatre world. Mr. Eishiro Hori, Professor of English at Keio University, rendered the greatest assistance in translations that gave me an insight into the history and technique of the Nō and Doll-theatre.

I also acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Mokuan Sekine for his Engeki Taizen, or Complete Drama, relating [vi]to the old customs of Kabuki, and to his Fifty Years of Meiji Kabuki. Another fruitful source of information has been Kabuki Sosho, a collection of old Kabuki records.

I take this opportunity to thank the friends who so often accompanied me to the theatre, and who were unfailing in their help, Mrs. Koto-ko Kuroda, Miss Shige Takenaka, Miss Chiyo-ko Hiraiwa, Mr. Hisashi Fujisawa, and Mr. M. Kinai.

Nor can I fail to acknowledge the kindness of the three leading managers of Tokyo who allowed me free access to their theatres, Mr. K. Yamamoto of the Imperial, the late Nariyoshi Tamura of the Ichimura-za, and later his son and successor, and Mr. Otani, head of the Matsutake Company, which now controls the greatest number of playhouses in Japan.

For twelve years I sat among the critics of the Tokyo stage at the regular performances, and cannot forget the unfailing courtesy of my journalistic associates.

To my good friends among the actors, Nakamura Utayemon of the Kabuki-za; Onoe Baiko and Matsumoto Koshiro of the Imperial; Onoe Kikugoro, the sixth, of the Ichimura-za; Nakamura Kichiyemon of the Kabuki-za, and Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka; to Mr. Y. Ninomiya, stage producer and playwright of the Imperial; Miss Ritsu-ko Mori, leading actress of the Tokyo stage; Mr. Kiyotada Torii, the theatre artist; Mr. Beisai Kubota, stage designer,—to all the friends of long standing in the theatre, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the privilege of their friendship and kind assistance.


London, March 2, 1925.



Kabuki Audiences9
Conventions of Kabuki17
Craftsmanship of Kabuki28
Kabuki’s School of Acting35
Actor Ceremonials40
O-Kuni of Izumo49
Onna Kabuki: The Woman’s Stage58
Wakashu Kabuki: The Young Men’s Stage64
Theatres of the Three Towns74
Danjuro and Tojuro87
Yakusha of Genroku99
Yakusha of Horeki111
Yakusha of Pre-Restoration Period121
Yakusha and Marionette144
Lives of the Yakusha153
Customs of Shibai169
Shibai and Outside Influence183
Music of Shibai192
Shibai and Interference201
Externals of Shibai215
Customs of the Sakusha225
Representative Sakusha232
Kabuki Play Forms253
Motives of Kabuki Plays276
Kabuki Rôles310
Meiji Kabuki323
I. Yakusha of Meiji 323
II. The Ninth Ichikawa Danjuro 330
III. A Theatre Manager of Meiji 337
IV. Rise and Fall of Shimpa 342
V. Reforms of Meiji 347
VI. Actresses of Meiji 353
VII. Playwrights of Meiji and Taisho 358
Contemporary Kabuki367



The character of Kamakura Gongoro, a warrior of Old Japan, as presented in Shibaraku! (lit., Wait-a-Moment). A famous actor improvisation, or aragoto play, one of the hereditary eighteen pieces of the Ichikawa Danjuro family. (From a painting on silk by Torii Kiyotada, the present head of the Torii School)  
Frontispiece, in colour
Onoe Kikugoro as a brave samurai woman mounted on a white velvet stage steed 22
Nakamura Matagoro, the leading boy-actor of the Tokyo stage in the rôle of a girl-pilgrim, O-Tsuru 36
Announcing Ceremony. Kojo, or announcement ceremony, in which the central figure is Ichikawa Danjuro. The modest actor whose name is to be changed or rank raised bows low, hiding his face from view. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kampei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada) 40
The last of the Ichikawa family, the granddaughter of Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth 42
Theatre Treasures exhibited. At the Nakamura-za, founded by Saruwaka Kansaburo, the gifts given to him by the Shogun were considered as treasures of the theatre and exhibited on certain anniversaries with much respect, the actor holding the gold sai, or battle signal, and covering his mouth with a piece of paper lest his breath soil it. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kampei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada) 69
Ichimura Uzaemon, the thirteenth, as Yasuna in a posture dance descriptive of a man who has become demented because of the loss of his wife 82
Onoe Matsusuke as Komori Yasu, or Bat Yasu, so called because of the birth-mark on his cheek which resembles a bat. A bold, bad man of Yedo 99
Matsumoto Koshiro, of the Imperial Theatre, in the character of Townsend Harris, the first American Minister to Japan. A photograph of the intrepid Kentucky Colonel is on the actor’s dressing-table 111
Nakamura Utayemon, leading actor of the Tokyo stage, in the rôle of Yayegaki-hime, the young princess in the play Nijushiko, or Twenty-four Filial Persons 132
[xii]Three onnagata of Asia: in the centre Mei Ran-fan of the Peking stage, to the left Nakamura Utayemon, the leading onnagata of Japan, and on the right Nakamura Fukusuke, the son of Utayemon and one of the most fascinating impersonators of women in Tokyo 136
Nakamura Jakuyemon of Osaka, an onnagata who imitates the acting of the marionettes 140
Yoshida Bungoro, a doll-handler of the Bunraku-za of Osaka, who has devoted his life to the management of female marionettes 144
A scene from Chushingura, as played by the marionettes in the Bunraku-za of Osaka 148
O-Sato, heroine of a ballad-drama of the Doll-theatre. Reproduced from an oil painting by an Osaka artist and shown in a Tokyo art exhibition. The doll-handlers are grouped behind like shadows 150
Yakusha making a round of New Year calls. In the foreground a member of the Ichikawa family, with two pupils and his servants, following behind an onnagata similarly attended. The kites in the picture show the favourite pastime of children during the New Year holidays. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kampei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada) 154
Matsumoto Koshiro in the rôle of an otokodate, or chivalrous commoner, ready to defend the oppressed lower classes from the blustering two-sworded samurai 160
Nakamura Kichiyemon as Kumagae, a warrior of Old Japan 166
To mark the opening of the theatre season when actors, playwrights, and musicians were engaged, there was a gathering called Seeing- for-the-First-Time. (Colour print by Torii Kiyonaga) 175
Advertising the Play. During the performances two men garbed in long trailing feminine attire, their heads covered with cotton towels, attracted the passers-by by their verbal advertisement. One imitated the lines of the actors, and the other handed out wooden tickets. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kampei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada) 177
Face Lights for the Actors. When the theatre became dark it was necessary to illumine the actor’s face with candle-light. Here property men are holding out candles on the ends of pliant rods that the face of the dancer may be seen, and candles form the footlights. The performer is the serpent princess in the disguise of a beautiful dancer in the piece Dojo-ji. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kampei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada) 181
Ceremony of welcoming an actor. It represents the onnagata, Segawa Kikunojo, returning to the Nakamura-za in Yedo after an absence of two years in Osaka. (From colour print by Utagawa Toyokuni) 182
[xiii]Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka as a melancholy lover in a play of the people 186
Nakamura Fukusuke of Tokyo in an onnagata rôle 215
A Kaomise, or face-showing ceremony at the Nakamura-za in 1772. By this time the roof of the stage had disappeared and only its symbol remained over the front of the stage, which now approached the long narrow style in vogue in the Doll-theatre. (Colour print by Utagawa Toyoharu) 217
Interior of the Nakamura-za in 1798 when Ichikawa Danjuro, the sixth, was promoted to the head of the theatre. By this time the roof of the stage had become a decoration overhead. (Colour print by Utagawa Toyokuni) 218
The largest Nō theatre in Japan, that of Onishi Ryotaro in Osaka, a modern structure combining architectural features representing the different periods of Nō theatre development 220
Kataoka Nizaemon, the eleventh, as Yuranosuke, the leader of the Forty-seven Ronin, in the play Chushingura 228
Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka in his favourite rôle, that of Izaemon, the lover of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s drama, and played for two centuries by the Kabuki actors 256
Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, as Watonai, the grotesque hero of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s drama, Kokusenya Kassen, or the Battle of Kokusenya. The inner garment is bright red studded with brass, the lower purple with a design of twisted white rope 262
Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, as Benkei, the warrior-priest in Kanjincho. He performed in this rôle when the Prince of Wales visited the Imperial Theatre 264
Sawamura Sojuro, the seventh, of the Imperial Theatre, as Togashi, the keeper of the barrier, in Kanjincho, Kabuki’s music-drama masterpiece 266
Morita Kanya, the thirteenth, son of the aggressive theatre manager of Meiji, as Yoshitsune, the young hero of the music-drama, Kanjincho 268
Onoe Baiko as the Wistaria Maiden, in a descriptive dance 272
Onoe Kikugoro, the sixth, as the transformation of a maid into a white fox, in a descriptive dance, Kagami Shishi, or the Mirror-Lion 274
Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka as Genzo, the village schoolmaster in Terakoya, or The Village School, by Takeda Izumo 278
Ichikawa Chusha as Matsuomaru in Terakoya (The Village School), who sacrifices the life of his son that the Michizane heir may survive 280
Jitsukawa Enjaku of Osaka as Gonta in the sacrifice play, Sembonzakura, by Takeda Izumo 282
[xiv]Ichikawa Sadanji as Sadakura, the highwayman, in the play Chushingura 284
The Harakiri scene from Chushingura 286
Scene from Yotsuya Kaidan, or The Ghost of Yotsuya, by Namboku Tsuruya. Onoe Baiko is seen as the disfigured O-Iwa, and Onoe Matsusuke the kind old masseur who holds up the mirror that she may learn the truth 294
Banzuiin Chobei, a man of the people, rôle by Matsumoto Koshiro 300
Nakamura Kichiyemon as Sakura Sogoro, the Village Head who sacrificed his life for the good of the people 302
Nakamura Fukusuke of Osaka as a belle of the gay quarters. Letters are made as long as possible to produce the better effect 304
Onoe Baiko as the demon woman in Ibaraki, escaping with her severed arm 306
Matsumoto Koshiro and Onoe Baiko in Seikinoto, the music-drama piece, in which Baiko appeared as the spirit of the cherry tree 316
Ritsu-Ko Mori, the leading actress of the Tokyo stage 347
The Imperial Theatre of Tokyo, completed in 1911. The building withstood the earthquake shocks of the great disaster of 1923, but the interior was destroyed by fire. It has now been entirely restored. The Imperial is becoming an international theatre centre, and has welcomed actors, musicians, and dancers from England, America, Russia, Italy, and China 368
Onoe Baiko, leading actor of the Imperial Theatre in an onnagata rôle 370
(1) The new Kabuki-za. (2) Entrance Hall of the new Kabuki-za. The new Kabuki-za, with a seating capacity of 4000, which was opened on January 6, 1925. Under construction at the time of the earthquake disaster, September 1, 1923, the concrete structure remained intact. Japanese architectural features have been used throughout the Kabuki-za, and, rising out of the ruins of the city, it is one of the most imposing buildings in Tokyo 374



Interest in the Theatre, and in the arts and crafts which belong to it, is to-day so lively and so general that it is rather surprising how little has been written about the popular theatre in Japan. There have been several books on the Nō, that unique form of drama which rigidly maintains unaltered all the traditions and fine conventions of the medieval period. But this stationary, aristocratic art has never entered into the life of the Japanese people as has the Kabuki theatre, with which the present volume is concerned. In January of this year was opened the new building of the Kabuki-za, rising from the ashes and ruins of the capital. It is a huge building, with a seating capacity of four thousand. The Japanese cannot live without the theatre: it is in a most real sense part of the national life. Through the theatre the least educated become familiar with the heroic past of their country, its legends and its actual history, so abounding in dramatic episodes “where duty and inclination come nobly to the grapple”. It stimulates and sustains their imaginative life; it is a bond of union for all sorts and conditions of men. Such a theatre is worth knowing about; and the art of this theatre is, in all its details, of extraordinary interest. No nation is so thorough as the Japanese in any art they undertake; and the Kabuki theatre exacts the most prolonged and rigorous training from childhood in those who serve it; their art is of the most finished. Technically, also, the devices and conventions of Kabuki scenes—the revolving stage, for instance—offer points of comparison and contrast with the European theatre which we can profitably study, as readers of this book will discover.

The writer of this book has lived for years in Japan, [xvi]has assiduously frequented the theatre (and not the Kabuki theatre only), and has made herself intimately acquainted with its history. Collectors and students of Japanese colour-prints know how entwined with that popular art is the life of the theatre. Some of the finest designers of those beautiful prints devoted their lives to depicting the actors of the day in their most successful scenes. And print-collectors have long been in want of a book which would tell them about the famous actors, whether of masculine or feminine parts (for women, as on the Elizabethan stage, were played by men), and about the plays in which they appeared. Only quite recently has it been discovered that the actor-prints can very often be dated by the help of theatre-records; and thus we are enabled to distinguish between the different actors of stage-families bearing the same name. (The hereditary character of the actor’s calling is another interesting feature of the Japanese stage.) In this book one’s natural curiosity about the lives and personalities of the successive Danjuros and other great actors is in large measure satisfied: and I am sure that print-collectors will welcome this illuminating aid to their study. But it is to those interested in the theatre as theatre that these pages will appeal above all.

Many of us remember the performances of Sada Yacco and her husband, Mr. Kawakami, in London, now many years ago. They gave us just a glimpse of the fascination of Japanese acting: but they represented an experimental effort—Sada Yacco herself was an actress only by accident—and in the West we have never seen any true representation of the national drama of Japan. I cannot but express the hope, which I am sure will be shared by those who read these pages, that before long Tokyo may be persuaded to send a company to Europe, and at last allow us to enjoy and understand something of the scrupulous and intense dramatic art, so rich in tradition yet so alive to the finger-tips, of the Japanese popular theatre.





Solid attention from the close-set heads of the playgoers kneeling on their cushions in the boxes of the pit to the crowded galleries on three sides, and enthusiasm displayed in the tachimi, or standing-to-see place near the ceiling, where patient people remain on their feet for long hours—the keenest critics as well as the warmest supporters of the actors—such is the scene witnessed daily in the theatre of Japan.

The Occidental cannot long withstand the mass psychology of this audience; that is, if he makes an attempt to share its point of view and appreciate the excellent things provided upon the stage. He feels its subtle unity, its amazing cohesiveness; he is carried away by an unseen stream, engrossed, engulfed, and wakes up with a start to find himself an entity again; or else, detaching himself from the atmosphere in which he has been immersed, wonders at this overflowing expression of Japanese life.

Statesmen, publicists, and editors of the Occident wax eloquent about Japan and her problems, but here is something they quite ignore and leave out of consideration, this manifestation of the pure spirit of the people with minds relaxed enjoying the theatre art that pleased their ancestors.

Seekers after mystery will not find it here, for there is nothing that is inscrutable. Merely the people laughing or crying as the play proceeds, spontaneous in their approval of the triumph of right over wrong, absorbed in the clash of evil and good,—the same theatre material that has served [4]to amuse and attract mankind for the last two thousand years.

Just the people, displaying depths of human nature, undisturbed by the questions that vex the politicians, the propagandists, the militarists, and other dread phantoms that cast their dark shadows over a sunny, smiling world.

The creative spirit belongs to no one land or people, and its expression becomes the treasure of all. Kabuki, the popular stage of Japan, is the result of three hundred years of intensive cultivation. Its genius and successful achievements belong to a common sum total, and are a contribution to the world’s theatre. Its actors are members of the same fraternity as those of the West, and claim kinship with them.

Nothing in the entire realm of Japanese life reveals the characteristics of the people so unerringly as Kabuki. It is a store-house of history, and has exercised a moral force upon the whole people. The crowded audiences in the big theatres of Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, Yokohama, and the countless minor places of amusement, testify to the enjoyment and relaxation afforded by the performances. There are the achievements of the actors, who may easily be recognised as men of the first ability; the frequent attempts of new stage writers, that are worthy of consideration as evidence of Japan’s modern tendencies; the living traditions of the old masterpieces to witness, and the many interesting ceremonies of the theatre. Kabuki represents a whole world of creativeness both past and present, a sphere of theatre activity that remains a terra incognita to the Occident.

There is something poignant in the endeavours of generations of Kabuki players who obeyed the voice within them, asking no acknowledgement, expecting no return, doing their duty as they knew it without the least idea of the vague western hemisphere—completely unknown to their brothers in other lands.

For more than three hundred years these actors have [5]lived and had their being in their own narrow spheres. True to the best theatre instinct within them, they bequeathed their accumulated treasures of style and taste, the purest and most varied of theatre material, to their successors, the modern actors, who, so far as the West is concerned, remain obscure, unvalued, and unappreciated, even as did their ancestors when Japan was isolated and had no relations with outside countries. Yet their art was good, and will one day gain recognition. They have carried on their traditions unswervingly; they are the custodians of all that pertains to the theatre of the present, and the future looms large with possibilities.

There are three separate and distinct theatres in Japan: the Nō, or classic drama, with its masked figures, perfected five hundred years ago; Ningyo-shibai, or the Doll-theatre, where marionettes interpret complicated ballad-dramas; and Kabuki, the popular theatre, in which male players reign supreme. These are the Japanese theatre arts, interwoven into the very fabric of society, the amusements of the people that reflect their psychology, tastes, and aspirations.

The Nō became crystallised into an art at the time of the Shogun Yoshimitsu (1368–1398). Long before Yoshimitsu held sway, the country had been brimful of song, dance, poetry, minstrelsy, and the three theatres of modern Japan may be said to have inherited the accumulated tendencies of a thousand years.

Deeply rooted in the people was the love of theatrical entertainments which were held in connection with the festivals of shrines and temples. From these performances developed companies of players who formed hereditary actor families, the members of which were regarded as belonging to the common people.

When Yoshimitsu saw a performance at a Kyoto temple that pleased him he gave his patronage to the players, and at one bound they were elevated to a new position. It was at this time that the Nō was brought to a state of perfection, and the support and encouragement given by [6]so highly placed a personage resulted in the monopoly of this theatre by the aristocracy, to be reserved henceforward for their own use and entertainment.

During the long Tokugawa regime, the Nō continued under the protection of the Shogun, and was patronised by the various daimyo. When the shogunate fell, the Nō almost went out of existence, but slowly regained its prestige, and within recent years it has attained unprecedented popularity. It is regarded as a means of culture, and is claimed by increasing numbers of intellectuals. Yet it still retains its aloofness from the common theatre, which it continues to disdain as cheap, vulgar, and sensational. In spite of the fact that it has come to a standstill and lives on the past, its influence is very great.

As an expression of the human spirit by means of inanimate figures, the Doll-theatre of Japan is unique. It is a surprise to find this jewel of art in Osaka, the city of smoke-stacks—an art that has been alive in Japan for more than three hundred years, but is at present practically confined to one small theatre, the Bunraku-za.

Other countries have their doll-theatres in more or less flourishing conditions, but few have reached such a state of completeness as that of Japan. For here is a rare combination—inanimate figures instead of actors of flesh and blood; doll-men trained from childhood to acquire the technique to manage the cold and lifeless forms through which flows the creative genius of the handlers; minstrels and musicians who have devoted their lives to the interpretation of the plays; and the best brains of the dramatist employed in order that the dolls may be triumphant and their use fully justified.

Kabuki, the popular stage, was but the assertion of the people to the right of their own form of entertainment, since the Nō had become the exclusive amusement of the higher classes. All the materials for a theatre of the people were abundantly at hand, and it only needed the impetus to start it flowing in the right direction.

[7]Ningyo-shibai, or the Doll-theatre, and Kabuki rose at the same time, both popular theatre arts. Kabuki was destined to be profoundly influenced by the marionettes, and the music of the Doll-theatre owed its inspiration directly to the Nō.

While Japan’s theatre genius has not developed in the same direction as the intellectual drama of the Occident, her actors are the product of severe discipline. Kabuki is one of the most professional stages of the world. The actors are trained from childhood, and keep their place in the ranks until their steps are tottering. There is no opening for the amateur to gain admittance to this well-regulated world with its set standards.

And of the countless plays, but few are known to the West. There are the dramas rich in human nature, as romantic and sentimental as the West could desire, with a realism that rivals that of the Occident. On the other hand, there is a remarkable excursion into the realm of the unreal, and grotesque characters cut out of the cloth of exaggeration form the characteristics of the many quaint plays that have been handed down to posterity by the nine stars of the Ichikawa family, the actor-line that has contributed more than any other to the development of the Japanese theatre. There are, also, the shosagoto, or music-posture pieces, ethereal, graceful, fairylike creations, and associated with these a whole sphere of descriptive dancing.

To attempt to justify the existence of Kabuki by seeking to explain it in the light of the Occidental theatre means to digress, for comparisons are idle until the whole story of the Japanese stage is made known. No doubt when Kabuki becomes more familiar to the West much of a critical nature will be written as to where the two approach or diverge.

The aim of this book is to lay the essential facts of Kabuki before Occidental readers. For it is believed that the way to judge such an institution is to find out first what [8]it signifies to those who have brought it into existence. After which may be considered the value it holds for the West. When an attempt is made to explain Kabuki in Western terms confusion begins. It becomes a much simpler matter if left to explain itself.

In the Nō the actor and playwright were subservient to interpretation, and art was greater than personality; in the Doll-theatre, playwrights, minstrels, doll-handlers—all worked so enthusiastically that they forgot themselves and were absorbed in the marionette,—a truly unselfish theatre co-operation. Much of Kabuki, however, has been of an ephemeral nature. The actors improvised as they saw fit. It was their world and the playwrights were their servants. The whole art of Kabuki evolved by these players of Japan is unconscious, and should be of the greatest interest to lovers of the theatre in all lands, for the reason that the relation of a people to their theatre, the different use of dramatic materials, the development of characteristic customs and conventions reveal by way of comparison and contrast the virtues or defects of the systems that exist elsewhere.



An indescribable din, thoroughly characteristic of the atmosphere of shibai,—that forms part of the pleasure of theatre-going,—is composed of a hubbub of voices, the clatter of tea-cups, the twang of the samisen, the thunder of big drums, the cries of the vendors selling pots of hot tea, rice-cakes, or oranges to customers in the back seats of the gallery, and the metallic click-clack of the hyoshigi, or wooden clappers, that signal the beginning or end of the curtain.

Long before the playgoers begin to arrive, heavy, scattered drum-beats echo through the vacant theatre. This is a reminder of the old days when the drummer stationed in the yagura, or drum-tower, beat his tattoo to announce the opening of shibai, and to hasten the people on their way.

By the time the dekata, or ushers, are bustling about showing the people to their places, the great drum sounds with slow, regular rhythms. A flute begins to shrill, weaving an intricate maze about the deep-toned measures. Next the light, staccato beats of a Nō drum are added to the medley of sounds which, becoming faster and faster, seems to anticipate the thrilling and brilliant scenes that are about to be represented on the stage.

The drummers cease their clamour abruptly, and there succeeds a quiet space broken by the noise of the stage carpenter’s hammer, and the calls of stage hands. Soon the pit is densely packed, the people kneeling down on their [10]cushions in the little square boxes that hold no more than four with comfort. The galleries facing the stage, and to right and left, hung with many lanterns and covered with scarlet cloth, begin to fill.

Increasing the animation of the scene are the changing curtains of rich satins or crepes embroidered or dyed with gay designs, presentation gifts to the actor, symbolising his rank, rôles, or ancestry, that are drawn aside one after the other. The many-coloured kimono and gold and silver obi worn by the fair sex heighten the brightness of the picture.

Deluges of rain do not prevent people from crowding to the theatre, for when ordinary pursuits are interfered with the whole day may be given up to seeing the plays and enjoying the hospitality of shibai.

Should a typhoon be raging, the chaya, or tea-house, presents a lively scene; every second a dozen dripping, two-wheeled kuruma arrive, the short oilskin coats of the pullers streaming with water, their bare legs splashed with mud, as they unbutton the flaps of the hooded vehicles that old, fat dowagers, charming wives, white-haired old gentlemen wearing silk skirts, and geisha, immaculate of toilet, may emerge, only to be succeeded by an endless variety of persons bent on relieving the monotony of the day by a visit to shibai.

Within the chaya, the wide cement entrance floor is quickly covered by a mountain of geta, or clogs, and dripping oiled-paper umbrellas, all thrown together in what seems utter confusion, were it not for the wooden identification tags.

Servants add to the pandemonium by running in all directions calling out loudly as they take the honourable guests’ hats and overcoats, or escort them to their places within the theatre, while crowds of apple-cheeked country maids struggle valiantly to fill innumerable blue and white teapots, disputing with each other as to the destination of these indispensables, arranging them on trays, or filling [11]them by dipping up the boiling water from a huge brass kettle over the charcoal fire let down in the floor.

Outside, the red and white paper lanterns decorating the under-eaves of the tea-house blow about wetly, and a fusillade of vertical rain falls unceasingly upon the grey mud of the street.

From street to seat, and a new world appears, the audience kneeling down on the cushions of the small boxes, packed in like sardines in the narrow confines—faces, faces everywhere, from the patient standing people of the highest gallery to the close-set heads of the first row in the pit. Immediately, the piles of clogs and soggy umbrellas that must be sorted out before the dispersal of the audience, the blustering gale without, even the deafening roar of the unceasing rain upon the roof of the theatre are forgotten, as attention is focussed upon the vivid characters of the Kabuki plays.

Or to leave the dusty, traffic-worn city in the yellow glare of noon, and entering the chaya become lost in Kabuki’s dreamland, is a pleasant sensation. The old world wags. Afternoon gives place to evening, and by the time the playgoer issues forth again into the sphere of actualities, a chorus of thanks from the tea-house attendants for his coming sounding in his ears, the stars are bright in the canopy of darkness.

At the time of O-Kuni, the founder of Kabuki, shibai meant to sit on the grass or earth, and something of its out-of-door origin still remains. The buildings never at any time give the impression that the play is being enacted in some stuffy, mouldy subterranean cavern. Especially in hot weather the audience has a sense of airiness and freedom.

Going to the theatre in midsummer is made agreeable and comfortable. White curtains cover the galleries; the audience is clothed for the most part in cool, white cotton kimono, and the entire auditorium is a-flutter with white fans. The playgoer may look away from the stage and rest [12]his eyes by the sight of a moonlit sky, even bats and moths venturing in from their night resting-places, attracted by the bright interior.

Sunlight slants through the audience and falls on the upturned faces in the pit, and is reflected in the well-oiled and perfectly arranged coiffure of the Japanese woman. Patches of brilliant sunshine stray upon the stage, touching a golden screen or sumptuous costume. The wind blows, moving the fragile paper lanterns suspended from the galleries or in rows over the stage, shibai’s most characteristic decoration. The heads of the kneeling people in the galleries are outlined against an open space of blue sky, trees, and roofs. Afternoon fades, and the background behind the playgoers changes to dark blue velvet imperceptibly melting into the blackness of night as the play proceeds.

For summer audiences suggestions of coolness are made. In a certain scene gold screens will be used, on which are painted pine-clad islands, blue water, and white waves. When that mysterious sea of faces upon which the actor plays is one fluttering mass of paper fans, then the taste inclines to realistic typhoons with thunder and lightning and real rain, that splashes all over the stage, or there is shown an under-the-ocean scene in which fish and mermaids disport themselves. Should a piece with the savour of the sea be given, a curtain is suspended from the galleries showing blue waves on white, and creepy ghost plays are a cooling influence when it is necessary to forget the hot clamminess of the streets.

In winter, however, the near-to-nature aspect of shibai is not conducive to comfort. Then it is necessary to sit on the feet to keep them warm, and the chill air blows through chinks and cracks. The only heat provided is a small porcelain vessel filled with charcoal embers placed in a box that has an aperture in the top, while over the whole is placed a wadded covering—a hand-warmer that theatre-goers could not very well do without.

[13]But if there is signal neglect of creature comforts in the winter shibai, there are compensations. There is no lack of warm food and beverages to suit the taste of the most fastidious. During the intervals between plays the people promenade along the corridors and purchase souvenirs at the stalls, where many tempting wares are displayed to view. An air of enjoyment and pleasure pervades the atmosphere.

April is still, as it was in the old days, the gayest and most attractive month for playgoers. Thousands of provincials flock to Tokyo and Osaka, and the theatres vie with each other to provide the most attractive programmes. Artificial cherry blossoms form the decorations outside the theatres, and the stage shows some special arrangement of these flowers.

Following the old custom, November is the most dignified theatre month in the calendar, when the great actors play their finest rôles to mark the opening of the theatre season. The celebration of the New Year is observed in a special manner, the decorations consisting of pine, bamboo, and plum, and lanterns bearing the names and crests of the leading actors. December is the dullest and most uninteresting theatre month, since the year-end settlement of outstanding accounts makes it necessary to retrench in order to meet all obligations, and because the busy household preparations keep many a matron and maid at home.

Not all the plays on a programme, that lasts from noon to near midnight, are calculated to hold the attention—in some scenes the action, if it can be so called, meanders gently on, the audience manifesting a mild interest. There is a deep undercurrent of repose upon the stage, the actors going about their business leisurely, knowing nothing of the hurry with which Western players cram the events of a lifetime into a short two-hours-and-a-half.

People attend shibai not so much to be startled by sensations, as for relaxation. They take their ease, and [14]feel at home. The dekata waits upon them, attending to their personal needs with a courtesy that makes each individual consider himself an honoured guest.

In the midst of a scene that calls for passive interest, the dekata may be seen balancing in one hand a pile of red or black lacquer boxes full of hot rice and tempting viands with which playgoers are accustomed to regale themselves, or laden down with sake bottles or teapots, moving dexterously from one box to another in the pit.

At such times the doctrine of self-realisation of Asia is best revealed. Contented old men send the smoke from their small, metallic pipes floating towards the ceiling; grandmothers drink tea from cups that hold three mouthfuls. Old cronies discuss the play over sips of hot sake; others read the programmes to acquaint themselves with the forthcoming plays; babies are nursed, dressed, or put to sleep; geisha take out their mirrors and industriously preen and powder; children devour sweets and oranges.

But while each person is enjoying himself according to his own ideas, a hush seems to envelop the entire assembly. There is a sense of unity, an undertow of quietness, that holds the diversified units of the audience firmly together.

As a revelation of human nature there is nothing so illuminating in all Japan as the Kabuki audience. Quick to see the humour of a situation, it is tragedy that it likes and which touches it to the quick.

It is a mistaken idea to suppose that all the people of Japan are samurai to the extent that they never show their feelings. Loyal heroes who die for a cause, victims of the conflict between love and duty, sacrifice of self that others may live, these always bring the tears, and handkerchiefs are pressed to brimming feminine eyes in all parts of the theatre. Nor are men above the softer emotions. They may be seen weeping bitterly in such scenes as that in Chushingura when Enya Hangan commits harakiri and his faithful chief retainer, Yuranosuke, comes just in time to catch his last words. Others mop their heads or cough [15]to keep back the tears. Kabuki audiences seem rather to enjoy a good cry. The sorrow of farewell, mother-love, blindness, death, the common human experiences move them deeply. They may be dazzled by a gorgeous spectacle, excited by a combat, absorbed by the movements of a dancer, but when it comes to the sentiments of everyday life the Kabuki audience responds in a wave of sympathy.

Formerly the audience was composed chiefly of middle or lower class people. Nowadays all classes attend, and a member of the Imperial family, the Prince Regent, witnessed Kabuki performances for the first time when he visited the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo with the Prince of Wales. A distinctive feature of theatre-going are the parties of people who attend regularly in a body, patrons of the leading actors. Firemen, wrestlers, and tradespeople may thus be seen, according to the custom of their ancestors. The geisha are the steadiest patrons of the actors. Sometimes they make a brave show gaily apparelled, occupying the best seats in the gallery. They form an interesting element of the audience, smoking, chatting, weeping over the play, and making up with powder puff to obliterate the traces of tears, the young ones in dazzling kimono and obi, the more sedate in sober garments.

When a popular actor in a piece that has withstood the shocks of time is before the audience interest becomes intense. Familiarity with the play adds to the keenness of the enjoyment. Before a favourite character makes a grand entrance by the hanamichi, every head in the pit is turned to see him come. Shouts of welcome are heard as a beloved hero is about to make his appearance on the scene.

Half of the enjoyment to the playgoers in seeing these old plays is expectancy; not so much in the unfoldment of the plot, for they know the story by heart, and have witnessed the play often, but how the actor will interpret it.

One of the privileges of the audience is to make audible remarks, and they are free and unrestrained in [16]the expression of their admiration or criticism of an actor in a well-known rôle.

“You did very well!” shouts a voice after an actor has portrayed a character to the general satisfaction. If an actor is ill, but refuses to disappoint the audience, a sympathiser calls out: “Take care of yourself!” or “Thank you for coming when you are so ill!” Should a young player, rapidly climbing the ladder of fame, display so much skill as to astonish, there is a surge of great pride throughout the audience, and shouts of “Nippon Ichi!” (“Best in Japan!”) are showered upon him.

When the minstrel and the samisen player, who are to furnish the incidental music of a doll-theatre classic, mount their platform to the right of the stage, there are cries of: “Now do your best!”

Glowing memories of the varied scenes in shibai do not soon fade away; the friendliness of the tea-house mistresses who have remained for long years at their posts; the thrilling experience of meeting an actor off the stage in an upper room of a tea-house looking down on the blaze of oblong lanterns that form the street illuminations; the unfailing attentiveness of the dekata, those servitors of shibai who seem to have wandered into the present from old Yedo; an actor on the hanamichi surrounded by the people, all eyes intent on his movements, or the unrestrained applause when an actor reaches a high level of acting.

Many shibai landmarks are passing, giving place to more advanced ideas. In the leading theatre, chairs have now replaced the cushions laid on the matting as in a Japanese dwelling; steam heat ensures a well-warmed interior in winter; maids in black frocks and white bib and tucker are replacing the dignified, faithful dekata; the time given to the performances is steadily being reduced. Shibai must progress. But in their efforts to be up to date the iconoclasts would throw overboard much of the honest and simple regime that has for so long distinguished Kabuki.



While the development of the popular theatre of Japan has been co-existent with that of England and Europe, and fundamentally it is the same, there are striking differences in the conventions. These are the result of the isolation of Kabuki, due to the seclusion policy of the shogunate which endured for two centuries and a half.

Kabuki conventions appear at first sight so different from our own that it takes time to understand and appreciate them. Familiarity, however, reveals the taste and sincerity of the Kabuki collaborators, who, far from the influence of the theatres of other lands, worked out their own salvation.

One of the most interesting conventions to the Occidental is the hanamichi, or flower-way. It is an extension of the stage proper to form a path through the audience. There are always two hanamichi in a theatre, one on either side of the stage, that on the left being the wider and more important, that on the right smaller and less used.

Some of the most vital principles of Kabuki are at work when the hanamichi is employed. The modern playwrights who ignore it, not only rob the actors of something strongly theatrical, but at the same time take away from the audience the keen delight that comes from close contact with the creations of the stage.

Pageantry and ceremonial claim the hanamichi as their own. Sweeping over it come processions of gay courtesans; priests in stiff brocades chant as they march solemnly to some ornate stage-temple; daimyo trains wind their way [18]with all the pomp of feudal days; the whole theatre becomes a stage and every person in the audience feels his connection with the play and players.

A company of courtesans enter by the hanamichi and fill it with as brilliant a blaze of colour as it is ever possible to see in a theatre that is justly famous in this direction. The grotesque personages of the prints, the taiyu of old Yedo, are reproduced, the glittering robes of gold and bright embroidery, the elaborately decorated headdresses, and heavily padded brocade rolls to their many kimono, making them the most topheavy persons that could ever be imagined, balancing themselves on their stilt-like black geta, or high footgear, as they lean on the shoulders of their male attendants for support. A whole hanamichi of these extraordinary creatures, men bearing large lanterns, and little maids in scarlet, following in the wake, makes a picture that fairly dazzles.

Many priests with an aged abbot at the head pass through the audience in great dignity and enter a golden temple in the gloom of tall trees, the incense, wave on wave, rising into the air and spreading out over the audience. Fighting men in armour suddenly swarm over the two hanamichi, right above the heads of the bewildered people in their small boxes in the pit, and the whole audience is taken by surprise at the number of men rushing towards the stage.

The greatest variety of entrances and exits is made possible by the hanamichi. A hasty messenger chooses this way for entrance; and a slow exit is made by a melancholy lover with downcast head and folded arms, determined to depart this life. There is the splendid, imposing entrance of a shogun, prince or brave warrior, or the striking exit of some masquerading fox or demon, while the actors are fond of slow introductions, standing for a long time in the most conspicuous position on the hanamichi that they may be viewed from every vantage point in the theatre.

Tall autumn grasses on each side of the hanamichi, prepare for the entrance of a hero playing on his flute in [19]the moonlight, an assassin creeping behind him. If the scene upon the stage is that of winter there will be a snowdrift on the hanamichi, and blue and white cotton will transform this narrow audience-path into a stream of water. An umbrella lies carelessly outspread on the hanamichi; it gently moves as though by its own volition, then there is a puff of smoke, and out springs a beautiful maiden, who dances. By the same trap-door issue forth such characters as Nikki Danjo, magician and conspirator, who transforms himself into a rat that he may steal a family document, and then assuming his own form, although still resembling a rat, stands in the midst of the people, and the next moment mysteriously disappears through the hanamichi.

Armour-clad fighters perched high upon velvet stage-horses thrill by their nearness, and long-lost brothers find each other on the hanamichi. With rapture lovers are united; a wounded hero, shot by an arrow in the eye, reels and sinks down with exhaustion, and two comic old females go out talking volubly to the amusement of the audience. Such are the characters, gay or grave, who have been brought into existence by the hanamichi.

As a means to further characters on their way, the hanamichi is most useful. Two actors will leave the stage taking the hanamichi, and cross over by a narrow footpath into the centre of the pit, where they stand and act. Meanwhile a bridge has been pulled off and a red shrine pushed on, and by the time they wander back to the stage proper they have travelled a long way on their journey.

Travellers, servants, court ladies, peasants, and vendors,—they make a motley train as they pass over the hanamichi and are so near the people that they might, if they wished, reach out and touch their garments.

Interpretative music forms part of almost every play. To produce certain moods in the audience, the drummers and samisen players are accustomed to make sounds and rhythms to increase the emotion or picturesque effect of a scene. These men are called hayashikata, or musicians, [20]and perform on a number of instruments, furnishing Kabuki’s incidental music. They are stationed to one side of the stage and concealed from view, but as a concession there is an opening in the painted scenery, or screens, that they may survey the stage and keep in close relation to the action.

To accompany conversation there are irregular notes of the samisen, and when the characters are thus engaged and what they say is of great interest the audience is so hushed that the stray notes of the samisen sound like dripping water in a silent house. At other times this samisen accompaniment to dialogue is more of a hindrance than a help. For people walking or marching the samisen has another rhythm, and certain variations of measures suggest a lonely farm house.

When two noble persons converse together, the flute, sho (an ancient reed instrument), drum, and samisen are played softly. Rippling sounds convey the merriment of a feast, and excited rhythms are heard as a combat takes place.

For battle there is the confusion made of quick beats of the big drum. To increase the sound of the warlike preparations, a metal gong is struck rapidly, there is a clash of cymbals, and the blowing of a conch shell.

To make more solitary a lonely mountain scene, a horse-driver’s song is sung to the jingle of horse-bells, and when an echo is required two small drums answer each other. Gay and lively festival scenes are accompanied by intricate interweaving of light drum-beats. Crazy persons make their appearance to irregular notes of the samisen, while regular rhythms of the big drum suggest wind. Falling snow is made by soft, muffled, regular drum-beats. Waves are suggested by a vigorous stroke on the big drum, and then a quiet tap, in imitation of the ebb and flow of the tide.

At sunset there is the deep boom of a temple-bell, when lovers are parting, or the approach of some tragic dénouement in deserted temple or country cottage. For harakiri [21]scenes the piercingly sad flute and subdued samisen express the regret of the dying, and for tragedy there are sad little ripples of the samisen in a high tone.

Soft samisen measures accompany melancholy moonlit scenes, and the striking of a wooden gong used in Buddhist worship suggests the appearance of something frightful. Light taps of the big drums make known a sinister motive, and the big drum beaten quickly announces impending evil, while the clatter of the geta, or wooden clogs, on the hanamichi, to the thumping of the samisen and the light tattoo of the small drums, conveys an impression of light-heartedness.

Most of the conventions in regard to make-up have been handed down by word of mouth from one Ichikawa Danjuro to the other, and form a complicated subject. Dead white, with broad black eyebrows, and touches of red to eyes and corners of the mouth, has long been the accepted stage mask for samurai, or persons of high degree. White also forms the established make-up for women. Villains are generally made up with red faces, country people are tanned brown by the sun, and comedians paint their faces with red, white, and blue.

In the exaggerated rôles created by the Ichikawa house, the countenances of these imaginative personages give scope for the most daring attempts. This elaborate design for the face is called kumadori (lit., to-make-borders).

Brave men who have fought a good fight and lost, confront their enemies with an expression of retaliation, broad red lines around the eyes, nose, and chin, with red forks over the forehead. Again, such a character is made up with light pink shading out from the red strokes.

Strong and courageous warriors, undismayed although in the hands of their enemies, have chins of grey, red lips bordered by white, broad upward strokes of red from eyes and cheeks to forehead, and raised eyebrows like the antennæ of some black beetle, the whole giving the impression that the hero is bristling with anger; his hair standing on end.

[22]Benkei, the warrior-priest, loyal to his young master, Yoshitsune, is represented with a grey chin, no eyebrows, two curved lines on forehead, outlined in pink.

A villain of wrathful mien is made up according to the Ichikawa convention with the lower part of the face black, a black and white design on the chin for a beard, the upper portion of the face covered with a network of purple veins, and for eyebrows the antlers of a deer in dark blue. A villain of a different description appears with a bright red face, a pink nose and mouth, and thick black elevated eyebrows.

Most of the conventions for the making up of ghosts have been created by the Kikugoro family, their specialty being the weird and ghostly. A Kikugoro ghost has a branching design of blue veins, a red mouth outlined in black, and eyes painted with red and black. Another apparition has an indistinct blue tinge over the face, the features slightly touched with black. The face of a fox in human disguise is white with sharp pink points upward from the bridge of the nose, and slanting black eyebrows. The spirit of a frog has sharp curved lines of dark and light green about eyes, mouth, and forehead.

Not unlike the clown of the Western circus, the Kabuki comedian makes up with a white ground on which lines of red are painted about the nostrils and eyes, while a red circle between the eyes supports a heavy horizontal line intended for eyebrows. The cheeks are decorated with a blue curved design, suggested by a squirming eel, which represents a moustache.

The modern actors are not slaves to the conventions, but depart from them whenever they feel inclined, making up to suit their own ideas of the characters they take. The actor performs this elaborate duty himself, laying on the lines with brush and finger tip. Matsumoto Koshiro, of the Imperial Theatre, is acknowledged the most versatile and original in his making up, always creating something new and astonishing.

Onoe Kikugoro as a brave samurai woman mounted on a white velvet stage steed.

[23]One of the most striking conventions of the Japanese theatre is the Kabuki horse, supported underneath by two minor actors who specialise in supplying legs to make-believe steeds. It waves its mane, kicks and steps about to show its mettle, or jogs along, a patient pack animal. But always it forms a necessary part of the action of a play, as well as an important feature of the stage picture.

This remarkable quadruped with the very human legs and knees occupies a distinct place of its own in the old plays, and its prestige is not dimmed even in the latest productions. Its ancestor may be seen on the Doll-stage, prancing about among the puppets, but the velvet mount of Kabuki is much more dignified, and has advanced a great deal since it ceased to associate with the marionettes.

In a music play, Omori Hikoshichi, by Fukuchi, the horse becomes one of the chief characters. The hero, Omori, while assisting a young woman to cross the ford of a river is suddenly attacked by her. He finds that she is trying to recover her father’s sword, and having it with him, he generously gives it up. To hide his act from his men, he pretends to be overcome by uncanny influences, but this excuse does not satisfy the retainers, and when Omori jumps upon his horse, they pull the bridle this way and that, the restive animal rearing and plunging to the strains of the samisen. At length Omori frees himself and appears in the background on a hill, his war-fan upraised in triumphant attitude, the very intelligent stage-horse pawing the ground, apparently sharing its master’s triumphant emotion.

Acting a horse rôle is not so easy as it may appear, since the fore and back legs must by some stage legerdemain perform in harmony. The front legs take the initiative since to this actor is given the position of look-out. There is a window in the throat of the horse that allows the chief interpreter a partial vision of the stage. The hind legs must follow blindly, and moreover this actor is in a stooping position and apparently has little air for breathing purposes. [24]How the two players enter the outward frame, and how they get along inside, remains a mystery to playgoers, who do not inquire about the matter too closely.

When the young hero, Atsumori, in bright armour, makes his entrance upon the hanamichi riding on a white velvet horse, he has attached to the back of his saddle a series of black lacquered hoops, from which is suspended a long, loose covering of thin orange silk, that streams high above his head and floats like the train of a lady at court far behind the horse. Kumagae, a grizzled warrior, is magnificent on a black horse that tosses its head as though it were truly a fiery steed. He wears gold armour, rides on a black velvet mount, and the streaming silk is of purple. They follow one another into the sea, and the two horsemen are seen in the perspective surrounded by conventional blue and white waves, crossing swords amid the surges. The young hero is overcome. Then the riderless horses, like real runaways, dash along the hanamichi, making a grand exit.

There seems no danger that the Kabuki horse will ever become extinct, for it is employed with too good effect in many of the best plays. A samurai escaping from a battle leans with fatigue on his horse. The enemy are upon him and he must say farewell to his dumb friend, which shows affection for its master by rubbing him with its nose, while the actor without words expresses the sorrow he feels at parting from his faithful companion. Again, the central figure of a dance may be a white horse, with gay trappings of red fringe and brass ornaments.

Some day this interesting quadruped may be considered too antiquated in the pitiless glare of the progressive present, and, ashamed of itself for being a hoax so long, slink away into oblivion.

But it cannot be supplanted by a real one, so long as it forms an important part of the pageantry of the hanamichi, when resplendent daimyo ride in state through the audience in the midst of the little boxes crammed with [25]their human occupants craning their necks to see the passing show.

It would be hard to imagine Kabuki without its devoted kurombo, or property man. Concealed from head to foot in black, the face covered by a flap, which he seldom raises except in an emergency, the kurombo (lit., black-man) serves the stage unselfishly, claiming no recognition, pleased to put his own personality completely in the background; withal he is a most important personage. The variety of his tasks gives him an entire familiarity with the stage. He is a super-actor and stage-manager, entrusted with the smooth running of the performance, responsible for a hundred details, and yet remains the humble menial of the theatre.

A queer profession it seems, to flit about the stage so unobtrusively that the audience is not aware of his presence; yet always engaged in making inanimate objects significant. He holds a piece of silver paper on the end of a long pole and a fish jumps before the eyes of the audience. Hiding behind a thicket of bamboo, he causes the long feathery plumes to sway in a wind storm. The pendant branches of the weeping willow are suddenly agitated by the kurombo in anticipation of some ghostly event, or he squats down behind a clump of grass making it shiver to reveal the concealment place of some desperate character about to come forth.

What magic he effects by means of his long pliable rod! At one time butterflies flutter from the end, or a white moth is suspended over the face of a sleeping man near a white paper lantern, awakening him in time that he may protect himself from danger.

It is the kurombo who causes snakes to glide upon the scene and wriggle in the most realistic manner, while cats, rats, and even crabs make their appearance at the psychological moment at his bidding.

Sometimes he remains so quiet that he appears to be nodding or napping, but the next moment bounds away accomplishing his purpose. Always on the alert, he [26]watches for sliding screens that do not open, or gates that are about to topple over, and holds up a curtain that a dead man may disappear since he is no longer needed on the stage. By a dexterous touch behind, he changes the neutral costume of an actor to one all gold and silver, or gives the right tug that brings the long hair of a distraught heroine all dishevelled about her.

His solicitude for the infants of the footlights is touching. Crouching behind a boy actor, he guides his actions and gives him his cue, waiting to escort him on and off. And when the feet of the old actor become feeble the kurombo is close at hand to assist, knowing his least movement from long association.

Silent observer of the great men, the actors, creeping on all fours behind some gorgeous figure in gold brocade, the kurombo is conscious of the sins and omissions of the players, and he is the humourist of the situation. But he never shows that he is human. The audience seldom if ever catch a glimpse of his face, perhaps only in profile as he takes up some partially exposed position, with book in hand, prompting the actors whose memories are not trustworthy.

The boy kurombo begins to learn the mysteries of the stage at an early age. His father brings him to shibai when he is a mere baby, not more than four years of age, and he may be allowed to go upon the scene and take away a pair of sandals, or other small property, in order that he may begin to learn his life’s duties. Small actors and equally diminutive kurombo thus grow up together.

It is customary for the kurombo in his novitiate to sit at each side of the stage unconsciously taking in every detail. These children soon become accustomed to gaze in a detached way at the audience, which must make a vast impression on their minds, and at the same time they evince a lively interest in all that concerns the stage. Their eyes, round with wonderment, look at a play as though it were a fairy tale unfolding before them,—the ghosts and [27]demons, samurai and peasants of Kabuki passing near. It is small wonder that the kurombo, whose taste for the theatre is bred in the bone, stays with it until old age claims him—always a shadow.

The most perplexing convention of the Japanese theatre to the Occidental, long accustomed to mixed players, is the fact that Kabuki is the possession of actors, and that women characters are in consequence in the hands of males. If this seems a strange business for a man, it must be remembered that Shakespeare’s heroines were played by youthful English actors.

Moreover, it is realised that the peaceful atmosphere and orderly regime behind the stage,—the environment in which the actor lives and works, is in many respects like a man’s club in the West. This freedom to work unhindered by the opposite sex gives the Kabuki actor a greater opportunity to be himself, and the remarkable calm that seems to permeate all that takes place on the stage may be one advantage of the pure male theatre.

Masks and marionettes have had a large part in the shaping of Kabuki conventions. Many of these conventions, that seem so strange and very often absurd upon first acquaintance, become more intelligible in the light of the debt the popular theatre owes to the Doll-stage and to the still older form, the Nō.

Stepping in imaginary waves, washing the feet in water that does not exist; cooking food without fire, drinking tea from empty cups; blows that do not touch; cold steel that does not clash,—all these have come to Kabuki out of the inexhaustible suggestiveness of the Nō. Rhythmic movement to express emotions resulting in symbolic gestures, pantomime and postures of the puppets, were the contribution of the Doll-theatre to the development of Kabuki.

Without these two restraining influences there would have been nothing to prevent Kabuki from following the same realistic route as that of the Western stage.



When it comes to a question of what the Japanese Theatre holds for the West, the craftsmanship of Kabuki should be of first importance.

Characteristic simplicity, taste, and style are shown by the men accustomed to handle material for stage pictures. Above all, these workers are free from a worship of things, and do not overcrowd, but concentrate on essentials. In the management of details the producer displays a finish that is near perfection. Things are not allowed to clutter up the stage for their own sake, but are necessary only as a medium to express the underlying motive of the play. In the manner, also, in which trees, flowers, birds, the sea, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and the seasons are represented, it is apparent that Kabuki is still near to nature, and a product of a non-commercial age.

During the three hundred years of its history, Kabuki experts have been designing scenery and fashioning furniture and properties, unknown to their contemporaries in England and Europe, who were quite as much alive to the adornment and embellishment of their stage productions.

Hasegawa Kampei, the fifteenth, is the leader among Kabuki craftsmen in Tokyo. He considers himself a simple workman, and is busy designing and executing scenes in all the theatres of Tokyo, showing a surprising versatility and creativeness. He has, however, to compete with the flood of westernisation that would destroy the very foundations of the art his ancestors developed.

[29]The first Kampei, the son of a samurai, was a skilled artisan in wood-carving and the decoration of temples, setting up stone gateways and lanterns, and the beautiful wooden gates of approach. His ability in this direction became so well known that he was called in to help in the production of plays.

In 1644, large furniture began to be used at the Ichimura-za in Yedo. And by the time of Kampei, the eleventh, the development of odogu and kodogu, or great and small furniture, was at its height, and his designs are regarded as models at the present.

The greatest improvement in the Yedo stage took place from 1780 to 1800, and the Hasegawa Kampei who presided over the destiny of the stage at that time invented new contrivances, especially in the management of ghosts; causing buildings to rise into the air, and trap-door disappearances. Finally the fashion for realistic furniture became so great that the interior of one of the great halls of the Imperial Palace, Kyoto, was reproduced on the stage. The authorities protested against the extravagance shown in this beautiful conception, and inferior materials were substituted by order.

Although the members of the Hasegawa family were skilled men, the real source of Yedo’s stage scenery progress was due to the creativeness of the Doll-theatre in Osaka. The collaborators for the dolls were fertile in ideas, and developed new stage settings in bewildering rapidity.

If there is one direction in which Kabuki shows the true craftsman more than another it is the pictorial. It is doubtful if on any other stage in the world can be viewed more charming effects achieved by such simple means. A red lacquered bridge over an iris pond, and the characters in picturesque combinations of colours; the soft greys and whites of a snowy scene, and in the centre an ancient cherry tree in full bloom; the lonely camp fire of a beggar in the mountains, a castle moat in the moonlight; a single fantastic pine by the seashore, are some of the familiar Kabuki scenes.

[30]Brighter and more elaborate is a maple picnic under flaming foliage, the leaves falling, the feast spread on a scarlet rug, all the properties of black and gold lacquer, and the rainbow tints of Asia used plentifully in the costumes.

There is a flash of steel in the moonlight as many assailants rush upon a samurai, and the air is filled with fireflies. After the courageous hero has disposed of his enemies he wipes his sword, and to ascertain that it is quite clean lifts up a cage of imprisoned fireflies, by the glow of which he is able to see. Or again, it is old Nihonbashi, the Bridge of Japan, the centre of Yedo and from which all distances were calculated; Mount Fuji in the distance; a band of firemen returning after a conflagration, singing a characteristic song.

Much more elaborate is a cherry-viewing party, come to enjoy the cloud of pink blossoms, grouped on a hill-side, seated on a red carpet, with a gay silk curtain for background, made of stripes of black, yellow, purple, red, green, the masses of drooping flowers arranged with thick red ropes strung with brass bells, white paper lanterns in the greenery, serving-maids in pink kimono, merry masked dancers entertaining the company.

In a Nagasaki play relating to the visit of a Chinese envoy, there is seen a temple interior that could not be simpler and yet suggests grandeur—the background, a wide expanse of gold screens arranged with sliding doors on which are painted gold and black dragons, and in the foreground the actors, a group of daimyo in grey-blue, the bronze-brocade and gold-clad villain receiving the gifts that are to be presented to the emissary from China.

Not all Kabuki’s scenes are simple and serene, and nothing daunts the superior stage carpenters when once, they try their hands.

In a popular play there is a scene depicting a realistic earthquake, and a mansion collapses under repeated shocks. The building sinks down amid stage, according to some secret of the carpenters, and the hero makes his way out of [31]the roof, ruin and desolation around him. When it comes to sensational snowstorms, typhoons, and conflagrations, Kabuki can hold its own with the Western stage.

It is, however, in architecture that the hand of the Kabuki craftsman is shown unmistakably. He has been free from the thraldom of the picture frame of the Western stage, and in following his own devices has worked with a freedom that has produced some satisfactory results.

The producer has taken the main room of a Japanese dwelling for his model—a straw-matted room, sliding screens for background, a severely plain apartment; for its sole decoration, an alcove containing a hanging picture, before which stands a vase of flowers or object of art. It has not been necessary for him to knock out one side of the house in order to allow the audience a view of what is passing within. The Japanese room being open to the outside, forms an admirable setting for the action of the plays.

To this room, which is in reality a platform for the players, he has added adjoining apartments, corridors, bridge-passages, verandahs, and the sloping roof is always present, either in part or as a whole. Completing the picture are gardens and rustic gates, stone water-basins, stepping-stones, wells, bridges, ponds, fences, and stone lanterns, and he has surrounded his buildings with the favourite flowers of Kabuki, lotus, chrysanthemum, peony, iris, and azalea. With a true love of nature he has placed in his scenes cherry and plum trees in full bloom, and has used pine trees and scarlet maples, drooping willows and feathery bamboo.

With a room as scene of action, the Kabuki carpenters have created types for all classes of dwellings the plays require. The background for a room in a great mansion will show a series of sliding panels on which are painted Chinese castles and pagodas, golden clouds, and green misty hills. Silver screens may be decorated with black waves in motion, or blue water, lotus leaves and flowers. The structures to be represented vary from an elaborately [32]constructed mansion in cream wood to the realistic interior of the middle-class home in which the white-papered windows and doors form a pleasing feature. Temples, a hermitage in the midst of a forest, the thatched cottage of a farmer, are all variations of the one theme, which gives the widest latitude for invention and decoration.

Much of the action in Kabuki plays takes place in this room, with only the screens for background, and standing lanterns at each side. But there are more elaborate architectural triumphs, such as the great red entrance gate of Nanzen-ji, a Kyoto temple, carved, decorated, ornate, two-storied, and produced in detail. The bold robber, Ishikawa Goemon, hides in the second story, and comes forth on the railed balcony to smoke. This portion of the gate is first shown, the wall behind him in gold, painted with many-coloured clouds. As he stands there in his black velvet kimono and great overcoat of gold and black, the gate begins slowly to rise until the lower part is completely in view, the chief temple building in perspective within the arch of the gate, and Goemon looking down from his lofty position at his enemy below.

At another time, the Kabuki craftsmen spare no pains in constructing the Yomei gate of the famous Nikko Shrines, one of the best pieces of architecture in Japan, and so perfectly is it reproduced that the workmanship calls for admiration. But when no longer needed, the entire structure, which towers high, slowly turns over on end, and the bottom represents the background for the following action.

From grey dilapidated temples where apparitions make their appearance, or the nobility partaking of ceremonial tea in some landscape garden, the Kabuki craftsman passes to the fashioning of a red pagoda, the under-eaves showing many brilliant colours. He places two stories of the structure in a snowy scene. Warrior-priests in grey with white head coverings rush on the scene armed with long spears. An old dignitary wearing gold armour, over which there is a thin, black, priest’s robe, stands at one side with a torch [33]in his hand. Another figure, in silver brocade and white, poses on the steps leading to the pagoda. The hero in armour—red, green, and gold—appears on the upper gallery. Then ensues a big fight in the whirling snow, the deep boom of a temple bell sounding through the fray.

The revolving stage that plays such an important part in the scenery of Kabuki has a complicated technique of its own. It allows of three, and sometimes four sets of scenes, that may be in the course of preparation while the actors are engaged in front. But as a general rule the carpenters are busy with but one full set, while the play proceeds.

For an extension of the stage picture, the stage is turned to right and left, or revolves half way for some new scene. In addition to the surprises in store for the playgoer in the changes effected by the revolving stage, there are the strange appearances of characters forced up through a large opening in the floor of the stage, like groups of statuary, and devices for the sudden disappearance of characters through walls and steps, the elaborate apparatus for ghosts that emerge through lanterns or vanish into thin air, and for chunori, or air-riding feats, when a character suspended in mid-air moves across the stage.

The kodogu, or small properties of Kabuki, are a study in themselves,—the lantern in all its shapes and sizes, the oil-paper umbrella, vases, and hanging pictures. The articles in use are not made to look beautiful at a distance, but are genuinely so: tall candle-sticks in brass or lacquer, chests, sword-rests, cups, swords, helmets, lacquered tables, tobacco-boxes, bronze utensils for a temple altar, or Buddhist images, they all represent the arts and crafts of the country.

Keen to adopt and adapt new things, Kabuki is now sensitive to European stage influences, and with a characteristic lack of confidence in its own creations, appears to be opening the door too wide in welcoming the ideas of the West.

[34]The thought can hardly be avoided, however, that the achievements of the Kabuki craftsmen are a contribution to the world’s theatre. But what the place and value of their work in comparison with the stage of the West remain for the judgement of the future.

Crest of Onoe Kikugoro
(Two fans).
Crest of Onoe Tamizo
(Stork and plum combined).
Crest of Arashi Kichisaburo
(Combination three characters).



A high standard of acting is maintained among the actors of Kabuki. It is an hereditary profession; the actors, trained from childhood, are brought up in the atmosphere of the theatre. Tamura Nariyoshi, the theatre manager of Meiji, described the circumstances of the actors’ growth when he once likened them to farmers who plant rice but know nothing of chemistry, watch the plants shooting up yet have no scientific knowledge of the alchemy of water, sun, or fertilisation. In the same manner are the talents of the actors cultivated. They are entirely unconscious of the laws that govern their art, and when they reach a high position among their fellows it is but the flowering of natural genius.

Should an actor be fortunate in having sons of his own, he early apprentices them to the stage. He is a protecting spirit, watching their efforts, disciplining, encouraging. His sons are to inherit his mantle, and therefore he gives abundantly of his experience, seeing that they are given the proper advantages, for although young they are the heirs of to-morrow, and Kabuki is careful of the type.

When an actor has no son, he adopts a successor from among his pupils. He takes a number of youths who wish to study his stage methods, which they learn by constant association with him on and off the stage. As they progress in their work they are advanced, and carry on his traditions when he has passed away.

It is the custom for children of seven, or even younger, [36]to be placed in the care of a leading actor, since Kabuki plays have many child-rôles. A few trials in juvenile characters with which the audience are thoroughly familiar, and it is easy to predict whether the youthful player has a future or not.

The cleverest boy-actor on the Tokyo stage to-day is Nakamura Matagoro, who holds his audience in a surprising manner, his voice, bearing, and face all marking him as a future star. The son of an actor who possessed much talent but never rose to the top, Matagoro, on his father’s death, was taken under the wing of Nakamura Kichiyemon, a young actor of acknowledged ability, whose patronage assures the lad’s career.

Thus the youthful actor begins to associate with his elders in a natural way, and has no opportunity to gain the idea that he is a prodigy. He gazes up into the faces of men who have been acting for half a century, and old age looks benignly down as the small tot speaks his first lines.

Even mediocre talent can grow and expand in an atmosphere of calm confidence. The child is not forced or abused, but grows up in a Montessori fashion. When the youth reaches a state of self-consciousness and its attendant awkwardness, this is taken as a matter of course. The audience tolerate his gaucheries, knowing that he will one day bloom as a full-grown actor. Had the training and discipline of the actors been otherwise, Kabuki might have experienced a different fate.

This is but the education of Old Japan, the apprentice to the arts and crafts growing up from childhood with a master, profiting by his experience, encouraged by his guidance and protection. In contrast there are the doubtful benefits of modern education that does not prevent the tragic waste of the finer forces of human nature; art impulses and aspirations of the souls of the young, thwarted and hampered, untrained, unregarded, until the neglect of their true development makes the world for them a desert rather than a paradise.

Nakamura Matagoro, the leading boy-actor of the Tokyo Stage, in the rôle of a girl-pilgrim, O-Tsuru.

[37]The young actor not only has the daily experience of facing the audience, but he takes part in the busy life behind the stage, and is like a member of a big family. His work does not end in the theatre, for instruction under a dancing master is a necessary part of his education. He visits the dancing teacher’s house daily, and undergoes a training that exercises every part of his body, and gives him that remarkable control which is one of the assets of the Kabuki player. In addition, he must learn many stage accomplishments, especially if he is intended to become an onnagata, or specialist in women’s rôles.

The impersonal East has had much to do with the actor’s power to efface himself, and his lack of concern for self is one of his distinguishing qualities. No doubt the marionette has exercised full sway over him, for in acting in plays written originally for the dolls he is quick to imitate their movements, and sometimes gives the impression that he has made himself into a puppet and is standing behind manipulating the strings.

Again, the exaggerated acting of the imaginative characters of the jidaimono, or historical plays, with the elaborate kimono, covered by striking designs, the peculiar fashion of the hair, and strange mask-like make-up, have proved a perfect disguise for the actor’s personality, leaving him free to emphasise his art and to lay aside personal considerations.

His gestures may be those inherited from the dance, or movements from the Nō; they may have a direct relation to real life or be copied from the marionettes. He has also a wide range in styles of acting. In one piece he is the centre of a music posture dance—masses of men on either side in a straight line, diagonal or curving, or in a pyramidical group. Next he is a lone figure on the stage in a descriptive dance that causes every person in the audience to be absorbed in his least movement.

He may strut bravely as a grotesque character; as a hero, symbol of loyalty, in an historical piece; or as a melancholy lover in a play of the people. His best acting [38]may, however, be in the display of skill in fencing, jujitsu, or swordsmanship, and in the thick of a fight he captures his audience by an equally matched combat, or thrills it by a one-man performance against an overwhelming number. Part of a stage fight is in reality an acrobatic display, but a chief actor always leaves such tactics to the minor players, since it is beneath his dignity to tumble about the stage in mere physical displays.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things in the whole realm of Kabuki acting is the manner in which he holds the audience for long periods without speaking by the power of suggestion, a legacy from the Nō performers.

In Kochiyama, a play by Mokuami, there is a long scene in which the actors utter no words. At night, on the outskirts of Yedo, a samurai lies in wait for a passing palanquin. As it comes into view his sudden rush and gleaming sword frighten the bearers, who make off hastily, leaving their passenger to shift for himself. From the palanquin there is nothing but an awesome silence. The samurai expects to find some one he wants, and cautiously lifting the curtain with his sword he scans the occupant, asleep.

One look within and the would-be assassin sees that the crest on the sleeve does not belong to the man he seeks, and as he withdraws, the slumberer awakened sees the flash of the samurai’s sword and says: “Is that a falling star?” He little dreams that his friend’s overcoat lent to keep him warm has saved his life. One line only is spoken in this wordless drama.

Defeated by a court of justice, a villain is sitting in a dejected mood. A page brings him a cup of tea, and silently leaves a short sword as a sign that the sooner he takes himself away from the world the better for all concerned. The condemned person drinks his tea slowly, then regards the sword, and understands the message conveyed to him. He picks it up, and leaning upon it shows by the expression of his face that he is making up his mind in a [39]very different direction, and intends to use it upon some one else.

Delicate and dainty, a charming heroine assists her warrior husband to don his armour, for he must not lose a moment in preparing for battle. She attempts to lift his helmet, but it is too heavy for her, and placing it with difficulty on the long sleeve of her kimono, she drags it across the stage. The audience is interested in how well and how long the onnagata is able to give the impression of a frail young woman struggling with the ponderous weight of a golden helmet.

Perhaps one of the best uses to which suggestion in acting is put is in the play Sendaihagi, in which Masaoka, the faithful nurse, prepares the food for the little prince in her charge, as his uncle wishes to poison him that he may administer the wealthy fief for his own purpose.

Masaoka unfolds a low screen that discloses a black lacquer table, under which are a gilded rice pot and water jar, and other kitchen utensils for boiling the rice and making tea. Those accustomed to realism will question how real food is to be cooked with such gorgeous and apparently theatrical stage furniture, and then will become lost in admiration, for the actor suggests all the necessary movements without actually resorting to them. The gold water ladle is used to dip up imaginary water, and the uncooked grains of rice are seen as though the water had all been poured off. Masaoka’s task comes to an end. The bubbling of the steam against the lid of the rice pot is imitated behind the scenes, and a black-robed property man is plainly seen to move a screen in such a manner as to place within easy reach of the faithful nurse the food that has taken fully an hour to prepare.

The actor plays many a rôle in his time, but it is given to those of Kabuki to play many rôles in a day. He may act as a humble servant, then as a robber, a resplendent priest, a drunkard, an upright samurai, and terminate his day’s work by appearing in a comic or picturesque dance.



The Kabuki actor has long maintained a high regard for the dignity of his calling, and carefully preserves the old ceremonials in connection with elevation in rank, memorial plays in honour of an ancestor, introductions of young actors, succession to the headship of an actor family, and the observances of the anniversaries of actors past and gone.

These are stage events which serve to deepen the personal interest the playgoer takes in the actors, and are links that bind the player to the past, and express his hope in the future.

Kojo, or the announcement ceremony, is the one seen most frequently. The curtain is drawn aside, and there is seen a double line of actors prostrating themselves in the attitude of humility before the audience, their faces resting upon their outstretched hands.

Behind them plain gold screens are arranged, they kneel on a long scarlet rug, and are dressed in the stiff skirts and shoulder-straps that formed the actor’s attire of ceremony in the old days. A little apart is the announcer, generally an elderly man who has been long in the service of the actors, a sort of chief of staff of personal attendants. He calls out in a peculiar voice, asking every one in the audience to pay attention. Then the chief actor raises his head, and addressing the audience with the utmost courtesy draws attention to the young man who has changed his name and is at the threshold of his career, expressing the hope that the audience will pardon his mistakes, and take an interest [41]in his future progress. The father of the actor whose rank is thus raised may also speak a few words in his son’s behalf, and the chief object of interest then raises his face modestly, and asks the patronage of the audience.

ANNOUNCING CEREMONY. Kojo, or announcement ceremony, in which the central figure is Ichikawa Danjuro. The modest actor whose name is to be changed or rank raised bows low, hiding his face from view. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kanpei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada.)

At other times, the kojo is for an actor well on in years, who declares that he has given his stage name to a son or pupil, and that owing to his age and infirmities he is not able to take an active part, and desires to enter upon a period of semi-retirement.

Something of the close relation between father and son in Kabuki was shown in a kojo given at the Imperial Theatre in connection with the succession to a new name by the son of Onoe Baiko, the chief actor of this theatre. Baiko’s son, who is being carefully trained in the art of the onnagata, became Eizaburo, the seventh, denoting a certain state of progress in the attainment of the Onoe stage standards. The kojo on this occasion was performed with more than customary dignity, seven stars of the Onoe family, including Onoe Kikugoro, the sixth, attending, and each saying a few words of congratulation, strewing flowers, as it were, in the pathway of the young actor.

Similar to the solicitude of a mother in her care and consideration given the début of a daughter into society was that of Baiko for the son who is to follow in his footsteps and inherit the traditions of his art.

As is the custom upon the occasion of a change of name and consequent advancement in rank, a play was given in which Eizaburo took an important rôle, and although he was very young and immature, still in his teens, he had the responsibility of acting in a character, given to perfection by his father, that of Yuki-hime, or the Snow-Princess, the beautiful young heroine who is made a prisoner in Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto. She is at last bound with ropes and tied to a cherry tree.

Then the doll-stage, from which the play was taken, asserted itself. Eizaburo became a marionette, and was moved by two doll-handlers, who were none other than his [42]father and another member of the Onoe family. Yuki-hime, true to the doll-actors, went through a complicated pantomime to the accompaniment of minstrel and samisen player, descriptive postures that revealed her determination to escape. Drawing the outline of a rat in the fallen petals about her feet by means of her big toe, the real rodents appear by magic, or rather on the ends of pliant black rods held by two property men on each side of her; using their teeth upon the rope, Yuki-hime is soon free.

Onoe Matsusuke, the veteran member of this family, was the announcer, following the custom of the Doll-theatre; the young actor, Morita Kanya, the thirteenth, became rhythm marker, stamping his feet to emphasise the changing beats, while Onoe Baiko and Onoe Kozo were the doll-handlers, who stood behind the erstwhile marionette and moved it according to the requirements of the play.

Dressed in the black costumes of the doll-stage the handlers came to the front of the stage before the piece began, lifted the face flaps of their black hoods and introduced themselves to the audience in their new disguise, then assumed again the black obscurity, and the strange but highly fascinating movements of Yuki-hime began.

It is only the really great, whether among actors or members of other professions, those who have reached the height of their careers, who can descend to such personal effacement as this. Perhaps it is only possible in the East, where there still lingers some instinct for the great truth that mankind has from time to time recognised—that personality is less important than art.

The fifteenth anniversary of the death of Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth, was celebrated in a fitting manner by the Tokyo stage, and the kojo, or salutation to the audience, was given at the chief theatres, the Imperial and the Kabuki-za. Thirty players, for the most part those associated with Danjuro during his lifetime, and also his two daughters, made up two long lines of bowing actors, recalling the ceremonies of Yedo Kabuki. All were in the [43]terra-cotta kimono bearing the famous crest formed by three squares, worn by the first Ichikawa in the Genroku period, and used by his descendants and pupils ever since.

The last of the Ichikawa family, the grand-daughter of Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth.

In the kojo given at the Imperial, Matsumoto Koshiro, the most talented pupil of the late Danjuro, acted as master of ceremony. There was one very small figure among the actors, Danjuro’s grand-daughter, bowing before the footlights between her father, Ichikawa Shinsaburo, and her uncle, Ichikawa Sansho. The appearance of this last descendant of the chief actor-house of Kabuki caused the audience to grow enthusiastic in their applause.

An actor’s improvisation at the Kabuki-za to honour the memory of Danjuro was also given. The stage showed the front of a Yedo theatre with a tea-house at one side and a sign announcing the Danjuro anniversary. Nine of the most popular onnagata of the Kabuki-za and Ichimura-za entered as maids of the tea-house and stood waiting for the appearance of otokodate, or chivalrous commoners. These popular characters were taken by fourteen of Tokyo’s best actors, and they came in slowly by the two hanamichi and stood facing each other, talking across the audience, displaying by their voice and manner some characteristic which had endeared them to playgoers in past performances. With the onnagata they made a brave array of actor talent.

Into their midst came the veteran onnagata, Nakamura Utayemon, chief of the Tokyo actors. He made his entrance as the mistress of the tea-house, and addressed the audience on Danjuro and his work for Kabuki.

The Ichikawa crest was conspicuous in the decorations of the theatre within and without, and high over the entrance of the Kabuki-za, where the yagura, or drum tower of the Yedo theatre was accustomed to appear, there shone forth at night a huge Ichikawa crest in electric globes, somehow linking the modern actor of Japan with the fraternity in the West.

Less elaborate is the announcement of a minor actor’s promotion to a grade or so above the rank and file, made [44]during the progress of a play, which is done in various graceful ways.

Two women in the establishment of a daimyo, rivals in the play, enter by the hanamichi with their attendants, and the procession proceeds to the gate of a temple. All enter with the exception of the rivals, and one maid.

For a moment the current of the play is turned aside, and in the gay-patterned costumes of their rôles, the two leading characters kneel down on the stage with the maid between them, each taking turn in explaining how the young man in the female disguise has been a pupil of a stage favourite who has recently died, of his association with him, and that as he has now progressed in his work they crave the patronage of the audience. The maid then returns thanks for the favour of the audience, and all three rising to their feet they take up the lines of the play as though there had been no interpolation,—the maid being admonished to join the others within the temple, as she may be needed.

When the adopted son of Danjuro, the ninth, was fired with ambition to become an actor, since he was a member of so distinguished an actor-house, no teacher seemed ready to volunteer. His father had been a banker, and he was thus not born in the purple. Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka generously consented to assist him. For years he studied hard and at last made a first bow in a Tokyo theatre. His introduction planned by Ganjiro only serves to show the esteem in which the great Danjuro was held, and that for his sake Ganjiro was willing to assist a member of his family.

The scene selected for the introduction was that of the pine-shaded highway, the Tokaido, Mount Fuji in the background. By way of the hanamichi came a retinue of retainers in bright scarlet, with thin over-garments of white. The son-in-law of the illustrious Danjuro appeared as a splendid daimyo riding on a horse, a white-haired servitor leading the way.

[45]On reaching the stage the rider dismounted, and kneeling in the centre of two long rows of the retainers who bowed low over their outstretched hands, the sponsor, Ganjiro, spoke of Ichikawa Danjuro and expressed the wish that Sansho, his son-in-law, would become a good actor. Sansho, responding, declared that he would do all he could to improve.

No sooner were his words spoken than a white satin curtain descended, having for design a large carp attempting to jump up a waterfall, symbol of the difficulties Sansho must overcome before reaching the heights of the profession.

Sainyu, one of Osaka’s fine old actors, came to say farewell to Tokyo but a short time before his death. The ceremony of retirement was most appropriate. The stage was prepared for a comic dance, and while various performers were attracting the attention of the audience, a large box, such as is used to contain a toy or doll, was carried in and remained to one side while the merriment proceeded. Finally, when curiosity with regard to the box had increased considerably, property men lifted the mysterious object and placed it in the front of the stage, removed the side nearest the audience, and within was disclosed the venerable actor as a marionette. In the many-coloured garments of Sambasso, the humoresque figure of the Nō stage, and manifestation of an ancient Shinto deity, whose semi-religious dance was performed at dawn with the opening of the theatre, he was brought forth limp and lifeless.

Stage attendants attached imaginary wires to his arms and head, and he performed this characteristic dance after the fashion of the dolls. Finally, real wires were attached to his costume and he rose into the air, still making marionette motions with his arms and legs, and disappeared into the regions above stage,—a feat for an actor over seventy years of age.

His love for the ceremonial also causes the actor to cherish the memory of the real persons whose lives have [46]formed the material for drama. When the play of Sakura Sogoro is to be performed, the actors repair to Sogoro’s village, not far away from Tokyo, where stands a shrine sacred to the martyred village head who presented a direct appeal to the Shogun to lessen the heavy burden of taxes imposed upon the farmers, and in consequence forfeited his life. There the actors address his spirit, and during the run of the play a temporary shrine is erected within the theatre before which daily offerings of fruit, vegetables, and wine are made.

In the same manner, whenever Chushingura is performed in Tokyo, the actors who are to take part assemble at Sengaku-ji, the little Buddhist temple where are buried the Forty-seven Ronin, before whose tombs clouds of incense rise unceasingly. Nor do the Osaka actors forget to keep green the deeds of Michizane, the patron saint of Japanese literature, who departed from Osaka on his sad exile, and whose tragic fate inspired Takeda Izumo to write the Village School, and other loyalty scenes, in his famous doll-drama. Whenever a portion of this play is given the actors pay their respects before the spirit that has been deified in one of Osaka’s most popular shrines.

So long as there are actors who delight in changing their names and giving new ones to their sons, and to whom ceremony has a recognised place in the theatre, the fine old Kabuki regime will not soon pass away.




To a woman, O-Kuni, a ritual dancer attached to the great Shinto Shrine of Izumo, in the “Province of the Gods”, belongs the credit of founding the popular theatre, some time in the year 1596, on the dry bed of the Kamo River in Kyoto.

According to Izumo O-Kuni Den, or The Biography of O-Kuni of Izumo, in the possession of the late Baron Senge, from whose family come the hereditary ritualists of the Shrine, O-Kuni was a miko, or sacred dancer. Her father was called Nakamura Sanyemon, and served the Shrine in the capacity of an artisan. The family name of Nakamura was derived from the district of Nakamura in Kitsuki, where O-Kuni’s family lived, the site of the great Shrine of Izumo then as now.

O-Kuni left Kitsuki on a pilgrimage, so the story goes, wandering through several provinces, performing her dance, and asking for contributions for the repair of the Shrine, and at last reached Kyoto. Evidently the gay capital exerted such a powerful fascination over her, that she felt no inclination to return to her duties in connection with the Shrine. There is no record that tells of O-Kuni’s change of heart, or what eventually prompted her to set up a platform on the banks of the Kamo, where were to be found all the motley train of entertainers who flourished at that time.

Kyoto, the birthplace of the popular theatre, was, when O-Kuni made her appearance, a city of half-a-million [50]inhabitants. Murdoch says in his History of Japan: “It is well to remember that if Japan had no Free Cities, she had what Germany, or indeed any other European country, had not,—a single great city with a population of half-a-million. Such Kyoto was even at one of the lowest ebbs in its prosperity at the date of Xavier’s visit to it in 1551. In 1467 at the outbreak of the war of Odin, it contained 160,000 families, or, perhaps, 900,000 souls. Few cities in contemporary Europe could boast even a tenth of that population.” Captain Francis Brinkley also refers to the splendours of Kyoto palaces and fine residences in the fifteenth century, and says that even men who made medicine or fortune-telling their professions and petty officials such as secretaries had stately residences.

Fenollosa in his Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art writes about Kyoto civilians, and as to the patrons of the artists, he asks: “Who were Okio’s patrons? Why, the silk weavers, bronze casters, the embroiderers and fine lacquerers, the æsthetic priests of Kyoto temples, the great potters grouped at the foot of Arashiyama, the great merchants who sent their fine wares all over Japan even to the daimyo’s yashiki.”

Such was Kyoto, the political as well as artistic centre of Japan, when O-Kuni gave the impetus that started the movement to establish Kabuki, the people’s stage, that to-day has inherited all the wealth of past materials and is turned resolutely toward the promise of the future.

Her performances were of the simplest character. She has been described as wearing a priest’s robe of black silk, with a small metal Buddhist gong suspended from her neck by a vermilion silk cord, and as she struck the gong with a mallet, she danced and chanted a Buddhist sutra.

Seiseiin Ihara, Kabuki’s leading historian and one of the prominent dramatic critics of Tokyo, who was born in the shadow of the Shrine of Izumo, has taken great pains to gather from the old records the story of O-Kuni. He says that it may seem incredible that a Buddhist [51]dance should have been performed by the miko of Izumo Shrine, but he points out that it was the period when Shinto, or the “Way of the Gods”, the reverence and worship of the ancestors of the race and departed souls who were great in life, and Buddhism, the “Way of Buddha”, or the faith in a universal being and a future state of happiness, lived peacefully together. Buddhist priests were prominent at Izumo, and a bronze image of Buddha was placed in front of the Shrine where incense was burned, and the sutras were recited by eight females who performed to musical instruments used in Buddhist as well as Shinto ceremonies. To-day the combination seems hard to believe, since Shintoism and Buddhism are strictly separated.

It was therefore not unusual that O-Kuni’s Shinto dance should have been modified by Buddhism, and that her performances were later greatly influenced by the sermons of the priests, as an old book about the people of Kyoto records.

But if her dances had remained in a simple and semi-religious state, it is doubtful if O-Kuni would have succeeded in impressing herself so vividly upon her day and generation as she did. Her art was to undergo a sudden transformation. One day she met Nagoya Sansaburo, one of the handsomest and bravest young samurai of Kyoto. They fell in love and married. Sansaburo, who was famous for his military exploits, joined O-Kuni in her public appearances and soon became renowned as an actor. He recognised that her dance was not sufficiently interesting, and set himself to carry out improvements that soon made O-Kuni one of the most popular personages of the time.

Sansaburo’s ancestors had been samurai in the Province of Owari. His father served under the great general Hideyoshi, and was advanced to a post of honour. He was blessed with ten children, Sansaburo being the seventh. And as the father’s income was not sufficient to maintain such a large family, he was sent at an early age to Kennin-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, to be brought up by the priests.

[52]In 1590, when Hideyoshi attacked the Castle of Odawara, one of his right-hand men was Gamo Ujisato, whom Murdoch, in his history of the early relations between Japan and other countries, characterises as the most brilliant proselyte the Jesuits had made. Gamo Ujisato was one of the bravest captains of the age, and Hideyoshi began to fear his ascendency. He was poisoned at a tea ceremony party by an underling who acted on a hint from Hideyoshi, and so died in his fortieth year.

This Gamo Ujisato held a review of his troops in the neighbourhood of Kyoto previous to the storming of a feudal stronghold. The inhabitants of the city went to see the spectacle, and young Sansaburo clad in a priest’s purple robe was among the curious throng. Ujisato on horseback caught sight of the acolyte and was greatly taken with the handsome boy. Later he asked his father if he might engage Sansaburo as a page. Soon after Ujisato returned to his domain in Izu, and Sansaburo followed in his suite.

At the time that Ujisato undertook one of his most daring military campaigns, Sansaburo followed his master, wearing a garment of pure white silk lined with crimson, and armour woven with variegated colours, and carrying a spear in his hand. His courageous conduct in this campaign formed the theme of a popular song, and his name soon spread to all parts of the country.

After Ujisato’s death, Sansaburo returned to Kyoto with considerable property left him by his lord, and led an extravagant life, passing his time in the pleasures of the capital. It is easy to see that the alluring O-Kuni, who was such a novel amusement to the citizens of Kyoto frequenting the popular entertainment resort on the Kamo River, must have captivated his fancy, for he quickly decided to cast in his lot with hers.

Sansaburo, bred in a military family and having associated with one of the celebrated feudal lords of the period, was in consequence acquainted with the best in literature and art. That he was familiar with the Nō stage, particularly [53]with the Kyogen, or comic pieces given between the Nō plays, is very certain, for he soon changed O-Kuni’s simple Shinto-Buddhist dance into the nature of Kyogen. No doubt he considered that her performances savoured too much of religion to please all and sundry, so he taught her popular songs and also composed pieces for her.

She did not, however, succeed in winning the highest popular favour until she transformed herself into a male, wearing swords and covering her head with a peculiar head-dress. From the time that O-Kuni assumed the outward guise of a man, dancing with two swords thrust through her belt, the people flocked to see her.

For the first time Sansaburo called her performances Kabuki, the name by which the Japanese stage is known at the present day. The word was no new invention. It had been in use for a long period to signify something comic, and gradually came to lose its original meaning and was used to denote the particular kind of theatrical entertainment that had arisen, and from that time forward Kabuki was applied to everything pertaining to the popular stage.

The word for theatre, “shibai”, also came into general use at this time, meaning to sit on the lawn or grass, from the fact that the platform for performances was a temporary affair and the audience sat on the ground.

Still later Sansaburo introduced more and more of the Nō elements, the externals of O-Kuni’s stage being largely borrowed from the aristocratic theatre. And how the present highly complex stage of Japan developed out of O-Kuni’s dance is the story of the rise of Kabuki.

O-Kuni was not only popular with the masses, the nobility patronised her. On one occasion she was invited to the Fushimi Palace, near Kyoto, to entertain Hideyasu. He was the son of Iyeyasu, who was later to found the Tokugawa Shogunate. But Hideyasu had been adopted by Hideyoshi, Japan’s military overlord at this period, and was held as a hostage and guarantee of Iyeyasu’s good faith. When O-Kuni danced before this young prince, she wore [54]around her neck a crystal rosary, which is evidence of the Jesuit influence upon Kyoto, for the Portuguese and Spanish priests at this time went about wearing their long strings of beads to which was attached the cross. In imitation, O-Kuni, when performing, hung one about her own neck, more as a decoration than a declaration of the Christian faith.

This novelty of the day interested Hideyasu, but he considered that it was not good enough for her, and taking some coral ornaments from his armour presented them to her. At parting, O-Kuni conveyed her thanks in a poem which she composed on the spur of the moment. He was so much impressed by her performance that it cast him into a melancholy mood, and he made the comment to one of his retainers that among thousands of women this one had won fame for herself as the greatest dancer, and yet he had not been able to obtain any special distinction.

Hideyasu might well reflect upon O-Kuni’s reputation, for although he distinguished himself for his valour and military genius, he was not chosen from among his many brothers to succeed as the second Tokugawa Shogun.

There is also an account relating how O-Kuni was appreciated at Court; how an Imperial princess held an entertainment in 1601 to which the actress was summoned to dance, and how the younger members of the court imitated her.

In 1607 she went to Yedo, the seat of the shogunate, now Tokyo and the capital of the Empire. She performed on a temporary stage that had been used by Nō actors who had just held Kwanjin Nō, or performances to raise funds for the repairing or building of temples and shrines. In Yedo, these Nō performances were given under the patronage of the Shogun, and were often not so much for religious purposes as to help swell the incomes of the Nō actors. They were generally held within the compound of the Shogun’s palace, the performances taking place on a temporary stage erected for the occasion, to which, as a great [55]concession, thousands of the common people of Yedo were invited. The leading actors of the Kwanze and Komparu Nō schools had just ended their programme, and it was on this stage that O-Kuni appeared.

It is also related that she danced before Oda Nobunaga, one of the foremost military leaders of the time, by whose death Hideyoshi was able to rise to power. And it is said that both Hideyoshi and his chief retainers patronised O-Kuni. There is a story that she was invited by Hideyoshi’s faithful lieutenant, Kato Kiyomasa, to the southern island of Japan, where he held sway as the daimyo of Kumamoto. But it seems impossible to believe that O-Kuni should have been engaged to such an extent, and more probable that some of the great ones recognised her talent, and the story was applied to all the outstanding personalities of her time. For, after all, while the great and noble of the land may have appreciated her, it was to the people that O-Kuni particularly addressed herself.

Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, a book written by a Kabuki playwright, Tamenaga Icho, and published in 1762, says that O-Kuni was beautiful, that she was skilled in calligraphy—an important female accomplishment—that she had a sympathetic nature, loved flowers and the moon, and that a snowy evening or a maple scene in the autumn inspired her to poetry. There is an account of O-Kuni written by an author who must have attended her performances, and yet he does not dilate upon her beauty, which must have been an oversight, for judging from the general details known about her she certainly possessed some superior power of attraction.

Both Sansaburo and O-Kuni died while the O-Kuni Kabuki was at its height. The chroniclers do not tell how they parted company, or ended their stage careers, but Sansaburo gave up acting and became a retainer of the lord of Tsuyama, whose wife was his sister. He was killed by the daimyo’s chief retainer during the building of Tsuyama Castle. This man had been long in the service of the [56]daimyo, but Sansaburo aspired to outrival him on account of his relationship, and because of his association with the illustrious Gamo Ujisato. The two had a dispute and fought, and Sansaburo was killed. His friends retaliated by immediately taking the life of the chief retainer, and his two brothers were also punished by self-inflicted death at the command of the daimyo.

When O-Kuni grew old, and had outlived her career on the stage that she had created with Sansaburo, she returned to her old home in Kitsuki, near Izumo Shrine. Here she retired from the world, and lived in a rustic cottage, spent her time in reciting the sutras, writing verse, and died at a ripe old age. This account of O-Kuni’s last days appears to be very reliable, as it is from Izumo O-Kuni Den, or Biography of O-Kuni of Izumo, from records preserved among the Shrine archives. The exact date of her death is not given in this record, and her last resting-place is also unknown.

Seiseiin Ihara, who has made exhaustive researches concerning O-Kuni, finds many conflicting statements in the old books, which were written without much care for accuracy regarding names and dates. Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, says that Yoshiteru, one of the last Ashikaga Shoguns, summoned her to dance in his presence several times and praised her. But this is somewhat imaginary, since in such a case she would have appeared in Kyoto many years previous to 1596, in which year, most of the records agree, she began to practise the new art. Kabuki Koto Hajime also says that Sansaburo was in the service of the Shogun Yoshiteru, as was O-Kuni, that they fell in love, were dismissed and became ronin, which is one of the many improbable tales related of the pair.

Another book says O-Kuni went to Sado Island, following the report that gold had been discovered there. This is quite possible, but on the strength of this story some writers state that she was a native of Sado, which is certainly not true. Other writers are so mixed up in their dates, that [57]they make out there was a wide gulf in years between O-Kuni and Sansaburo, and that it was impossible that he should have married a woman so much his senior, while others declare that it was O-Kuni’s daughter that Sansaburo married. In Tokaido Meishoki, or Noted Places of the Tokaido (the great highway between Kyoto and Yedo), O-Kuni is said to have married a Nō Kyogen actor, and there are other misleading and confusing stories.

One of the most interesting of these is attributed to Lafcadio Hearn. He objected to the account of O-Kuni in Things Japanese by Basil Hall Chamberlain, especially to that sentence where it is written that the reputation of O-Kuni and her companions was far from spotless. Hearn’s story is to the effect that O-Kuni was a priestess in the great temple of Kitsuki, and she fell in love with a swashbuckler, Nagoya Sansaburo, and fled to Kyoto with him. On the way her extraordinary beauty caused another soldier of fortune to make love to her; Sansaburo killed him, and the dead man’s face haunted the girl. She supported her lover by giving dances on the bank of the Kamo River, and he became a famous actor. When he died she returned to Kitsuki, becoming a nun, and built a temple that she might pray for the soul of the man who had been killed.

Hearn’s love of the ghostly carried him very far away from the true facts, but nevertheless he felt the romance of the O-Kuni legend strongly enough not to wish to tarnish her name, as the more matter-of-fact Mr. Chamberlain does so lightly.

It was long after O-Kuni’s day, when the second and third O-Kuni were carrying on her traditions, and this woman’s stage employed mixed players, that the laxity of morals set in.



Companies headed by women were formed in imitation of the O-Kuni Kabuki.

They appeared not only in Kyoto, but made grand tours to distant parts of the country. A feudal lord whose domains were near the present prosperous tea-trade centre, the city of Shidzuoka, invited a Kyoto actress and her company, and when the famous Nagoya castle was completed, the daimyo who had co-operated in the building, celebrated by giving an Onna Kabuki entertainment. Even Date Masamune, lord of Sendai, one of the first daimyo to accept the Christian faith, and who sent an embassy to Rome, asked an actress to perform in his fief.

About this time, the O-Kuni Kabuki had finally settled at Shijo Bridge in Kyoto, the head of which was the third O-Kuni.

The popularity of these players was so widespread, that the women of the gay quarters followed their example, and companies of women performers were recruited from the ranks of the prostitutes. A man called Sadoshima Yosanji taught these women dancing, and erected a theatre. Schools for the training of actresses were established, and talented dancers were developed who competed with each other for the favour of the public. One of these women, Sadoshima Shokichi, gave a performance at the Yoshiwara, in Yedo, and at the time a placard was set up on Nihonbashi, the Bridge of Japan, which was one of the chief landmarks of Yedo, as it is of modern Tokyo. The male musicians [59]who performed at this time were very expert, according to this bridge advertisement, and attention was called to the comic nature of the pieces to be performed.

Although the name Onna Kabuki signified a woman’s theatre, it was not long until the two sexes were playing together indiscriminately, men taking the rôles of women, and the characters of men being assumed by women. Upon one occasion Ikushima, an actress, appeared at Nakabashi in Yedo. When the curtain was drawn, the head actor of the company advanced in most gorgeous attire, wearing swords ornamented with gold. With him was an equally resplendent actress. More than fifty females danced together during the performance. They took the rôles of men and wore swords. The musicians sat on camp stools, and the singers recited to the strains of the samisen.

This is the first mention of the samisen in the theatre, the three-stringed instrument that was in after years to revolutionise Kabuki as well as the Doll-theatre. The instruments in use until the introduction of the samisen were the Nō drums and flute, but the samisen with its strident, irregular rhythms was to be associated from this time onward with the whole gay, frivolous world, far removed from the austerity, dignity, and ritual with which the flute and Nō drums were associated. The samisen had been brought to Japan from the Loo Choo Islands. A similar instrument had long been in use in China, so that it seems probable that it had its origin in China, but was imported into Japan from the islands to the south-west, where Chinese influence had long been uppermost.

When Onna Kabuki was at its height, there were four companies in Kyoto called O-Kuni, Sadoshima, Shinobu, and a company managed by a man named Dansuke. Shinobu removed to Ise province, Dansuke and his company established themselves at Osaka, that was then as it is to-day the leading commercial centre of Japan. The Sadoshima party was divided into two, headed respectively [60]by Takeshima and Sadoshima, both of whom had sons who became noted actors in the first period of the male theatre. They were Takeshima Kyozaemon and Sadoshima Dempachi. The latter was a dokegata, or comic actor. Sadoshima’s grandson wrote Sadoshima Nikki, or the Journal of Sadoshima, which deals with the Kabuki of his time, and is a theatre classic.

Had the women companies remained exemplary in conduct and kept their ranks free from the other sex, the history of the Japanese theatre might have been quite different. But the leading actresses were prostitutes; their art was a means to an end, and they abused their privileges as entertainers. No permanent and self-respecting theatre could have continued to exist on such an immoral foundation. The degradation of the Onna Kabuki was due in no small degree, however, to the playing of men and women together. The public very soon came to look down upon these players, and they were referred to as Kawara Kojiki, or Riverside Beggars, derived from the fact that the first Kabuki players had erected their temporary stages on the dry beds of Kyoto rivers. The term was from this time handed down to besmirch the reputations of generations of honest, legitimate actors that followed.

In 1608 a proclamation by the Shogun’s Government was made limiting the Onna Kabuki to the outskirts of the cities, where its baneful influence might be less of a contamination to society. Several court ladies who had carried on flirtations with the handsome young actors of the Onna Kabuki were exiled, in punishment of their misdemeanours, and Government interference was frequent. In 1626 a notice advertising a performance was ordered to be taken down. In 1628, when a company of actresses played at Takanawa near Shinagawa, in the suburbs of Yedo, the theatre was so crowded that great confusion ensued, and the place was ordered to be closed.

The climax came when the Government of the third Shogun, Iyemitsu, issued a strict order (1629) forbidding [61]female performances of any kind. At one stroke the performances of women dancers, the actresses of the Onna Kabuki, and even the women minstrels who sang to the movements of the marionettes in the puppet show, came to an abrupt end.

Again in 1630 a company of mixed players attempted to give a performance, the actors appearing as women and the actresses as men, but an order was immediately issued excluding all females from the stage. In 1640 a company of male and female players announced they would play together, but their performance was stopped, and in 1645 the proprietor of a theatre was severely punished for employing female players. This was done as an example, for violations were frequent.

In the history of the Doll-theatre, also, there had been companies of women who handled the marionettes while female minstrels sang and recited the ballad-dramas to which the dolls moved, and women accomplished in the samisen accompanied the minstrels. These Doll-theatre companies of women were not long to endure, and soon came to grief.

Somewhere about the time that O-Kuni was beginning to dance on her temporary stage by the riverside in Kyoto, Ono-no-Otsu, a lady-in-waiting in the household of the great general, Oda Nobunaga, had composed a long ballad called Joruri Hime Monogatari, or the Story of Princess Joruri. It had been sung by a minstrel to the accompaniment of the samisen.

This was an improvement on the balladry of the blind musicians, who had recited their stories of love and battle to the mournful minor strings of the biwa. The first tayu, or minstrel, to sing the improved balladry inaugurated by Ono-no-Otsu, was a woman called Rokuji Namuyemon. After her there were both male and female minstrels, but the prohibition of the Onna Kabuki also included the female minstrel. The talent of woman had repeatedly tried to express itself in the realm of the theatre, but now the heavy hand of the puritanic shogunate fell upon her activities, and [62]the result was the suppression of all stage aspiration on the part of females for three hundred years.

Ihara Seiseiin, commenting on this in his History of the Japanese Stage, says that although the Shogun’s Government was under the necessity of maintaining the morals of the people, the prohibition had an ill effect upon the theatre, and the injury has not been completely healed. He thinks that if the Onna Kabuki had been left to develop naturally, it is most probable that there would now exist a different state of affairs, and actresses would have adorned the Japanese theatre as they do in the Occident. But, he continues, it was impossible for the Tokugawa Shogunate to have such foresight with regard to art, and the fact that there are no names of actresses adorning the history of the Japanese stage must be attributed to this initial, stern, prohibitive measure of the shogunate.

These strict laws regarding the appearance of females on the stage were enforced until the last days of the shogunate, when its grip loosened on many of the measures that had been made to regulate the morals of the people and to control their democratic tendencies.

With this relaxation there again came into existence a woman’s theatre, headed by a brilliant actress, Kumehachi, who was a contemporary of Danjuro, the ninth, the great star of Meiji. She took male rôles as did other women of her company. With her death her company disbanded. A successor to Kumehachi exists to-day who also acts men’s characters most successfully, Nakamura Kasen, but she loses much of her prestige by acting with mixed players. The establishment of a school of actresses in connection with the founding of the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo belongs to the modern history of the Japanese stage.

Judging from the conditions that have been brought about by mixed players on the Western stage, it was a fortunate thing that women were excluded, for the actors were able to develop a masculine theatre unhampered by petticoat influence. Whether this is an advantage to the [63]art of the theatre remains to be seen when Kabuki, the unique masculine stage of Japan, will become known outside the land of its origin.

In order that men should reign supreme in the world of make-believe, the creativeness of the Japanese woman in the direction of the theatre has thus been clearly sacrificed. But in the future their talent may be able to find scope for development in a theatre of their own, as an expression of the spirit of women. The tendency of the theatre art in Japan is toward a separation of the sexes, and there is hope that in the future a women’s theatre, free from the immoral influences that caused the downfall of the Onna Kabuki, will coexist with Kabuki, the firmly established masculine stage.

O-Kuni’s prominence began in 1596, when she first met Sansaburo, and she reached the height of her fame in 1601. By 1629 women were strictly prohibited from performing in public. Thus the women’s theatre she had founded came to an abrupt end, after an existence of three decades.



The first Kabuki theatre to be founded in Japan in which performances were given by companies composed entirely of men was started in the third year of Genna, 1617, by Dansuke, who seems to have been an enterprising manager. It was Dansuke who formed companies of women from the pleasure quarters of Kyoto, and who was invited by no less a personage than the great daimyo, Date Masamune, to bring his players to his feudal capital, Sendai. Dansuke also established a company of female players in Osaka, but he is known chiefly in the history of Kabuki as the founder of the first male theatre.

The tercentenary of this historical event was not allowed to pass unnoticed, and in December 1917 the establishment of Dansuke’s male theatre and the three hundred years of Kabuki development were celebrated by special performances given at the Minami-za, in Kyoto, where Nakamura Ganjiro, Osaka’s leading actor, and Matsumoto Koshiro of the Imperial Theatre, Tokyo, played together to commemorate the event.

Kyoto slumbering in its wide valley, enclosed by its templed hills, once the scene of great theatre activity, is now far surpassed by the stages of Tokyo and Osaka, but the leading actors of these two cities met to celebrate one of the most important anniversaries in the history of the Japanese theatre.

It was before mixed companies were prohibited that the male theatre took its rise. Handsome youths had taken part [65]with the women players, and the separation was an easy step.

With the strict prohibition of the Onna Kabuki, these young male players were left in entire possession of the field, because the chief players were youths, the entertainment they afforded was called Wakashu Kabuki, or Youths’ Stage. Numbers of these theatres arose in rapid succession in the three theatre towns, and even spread to the provinces.

In Osaka the first Wakashu theatre was established in 1624, while Saruwaka Kansaburo founded Yedo Kabuki, or the Yedo Stage, in the same year.

From Dansuke’s first theatre in Kyoto there grew seven flourishing theatres. And they might have gone on increasing, but the authorities considered it safer to place a limit on these places of amusement, and licences were granted to seven persons who were considered the descendants of the first theatre proprietors in Kyoto who had acted in the imitation Kyogen during the intervals of O-Kuni’s dances. These men were retainers of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and when this regime came to an end they were obliged to take up Kabuki, the new entertainment of the people, as a means of livelihood, and became managers of theatres. If they had been in the service of the Shogun, who was the chief patron of the Nō, they must have been entirely familiar with the Nō stage, and so introduced much of this older theatre art into the newly developing stage of the people.

In Osaka, also, theatres grew apace and were finally limited, but it was in Yedo, the capital of the newly established Tokugawa Shoguns, that the theatres made greatest headway.

Saruwaka Kansaburo founded the first theatre in Yedo in 1624, when he established the Saruwaka-za. Nine years later, Miyako Dennai started the Miyako-za, and the following year Murayama Matasaburo opened the Murayama-za. Still later Yamamura Kobei erected the [66]Yamamura-za, and these were for some time the chief theatres of Yedo.

With regard to the stage performances there was very little difference between the Onna Kabuki and the Wakashu Kabuki—the young actors always appeared as the stars, while the older actors had to be content with minor rôles. The handsome youths, attired in female costumes, with long sleeves that swayed with their movements, wearing their hair arranged in the most fetching fashion, carried on O-Kuni’s dancing traditions. These had originated in the descriptive dance, or posture movements, of the Nō, while the comic plays, more or less based on the Kyogen, as performed by the older actors, soon began to change into something special that was to develop still later into the varied forms of the Japanese drama of the present. The dances largely borrowed from the Nō also underwent gradual transformation into the Shosagoto, or modern music-drama, that more closely resembles a Western ballet than any other Occidental stage form.

The externals of the Wakashu theatre were also the same as those of O-Kuni, except that the bamboo fence had given place to a more substantial wooden one, and a gallery had been introduced for the entertainment of high-class patrons. The drum tower of O-Kuni’s theatre remained and persisted long after the entire construction of the theatre had been changed, becoming in time more elaborate and permanent.

The most interesting person of this period is Saruwaka Kansaburo, Yedo’s first actor-manager. Many details of his career have been handed down, while the facts relating to the theatre proprietors of Osaka and Kyoto are both meagre and vague.

Kansaburo, like most of the theatre men of his time, came from Kyoto to Yedo. He was of good stock, one account stating that he had sprung from the lord of the castle at Numadzu in Suruga Province, called Nakamura. However, a more reliable record appears to be that handed [67]down by his posterity, that the family was descended from a daimyo called Nakamura, a follower of Hideyoshi, and that a member of this family, Nakamura Jiyemon, came to Yedo, became a ronin, and married his daughter to Saruwaka Kansaburo, who took the name of his father-in-law. The name “Saruwaka” was given to the comic actors who acted with O-Kuni, and as Kansaburo excelled as a comedian, he took this as his stage name.

Kyoto was the home of refinement and culture, but the political centre had shifted to Yedo, and was swarming with ronin, or independent samurai who were not attached to any particular feudal lord. They all drifted to Yedo to seek their fortunes, and Kansaburo saw a chance of utilising these wandering spirits. The reasons which led to his establishment of a theatre are given in a book he wrote called Temaye Miso, which being interpreted means: “My own bean soup”—in other words, “talking shop” about his profession. In this he says that as the ronin from different parts of Japan assembled in Yedo after the fall of Osaka Castle, when Hideyori, the son of Hideyoshi, perished in the flames, and Iyeyasu became the ruler of feudal Japan, there were many soldiers of fortune who had been deprived of their living and were so reduced that they were obliged to beg for food from door to door, reciting utai, or choruses of the Nō, to the accompaniment of the tsuzumi, or small drum of the Nō stage. He planned to employ these strollers by starting a theatre and giving them an opportunity to make use of their Nō training.

In consequence the Saruwaka-za was established in 1624 at Nakabashi, near Kyobashi, in Yedo, and while Kansaburo waited for his application to erect a theatre to be granted, he dreamed that a white crane with a branch of icho, the tree with fan-shaped leaves, in its mouth, entered his house from the summit of Mount Fuji. This was a lucky dream indeed; and proceeding forthwith to a diviner for explanation, he was told it was a good omen, and that his request would be granted. Accordingly, after the theatre [68]was constructed, he had placed on the curtain hung around the drum tower over the entrance a design of a crane, which came to be associated with Yedo theatres for many years afterwards. Also, on the curtains hung at the entrance and within the theatre, he used the design of an icho leaf.

An incident in Kansaburo’s career shows the importance in which he was held, and proves the position of the actor, who had not yet come to be regarded as a despised class as in after years.

In 1633, when the Shogun’s pleasure boat Atakamaru entered Yedo Bay from Shimoda in Izu Province, Kansaburo was summoned and ordered to stand at the bow of the vessel and to sing a sailor’s song. By way of reward he was presented with a sum of money, a coat used in battle, and other military gifts. While it was common at the time to refer to actors as “riverside beggars”, the treatment accorded Kansaburo was a special honour to his profession, and was remembered long after when the playfolks were regarded as social pariah.

In the following year Kansaburo and six actors of his theatre were invited to the palace of the Shogun, where they performed Kansaburo’s own play, called Saruwaka, and several other pieces, and were given fine clothing and money. These articles have been preserved and handed down from one head of the family to another, and were on exhibition at the Imperial Theatre during January 1919, when Nakamura Akashi, the fifteenth, performed Saruwaka, the hereditary piece of his family, in memory of the founding of the Yedo Kabuki by his ancestor Kansaburo.

This play Saruwaka concerns the adventures of a retainer who goes on a journey to Ise without his master’s permission, and returning, to avoid punishment, assumes a disguise, and so cleverly entertains him with stories of his travels that the daimyo forgets to take him to task. It smacks of the Nō Kyogen, and reveals the inspiration the early Kabuki received from the Nō theatre.

THEATRE TREASURES EXHIBITED. At the Nakamura-za, founded by Saruwaka Kanzaburo, the gifts given to him by the Shogun were considered as treasures of the theatre and exhibited on certain anniversaries with much respect, the actor holding the gold sai, or battle signal, and covering his mouth with a piece of paper lest he should breathe upon it. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kanpei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada.)

Kansaburo was to attain to even higher honour in his [69]old age. In 1657 there took place what is referred to as the Great Fire of Meireki, when the business portion of Yedo was burned down, including the four chief theatres and many minor ones. As there was little hope that they would be rebuilt quickly, Kansaburo decided to visit his old home in Kyoto, and journeyed thither with his second son, Shimbochi. While there he was invited through a Court noble to perform his piece Saruwaka before the Imperial Court.

Just as he was about to begin he found that he had forgotten to bring an obi required for his costume, and the Court noble who had introduced him took a red cord and tassel attached to a thin bamboo curtain near the Mikado, and gave it to the performer who wore it during the play. As it was far too long and dragged upon the floor, Kansaburo was obliged to put one end around his neck. Ever after he wore the cord and tassel rather than an obi when he performed in this piece, and passed it on to his successors so that it became part of the conventional Saruwaka costume.

On this occasion Kansaburo was given a black velvet haori, or over-garment, adorned with a crest that had as a design three leaves, and he also received a rich kimono embroidered in gold and silver. His son Shimbochi was only nine years at this time, and he danced in a piece called Shimbochi’s Drum. The Emperor was so much pleased with the child’s performance that he exclaimed: “Akashi! Akashi!”—Never tired of seeing! This cognomen was bestowed upon the boy by the Emperor. Like the costume and the cord and tassel, this name became hereditary in the family. The present Nakamura Akashi, now living in Tokyo, is over seventy years of age, and the fifteenth of this actor line.

Kansaburo died soon after his return to Yedo. His second son inherited his name, but died young, and a cousin became the third Kansaburo, while the fourth was Nakamura Denkuro, a famous actor of the Genroku period. Kansaburo had two brothers, one of whom was a Nō Kyogen [70]actor, Kanjuro, while the other was Kineya Kangoro. The grandson of Kineya Kangoro, called Kineya Kisaburo, first introduced the samisen into the orchestra of Kabuki, and is the founder of the Kineya line of musicians, who have been connected with the theatre ever since, and are to-day the chief house of Kabuki musicians.

In Ayame Gusa, or the Sayings of Ayame, concerning the ideas of Yoshizawa Ayame on the theatre in general, and the onnagata specialty, of which he was a genius, in particular, he writes about the treasures of the Nakamura-za, Kansaburo’s theatre. When he founded the first theatre in Yedo he called it the Saruwaka-za, but his descendants later changed the name to Nakamura. Here for 150 years, says the Ayame Gusa, the treasure of the theatre was a gold sai, a duster-like equipment of war used for signalling in battle by the warriors of Old Japan, consisting of a short handle with stripes of thick gold paper attached. This had been presented to Kansaburo when he sang a sailor’s song on the Shogun’s pleasure craft as it entered Yedo Bay. Still another article treasured by the Nakamura-za was a costume of gold brocade worn in the piece Saruwaka, also a fine bamboo screen presented to Kansaburo by a daimyo, and a drum from some equally exalted personage.

With regard to the other theatre proprietors of Yedo, Miyako Dennai obtained permission to build a theatre in 1633, and the following year Murayama Matasaburo erected the Murayama-za. He was the younger brother of Murayama Matabei, the actor-manager of Kyoto. Both had come from Sakai, the old seaport near Osaka, which flourished greatly when it was opened to Western trade, and declined when the Tokugawa policy closed the country to foreign intercourse. Their father had been a retainer of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and was a follower of Nagoya Sansaburo. Yamamura Kobei was given permission to build the Yamamura-za. Kawarasaki Gonnosuke established the Kawarasaki-za in 1648. He was a Nō actor, but later went to Yedo from the provinces and started a theatre.

[71]Not only did the theatres increase in numbers in the three towns, but they spread to the provinces as well. The audiences received better accommodation, curtains and stage furniture began to be used. Theatres had been somewhat like side-shows, and the audience changed at the end of each performance, which continued indefinitely, but with improvements in all directions plays of several scenes began in all three theatre centres.

It was in 1644, when the Wakashu Kabuki was in full swing, that another prohibition by the Government laid it low for the very same causes that had put Onna Kabuki out of existence. The charming young actors were responsible for moral abuses that undermined the Spartan code of the samurai. There was a scandal because of the relations between a daimyo’s wife and a young actor, and the Government, always on the alert to punish the sins and omissions of the theatre, ordered that the front hair of the Wakashu actors be shaved off. Shorn of their locks they no longer presented an attractive appearance, and as they had existed only to please through their persons their usefulness was gone. The prohibition of the Wakashu Kabuki was a blow at the luxurious and effeminate habits that were then indulged in by the samurai and aristocracy. Wakashu Kabuki had much to do with the spread of these habits, and to suppress them was then considered the only remedy against the social evil of the time.

The prohibition of Wakashu Kabuki in Osaka and Kyoto differed from that of Yedo. A quarrel of two samurai over a young actor playing a female rôle took place in Yedo. The theatre was closed, and on this account the doors of all the other theatres were shut. As they did not reopen for long years, the actors were in dire distress.

In Osaka the theatres were closed in 1656 because of a disturbance in the audience, but permission was given to continue the following year. The Kyoto theatres, however, went out of existence for twelve years, and it was only in [72]1668 that Murayama Matabei, Kyoto’s actor-manager, was allowed to restart.

Not much is known about Matabei, quite contrary to the case of Saruwaka Kansaburo of Yedo, but an interesting side-light is thrown upon him by Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, which says that Murayama Matabei asked the governor when he was going to pay his respects at Gion; meaning by this, at what time the theatres of the Gion district in Kyoto were to begin again, but the governor withheld his consent. Thereupon Matabei followed him to his residence, and slept under the eaves, where he was exposed to rain and his clothes were spoiled so that he became ill and thin as a ghost. His followers brought him food, and afterwards his patience was rewarded, for his petition for the reopening of the Kyoto theatres was granted.

While Kansaburo is remembered as the founder of Yedo Kabuki, as well as for all his honours and triumphs, Matabei, the Kyoto actor-manager, in his long fight for his profession will endear himself to all lovers of the theatre.

Although the authorities of the day may have thought it expedient to do away with the theatre, not caring to admit that such an institution is a necessary part of life and cannot be destroyed, yet something must be said for their attitude. They felt obliged to keep order, as the theatres had become unruly places where the new turbulent spirit of the people was finding expression, and might have gone beyond the bounds if left unchecked.

Mr. Ihara, in his comments on the abolition of the Wakashu Kabuki, expresses the belief that this strict measure had unexpected benefits. Onna and Wakashu Kabuki had made an appeal merely to the eyes and ears, and personal attractiveness was the main object. In consequence, inexperienced youths held the centre of the stage, while mature actors were obliged to serve as foils.

With the abolition of Wakashu Kabuki, Yaro Kabuki, or the Men’s Stage, came about, but this term was used [73]only for a short time to distinguish the performances from the Wakashu. Yaro Kabuki was the second epoch in the male theatre that with great strides was to develop conventions, ceremonies, customs, actors, plays, and playwrights, such as have made Kabuki a thoroughly characteristic institution of Japan.

Crest of Ichimura Uzaemon
(Orange and leaves).
Crest of Kataoka Ichixo
(Leaf of Icho tree).



The intense theatre activity of Yedo, Kyoto, and Osaka that followed in the wake of the edict against Wakashu Kabuki was but the outcome of the growing consciousness of the people and an expression of their natural art craving.

The competition between the stages of the three towns brought about rapid developments in every direction, and many of the conventions that distinguish the modern stage were inaugurated at this time.

Yedo was the seat of the Tokugawa Government, the Shoguns ruling the country with an iron hand. The feudal lords and their vassals paid allegiance to this Government, and Yedo swarmed with two-sworded samurai. It was the liveliest centre of the country for the ronin, or samurai unattached to a master, and in consequence all the adventurous spirits of the time were attracted here as moths to a candle. Yedo Kabuki thus developed marked characteristics of its own.

The atmosphere of Kyoto was entirely different. Here lived in seclusion the Emperor, surrounded by the Imperial families and the nobles. The usurping Shoguns had reduced the Emperor to impotence. Kyoto was the home of artists, poets, writers, and the people were calm, elegant, and given to refined pursuits. The actors of Kyoto contributed not a little to the taste and style of Kabuki.

Osaka, also, had a great influence upon Kabuki. Here, people were well-to-do and full of energy. This town had for centuries been one of the foremost centres of trade, and [75]the inhabitants counted theatre-going among their chief pleasures. Osaka Kabuki contributed some of the most important material that went to the building up of the theatre of the people.

When the handsome young players of Wakashu Kabuki no longer held the centre of the stage, acting made rapid progress. Theatre construction greatly improved; the introduction of the samisen caused a special music of the theatre to come into being, which was soon to differentiate Kabuki from the farces of the Nō theatre it had imitated so slavishly. There also arose a new school of music, Yedo Nagauta (long poem or song), the basis of Kabuki’s interesting music-dramas.

At this period the onnagata, or specialty of acting women’s rôles, began, a convention that makes the Japanese stage so unlike anything to be found in the Occident.

It had been customary on O-Kuni’s stage, and later on the women’s stage, for men to assume women’s rôles and women to appear as men, but when the Government forbade women appearing on the stage it was necessary, not only from an art point of view, but also from a business one, to find substitutes.

Therefore, in the natural course of events, men came to monopolise female rôles. This was no new thing after all, for the Nō, that flourished for two hundred years before Kabuki had sprung into being, was also a male theatre, and not only did men wear women’s masks when impersonating the tragic heroines of the Nō drama, but the impersonators of females in the farces of Nō, or Kyogen, were likewise males, wearing cotton coverings over their heads, as may be seen to-day in the performances of the Nō.

Besides, the male impersonator of women had long been a convention of the Chinese theatre, and as Japan had absorbed within herself so much of the civilisation from the continent, it was not surprising that her theatre conventions, as well as those of her other arts, should be akin to those of China.

[76]Yet there was in Japan a tendency towards a theatre development similar to Europe, had not the Government so resolutely set itself against all freedom of action on the part of the theatre folk.

In this early period of expansion there were many good actors whose traditions were carried on and who made a firm foundation for the brilliant Genroku age, Kabuki’s greatest period of growth and out-flowering.

Among the tateyaku, or leading actors, before Genroku, there were three men of influence—Arashi Sanyemon, of Yedo; Fujita Koheiji, of Kyoto; and Araki Yojibei, of Osaka.

Arashi Sanyemon was born in 1635 and died in 1690. He came to Yedo from Settsu Province, where his father was a prosperous fish dealer. In one of his popular plays there was a line about the moon having its clouds and the flowers their storms, and people quoting this called out “Arashi!” when he appeared on the street. This was a poetical term meaning mountain-wind, or storm. Sanyemon thought this a good stage name, and thereafter adopted it, a cognomen that has been used by actors ever since.

Sanyemon was not content to play to Yedo audiences, but went to Osaka, where he became the proprietor of a theatre. He greatly improved plays, wore magnificent garments, and acted to the accompaniment of flute, drum, and samisen. His plays served Chikamatsu Monzaemon as originals when that dramatist wrote two of his best-known doll-dramas. Arashi Sanyemon was succeeded by his son, who became one of the noted actors of Genroku.

Contemporary with Arashi Sanyemon was Fujita Koheiji, of Kyoto. He had come from the adjacent province of Ise, after acting in small country theatres, and was a close rival to Arashi Sanyemon. It is said that he never lost his popularity on the stage during his career, although he did not attempt to hide the ravages of time by using face powder in making up. His gestures were those of real life, and were considered as models that were handed down to his successors. Fukui Yagozaemon, of Osaka, the first playwright [77]to compose long pieces of several acts, had much to do with increasing Koheiji’s reputation, writing plays for him that pleased the public.

Likewise, Yagozaemon was largely responsible for the fame of another influential actor, Araki Yojibei, of Osaka, who ended his earthly career in 1700. This early playwright, Yagozaemon, was not only a stage writer, but a good actor as well, and was successful as a kawashagata, or middle-aged woman character. He was one of the stage authorities of his day, and wrote a play for Yojibei that was the great success of the time. It was Hinin Adauchi, or The Beggar’s Revenge, the first long play to be composed in Osaka, free from all association with the Nō drama, a piece that has long survived, with modifications, and is still a favourite with modern actors. Yojibei was versatile; he was praised as clever in stage fighting and excellent when impersonating a wounded man, so that he was an early advocate of realism in acting.

Among the dokegata, or comedians, there was an actor who could boast of blue blood when it came to theatre lineage. He was Sadoshima Dempachi. His father before him was Sadoshima Denbei, who had headed one of the Onna Kabuki companies in Kyoto. Dempachi had been brought up in the theatre atmosphere. From the theatre chronicles it is found that he was ugly and did not have a pleasing voice, two disqualifications for a tateyaku, or chief actor, but he was a dancer par excellence, and this covered a multitude of sins, since dancing is the basis of the Japanese actor’s art. Sadoshima Dempachi was fortunate in the possession of a son who inherited his genius, Sadoshima Chogoro, who, although less of an actor than a dancer, had much to do with the movements and postures of the newly arisen music-drama, and left behind him a journal concerned largely with the secrets of dancing, the Sadoshima Nikki, or Journal of Sadoshima.

When the Wakashu Kabuki went out of existence and plays were produced that required complicated characters, [78]a strict division of labour among the actors was carried out, and they were obliged to play only their own specialties.

In the Onna Kabuki the rôles had been fixed as in the Nō theatre. There was a shite, or chief actor; a waki, or secondary player; and tsure, or assistants. In Wakashu Kabuki, the handsome youth who was selected as star of the company was called taiyu, or chief, while older actors acted as secondary and supporting players. As in the Nō there were kyogen shi, or comedians, so there were dokegata, or funny men, in the Wakashu Kabuki.

The specialties of the newly established male stage were simple at first, then became more and more complex. They were the tateyaku, or chief actor, who played the hero, always a good, courageous, and loyal personage. The katakiyaku was the name of the specialty in villains,—the bold, bad characters who caused all the trouble. There were the onnagata, or actors playing women’s rôles; the dokegata, or comedians; oyajigata, or elderly men, and the kawashagata, or females of middle age. Youthful heroes were played by wakashugata, while koyakugata was the name given those who took children’s rôles.

With the increase in the importance of acting, and the overwhelming interest the public took in the competition of the actors, the most complicated system of rank came to be bestowed upon the players.

During the Wakashu Kabuki regime, the audiences were simply charmed by the dancing of attractive young men, but as soon as complicated plays brought diversified characters, the people became most critical of acting, a characteristic that has remained as regards the Japanese playgoer. This holds true equally of modern audiences, that are ever alert to see the differences between good and indifferent acting, and which they appear to find much more worthy of consideration than the merits or demerits of the play.

Playgoers took keen interest in the rank earned by their favourites, and were elated if an actor became more prominent, and equally disturbed if he did not live up to the [79]promise of his early career. The most important rank was termed jojo-kichi, or best-best-good. Intermediate rank was marked by the Chinese characters denoting jojo or best-best, chu-no-jojo or middle-best-best, and chu-no-jo, middle-best.

Later on, the system determining the talents of the actors became elaborate. There was first the superlative standard, called head-of-all-acting, and this was like Miranda, created of every creature’s best, top of admiration. Murui followed, a most coveted title, signifying without rival, applied to the best in each specialty, whether it was an onnagata or a tateyaku.

The third rank was jojo-kichi, best-best-good, used for the second in each specialty, and the fourth was shingoku-jojo-kichi, or truest-best-best-good; the fifth, dai-jojo-kichi, or great-best-best-good; while the sixth was called ko-jojo-kichi, or little-best-best-good.

The seventh rank was jojo-kichi, best-best-good. This was the standard rank, the others were given only to the great stars. Below jojo-kichi were the eighth and ninth ranks, and still lower a number of different terms diminishing in value. These were written in Chinese characters beside the actor’s name on the programme and on the bill-boards outside the theatre, of which he must have been inordinately proud.

In Kokon Yakusha Taizen, or Ancient and Modern Actors, published by Hachimojiya in the third year of Kwanyei (1791), there is a statement as to the origin of these ranks. In China the rank was given to loyal persons who were considered worthy of reward for merit. The titles jojo and jo-chu-no-jo were conferred upon them.

Murasaki Shikibu, the famous court lady, who wrote the Genji Monogatari, or stories concerning the adventures, largely romantic, of Prince Genji, used the rank of jojo-kichi when she wished to give one of her heroes a meritorious title, taking the jojo, or best-best, from the custom prevailing in China, and adding kichi, or good, on her own [80]account. As the art of the actors developed their genius was recognised, and this system of reward devised. At first the classification fell into the categories of good, middle, and poor, but gradually the most extravagant terms were used to denote the pinnacle of art achieved.

Along with this minutiæ in connection with acting the dramatic critic was called into being, the actor and his critic being complements of each other the world over.

Persons of literary pretensions began to criticise the actors, and published their opinions. It is not clear when the first of these criticisms appeared, but Ihara Seiseiin mentions 1656 as the probable date.

At first the criticisms dealt largely with the personal appearances of the onnagata, who were the most fascinating players on the stage, their borrowed feminine charms and graces being attractive to men and women alike. Then followed publications relating to anecdotes of the actors.

Criticism improved as the critics were given more food for thought, and were able to judge the value and quality of the acting, rather than mere descriptions of an actor’s dress, face, or manners.

There were two famous dramatic critics during the fruitful Genroku period, when the theatre rose to the summit of its achievements. One of these was Ihara Saikaku, the author of a popular novel, Ukiyo Zoshi, that was not distinguished for its moral tone, and other writings, and Hojo Danshin, a composer of haiku, or short poems.

Their criticisms were written in their leisure hours and were a matter of their own pleasure. They were blessed in that they were not obliged to think of newspaper proprietors, sensitive theatre managers, or the vagaries of the reading public, but could spin out of their heads the fancies that came to them after attending the theatre. They were not obliged to rush to some smoky, noisy newspaper office, there to grind out their copy at a late hour on the typewriter with printers’ devils ready to snatch [81]in desperate hurry. No doubt they sat all day long on the tatami, or straw mats, of their dwelling, looking out upon some quiet landscape scene, and thinking at leisure.

Much of their writings is trivial in the light of the present, but, on the other hand, they reveal intimate glimpses of the theatre and actors that would be delightful to a lover of modern Kabuki, if the task of separating the wheat from the chaff in this formidable array of scribblings was not so difficult.

Following the example of Ihara Saikaku and Hojo Danshin, other literary men devoted themselves to chronicling the events of the theatre, and they wrote copiously, giving minute descriptions of the gestures and elocution of the actors.

Books of criticism were called hyobanki (lit., account of reputation), and these became the monopoly of the Yedo publisher, Hachimonjiya. The first of these books appeared in 1656; the series continued until just before the Restoration, the publishing house lasting for 211 years.

Hachimonjiya Yisho, the head of the firm, was a writer about theatre matters as well as a publisher, and his partner in the business, Ejimaya Kiseki, also wrote books relating to the theatre. The partners quarrelled and separated for some years, each issuing his own publications, but afterwards they forgot their differences and once more collaborated. Their successors carried on the work of issuing the hyobanki, which were the only books descriptive of the theatre. They reached hundreds of volumes, and are an encyclopaedia of Kabuki.

While the theatres of Kyoto and Osaka changed hands frequently and went by various names, four historic Yedo playhouses were started in this formative period with which generations of actors were to be long associated. They were the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, Morita-za, and the Kawarasaki-za.

The descendants of the owners of these theatres had the exclusive right to give performances and to be theatre [82]proprietors. The actors were their retainers. As a result there came into existence in Yedo different theatre clans, with the establishment of an hereditary caste in theatre circles.

Saruwaka Kansaburo had founded the first Yedo theatre in 1624, calling it the Saruwaka-za, but his cousin, the third Kansaburo, changed the name to Nakamura-za, a playhouse in which appeared many of the most talented actors that adorned the Yedo stage.

The Ichimura-za was originally the Murayama-za, founded by a brother of the Kyoto manager, Murayama Matabei, who endured so many privations while waiting patiently for the governor to give permission for the long-closed theatre to reopen in Kyoto.

The Yedo Murayama adopted several sons to succeed him as head of the theatre, but they had no business ability, and the theatre was finally purchased by Ichimura Uzaemon in 1666, a name long recorded in the annals of the theatre and borne at present by the popular actor of the Kabuki-za in Tokyo, Ichimura Uzaemon, the thirteenth.

Uzaemon’s ancestors were said to have been samurai in the service of a daimyo. On coming to Yedo from the provinces he entered the employment of Murayama Matasaburo and afterwards became the sole proprietor, giving the theatre his own name. He was not an actor, but successful in business management, and few of his successors distinguished themselves on the stage. The Ichimura-za crests, one an orange with leaves at the top and the other a stork in a circle, have continued to be theatre symbols from the time of the first Ichimura-za to the present. This playhouse passed through many vicissitudes, and was removed from its original site and finally destroyed by fire. The last theatre bearing this name has come down to modern times, and was destroyed in the great disaster of 1923, a temporary Ichimura-za serving at the present.

Still another theatre, the Morita-za, was to have considerable influence upon stage history. It was established in 1660 by Morita Tarobei, who came to Yedo from Settsu [83]Province. Among his advisers was a comic actor, Bando Matakuro, and he adopted this actor’s son, transferring his property to him and calling him Morita Kanya, the second, a name that has been inherited for 250 years by actors and managers. The thirteenth Morita Kanya is now a member of the Imperial Theatre company, and his father was one of the most aggressive theatre managers during the modern period of Meiji.

Ichimura Uzaemon, the thirteenth, as Yasuna in a posture dance descriptive of a man who has become demented because of the loss of his wife.

The Yamamura-za was another of the first Yedo theatres, and would in all probability have continued together with the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, and Morita-za, but one of its leading actors became involved in a scandal with a lady-in-waiting at the Shogun’s Court, and it was demolished by the authorities.

Kawarasaki Gonnosuke established the Kawarasaki-za in 1648. He was at first a Nō actor, but came to Yedo from the provinces and started a Kabuki theatre. Among several plays he composed, that concerning the revenge of the Soga Brothers was most popular. In 1663 this theatre was incorporated with the Morita-za, but later they separated and continued until modern times, the Kawarasaki-za having been closely associated with the Ichikawa actor-line.

Za—as applied to a theatre—had not been especially invented to meet the new theatrical situation. Long before the Nō had become firmly established in the fourteenth century, companies of players attached to the great Shinto Shrines had called themselves za, which previous to this time had been in use to denote a commercial guild. It was a case of history repeating itself that the resurrected term should have been used in connection with the new playhouses that were springing up in all directions.

Such was the rise of the theatres in the three towns, a rapid development that came about in the half-century between the abolition of the Women’s Stage and the beginning of Genroku, Japan’s golden age.

Enthusiastic audiences filled the large theatres of Yedo, Kyoto, and Osaka, flocked to the doll-theatres where the [84]marionettes triumphed and threatened to outrival the actors in popularity, while innumerable minor playhouses of a temporary character were set up in the compounds of shrines or by the cross-roads, and spread in the provinces.

It was a time of actor-worship. Two great stars appeared. They were Ichikawa Danjuro, of Yedo, and Sakata Tojuro, of Kyoto, diverse in their principles, leaders of the two schools that laid the foundations of modern Kabuki.

From this time onward the yakusha, or actor, dominated the theatre.




The first two Kabuki actors endowed with creativeness of a high order were Sakata Tojuro, of Kyoto, and Ichikawa Danjuro, of Yedo, exponents of contrasting theatre principles—the real and unreal.

They were epoch-making actors, and the manner in which they moulded the plastic theatre material of their generation is visible at the present day in the two schools they founded, that still flourish side by side in Kabuki.

Sakata Tojuro reflected the taste and elegance of his Kyoto environment. He was romantic and natural in his acting. He left no successor, but there have always been actors faithful to his styles The present Nakamura Ganjiro, of Osaka, in taking Tojuro for model and in inheriting his mantle, has appeared to be the very incarnation of this old actor.

Ichikawa Danjuro, of Yedo, established the school of aragoto, or rough acting—made out of the cloth of exaggeration, the grotesque, picturesque, unnatural, unreal. He was followed by eight members of his family, who carried on his traditions. Many of the Ichikawa actors were men of genius, who not only handed on their theatre inheritance but added new features. No other actor line has had such a powerful influence upon Kabuki as the nine members of this family.

These players appeared in what is called the Genroku age—the sixteen years from 1688 to 1703. But it also includes the years preceding and following, altogether a [88]space of thirty years—a period of growth and expansion. It has been named the Japanese renaissance, and sometimes called the golden age of Japanese civilisation, and was a period of high achievement in literature and in art. Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Japan’s first dramatist, flourished in this period, and Ihara Saikaku wrote his criticisms of the actors.

Tojuro’s ancestors lived in the northern province of Echigo, and his father owned a Kyoto theatre. He is said to have been born in 1645, and died in 1709, and was the most representative actor of Osaka and Kyoto for the whole of the Genroku period. Tojuro was the star of the Miyako-Mandayu-za, of Kyoto, for many years. Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote plays for him, before he turned his entire attention to composing pieces for the marionettes. Kaneko Kichizaemon, another playwright of the time, was closely associated with Tojuro, and has left many impressions of him in his book Jijinshu—or Collection of the Year’s Dust—little stories about actors, chiefly Tojuro. “All these stories came to my insignificant ears,” he writes, “therefore I call this book a collection of the year’s dust.”

Tojuro was a power in the transformation of Kabuki out of the chaotic state that followed the abolition of the Wakashu. He believed that art was long and time fleeting; he displayed broadmindedness toward his contemporaries, and did not criticise them. He was noble and refined in appearance, we are told, and had received a far better education than was the lot of most actors of his day. He had literary ability, and collaborated with his playwright friends in the composition of his plays, and wrote several dramas himself. Kaneko Kichizaburo writes that Tojuro learned to play the Nō drum from a Nō musician, so that he must have been familiar with the aristocratic stage, and the dignity and ceremonials of the Nō actors. His personal character was high, and he frowned upon the immorality of the actors, which was something that could hardly be [89]avoided in such a loose and luxurious age. No record is left to tell of his wife and children. He had a sister whose son he adopted, but the son went to Yedo to live, and did not become an actor. His younger brother inherited his great name, yet only succeeded in imitating Tojuro, so that his talents stopped with himself and were not transmitted, as in the case of the Ichikawas of Yedo.

Many anecdotes have been handed down relating to Tojuro’s extravagance. He received a large salary, but was not at all frugal, and was accustomed to say to those who remonstrated with him about his wastefulness that in order to be a great actor it was necessary to be generous-minded and reckless. He never wore a dress that had been washed; his room was lighted by candles, not by the oil wick which was general in those days. Moreover, he did not subsist on rice and vegetables, the diet of most families, then as now, but lived like a daimyo, partaking of fish and fowl. Every day he drank a cup of the rarest tea, while he warmed his sake with costly charcoal, all in the lordly manner of a feudal magnate.

When actors repaired to his house for rehearsal, he received them seated on a beautiful silk cushion, with a gorgeous lacquered tobacco-box in front of him, and served his guests a sumptuous repast.

Once, when he played in Osaka, he ordered drinking water from Kyoto to be brought to him in casks, and his rice was selected grain by grain. When he was asked the reason for this extravagance, he replied that if his rice were not properly selected the grains might be mixed with grit and his teeth be ruined; and that if he drank Osaka water he might become ill, and in consequence be obliged to absent himself from the stage, to the great loss of his manager. It is suspected that Tojuro loved advertisement more than Kyoto water, and knew how to make himself talked about by the people of his day.

He was at his best when portraying tradespeople, and was more at ease in plebeian than in aristocratic rôles. His [90]successful plays were those dealing with everyday life rather than historical pieces, which were the delight of Ichikawa Danjuro. Tojuro’s specialty was acting in plays dealing with the gay quarters, which pleased the people of the Genroku age immensely.

How he regarded the art of the actor may be judged from an extract taken from Kaneko Kichizaburo’s Sidelights on Tojuro: “When a poor man desires money he may be able to obtain it by stealing, or he may find it in the road, but with regard to acting nothing can be stolen. An actor who is ignorant of the fundamental principles is one who is destined never to excel.”

Kaneko tells another story to illustrate Tojuro’s attitude towards the art of acting. A certain actor who had a son 12 years of age wanted him to learn the art, but did not think it necessary for him to bother how to write or to know anything about figures. Tojuro hearing of this said:

“The art of an actor is like a beggar’s bag and must contain everything, whether it is important or not. If there is anything not wanted for immediate use keep it for a future occasion. An actor should even learn how to pick pockets.”

At one time, returning with Kaneko from the theatre, he stopped suddenly on the bridge they were crossing and stood motionless, looking down into the water, deep in meditation over some problem of acting. The playwright asked him if he had dropped something, but he did not answer. After a pause he said: “Well I have learned a great lesson!”

On another occasion he stopped at a tofu-ya, or white-bean-curd shop, went straight in and watched how it was manufactured, and after thoroughly acquainting himself with the process, thanked the proprietor of the place and went away. Such information might be worth while to know, since he could use it on the stage some day, and therefore he put it into his beggar’s bag.

That Tojuro valued the art of the real upon the stage [91]may be judged from the many stories that have been handed down about him, but that he was aware that the real might be carried too far is shown from the Jijinshu: “Tojuro had to play the part of a beggar, but did not wish to wear tattered and soiled garments. He thought the audience came in order to be amused, and that if things were too realistic it would make a bad impression upon them.”

On the other hand, the care he exercised with regard to naturalness on the stage is shown from another of Kaneko’s little stories. A gatekeeper suddenly aroused from sleep was to yawn and ask: “Who is it?” Tojuro objected to the manner of the actor playing the gatekeeper, and made him repeat it many times before he considered it satisfactory in giving the audience the correct impression of one suddenly awakened in the dead of night.

Tojuro’s claim to fame began with his acting of Izaemon, the lover of Yugiri. Yugiri was a courtesan of the gay quarter of Shimbara, in Kyoto, and afterwards lived in a famous house called the Ogiya in Shimmachi, Osaka. It was first written in one act. Chikamatsu Monzaemon took the love story of Izaemon and Yugiri, and wrote a masterpiece, Keisei Awa no Naruto. It is the favourite play of Nakamura Ganjiro, of Osaka, to-day. Tojuro acted Izaemon in this piece on the eighteen occasions it was performed during Genroku, and it never failed to attract a large audience.

Thus Tojuro was the founder of the natural school, which, if there had been no other influences to hinder its supremacy, would have developed in a similar way to the realistic stage of the West.

There were, however; other theatre materials for the asking, and the members of the Ichikawa family made use of these with lavish hand, causing the talents of the actors to flow in channels quite removed from Tojuro’s realistic art.

The first of the nine Ichikawas was born in 1660, and died in 1704. His father was a samurai in the province of [92]Kii, named Horikoshi. When the daimyo he served was defeated in battle, Danjuro’s father became a ronin and lived in retirement in the district. Afterwards he removed to a village in the province of Shimosa, where he became a farmer. He went to Yedo in 1644, and called himself after the village he had left. He was a man of strong character, skilled in writing, an adept at figures. It was very natural, possessed of such accomplishments, that he should become popular among his neighbours in Yedo, and he was chosen to represent the landlords of his locality.

He was good at business and made a fortune for himself. There were in Yedo in those rough-and-ready times men called otokodate, or chivalrous men of the people, who did not fear the blustering two-sworded samurai, who too often attempted to intimidate the peaceful citizens. Danjuro’s father associated himself with these brave spirits, who were always ready to defend the helpless and to protect the interests of the middle and lower classes. Such was the father of the first Ichikawa Danjuro, the representative Yedo yakusha of the Genroku period.

The exact date of the first Danjuro’s advent into the world is in question, some accounts say 1660, others 1648, but as the inaccuracy of dates in Japanese records is so frequent, it is not a matter to be greatly concerned about. His father’s friend acted as godfather and called the child Ebiso,—a name which has persisted in the family, and is given to the members when they are very young. The boy’s dwelling was in the vicinity of the Nakamura-za and Ichimura-za, that drew him irresistibly, just as the Tokyo urchin of to-day steals off to see the moving pictures whenever he has sufficient to pay the entrance fee. He must have made up his mind at an early age that he wanted to become an actor, for he appeared for the first time at the Nakamura-za, when he was 14 years of age. He took the stage name of Ichikawa Danjuro, and acted the rôle of Kintoki, the fabulously strong baby-hero of a Japanese fairy tale,—a red-faced, muscular baby, generally depicted [93]with an axe over his shoulder. The new actor was an immediate success.

Danjuro was responsible for a new mode of acting that astonished and delighted Yedo people,—the aragoto, or rough style. The Doll-theatre was the source of his inspiration. There were minstrels who recited the military exploits of Kimpira, a Hercules who slew demons and beasts. The minstrel, desiring to appeal to the fighting spirit of the Yedo people, beat his rhythms with a long iron rod, and sometimes wielded this weapon so wonderfully that he broke off the heads of the performing dolls or smashed the scenery in his exploitation of valour.

The people had begun to grow tired of plays dealing with the effeminate and luxurious life of the gay quarters; they wearied of sentimentality, and welcomed performances that were more manly and possessed a militaristic appeal. Danjuro, the first, seized the opportunity to please the citizens of Yedo, originated the exaggerated artificial style now inseparably linked with the Danjuro line, their famous eighteen plays, or Juhachiban, being treasures of Kabuki that are woven out of the pure fabric of fancy, and so unreal that those steeped in realism can find but little to admire in them. Yet they represent the talent of this long actor line; they have been altered, improved, added to in the way of treatment, costume, and acting by successive members of the family, unadulterated theatre material, full of taste and style, but as yet unknown to the unseeing eyes of the West.

Like Tojuro, the first Danjuro was not only an actor, but also of a literary turn of mind, and took an active part in the composition of his plays.

As he wished for a son to succeed him he repaired to Narita, not far from modern Tokyo, where stood then, as to-day, the famous Buddhist temple sacred to Fudo, the God of Fire. Here he worshipped, praying to Fudo for a son. The petition was granted, for a son was born who inherited his father’s characteristics to a remarkable degree. [94]Danjuro had a play written concerning Fudo, by way of returning thanks, and selected a business name by which his successors are always known—Naritaya, after the temple in the village of Narita. Horikoshi remained the family name, that of his samurai ancestors; Naritaya was the name given off the stage by his fellow-actors and familiar friends and tradespeople; while Ichikawa Danjuro was his stage name. He also possessed a nom de plume with which he signed his short verse, for he was a poet in addition to his other qualifications.

Descriptions of Danjuro say that he was strong, his arms brawny, his shoulders broad, and that he stood erect. Warrior rôles were his specialty, and when imitating heroic deeds of the Doll-theatre he played with such a display of force, and his gestures were so remarkable, that when he trod the stage the reverberations were so violent that the stock-in-trade of such porcelain shops as happened to be in close proximity to the theatre were threatened with destruction! However, Danjuro could, when occasion demanded, use naturalistic methods, for the critics of his day praise him when he acted the rôle of a blind shampooer, and mention his gestures as being “so natural”!

In an old book there is a description of his stage methods. He was asked to attend a social function in the mansion of a certain nobleman, and requested to give some aragoto piece. He took down the upper part of his kimono and performed as Kagekiyo—the hero of several Nō dramas—and his actions were so spirited that he broke all the shoji, or white paper screens. The guests were anxious to know what the host would think of the entertainer’s destructive methods, but, contrary to their expectations, the daimyo was pleased and presented him with a costly gift. Danjuro is said to have made the comment after his strenuous acting that if an actor was afraid in the presence of a daimyo he could not play aragoto.

The contrast between the styles of Tojuro and Danjuro was very great, but both truly reflected the tastes of their [95]audiences. The three theatre towns had then, as they have at present, special characteristics.

Kyoto was quiet and easygoing; Yedo military and intense, the centre for the samurai from the provinces who continually came and went. The inhabitants of Osaka and Kyoto, who were mild and gentle in disposition, went wild over Tojuro’s artistic acting, taking pleasure in the effeminate, sentimental heroes and heroines of the gay quarters, and they rather looked with disdain upon the exaggerated, artificial, and altogether extraordinary acting of Danjuro.

Danjuro was bold, eccentric, rough, and heroic; Tojuro elegant, sensuous, and luxurious, reflecting the spirit of the Kyoto and Osaka people, who were pleased to see his plays of everyday life, and faithful depiction of human nature. Tojuro was eloquent, and sometimes his speeches were so long as to tire his audience; Danjuro was so quick-spoken that sometimes he could not be understood. The theatre materials out of which Danjuro and Tojuro cut their patterns—the real and unreal—continued to coexist after the Genroku period. The one did not swallow up the other; but both maintained their place and use,—sometimes mixed, with strange results, sometimes found without adulteration.

Perhaps the most famous of Danjuro’s plays is Kanjincho, a popularised version of Ataka, a Nō drama. “Kanjincho” means a Buddhist scroll upon which are written the names of subscribers to a fund to restore or rebuild a temple. Without asking leave, Danjuro appropriated this Nō play. A member of the house of Kineya, the musicians of Kabuki, suiting the music to the plot, there was evolved the most perfect music-posture play of the Japanese theatre. Danjuro, the first, played it in 1702. The theatre was crowded, and the piece continued for 150 days. It was called Oshiai Junidan, meaning to crowd or push together. And after the lapse of more than 200 years this Kabuki masterpiece still holds audiences in a spell, and never fails to [96]arouse the greatest enthusiasm. It was performed before the Prince of Wales on his visit to Japan in April 1922.

Danjuro played another piece, Soga no Goro, at the Ichimura-za, which became the inspiration of every actor in later times. When he acted Goro, the hero of the Soga play dealing with the revenge of the Soga brothers upon the slayer of their father, he wore a kimono embroidered in a design of lightning, and three rice measures, or three boxes of graduated size fitting into each other. After this he took three rice measures as his crest, and this was to become one of the most famous actor-symbols on the Japanese stage.

Danjuro journeyed to Kyoto and Osaka, and astonished the audiences in these cities by his originality and activity, the country people flocking in from the outlying districts. In Osaka he was so well received that a popular song sang his praises. He studied short poems while in Kyoto, and his teacher gave him a nom de plume, the custom of an actor taking a poetry-name originating with him.

An account is given in Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, of Danjuro’s meeting with Tojuro. Danjuro went to the theatre to see Tojuro act, but found that he was absent on account of illness. Danjuro greatly regretted that he was unable to see Tojuro on the stage. But on the following day a messenger came from Tojuro inviting him to dinner at a restaurant.

When Danjuro reached the place, Tojuro failed to make an appearance, and after he had waited for a long time and was beginning to grow impatient he saw his host in ordinary dress arranging flowers in another room without as much as casting a glance in the direction of his guest, as unconcerned as though quite unaware of his presence. This made Danjuro angry, and he was just on the point of retiring when a messenger from Tojuro apologised for the delay and said he would join him immediately. He had changed his clothing, wearing his very best, and received his guest in the most dignified manner.

[97]Danjuro was so much impressed by his appearance that he said there was no necessity to see him act, and left for Yedo the next day. The gossip of the time said that Tojuro planned to overawe his Yedo rival, and had determined that no Yedo actor should carry away laurels from Kyoto during his lifetime, so that if this report be true the long-established rivalry between the theatres of Yedo and those of Osaka and Kyoto had already begun at this time.

Danjuro’s stage career ended suddenly at the age of 45. His death is one of the most tragic events in the history of the Japanese theatre. He was murdered in his dressing-room by a fellow-actor in 1704. Some accounts say that the murderer’s name was Sugiyama Hanroku. Ihara Seiseiin, who has closely inspected the suspected actor’s record for the year in which Danjuro was murdered, says he was unable to find the name of Sugiyama Hanroku, but discovered one Ikushima Hanroku, who was recorded as an actor of considerable ability, being ranked as first of the middle class. Accounts with regard to the motive prompting the deed are conflicting. Some say jealousy; others that this actor had a son who was a deshi, or follower, of Danjuro, and had changed his name to Ichikawa; again that Hanroku was a man of evil character, and Danjuro gave him some sound advice which he did not heed, and that this made Danjuro indifferent to the son. Yet most accounts agree that the cause of the tragedy was Danjuro’s changed attitude towards the son.

The result of this crime was that the proprietors of the theatres were summoned to the magistrate’s office, and an order was issued that continuous plays could not be given, and only those of one act were allowed, the audience to be changed at the end of each act.

Hanroku made good his escape from Danjuro’s dressing-room, but was taken to prison on that day, and died there before his sentence could be carried out. Danjuro’s widow cut her hair short, and lived a life of retirement in Meguro, now a suburb of Tokyo.

[98]Danjuro, the first, was fortunate in leaving behind him the successor who had been given to him in answer to the prayer made to Fudo, the God of Fire, at the Narita Temple, for this son was to become one of the most famous actors of the Danjuro line.

Crest of Ichikawa Danjuro
(Three rice measures).
Crest of Ichikawa Ennosuke
(Derived from toy resembling three monkeys).
Crest of Crest of Ichikawa Chusha
Onoe Matsusuke as Komori Yasu, or Bat Yasu, so called because of the birthmark on his cheek which resembles a bat. A bold, bad man of Yedo.



During the Genroku period that produced so many men of distinction in art, literature, and the drama, the audiences of the three towns had a brilliant array of actor talent from which to choose, and the achievements of the contemporaries of Sakata Tojuro and Ichikawa Danjuro resulted in a keen appreciation of the actor’s creativeness. The common people were to become familiar with a high order of acting, since the emphasis, whether rightly or wrongly, as judged by Occidental standards, was always on the actor, the playwright being of secondary importance.

Three stars were to be seen during Genroku on the stages of Kyoto, Osaka, and Yedo. They were Yamashita Kyoyemon; Takeshima Kyozaemon, the son of that Takeshima who had been the head of a company of women players in Kyoto; and the second Arashi Sanyemon, son of the actor of the same name, who previous to this had gained great success in Yedo, and then removed to Osaka, where he owned a theatre.

Yamashita Kyoyemon, who died in 1717, was the son of a Kyoto artist. He was at first a Nō actor, but gave up this profession to follow the fortunes of Kabuki. Sakata Tojuro regarded him as a rival, and Kyoyemon often acted with Tojuro at the Miyako-Mandayu-za in Kyoto. Once a rumour was circulated that he was dead, which proving untrue the people flocked to his banner, and he was more popular than ever before.

The historians of Kabuki agree that he was a man of [100]fine bearing and gentle disposition, and that while he did not quite equal Tojuro’s grand manner he was in no way an actor of little talent. It was Kyoyemon who appeared in the first stage version of Chushingura, the tragedy of the Forty-seven Ronin, who avenged the death of their lord and then committed harakiri in Yedo. Afterwards the tale inspired Takeda Izumo, who wrote a drama for the marionettes that is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of the Japanese theatre to-day.

It is said of Kyoyemon that even a rustic from the provinces, who had never seen him before, and knew nothing concerning him, could not fail to be impressed by his presence, and to understand without being informed that he was the leading actor.

He had his little frailties, however, for he was too fond of applause, and so eager for the praise of the audience that he pandered to the tastes of the lower classes, and was given to making vulgar asides. This was entirely unlike Tojuro, who had a high moral character. Like Tojuro, however, he held the mirror up to nature, and the side-lights upon his stage methods that have been handed down reveal the fact that he excelled as a samurai, particularly as a ronin, or free-lance, who roamed the country in quest of adventure, and wearing the costume of a traveller.

One of Kyoyemon’s brothers became a celebrated priest, and his daughter married Sawamura Chojuro, a leading actor of a later period. His wife’s sister married an onnagata, the first Yoshisawa Ayame, and their son Matataro inherited Kyoyemon’s name, becoming Yamashita Kyoyemon, the second—hence his family occupied a prominent position in the actor fraternity.

The second actor of importance at this time was Takeshima Kyozaemon, son of Yamato Dansuke, of O-Kuni Kabuki fame. Although he played often in Kyoto, he made Osaka his headquarters, and at last went to Yedo, where he played with Ikushima Shingoro, the unfortunate actor exiled because of a love affair with a lady-in-waiting of the [101]Shogun’s Court. For three years he played at the Ichimura-za and Morita-za, and then took up his residence in Kyoto, where his son was the proprietor of a theatre. He was particularly partial to samurai rôles and knew how to handle a sword. His son was also a good actor, and succeeded to his name.

The third famous actor of Tojuro’s time was Arashi Sanyemon, the second. He was younger than Tojuro and Kyoyemon, and died early. The first Arashi was his father, but the boy was evidently regarded as an ugly duckling, for his father did not consider that he possessed sufficient talent for a stage career, and he was apprenticed to a candle dealer, the business requiring him to travel from one place to another. When the elder Arashi was taken ill, the son was called to Osaka to take up the parental profession, and so had the difficult task of trying to live up to his father’s reputation. At first the audience laughed at him, but as he had the same face and voice as his father, he soon attracted attention and came to be regarded as one of the leading actors. Indeed, he was considered in some respects superior to his father, especially in the art of love-making; he was genuine and unaffected, and possessed a well-shaped nose and fine eyes.

The foregoing actors were tateyaku. The most noted actor to take katakiyaku, or the villain rôle, of this period was Kataoka Nizaemon, who died in 1715. At first he was a samisen player of Osaka, and during his early years was associated with the management of Osaka theatres, beginning a stage career in middle life, yet reached high rank and was regarded as a genius. He was tall and well-proportioned, and had a fierce look in his eyes which gave him a decided advantage in the villain rôle. He could also play the hero well, but received great praise for his old men characters, a specialty that seems to have remained in the possession of this actor line, for the modern representative, Kataoka Nizaemon, of the Kabuki-za, Tokyo, never pleases his audiences better than when playing as oyajigata, or old men.

[102]Nizaemon was samurai-like in his bearing. He is on record as saying that actors should be familiar with popular poems, know Buddhism and Shintoism, and be well informed on a variety of subjects so as to draw upon such knowledge in their work on the stage. No doubt Nizaemon practised what he preached, for he played many rôles in his time. His real son, who was a theatre owner, succeeded as Nizaemon, the second, but died soon after, and the Kataoka generations were continued by a younger sister of the first Nizaemon, who had married an actor. It was her son who succeeded to the hereditary name of Kataoka Nizaemon, the third,—a stage name that has continued down to the present. Kataoka Nizaemon and Ichikawa Danjuro are the only two actor families that have come down from Genroku in unbroken succession to modern times.

The first Danjuro’s greatest contemporary in Yedo was Nakamura Hichisaburo, who died in 1708. He was Danjuro’s equal in many respects, and shared the honours of Yedo Kabuki with him. But Hichisaburo left no family to carry on his traditions, and in consequence obtains a less important position in the history of Kabuki than Danjuro, the first, who founded a line of actors that have been uppermost on the stage for more than two hundred years, and were regarded as the feudal lords of the theatre before whom all others of the fraternity bowed in respect and admiration.

Nakamura Hichisaburo was exactly the opposite to Ichikawa Danjuro in his stage methods. He belonged to Sakata Tojuro’s real school, and was quiet and restrained on the boards. Danjuro was bold and exaggerated, Hichisaburo effeminate and mild. They represented the two currents of the popular mind during Genroku. Danjuro was not altogether welcome in Kyoto and Osaka, Tojuro’s stronghold, where his style was not wholly appreciated, although he was acknowledged to be a great actor. Hichisaburo, on the contrary, met with great success on the stages of these towns.

[103]He was a handsome man, and the criticism of the time acknowledged his dignity of manner. Unlike Danjuro, he did not startle with the strength of his militaristic actions, which caused him in some quarters to be regarded as slow. But this was according to Yedo critics, who had grown accustomed to Danjuro’s striking efforts. In Kyoto, it was contended that Hichisaburo was not good as a fighter, but one critic declared that he was like patent medicine, good for everything.

Hichisaburo’s manner on the stage was similar to Tojuro’s, yet the stars of Kyoto appeared to tower above him. As a lover he was very popular, and delighted in mixing Yedo slang with his stage lines, and knew how to reach his audiences. It is said of him that he was good in pathetic rôles and “could bring tears to the eyes of a demon”. Moreover, he was a good dancer, which was probably due to the fact that he was entirely familiar with the Nō stage. Some years younger than Danjuro, he married the daughter of the second Nakamura Kansaburo, and probably took the name of Nakamura from this family.

Like most of the actors of this early period he wrote his own plays, the most successful of which was Asamagatake, or Mount Asama. Although Hichisaburo was a Yedo actor, he spent much of his time in Kyoto and Osaka.

The most prominent actor who imitated Hichisaburo was Ikushima Shingoro. Hichisaburo was taken ill on the stage while playing Juro, one of the brothers in the Soga revenge, his favourite rôle.

After Danjuro and Hichisaburo, the most distinguished actor of this time was Nakamura Denkuro, who died in 1716. He was of more aristocratic theatre lineage than the two prominent Yedo actors above, for he was no less a personage than the grandson of Saruwaka Kansaburo. The first Kansaburo had three sons: the first was the child of a concubine and did not inherit; the second son, who accompanied Kansaburo to Kyoto and danced before the Emperor, succeeded as second of the line, taking the name [104]Akashi, which he was given at the time of this performance in Kyoto. He left his name to his younger brother, who became the third head of the family.

The son by the concubine was blessed with two sons, and one of them was no other than Nakamura Denkuro, who exercised considerable influence upon Yedo Kabuki, establishing traditions that have been handed down to modern times. Denkuro’s father, perhaps because of his illegitimacy, never appeared as an actor, but was engaged as an accountant of the Nakamura-za all his life. Nevertheless, it was his son who inherited the theatre genius that might have been expected to appear in the first Kansaburo’s legitimate offspring.

The rôle of Asahina, an historical character, at the Nakamura-za made Nakamura Denkuro famous, and the manner in which he painted his face with broad red lines and the style, colour, and design of his costume have served as a model for all succeeding actors who have essayed this popular rôle. Asahina was a bold warrior of the time when Yoritomo ruled by the sword in Kamakura. Denkuro used Asahina’s crest to decorate his stage costume, a crane in a circle, and it has always been preserved, Asahina not being considered by audiences or actors as the real thing unless faithful to all the details of Denkuro’s grotesque creation.

And it is by these traditions that the modern Tokyo actors link this old past with the bustling, strenuous modern days, for a veteran of the Kabuki-za in Tokyo succeeded to this illustrious stage name a few years ago, and to celebrate the auspicious occasion appeared in all the startling array of colours, unearthly red make-up, and exaggerated gestures and postures of his Yedo predecessor.

On account of chronic illness Denkuro was obliged to withdraw from the stage at the height of his career, and could only return to say a few words on the introduction ceremony of the second Hichisaburo, who was a child-actor when he took the name Nakamura Hichisaburo had made so famous. Denkuro had been closely associated [105]with the first Hichisaburo, hence his interest in his youthful successor.

Another tateyaku who acted with Danjuro, and was regarded as equal to Nakamura Denkuro, was Miyasaki Denkichi. He was put in prison with other actors in connection with a scandal in a nunnery. The abbess of the institution was a favourite at the Shogun’s Court, and in consequence of her high position, and because the entrance of the despised playfolks within her female fold was regarded as a laxity of moral practice that deserved high punishment, she was sentenced to death and the actors were imprisoned. Miyasaki Denkichi played on the stages of the three towns, but died in obscurity, very likely as a result of his irregular life.

Among the deshi, or followers, of Danjuro, the first and most noted was Ichikawa Danshiro. An actor bearing the name died in 1922, a veteran member of the Kabuki-za company in Tokyo.

In the middle of his career this first Danshiro shaved his head and became a Buddhist priest, retiring to a provincial temple. As Yedo Kabuki of those days was lacking in good actors, messengers were frequently sent to his distant temple asking him to return to the stage, but he repeatedly refused. At last he consented upon the condition that at the end of the performances he was to return to his holy profession.

He acted the rôle of Mongaku Shonin, the samurai who made love to the heroic Kesa Gozen, or the Lady Kesa. Wishing to get rid of her husband, the samurai planned to kill him in his sleep. Kesa Gozen gave Mongaku a sign by which he would know the right head to cut off—the hair was to be freshly washed. But to his horror the assassin found that he had killed the Lady Kesa herself, who had thus sacrificed her life to preserve her honour and by her act had saved the life of her husband. In penitence for this deed, Kesa Gozen’s lover became a priest, and the interest of the Yedo playgoers in Danshiro’s return to the stage in [106]this priestly rôle may well be imagined. True to his word, this follower of Danjuro returned to his temple and died there in 1717.

As to the celebrated villains who played with the above actors, the two stars were Yamanaka Heikuro and Nakajima Hiroyemon.

Senior to Tojuro and Danjuro, Yamanaka Heikuro died at the age of 83, and played with both the first and second Danjuro. He adopted a son, who did not live to succeed him. Many stories are told of the impressiveness of this stage villain, and how even the actors playing with him sometimes became frightened at his appearance. He was of large physique and a man of forceful character, so that he was eminently fitted to play the diabolical katakiyaku whose fierceness and violence caused the Yedo audience of those days to feel thrills of horror.

Great stage changes took place during the second part of the Genroku period, and the rapidly developing Doll-theatre began to influence Kabuki and its actors. The public tired of the sentimentality introduced by Tojuro, and expressed a taste for the loyalty and sacrifice plays such as were in vogue in the Doll-theatre, that had begun to capture the public imagination.

The actor genius of the latter part of the Genroku period was undoubtedly Sawamura Chojuro, who was born in 1680 and died in 1734. He was the son of an Osaka merchant. His elder brother was also an actor of repute, and a younger brother an expert drum performer. Although he played with Tojuro, he did not confine himself to this school exclusively, but was influenced by the different styles of the Genroku stage. He assimilated and harmonised the characteristics of the celebrities who had preceded him, and so did much towards the establishment of the rules of acting that pertain to modern Kabuki. He made himself popular in samurai plays, in those of everyday life that reflected the manners and customs of his time, and he was equally at home in historical pieces that required the [107]exploitation of the unreal, while he excelled also in dancing. His son, called Chosaburo, became the second Chojuro.

A follower who took the name of Sawamura Chojuro, the third, was destined to found a strong actor family that is flourishing in Tokyo to-day, half a dozen members of this name now being prominent. He was known on the stage as Sawamura Sojuro, a name to reckon with in Japanese stage history. The present Sawamura Sojuro of the Imperial Theatre, Tokyo, with his four actor sons, and a nephew, Sawamura Chojuro, make a formidable family array of players, there being no fear for some time to come that this line will suffer extinction.

When Yedo Kabuki lost its two Genroku stars, Danjuro and Hichisaburo, there was a vacancy that no one else could fill, and the Yedo people must have felt a lack of interest when witnessing the performances of those who tried to take their places. There were in reality only two actors in Yedo at this time who upheld the past glory of the stage. One was Ikushima Shingoro, and the other Nakajima Kanzaemon.

Ikushima Shingoro, one of the most tragic figures among these old actors, was born in Osaka, and came to Yedo during his years of stage apprenticeship. He acted almost exclusively at the Yamamura-za. He was 44 years of age when his love affair with a lady of the Shogun’s Court caused him to be banished from Yedo, and for twenty years he lived in his place of exile, never returning to the scene of his stage triumphs. A modern play has been made concerning this unfortunate actor, who, according to the gossip of the time, was more sought after by the venturesome Court lady than disposed to seek her himself.

And just as Saruwaka Kansaburo’s performances before the Emperor and Shogun had been an honour to the whole actor profession, so this Ikushima scandal was to remain a blot on the actor’s escutcheon for many years to come. The whole trouble was caused not so much by Ikushima, or the owner of his theatre, Yamamura Chodayu, as by [108]the romantic Lady Yenoshima herself. Although the secret of the friendship of the actor and lady was kept for many years, the audacious Yenoshima put the fat in the fire. As representative of the Shogun’s mother she was sent with other Court ladies to pray at Zojo-ji, a Buddhist temple of Yedo that remains one of the striking features of modern Tokyo. The party reached the temple early in the morning, and there presented but a few of the many gifts they had brought with them, reserving the best to be distributed at the theatre as favours. Hastening over their devotions, the party made haste to the Yamamura-za.

All was excitement within the theatre, where seats had been reserved for a hundred persons. The proprietor, Yamamura Chodayu, and the leading actors headed by Shingoro, clad in ceremonial kimono, came out to meet the distinguished party, and a feast was given. It is said that Yenoshima and her friends grew slightly hilarious, and a sake bottle was pushed over, with the result that the contents fell upon the head of a samurai in the audience below, who became angry, and in spite of apologies left the theatre. Yenoshima’s behaviour that day at the Yamamura-za soon became known, and it was not long after that the whole disgraceful affair came to the ears of the officials of the Shogun’s Government, with the result that Yenoshima was exiled to a small island off the coast in a distant part of the country.

She was then 33 years of age. Her sentence was lightened afterwards owing to the clemency of the Shogun’s mother, and she was transferred to the province of Shinano, where she was put in charge of the local daimyo. In those days, however, as it was the custom to punish not only the guilty, but to inflict it likewise upon the immediate members of the family, Yenoshima’s brother was condemned to death, and a younger brother exiled. After this the iron hand of the shogunate rested heavier than ever upon the theatre folks, for the Yamamura-za was not only deprived of its licence, but the building was demolished, all [109]property confiscated, and this theatre ceased to exist. The proprietor as well as the actors, Ikushima Shingoro and Nakamura Seigoro, and even the onnagata, Iwai Hanshiro, were all exiled.

The first Matsumoto Koshiro appeared at this time, and as the seventh Matsumoto Koshiro, of the Imperial Theatre, is one of the leading actors of present-day Japan, it is interesting to know something of the founder of this line. He came to Yedo from Shimosa province, and was at first an onnagata, but later changed to tateyaku. He belonged to Danjuro’s aragoto, or rough-acting school, inherited from the brave balladry of early Yedo Joruri, and is even said to have rivalled Danjuro in the art of the unreal. In middle age he shaved his head as a sign of retirement from active life. His adopted son succeeded to his name and stage inheritance, but later on he became by adoption Ichikawa Danjuro, the fourth, the Matsumoto Koshiros afterwards being closely associated with the Ichikawa family, the present Matsumoto Koshiro having been the deshi, or pupil, of Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth.

In Kyoto, an actor who showed much originality and played in both Osaka and Kyoto at the time the above actors were active in Yedo, was Shibazaki Rinzaemon, who was quick to recognise the art of the doll-actors. His specialty consisted in imitating them. He was well fitted in personal appearance, character, and voice to be a leading actor. He began his stage study in Osaka, where the dolls were beginning to rival the real actors, and it is easy to see how the movements of the puppets, their airs and graces, postures and gestures, as created by the nyngyo-tsukai, or doll-handlers, who were artists in every respect, introduced the Kabuki actors to a whole new world of expression, of style and taste, which they were eager to command.

A star common to the stages of Kyoto and Osaka when Shibazaki Rinzaemon flourished was Kosogawa Juyemon. He had been a samurai in daimyo service, and became an actor from choice. As revealing the sentiment of the time, [110]it is recorded that one of his relatives came to the theatre to kill him because the ex-samurai had the insolence to act under his own name. This the relative considered a piece of great effrontery, and but for the pacification of the theatre people would have carried out his intention. Shibazaki Rinzaemon was good, as might have been expected, in samurai rôles. He lived to a ripe old age, and when he became too infirm to appear as a fighting man, contented himself with old men’s rôles. Before his death he lost his sight, but still his usefulness upon the stage did not cease, for he was accommodating enough to act blind characters.

Crest of Ichikawa Sadanji and Ichikawa Udanji
(Ivy leaf).
Crest of Bando Hikosaburo
Matsumoto Koshiro, of the Imperial Theatre, in the character of Townsend Harris, the first American Minister to Japan. A photograph of the intrepid Kentucky Colonel is on the actor’s dressing table.



After Genroku, the most flourishing period for Kabuki and its yakusha was Horeki, an era covering seventy years, during which three shoguns held sway.

Historically, Horeki endured from 1751 to 1764, the name being given to the reign of an emperor. It came to be applied to the years preceding and following it, a period in which the dominating influence was that of Yoshimune, the third Shogun of the Tokugawa regime.

Owing to the extravagance of the shogunate, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. Immorality was on the increase, and efforts were made to keep the restless people under control. Luxury in all shapes and forms was frowned upon by the authorities. The literary centre of the country was transferred from Kyoto to Yedo, and the greatest activity was to be found in the theatres.

If Yedo Kabuki had lost its lustre when the first Ichikawa Danjuro and Nakamura Hichisaburo passed away, its prestige was fully restored by the second Ichikawa Danjuro and the first Sawamura Sojuro. In the latter part of this period the fourth Danjuro was a great theatre power.

Ichikawa Danjuro, the second, was born in 1688 and died in 1758.

When a child of 10 years of age he appeared on the stage, but owing to his father’s tragic death, was left without a stage sponsor. If his father had lived, he would have been trained and advanced in all possible ways. The actors of the time evidently neglected him. He was given [112]insignificant rôles, and was otherwise badly treated. His mother, who had retired to live in a quiet spot outside Yedo, declared that she would never go to the theatre to see him act until he was earning a salary of 1000 ryo, which meant that he must become a successful actor. The sudden taking off of his father, and the cold attitude of the theatre folk, stimulated the young actor to hard work. Accordingly, he went to the Narita temple, and there prayed that he should become a more successful actor than his father. The God of Fire that had answered his father’s prayer must have listened, it would almost seem, to his foster-child’s petition, for while the first Danjuro’s salary per year was 800 ryo, the second received 1270. After this it became customary to refer to a highly salaried actor as a “thousand-ryo yakusha”.

It was Ikushima Shingoro, of Court-scandal fame, who shielded and protected the second Danjuro, when he was struggling to advance.

He proved a worthy successor to his father, and his place in the annals of Kabuki is that of an original, creative actor, who not only re-established his father’s traditions, but carried them on most successfully.

His visit to Osaka is memorable. He had received an invitation from Sadoshima Chogoro to play at his theatre, but Danjuro demanded an enormous salary for those days, something quite out of the ordinary in the way of remuneration. And Sadoshima Chogoro, thinking that Danjuro would never ask such a sum unless he had something startling to offer, did not hesitate to comply with the extraordinary request.

When Danjuro made his first appearance in Osaka he was not well received, as the rivalry between the Osaka and Yedo actors was keen even in those far-off days. It has survived until the present, a continual state of tension, or feeling, always existing between the two prominent stages of the country.

Something of this adverse undercurrent was displayed [113]soon after he had begun to act, for a man in the audience threw a mat at him to put him to confusion, repeating his words, expecting that this would cause the Yedo actor to become tangled up in his lines. With the utmost composure and dignity Danjuro bowed low, apologising for the interruption, and then, to the great surprise of the audience, repeated a long speech backward. This greatly pleased the people, and Danjuro eventually captivated Osaka playgoers. Even the disturbing factor, the man who threw the mat, thought better of his behaviour, for he afterwards called at Danjuro’s inn and apologised, and the generous actor entertained him with sake.

While playing in Osaka, a courier all the way from Yedo brought him sad news—the death of his adopted son. He had bestowed the name of Danjuro, the third, upon this young actor. As he had no son of his own, it was necessary to adopt another stage heir, and his choice fell on the second Matsumoto Koshiro, who thus became Ichikawa Danjuro, the fourth.

The second Danjuro lived a long stage life, and died in his seventies. Like his father, he was small of stature, and his specialty was aragoto, or rough, imaginative acting. He was also good in plays demanding the real in acting, for he loved to represent an otokodate, or chivalrous commoner, and was popular as a lover and a fighter. Quick to feel the appeal of the marionettes in the Doll-theatre, he was one of the first actors to play in a doll-drama. His chief success in this direction was in Chikamatsu’s Kokusenya Kassen, or The Battle of Kokusenya.

His art, however, was too unreal to suit the times. His whole tendency in acting was anti-real. To mimic the natural or represent the real did not enter his mind. Tojuro’s principle, the use of the real and natural, took hold and flourished in Yedo, and the audiences were quite carried away. Danjuro remained untouched by the popular acclaim of the real. The taste of the new generation was changed; they were tired of his father’s methods; they [114]wanted the real, yet Danjuro, true to the artistic instinct within him, held steadfast to his own principles.

He not only improved his father’s plays greatly, but collaborated in the composition of many new pieces to which he did not sign his name. Like his father, he was given to poetry, and was the best pupil of his poetry teacher. His diary, Oyino Tanoshimi, or Pleasures of Old Age, is a model of the diary composition of the Tokugawa age. He displayed much originality in the designing of costumes, and was an artist when it came to making up. Filial towards his mother, he was full of love and respect for his wife, and was so moral in those immoral days that he was regarded as a sage.

His attitude towards the lower classes of society was generous and magnanimous. When receiving visitors, even to the humblest menials of the theatre, he treated them as honoured guests, wearing hakama, or the silk skirt, rather than customary attire, as he wished to improve the manners of the theatre folk. When invited to the residences of the great or wealthy he was never fawning. He was, however, very extravagant, and thought an actor should be as magnificent as possible.

Sawamura Sojuro acted on the Yedo stage with Danjuro, the second, and is credited with greater versatility than the second Ichikawa. Born the son of a samurai of rank in Kyoto, he was dismissed from his father’s roof on account of dissipation. At first he served in a subordinate capacity in the house of Sawamura Chojuro. Afterwards he undertook the duties of a clerk in the theatre, but at last requested to be made a follower of the Sawamura family. For some reason or other Sawamura refused to bestow his name upon this theatre upstart, there was a quarrel, and the would-be actor went off to seek another stage patron.

But as he could find no actor with sufficient faith in him to lend support, he was obliged to play in the unimportant theatres of the provinces. He was, therefore, unable to obtain the rank that would distinguish him as an actor of [115]ability, and had to be content with the stage leavings, serving in the orchestra or playing small rôles.

A reconciliation with his former master was at last effected; he began to play big rôles and was immediately successful. Bad luck, however, pursued him, for recognition of his ability was delayed. The Osaka stage authorities, doubtless for reasons of their own, were not willing to grant him the rank to which he was entitled. Sawamura Chogoro at last advised him to try his fortune in Yedo.

On his first stage experience in the Shogun’s capital he acted a minor rôle at the Morita-za, and was not long in making a quick advance. Within five years he ranked second to Danjuro, and after an absence of twenty-six years returned to Osaka with all his Yedo Kabuki prestige behind him, and received a warmer welcome than when, as a greenhorn, he had attempted to obtain stage rank in vain.

One of Sojuro’s most famous rôles was as Yuranosuke, the leader of the Forty-seven Ronin. Sojuro liked to act ronin, for he was a free-lance himself, and he was seen in several pieces that had ronin as heroes. These plays were suppressed by the authorities in order to prevent the loyal retainers of the feudal lords from becoming dissatisfied. One of Sojuro’s ronin plays was based on the real story of the famous Forty-seven, whose master was forced to commit harakiri. They waited a good opportunity, and revenged themselves upon the enemy who had caused their lord’s death, and then all took their own lives. The samurai’s loyalty to his lord was not merely a popular stage theme, but in real life this laying down of life for a cause was characteristic of the people.

The Doll-theatre dramatist, Takeda Izumo, wrote a masterpiece based on this story, and the ningyo-tsukai, or doll-handler, managed the Yuranosuke doll in imitation of the gestures and style of Sojuro.

As he had been brought up the son of a samurai, he knew the Nō stage, and in all pieces influenced by the [116]classic drama he was at home. In contrast to Danjuro he spoke in the language of everyday life. Danjuro delivered his lines as much as possible removed from the speech of ordinary mortals and their affairs. Sojuro did not care for the elaborate make-up that was so thoroughly characteristic of the first two Ichikawas and the members of their family who were to come after. Sojuro greatly depreciated Danjuro’s impossibilities. For instance, Danjuro lifted up a house with both hands as a symbol of strength, which brought forth criticism from Sojuro, whose faith in the real was so great that he never ventured to stray on the unknown highways and byways of the unreal.

There is a description of a stage costume he wore, one that has served as a model which is still faithfully preserved; it was of white satin and bore large designs of crows and storks. With this he wore a purple head-covering. Such was the taste and elegance of this Horeki age. Although much of it has vanished, yet traces still cling to modern Kabuki—something to marvel at, especially when it is considered that all this accumulation of theatre treasure-trove is as unknown to London, Paris, and New York to-day as it was during Sojuro’s triumphant career upon the Yedo stage.

So nearly equal were the second Ichikawa Danjuro and the first Sawamura Sojuro that there was great difficulty in deciding which was foremost. Danjuro was pure Yedo; therefore, no matter how nearly mated they were, he always held a slightly higher position than Sojuro. In rank they were equal, and close competitors in winning the favour of playgoers, and yet off the stage it is good to know they were warm friends. Sojuro was most accomplished. He composed short poems, was an adept in the tea ceremony, was familiar with the Nō stage, and wrote plays.

With these two stage celebrities, there were at this time Otani Hirotsugi, a genius in shosagoto, or the music-posture pieces of Kabuki, and there was Bando Hikosaburo, a fine actor, whose name has been inherited by an actor of the modern Tokyo stage. In addition, there was a [117]capable actor of the Ichikawa school called Ichikawa Danzo, some years senior to the second Danjuro, who occupied a special position. And there was the eighth Ichimura Uzaemon, an actor as well as the proprietor of the Ichimura-za. The fifth, sixth, and seventh Uzaemons died young, one after another, and were more concerned with the management of their theatre than with stage appearances. But the eighth Ichimura Uzaemon distinguished himself in both capacities.

The fourth Ichikawa Danjuro, who held the centre of the Yedo stage in the latter part of Horeki, was by no means one of the outstanding figures of his family, and yet he could hardly be called a failure. He carried on the traditions without adding to them, leaving his son, the fifth, to add fresh lustre to the Ichikawa fame. The fourth was regarded as the illegitimate son of the second Danjuro, and his mother was the daughter of a theatre tea-house keeper, but she had been adopted into the family of a relative of the Ichikawa house.

Danjuro the fourth’s career was full of vicissitudes, and towards the end of his life he cut off his hair to signify retirement from the world, and kept religiously aloof from the theatre. When Danjuro, the second, died, the fourth was but twenty years of age, and it took a long time for the public to appreciate him. He was thought unworthy of the great stage name, and it was considered that he had not inherited the family genius. His talent matured slowly, however, and he finally came to be looked upon as the head actor of Yedo Kabuki. He was entirely different from his supposed father, the second Danjuro, for he had a fine, large physique, while the second Danjuro was small; the fourth had an oval, long face, the countenance of the second being round; the temperament of the second Danjuro was placid, that of the fourth was nervous. His wife was the daughter of the second Danjuro, by adoption. For second wife, he took the daughter of the famous onnagata, Iwai Hanshiro.

[118]Rising on the stage, said the fourth Danjuro, was like ascending a ladder. It must be accomplished by degrees. It was very dangerous to ascend three steps at a time. The most interesting period in an actor’s career was when he was one or two steps from the top of the ladder, when he would have the greatest number of admirers. But in his own case he said that after he had reached the top there was nothing to do but descend.

For seventy years—during the whole of Horeki—there were three representative actors on the stages of Kyoto and Osaka. They were Anekawa Shinshiro, Nakamura Juzo, and Nakayama Shinkuro.

The first of these stars, Anekawa Shinshiro, was born in Osaka, appearing when a child at the Arashi-za. His favourite rôles were otokodate. He knew the taste of his public. The otokodate spirit was rife among the populace, and a new feeling for their rights and privileges was uppermost among the people.

Shinshiro lived long enough, however, to outgrow his popularity, for in his later years he was criticised as monotonous, his acting considered antiquated, and he failed to thrill his audience with novelties—the same cry for the new that is common to all the stages of the world at all times. There was another reason why Shinshiro’s popularity began to wane, for the lack of originality within Kabuki was beginning to be felt, and the reason interest in him declined was due largely to the poverty of plays and the general condition of the country.

Nakamura Juzo began to rise as Shinshiro declined. Juzo had the advantage of being ten years younger than Shinshiro, and was well-born, since he was the son of a samurai who had turned ronin. He lived in Osaka, and as his younger brother became an onnagata, he was also influenced to enter the profession, performing during his earlier career in provincial theatres, especially in Ise, and later in Yedo. His specialty was to represent samurai, and he was excellent as a stage fighter. No doubt his [119]samurai antecedents had given him his taste in this direction. As samurai of noble mien and aristocratic bearing he was at his best. Yet the criticism of the time records that he was a dry and uninteresting actor, and failed to choose the bright-hued kimono bearing striking designs, that expressed the player’s taste, delighted the people, and inspired the print artists.

Many other good actors there were when the above three stars were shining. There was Sakiyama Koshiro, of the Osaka stage, who was active for fifty-five years, dying at 70. He was a fine dancer, especially in pieces adapted from the Nō. He adopted the son of a ronin to succeed him, and his line stopped, and was then renewed again, but eventually died away.

And there was Arashi Sanyemon, the third, the real son of the second Arashi, who had been a Genroku star. He was not only an actor but a theatre manager as well, and excelled in wagoto, or love-making. He was also noted for his dancing, and played in pieces that had been handed down by his two predecessors.

Sadoshima Chogoro, who had invited the second Danjuro to play in his theatre in Osaka, and gave him the high salary that he demanded, was something of an exception in the theatre world of the three stages, for he never secured fame as an actor. He had, however, much to do with the establishment of shosagoto, or the music-drama of Kabuki, on a higher level.

This Sadoshima Chogoro was the son of Dempachi, a dokegata, or comedian, and a dancer of great skill who was prominent just before Genroku. Chogoro was fortunate in having such an experienced stage father, and he was soon apprenticed to dancing. The chroniclers of Kabuki tell how the father taught the boy to dance on the goban, or small table used for playing go, the national chess game. The child was often summoned by persons of high degree to take part in entertainments, and once a prince ordered an artist to make a model of him dancing on the goban.

[120]He never seriously competed for a place among the actors, but long remained Kabuki’s most famous dancing teacher. When he reached old age he shaved his head and retired from the world, taking up his abode in front of Kennin-ji, a Buddhist temple of Kyoto. Sadoshima Chogoro left one of Kabuki’s literary treasures, the Sadoshima Nikki, or Journal of Sadoshima, in which he disclosed the secrets of shosagoto.

He criticised the actors of his time as having gone astray from the true path of dramatic art, and reflected in his writing the change that had already set in—the beginning of the decline of Kabuki, for the brilliancy of the Genroku period and the progress of Horeki were not repeated in the years that followed.

Crest of Morita Kanya
(Three-petalled blossom).
Crest of Nakamura Utayemon
(Kyoto shrine charm).
Crest of Bando Mitsuguro
(Three Chinese characters, meaning dai, or great).



The one hundred years previous to 1868—the year Emperor Mutsuhito began his epoch-making reign—is regarded as the period of Kabuki’s modern history. By 1868 the Tokugawa Shogunate had come to an end, the Emperor had been restored to power, and his capital removed from Kyoto to Yedo, and Japan, which had been closed to the outside world, was thrown open to trade with other countries.

The Tokugawa Shogunate’s steadily diminishing power, and the general stagnation of society due to the lack of stimulus from without, were faithfully reflected in Kabuki. From 1764 to 1788 the people continued to idolise the favourite actors, the productiveness of the critics continued as before. But in the Kwansei era, 1789–1800, the theatre began to decline, and during the years of Bunsei, 1818–1829, the climax of Kabuki’s downward plunge was reached.

These were lean years for the people, and unless they saved their money they could not afford to attend the theatre, for the price of admission was high. It was the custom for Yedo people after they had seen a performance to go through the streets imitating the actors’ delivery of their lines, much as the popular airs of the latest musical comedy are heard in the thoroughfares of London, Paris, or New York. In these slack years the theatre audiences fell off steadily, and no echo of Kabuki was heard. At this time, too, the actors demanded an increase in their salaries, as it was impossible for them to carry on their former easy and extravagant existence during the hard times. The [122]theatres were involved in greater and greater financial difficulties. Many of the good old theatre customs began to be neglected.

There was, however, no decrease in theatre genius, and very many actors rose high above their fellows, although they lived through an unprofitable period.

The most representative actor during Kwansei (1789–1800) on the stages of Osaka and Kyoto was Nakamura Utayemon, an actor of the same name and line being at present the senior of the Tokyo stage. This first Utayemon was the son of a physician, who had led a life of dissipation and finally took to the stage. He kept steadfastly to one specialty, that of katakiyaku, or villain rôles. When he played in Yedo he was well received, but on a visit to Osaka, he said something on the stage which offended his audience, and they returned the compliment by giving him the cold shoulder for some time. The famous bad characters of the doll-dramas he made his own, particularly the heavy villain Iruka, the formidable tyrant in Imoseyama, and the evil-doing but loyal Gonta of Sembonzakura, two characters that modern audiences are never tired of seeing portrayed. When he was 68 he gave his name to a follower; at 75 he played his best villains, and died three years later. Although a pupil succeeded as second, his own son became Utayemon, the third, and was an actor of great prominence.

Some years junior to the first Utayemon was Asao Tamejuro, who was a famous onnagata of the Kyoto and Osaka stages. He was a small man, possessed a light, bright style, and appeared best in plays depicting everyday life rather than those dealing with the unreal.

In Yedo also there were two bright and particular stars at this time. They were Nakamura Nakazo and Matsumoto Koshiro.

The career of Nakamura Nakazo is one of the most varied of all the actors. He was possessed of many theatre gifts, but he had inherited a samurai temperament and [123]exercised his genius just when social conditions had begun to dampen the enthusiasm of the people for the theatre.

Nakamura Nakazo was the son of a ronin called Saito, and was born in Fukugawa ward of Yedo. Left an orphan when young, he must have had no relatives to care for him, but by chance O-Shun, a dancing mistress, saw the boy, and adopted him at the age of five. She went to pay her respects at a temple, and a ferryman plying across the Sumida River gave the boy to her. His only sponsor was the keeper of a sake shop, so far had fallen the child from his rightful position in society as the son of a samurai.

The dancing mistress not only belonged to a well-known school of dancing, but her family were costumers to the Nakamura-za. Her husband was a teacher of Nagauta, the special Yedo Kabuki music, so the boy was brought up in the theatre atmosphere. At 7 he began to be instructed in dancing, in which he did not take much interest at that early age, and he was often chastised. His adopted father tried to make him a Nagauta singer, but he proved a failure. From childhood he substituted on the stage when the regular actors were unable to attend. Nakazo has left a journal in which he wrote of his boyhood and how pleased he was when he was allowed to wear a good kimono, had a little room upstairs all to himself, and was not scolded so much for his many lapses from grace. O-Shun, his adopted mother, saw to it that he grew up proficient in dancing, and he repaid her, for he was very graceful, and was often asked to perform at the residences of the nobility when they entertained.

His accomplishments included familiarity with the Nō, writing and fencing, and he learned how to perform on the drum of the Nō orchestra, that instrument of complicated rhythms. He married O-Kichi, the daughter of the third Kineya Kisaburo, a member of the leading family of theatre musicians that flourishes to-day. When his adopted mother died, his wife, O-Kichi, took her place, and taught the samisen, while he taught dancing.

[124]On the stage he took part in dangerous feats—in which, had the arrangements failed, he would have been killed. His wife became ill and luck went against him. He attempted to commit suicide; he drank and gambled and led a dissipated life, which led to endless money troubles, and now and then he was forced to make geta, or wooden clogs, for a living. His difficulties lasted for twenty-four years, but gradually he reformed, began to study, and became a pupil of the fourth Danjuro.

His face was his fortune, and perhaps because of his handsome appearance his fellow-actors were often jealous of him. He was proud and sensitive and easily given to quarrelling. The change for the better in his career was a decided contrast to his previous melancholy existence, for he became the chief actor of Yedo, and received a salary of 1000 ryo.

Then, when it might have been expected that he would throw his gains away, he began to save. The wife of his youth died, and he soon possessed himself of another. He started a new theatre, and fire burned it down; rebuilt it in summer, and that autumn his house was inundated. Gave his name to a pupil and took it back, and at last was so unsuccessful in every venture, he determined to change his luck by acting in Osaka and Kyoto. In Osaka he was successful, but in Kyoto he quarrelled over a money matter, and died soon after at the age of 53—a samurai to the end, hot-tempered, and ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

His style of acting was similar to that of the second Danjuro, but it was in Kabuki’s music-posture pieces, or shosagoto, that he was at his best.

The fourth Matsumoto Koshiro, who acted on the Yedo stage at the same time as Nakazo, was born in Kyoto, and also led a troubled life. He acted at the Ichimura-za, but was not a success, and his elder sister, who owned a theatre tea-house, advised him to give up his attempts on the stage, and take over the management of her business. Later on he must have proved his worth, for the fourth Danjuro took [125]him under his patronage. He was not on friendly terms with the fifth Danjuro, which caused a good deal of Yedo gossip. The Ichimura-za could scarcely maintain itself, and the salaries of the actors were not paid. Koshiro went to Osaka by ship, taking with him the Yedo onnagata, Iwai Hanshiro, and some one thirsting for revenge because Koshiro had insulted another actor, threw stones at him as he was departing.

In Kyoto, where he acted, feeling was stirred up against him and he was not popular. To increase his troubles the Ichimura-za went bankrupt. Towards the end of his career, he and the fifth Danjuro, who had so long been estranged, became good friends. One of his sons became a famous actor, and succeeded him as Matsumoto Koshiro, the fifth.

In the period that followed, the most popular actor was Ichikawa Danjuro, the fifth. He was the son of the fourth, and his mother was the adopted daughter of the second. He acted with Nakamura Nakazo. His wife was the daughter of Iwai Hanshiro, but they did not get along well together; she wished for a divorce, and they lived separately. Finally he married the widow of Ichikawa Yaozo. At 51 he retired to Mukojima across the Sumida River from Yedo, where he drank sake, wrote poems, and wore a patched kimono of many colours, refusing to meet theatre folks. One of his sons, to whom he gave the illustrious stage name of Ichikawa Danjuro, the sixth, died young, and another of his sons became Danjuro, the seventh.

The most famous actor of the Bunka-Bunsei period (1804–1829) in Kyoto and Osaka was Kataoka Nizaemon, the seventh, directly descended from the Genroku actor who founded the line. Born in Kyoto, he became a follower of Nakamura Nakazo, but for some reason master and pupil parted company. He was very large and stout and well adapted to play villains, which was his specialty. Everywhere he acted he was popular.

He was active on the stage until the age of 75, when [126]he played in a rôle that required that he should appear scantily clothed. Some one in the audience called out to him: “Be careful not to take cold!” to which the veteran replied: “When I am on the stage, I don’t feel cold, I perspire.” Death claimed him but a short time after his retirement. His own son died, and he adopted the actor who later became Kataoka Nizaemon, the eighth.

When Nizaemon, the seventh, was acting in Osaka and Kyoto, the star of Yedo during the corresponding period of Bunka and Bunsei was the third Bando Hikosaburo, youngest son of the eighth Ichimura Uzaemon. In later years he shaved his head, retired from the world, and lived in Honjo, a Yedo ward, where he posted up a notice on the gate to the effect that waste-paper dealers and actors were not allowed in. He was handsome and gifted, and died at the age of 75. Acting with him was the fifth Matsumoto Koshiro, son of the fourth. The fifth Koshiro had a very large nose and his eyes were close together, two facial defects the print artists were fond of depicting, so that this Yedo actor is easily picked out in the pictures illustrating the theatre of this time. His daughter married the seventh Danjuro, but was divorced and became a nun, and lived at Ikegami near the Nichiren temple, not far from modern Tokyo.

Also, about this time there was Onoe Kikugoro, the third. He was a specialist in sewamono, or plays of everyday life, and established traditions that are being carried on by his descendants to-day. His wife O-Kiku was the daughter of an actor, and he had three sons and two daughters, but the sons died in youth. Koshiro’s daughters both married actors, one to Ichimura Uzaemon the twelfth, and the other to the fourth Kikugoro. His grandson by Uzaemon was the fifth Onoe Kikugoro, the rival of Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth—the two great stars of the Meiji era. His great-grandson is Kikugoro, the sixth, one of the most energetic actors of the contemporary Tokyo stage.

At one time the third Kikugoro thought he would try [127]what it felt like to be a plain citizen of Yedo. He opened a mochiya, or cake shop dealing in a favourite refreshment of his day, as it still remains of Tokyo people—steamed and pounded rice moulded into mound shapes, and prepared in various ways. He hung out a shop sign, in shape sexagonal, lacquered in red, and adorned with a gold design of grasses and written characters signifying Mochiya Kikuju, or the Chrysanthemum-Long-Life-Mochi shop. It was not true to its name. Inside the place there were costly art objects, and rare dwarf plants, while a mechanical toy, a Chinese boy, moved by a special device, came to meet the guests as they entered, and brought them tea and cake.

Of course, Kikugoro was the object of the visitor’s interest, and the matter of cakes was of much less importance. The actor would sweep the garden and talk with the visitors, but one day he suddenly tired of the whole scheme, after some customers had purchased a particularly small amount of his cakes. Kikugoro is said to have exclaimed: “They have seen my beautiful garden and listened to my compliments, and paid only 64 mon for cakes, so I’ll go back to the stage.” Perhaps he was hankering after it anyway, and made this an excuse.

From the latter part of Bunka and Bunsei to Kaei, or from 1804 to 1848, the great actor of Yedo was the seventh Danjuro, grandson of the fifth, the sixth having died young. He went on the stage at the age of four, and when he started to cry, a convenient substitute was hurried up. At the age of 17 he succeeded to the ancestral name. At the age of 42, he was exiled by the Governor of Yedo because of extravagance on the stage, since he had used real armour, and the stage setting for one of his plays had been an exact reproduction of the interior of a mansion of the aristocracy. Forbidden to come within a ten ri radius of the town, it meant that the Yedo stage was not to know him for many a year.

He was small, and had large eyes, and was very similar [128]to his son, the ninth Danjuro, whose memory is cherished by many Tokyo playgoers to-day. Like all the members of his family, he showed a special leaning towards aragoto, and added to the family plays by adapting the Nō drama to Kabuki. He is said to have combined the strong points of the third, fourth, and fifth in this actor line, and had literary talent, composed poems, and wrote a diary called Tokumiyemasu, I Can See Afar.

He took unto himself three wives and three concubines. His first wife was the daughter of the fifth Matsumoto Koshiro. She had been the wife of Sawamura Sojuro, had married again, and her third venture was to marry the seventh Danjuro, but this union did not last long, and they were divorced. Danjuro, who was very courageous, married another daughter of Koshiro, divorce separating them again, due this time to disputes between Danjuro and Koshiro. For his third wife he picked out the daughter of a theatre tea-house proprietor. He had seven sons and five daughters. There was, therefore, every reason to believe that the Ichikawa clan would survive for years to come. The fate of the family was otherwise, for not only is there no Ichikawa Danjuro at present, but the sole blood link as representative to carry on this family is the little granddaughter of Danjuro, the ninth.

The seventh Danjuro was famous for his extravagance. His residence was more beautiful than that of a daimyo, and no doubt the Yedo authorities, ever alert to suppress luxury among the people, were ready to pounce upon him, using some pretext or other in order to hold him up as an example to be avoided.

When he was obliged to go into exile his eldest son had the responsibility of carrying on the affairs of the Ichikawa family in Yedo, and succeeded as Ichikawa Danjuro, the eighth. He gave every sign of great promise, but because of family and professional troubles committed suicide in Osaka.

The fifth son of the seventh Danjuro inherited the headship of the family after the tragic death of the young [129]actor who had been called Ichikawa Danjuro, the eighth, for such a short time. Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth, became the most famous actor of this line, and he brings us down to modern times. Danjuro, the seventh, had a number of followers who distinguished themselves. Among them were: Ichikawa Kodanji, the third; Ichikawa Monosuke, the fifth; and Ichikawa Danzo, the fifth.

As the leading yakusha passed away one after another, the only one considered capable of filling the place they had left vacant was the fourth Nakamura Utayemon.

His father kept a theatre tea-house in Yedo, and his mother was related to Fujima Kanjiro, the costumer and dancing teacher. It was natural that this Utayemon should take to dancing, and he was trained to become a teacher of dancing. At the age of 10 he was adopted by Fujima. When the famous third Utayemon was about to produce a certain play in Osaka, he did not have the correct costumes and sent for his Yedo costumer. It was a month’s journey from Yedo to Osaka in those days, and it was Fujima’s adopted son who travelled along the Tokaido on the mission. While very youthful he knew all the needful information regarding the costumes, and was helpful in many ways.

He remained in Osaka, where he became a student of the stage and made rapid progress. The famous onnagata, the fourth Iwai Hanshiro, had asked him to fashion a costume, but did not like the manner in which it had been finished, and not only scolded the lad, but boxed his ears into the bargain. The desire to get even for this insult made the fourth Utayemon ambitious to succeed on the stage.

After an absence of sixteen years, he returned to Yedo a finished actor. At the age of 39, the third Utayemon did him a great honour by conferring his name upon him. A deshi, or follower, of the third Utayemon was righteously indignant, since he considered the third Utayemon’s adopted son should have succeeded. There were hot disputes [130]among Utayemon’s followers, and at last he invited them all to his house, and said: “I will not give my name to Hichitaro, but I will give it to his art.” The fourth Utayemon was large of stature, had fine eyes and good features, and excelled his master, the third, in many respects.

His rivals were the fourth Bando Mitsugoro and the fifth Sawamura Sojuro, but he won for himself a higher place on the stage than either of these Yedo actors. His adopted son was a star of the Meiji era, who was succeeded by the present Nakamura Utayemon, the veteran onnagata, who has the position, both from service on the stage and for his art, as head of the Tokyo stage.

Utayemon the fourth’s two rivals were the fourth Bando Mitsugoro and the fifth Sawamura Sojuro. Mitsugoro, the fourth, was the adopted son of the third. He suffered from paralysis and was frequently away from the stage, and yet in spite of his physical disability continued to act supported by a kurombo, or black-robed property man. He was known for his literary talents, wrote poetry, and the chroniclers say he was always poor.

The fifth Sawamura Sojuro was the son of a servant in a chaya of the Ichimura-za, and his mother was the daughter of a farmer living at Kameido, the district of modern Tokyo famous for its wistaria garden. He seems to have been a pet of all the actors, and became a pupil of the fourth Sojuro, who died at the age of 21. The third Onoe Kikugoro said he would make an actor of him. Matsumoto Koshiro also lent him his patronage, and took him to Osaka where he remained to study. Sojuro, the fifth, had four daughters, and two sons, one of whom, the second Tannosuke, became a star of the Meiji period.

These actors did not enjoy the prosperity of their predecessors. The theatres had a hard struggle for existence, the players were always involved in financial difficulties. The stage grew dull, the playwright stale. The Tokugawa Shogunate was toppling to its fall, and the [131]whole country waited for the restoration of the Imperial power, the breaking down of the barriers that had prevented relations with other countries, and the birth of modern Japan with its remarkable changes and developments.

Crest of Matsumoto Koshiro
(Blossom of Icho tree).
Crest of Nakamura Kichiyemon
(Wings of butterfly).
Crest of Nakamura Ganjiro
(Combination of four characters).



The story of the yakusha from the beginning of the male theatre to the dawn of the Meiji era would not be complete without mention of the onnagata, or players who specialised in women’s rôles.

Although the popularity of the most attractive and gifted onnagata was very great, yet as a class they never tried to outrival the tateyaku, or chief actors. Like the women of real life whom they sought to impersonate, they rarely attempted leadership in stage matters, and were content with modest rôles among the famous actors who played upon the stages of the three towns. The onnagata held a place all their own, and one of the most interesting developments of Kabuki has been the training and cultivation to fit men to play female characters.

The accidental cause that led to the creation of the male theatre, and in consequence to the existence of the onnagata, was the prohibition of mixed players and finally the banishment of women from the theatre. Yet it was but a reversion to an older order of things theatrical, for the practice of excluding women and employing men in their stead was centuries old in Japan and China. Long before O-Kuni began her performances on the river-bed at Kyoto, no female had dared to tread the sacred boards of the Nō stage lest its sanctity be impaired.

The disappearance of women from the theatre may have been due to the status of Japanese women, for in the general scheme of things at that time in Japan her social [133]position prevented her from asserting a claim to the recognition of her talent, and she had no right to the free development of her instincts in the sphere of the theatre. Whether the strict adherence to the onnagata convention was due to the fear that moral corruption would follow the custom of men and women playing together, or that it was desired to keep women within their own sphere and to restrain their appearance in public where they did not belong, it is certain that all female talent in the direction of the theatre was religiously suppressed.

Nakamura Utayemon, leading actor of the Tokyo Stage, in the rôle of Yayegaki-hime, the young princess in the play Nijushiko, or Twenty-four Filial Persons.

There is, however, a deeper reason to account for the onnagata. This specialty gave an actor an opportunity to apply a principle of all good art,—creativeness. The woman’s coiffure, make-up, and costume acted as an effective mask. The onnagata was able to hide himself behind his character, and not allow his own masculine personality to struggle through the disguise. The actor within the raiment of a woman was just as free from personal considerations as the doll-handler who pulls the strings and causes his doll to move. It was no mere lark to masquerade as a woman, but a serious study that required a lifetime to bring to perfection.

In a period of Japan when the samurai was uppermost and the artist counted for nothing, it is all the more surprising to find these actors devoting their lives to the art of female character-acting, and it was natural that they should be looked down upon by the militarists, who held in scorn everything effeminate. But the actors served the stage because the instinct within them was too strong to go unheeded. Moreover, they were as unconscious of their art as is a bird of its trill, and equally unaware of their service to their fellow-actors, to their day and generation.

The first onnagata of Kabuki are shadowy; they have left their names, but very little has been recorded of them. Kyoto produced the early onnagata, later Osaka became a headquarters, but Yedo was not the soil in which they could flourish. The people of Kyoto had not parted with [134]their taste for things elegant, artistic, and literary,—the inheritance of centuries. Yedo was a political centre, and did not breed onnagata. But one characteristic of the onnagata was that they were common to the stages of the three towns. They received their early training in Kyoto or Osaka, then spent the best part of their careers in Yedo, or else wandered from one town to another. Still another peculiarity of the onnagata was that so many of them took to Buddhism, retiring from Kabuki to spend the remainder of their lives in some peaceful temple.

In Kyoto, Itoyori Gensaburo first acted female parts, and in Yedo, in 1642, Murayama Sakon came from Kyoto to play at the Murayama-za. He has been described on his first appearance in Yedo as wearing a flowing robe of light silk, his head covered with a cloth dyed in many colours, and he carried in his hand a branch of a tree to which was attached a long piece of paper inscribed with verse. His performance was nothing more than a simple dance. His popularity, however, brought disaster, for the authorities, ever watchful lest the theatre corrupt good manners, issued an order prohibiting onnagata. The existence of Kabuki trembled in the balance. It was some time before the matter was settled, for the proprietors of theatres, with the worthy Saruwaka Kansaburo, founder of Yedo Kabuki, at their head, made an application that male players be allowed to play as females, and permission was granted, provided the specialty should remain distinct from men’s rôles. This was the real origin of the onnagata.

Murayama Sakon’s rival and contemporary was Ukon Genzaemon. He was playing on the Yedo stage in 1655, when the city was swept by a conflagration, and his theatre was destroyed. As the actors of that time were forbidden to appear on the stage wearing long hair, but were obliged to shave the crown above the forehead, they covered their heads with a piece of silk to prevent the disfigurement from being seen. Ukon is described in the theatre gossip of the day as wearing an orange silk head-covering, and as he was [135]a handsome youth and very womanly, it is easy to imagine that the Yedo audiences were highly pleased with him. From the criticism of the time, he was considered beautiful, a fine dancer, but had no animation, and so became monotonous. Murayama Sakon and Ukon Genzaemon played together in the same play, and were closely associated in the theatre of Osaka, Kyoto, and Yedo.

Another of these shadowy onnagata was Ebisuya Kichirobei, who was very likely kin to a theatre proprietor of that name. And there was Tamagawa Sennojo, who first went to Yedo in 1661. He played for two years at the Saruwaka-za, and afterwards, when performing in Nagoya, received what must have been a huge salary for his time, one ryo a day. He is mentioned in the theatre chronicles as an unrivalled onnagata; that he first went on the stage at the age of 14, and both while acting and in private life always wore the flowing robe of a woman, not giving up this practice until he reached that age which is considered so unlucky for a man in Japan, 42. He broke a bone, and afterwards his dancing was less graceful; he died at 50, his audiences never failing in their appreciation of him.

Two adopted sons of Murayama Matasaburo, the proprietor of the Murayama-za, became onnagata, but neither inherited their father’s theatre. There were also Taki Sansaburo, who came from Kyoto to play at the Murayama-za, and whose death at the age of 19 has been described in a romantic manner by the theatre historians. Tamagawa Shujen, also from Kyoto, was an onnagata who, early in his career, gave up the stage and became a priest.

Still another onnagata of this early period of Kabuki was Tamamura Kichiya, who rose to prominence, but afterwards declined. Ihara Saikaku, the dramatic critic of Genroku, has written of him as follows: “It is beyond doubt that he is brilliant on the stage; it is as though he were not of this world. He is skilled in his art, but with it is an air of pride and arrogance that is not satisfactory.”

[136]Kichiya was responsible for setting the fashion in women’s apparel, for he tied his obi in a certain manner at the back and this style became the vogue. The character in which he excelled was as Yokihi, the beautiful mistress of a Chinese Emperor. A Nō play of this name deals with the beauty after she had passed on to another world, one of the many ghostly personages of the Nō, but when Mei Ran-fan, the Peking actor, appeared for the first time in Tokyo at the Imperial Theatre a few years ago, one of his successes was as Yokihi, a very human, badly behaving young person who became slightly intoxicated, but who was clad in all the colours of the rainbow, a most fascinating female. Tamagawa Kichiya, as the charming Yokihi, must have been an object of the greatest interest to Yedo people.

Ito Kodayu is mentioned in the old books as a noted onnagata. Saikaku commenting upon him wrote: “He is an onnagata by nature, his character being quiet and gentle”. Among many onnagata whose names alone remain there is Nakamura Kazuma, who was a fine dancer. He retired from the theatre and opened a shop selling toilet articles that existed in Yedo for several generations.

During the Genroku period, which produced so many actors of note, the most representative of whom were Sakata Tojuro, of Kyoto, and Ichikawa Danjuro, the first, of Yedo, the art of the onnagata underwent a great change. Emphasis had been laid on the ability to dance and on good looks, but as greater stress was put on the ability to act, the art of the onnagata made rapid advancement.

The senior among the Genroku onnagata was Ogino Sawanojo, who died in 1704. He played heroines to Danjuro’s heroes, and was long associated with the first Ichikawa. He wore an obi of unusual width, and it became the fashion among the ladies of the capital. Tiring of the stage, he gave it up and opened an incense shop, but the attraction of the theatre was too great, and he returned. Always closely associated with Danjuro, he died the same year in which the founder of Japan’s most famous line of actors [137]was murdered in his dressing-room. Amayo Sanbai Kigen, or Three Cups of Sake on a Rainy Night, a book of criticism, praises Ogino highly: “Even the gods and Buddha would be struck with the actions of this man. He is most realistic in pathetic scenes. As a lady of high rank, or a wife of the lower classes, he leaves nothing to be desired.”

Three onnagata of Asia: In the centre Mei Ran-fan of the Peking Stage, to the left Nakamura Utayemon, the leading onnagata of Japan, and on the right Nakamura Fukusuke, the son of Utayemon and one of the most fascinating impersonators of women in Tokyo.

The first onnagata in Kyoto during Genroku was Yoshizawa Ayame, who died in 1729. He was brought up by a widowed mother leading a precarious existence on Dotombori, the theatre street of Osaka. At first he was a page in the household of a daimyo, and later went on the stage. In the characters he played, he was not restricted to certain types of fair women as had been the case with his predecessors, but was most versatile, acting equally well heroines of the gay quarters, women of bad character, and ladies of high degree.

The playwright, Fukuoka Yagoshiro, collected Ayame’s ideas about the art of the onnagata, and made them into a book called Ayame Gusa, or the Sayings of Ayame.

In this Ayame declared that an onnagata should have the heart of an onnagata even in the gakuya, or green-room. When partaking of bento (eatables served in a box) and sushi (cooked rice rolled into dainty morsels and stuffed with vegetables or fish after the manner of a sandwich), he should take care not to be seen eating. If his manners were masculine, and he ate and drank in the same manner as a tateyaku, his acting would not be successful. An onnagata, Ayame declared, should hide the fact of his being married, and if he were asked about his wife he should blush. Even if he had many children he must be like a child himself.

Ayame also believed that the chief thing for an onnagata to do was to play the part of a good woman. This ought to be the duty of an onnagata, and rôles that were not proper, even though the play was popular, should be declined. He advocated that an onnagata should not lose the gentleness and mildness of a woman, but he recognised [138]the unnaturalness of a male acting female rôles, and gave the advice that it was wise to develop the natural feelings of a woman in daily life, and not to use too much affectation on the stage. A really good onnagata was an actor who passed his daily life with the heart of a woman. When an onnagata on the stage thought that he had an important rôle as a woman, his actions would become unwomanlike.

Contemporary with Ayame was Midzuki Tatsunosuke, a precocious actor who played with Sakata Tojuro when he was 16. He died at the age of 73, and the onnagata school he established endured long after his death, several of his pupils distinguishing themselves. Yoshizawa Ayame had a deshi called Sodesaki Karyu, who became a popular onnagata. He was born in the country near Osaka, yet spent most of his life in Yedo. His talent was versatile, and he could act the greatest variety of women, from a princess to the wife of a coolie. Following the fashion of many retired onnagata, when he left the theatre he started an incense shop, but his interest in the business, which could not have been highly lucrative, soon waned, and he returned to the stage, playing in the rôle of chief actor instead of onnagata. His audiences took kindly to the change, and he did not lose his stage reputation in consequence.

Towards the end of the Genroku period there were a surprising number of onnagata playing on the Yedo stage, nearly all of whom had come from Osaka. This was due to the fact that Kabuki was rapidly absorbing the ballad dramas of the Doll-theatre, and many an actor who desired to become an onnagata received stimulus to his ambition when watching the doll-handlers as they moved the female characters. The art of these doll-handlers was so remarkable that it was only natural that the future onnagata of Kabuki should learn how to act the doll-drama heroines, and eventually imitate the doll’s every gesture and movement. There was a ningyo-tsukai, or doll-handler, called Oyama, who was a genius in moving female dolls, and his name became so closely associated with his art that the onnagata were [139]often called oyama, a term that is synonymous with onnagata and used quite as frequently by theatre folk to-day.

Among these numerous onnagata was Sawamura Kodenji, brother of Sawamura Chojuro, who occupies a prominent place as a leading onnagata in the history of Kabuki. There is a story told of Kodenji that he visited a temple, Fujidera, in the Province of Kawachi. He travelled thither in a kago, or palanquin, and was so fatigued after his long journey that when he got out he uttered an exclamation that would have come naturally from a woman under like circumstances. Kodenji acted with the first Danjuro.

Nakamura Senya at first was an insignificant onnagata in Yedo, but he went to Osaka, where he scored a great success in a courtesan play and remained there many years, returning to Yedo after an absence of eighteen years. The criticisms of the day complained that he had grown fat, but was still a true onnagata in spirit and gesture. When Nakamura Senya returned from Osaka, he started the custom for a Kyoto or Osaka actor performing in Yedo to give gifts to minor actors and theatre employees. He presented a good many kimono dyed in a certain colour which became all the rage, and was called Senya dye.

Next to Senya was Ogino Yayigiri, whose favourite rôles were those of heroines who have died with their lovers—double suicide, or shinju, a popular theme of the Doll-theatre plays. Just as Sawamura Chojuro was the representative actor of this later period of Genroku, so Ogino Yayigiri was the leading onnagata. His successor was drowned in the Sumida River, and a Kabuki playwright used the accident for the plot of a play.

During Horeki, there was much confusion as to the division of labour among the actors, and they exchanged their specialties whenever they saw fit. There was not the same concentration upon the onnagata, and the art suffered in consequence.

In the modern history of Kabuki during the hundred years previous to the Restoration, a line of onnagata, who [140]went by the name of Iwai Hanshiro, dominated Yedo Kabuki. The first of the name was manager of a theatre in Osaka during Genroku, and had four children. His two sons succeeded him as the second and third Hanshiro respectively, but they were tateyaku. It was the fourth Hanshiro who established the famous onnagata line. He was the son of a doll-handler in Osaka.

The fifth Hanshiro, son of the fourth, was a noted onnagata, and there was seen on the Yedo stage an unprecedented actor family alliance—the fifth Hanshiro with his two sons playing together, all three onnagata. Hanshiro, the fifth, played the rôle of a beautiful princess, even when he had reached old age, and at 63 shaved his head as a sign of retirement from the world and lived at Asakusa in Yedo, not far from the Goddess-of-Mercy Temple that dominated this quarter then even as it does at the present day. He died at 72, but old age was not able to dim his charm or good looks, and it was the current expression among the playgoers of his time that Hanshiro’s eyes were worth 1000 ryo.

The fifth Hanshiro played with the fifth Matsumoto Koshiro and Bando Mitsugoro, and Yedo audiences were enthusiastic about them. This Hanshiro also travelled a good deal, and was popular wherever he went. Once he took ship to Nagasaki, and while boarding the vessel missed his footing and fell into the sea. He was rescued by a sailor. He took his sudden plunge quite calmly, and did not struggle in the waves. This was his customary attitude toward life. On the way back from Nagasaki he travelled by land as he was to act in Nagoya, and his baggage returned by boat to Yedo. When he arrived at Nagoya, he received word that a fire had destroyed the house in which his belongings had been stored. Two days after this his son, the sixth Hanshiro, died. But Hanshiro did not want the members of his company to become depressed at his bad news, and ordered many summer kimono adorned with iris patterns, and distributed these among the actors [141]so that their eyes would be pleased and there would be no sign of mourning.

Nakamura Jakuyemon of Osaka, an onnagata who imitates the acting of the marionettes.

Hanshiro, the fifth, married a daughter of the third Sawamura Sojuro, named O-Chiyo, who was of gentle disposition and very accomplished. She possessed considerable literary talent, and was well versed in poetry. She never went to the theatre, because she considered it highly ridiculous to see her husband in a woman’s rôle. After his son the sixth Hanshiro died, a second son succeeded as Hanshiro, the seventh, but he died in middle life. The eighth Hanshiro brings us down to recent times, for he was one of the stars of the Meiji period.

The fourth Yoshizawa Ayame, son of the third, and descended from the first Ayame of Genroku fame, was a popular onnagata. He managed an Osaka theatre and travelled back and forth between Osaka and Kyoto, succeeding to the name of Ayame at the age of 53 and dying at 56.

Not less popular in their day than the Iwai Hanshiro line was the onnagata family of Segawa. There was the third Segawa Kikugoro, who was born in Osaka, the son of a theatre costumer. His son became Segawa Kikunojo, who, unlike most actors, was economical, saved his earnings, and invested in houses and land. The adopted son of this Kikunojo became Segawa Kikunojo, the fourth, and he was a famous onnagata. He enjoyed but a brief career, dying at the age of 31.

At the time the sixth and seventh Hanshiro were acting, the fifth Segawa Kikunojo was acknowledged to be the leading onnagata in Yedo. He was a large man, but possessed rather rough manners, being short and abrupt with his fellow-actors, and much disliked by his neighbours. Yet upon the stage there was no one to compare with him. He died at 31, at the height of his career.

In the Bunka and Bunsei period the representative onnagata in Osaka and Kyoto was Nakamura Tomijuro. He was exiled by the authorities from Osaka for extravagance. [142]He tried to have his sentence revoked, and travelled up to Yedo to appeal to the authorities, but in vain. Although he had been at the top of his profession, with no other onnagata to rival him, yet he was unable to return home, and spent his life in Sakai, the port near Osaka, where he was obliged to play in country theatres with inferior players. This must have been severe punishment for an actor of genius, who lived to be 70 years of age.

Nakamura Karoku, another onnagata of distinction, was the son of a clerk connected with the Mitsui Company in Osaka. He came to Yedo at the age of 40 and played there until he had reached 74, dying at 80. He was a large, handsome man, and had blood relations with many actor families. His first wife died; he married a second half his age, and had altogether twelve children. One daughter married the third Arashi Kichisaburo, another became the wife of Ichikawa Kodanji, while a third was the wife of Kataoka Nizaemon, the eighth. Nakamura Karoku was succeeded by his son.

He had a habit of coughing when crossing a bridge near his home to let his household know of his approach, and was considered very extravagant because there were always two candles burning at the entrance to his house that a bright welcome should be waiting him when he returned from the theatre.

Famous for his good looks was the second Sawamura Tannosuke, son of the third Sawamura Sojuro. He was born in Kyoto, and his father died when he was 14. There was a rumour once that he had committed suicide, but this was not true; he had hurt himself on the stage and did not appear for some time.

Ichikawa Dannosuke, an onnagata, son of the fourth Ichikawa Danzo, failed in the management of the Kiri-za in Yedo, and committed suicide at 32. There was Nakayama Nishi, an onnagata common to the theatre of Osaka and Kyoto, who specialised in innocent young girl rôles, dressed in gaudy kimono, and loved to be conspicuous. He retired [143]and opened an oil shop. And there was the fourth Yamashita Kinsaku, who was trained in small theatres, was stout, had a clear voice, and played chiefly in middle-aged women’s characters. Nakamura Daikichi, who became ill on the stage, fainted in the gakuya, and died before his heavy wig could be removed, was another popular onnagata.

Such were some of the onnagata who distinguished themselves in the Japanese theatre during two centuries, the period from 1642, when the first Kyoto onnagata played in Yedo for the first time, to 1868, the year of the Restoration. The actors of Meiji, and the developments that took place upon the opening of Japan to commercial relations with other countries, belong to the story of Meiji Kabuki, which forms a later chapter.

Yet it must be mentioned that because of the present array of onnagata that adorn the stages of Osaka and Tokyo, there is very little danger that the specialty is near extinction. On the contrary, the two leading theatres of Tokyo are headed by onnagata, Nakamura Utayemon, of the Kabuki-za, and Onoe Baiko, of the Imperial. It is also very significant that this unique art is still unknown in that other half of the world, where, since the boy actors of Shakespeare’s time, who played the famous heroines of the eternal dramatist, the playing of female rôles by males has become a lost art.



How the doll-actors took their rise, how for them the best theatre talent of the land was concentrated, and how these gorgeously costumed puppets of wood, animated by pulleys and strings, influenced the actors of flesh and blood, forms a unique chapter in the history of the Japanese theatre.

Kabuki and Ningyo-shibai, or the Doll-theatre, were the two chief amusements of the people during the long period of national seclusion when the Shoguns ruled in Yedo. And many of the conventions of the modern stage are unintelligible to the Occidental unless the debt Kabuki owes the art of the Doll-theatre is clearly understood. The relationship of the marionette and the yakusha can only be briefly touched upon here, since the complex history of Ningyo-shibai belongs to a separate volume.

The Doll-theatre began as a popular entertainment of the people at the very same time that O-Kuni’s dance on a temporary platform on the bed of the Kamo River in Kyoto marked the beginning of the popular theatre that was to become the exclusive possession of male players.

The exact date when minstrel, or tayu,—the accompanist on the samisen, or samisen hiki,—the ningyo-tsukai, or doll-handler, and the ningyo, or doll-actors, began their remarkable collaboration is not known, but when O-Kuni was practising her art the Doll-theatre had already begun to exercise an influence upon the public.

This combination of ballad sung and recited by the minstrel, while the performer on the samisen marked the [145]rhythms to which the dolls moved, and the doll-handlers created the gestures that expressed the emotion of the ballad-drama, was called Joruri, because the first ballad to be sung to the samisen concerned the love affairs of the legendary lover Yoshitsune and the beautiful Princess Joruri.

Yoshida Bungoro, a doll-handler of the Bunraku-za of Osaka, who has devoted his life to the management of female marionettes.

A woman is credited with inaugurating this new form of entertainment. She was Ono-no-Otsu, a lady-in-waiting in the household of Oda Nobunaga, the famous general, whose death gave Hideyoshi his opportunity to become the chief military dictator.

The love affairs of Princess Joruri seem to have been the impetus that started a great flood of ballad-dramas about the time of O-Kuni, for there existed in this early period a thousand red or blue covered books in which was written the story acted out by the dolls and illustrated by wonderful drawings of strange heroes and heroines.

To Menukiya Chosaburo is attributed the distinction of founding the first doll-theatre. He obtained the services of a man in Nishinomiya, a village near Osaka, who knew how to make puppets, and started to move them to express the emotions of the different ballad plays. He first performed in Kyoto, and had the honour of being summoned before the Emperor. Such was the dignity of the early puppets. With Kabuki, the Doll-theatre came in after years to be despised, being considered as something low and vulgar.

Female minstrels, or Joruri Katari (lit., to speak Joruri), made their appearance about the same time as O-Kuni in Kyoto, and two of them were famous, Rokuji Namuyemon and Samon Yoshitaka. In an old book there are pictures of these river-bed entertainments in Kyoto, and on a screen belonging to the Keicho period, when O-Kuni was active, there is depicted one of the first Joruri theatres conducted entirely by women. The tayu, or minstrel, sat on a platform higher than the stage on which the dolls were handled. The puppets had no hands or legs, and the hands of the [146]women manipulators were not seen. Those who strummed the samisen were also women. But when the women’s stage, or Onna Kabuki, was found to be the source of moral corruption and was prohibited, the women of the Doll-theatre likewise came under the ban and were obliged to go out of existence.

Kyoto continued to be the centre of the doll performances, which spread to the surrounding towns and were well received in Osaka. Every class of the people patronised this new form of entertainment.

The rise of the Doll-theatre to public favour was the result of the relation of the dolls and minstrelsy. They had existed separately for many years. Before Joruri was born, there were blind minstrels who sang their ballads, accompanying themselves by scratching the ribs of their fans to mark the rhythms. These blind men were called zato, and frequented the compounds of shrines and temples, or stationed themselves on street corners, putting up an awning for protection, and reciting their ballads to all who would stop to listen. Sometimes they were asked to help to entertain at feasts, but generally they wandered about from place to place, staying at mean inns, giving entertainments for the guests, thereby earning a lodging, and at other times singing short pieces to make their livelihood. They came to be regarded as beggars, and were looked down upon accordingly.

Strolling puppet players there were also, with boxes suspended by cords around their necks. They displayed their dolls on the top of the box which formed a miniature stage for the movements of the little figures.

In the fullness of time the dolls and minstrels approached each other, instead of leading separate existences. But it was music that brought them together. The introduction of the samisen from the Loo Choo Islands, by way of the port of Sakai, near Osaka, shortly before O-Kuni’s appearance, was the medium that united these workers in the sphere of puppetry. By the end of the sixteenth century, [147]this combination had produced the popular music-ballad drama called Joruri, which at one time threatened to completely overwhelm Kabuki in the estimation of the people.

The initial stages of the Doll-theatre development are very interesting, for the conventions evolved at this time were appropriated by the real actors and may be seen upon the modern stage of Japan. The first ballad plays in which the dolls performed harped on one motive, the efficacy of I prayer to gods and Buddhas. The stage technique in use at this time was especially adapted to display before a wondering audience appearances of gods, phantoms, apparitions, and ghosts, and many ingenious contrivances were invented to suit these supernatural visitors, while the plots of the plays were moulded so that the various stage tricks in connection with the godly and ghostly personages could be carried out.

During the vogue of the doll-ballads, with the answering of prayer for plots, elaborate machinery came into use for the manipulation of grotesque characters which were neither man nor beast, god nor demon, strange creatures created that machinery might give them life. Conjuring also played its part in astonishing the audiences of those days, and there was a period when the most ingenious devices were planned, in which water was used, the characters of the stories disappearing into waterfalls, floating on lakes, and even moved by water power.

Then followed an outburst of the military spirit in Joruri, and the answered-prayer balladry took a secondary place. It was the adventures of the great warrior Kimpira, the incarnation of courage, slayer of devils and demons, that captured the popular fancy. The exploits of brave men were of more interest than the ghostly and godly pieces, and Kimpira overshadowed all the rest.

The Kimpira bushi, or Kimpira tune, was started in Yedo by Sakurai Tamba, and he was followed by his son Izumi Dayu, who was even more sanguinary than his father. [148]He handled an iron rod so dexterously when he marked the rhythm to his ballad about the extraordinary adventures of Kimpira that he knocked off heads and lopped off limbs of the dolls every day. This realistic display suited the Yedo audiences.

Izumi is said to have disliked everything weak and unmanly, to such an extent that his door-keeper was always a strong man, physical robustness being his ideal. Perhaps the muscular guardian of the entrance was a necessity rather than an ideal, for the spirit of combat sometimes seized the audience, after witnessing a martial doll performance, and two men would begin to fight in the midst of the crowd, within or without, proving too much for the stout gate-keeper. Izumi Dayu began to quarrel himself, and at last killed a man and was executed. This bloodthirsty Joruri did not last long, and when the mania cooled down the efficacy-of-prayer ballads came into vogue again for a short time.

It was Takemoto Gidayu who gathered up all that was useful in the Joruri that had gone before him, and established the school that has been called after him, and continues to the present day,—Gidayu Joruri, more often spoken of simply as Gidayu. He was originally a farmer in Settsu province, and had a voice of large range. In Kyoto he learned how to sing Joruri from a follower of the minstrel Inouye Harima. Gidayu first appeared in Dotombori, the theatre street of Osaka. Tatsumatsu Hachirobei, a ningyo-tsukai, or doll-handler, was a genius in moving the dolls, while Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Japan’s greatest dramatist, wrote the plays.

The name of Gidayu’s theatre in Osaka was the Takemoto-za. It had flourished for some time when one of Gidayu’s followers wrote a play called the Jewel-Well-Double-Suicide, which was produced at Sakai, the port city near Osaka. It proved so successful that this man opened a rival Doll-theatre calling it the Toyotaki-za.

A scene from Chushingura, as played by the marionettes in the Bunraku-za of Osaka.

For long years these two theatres were close rivals, the [149]competition between them bringing about great improvements in stage management, and each tried to outdo the other in new plays, good minstrels and doll-handlers, elaborate settings, stage devices, and gorgeous costumes.

For nearly eighty years, during the Doll-theatre’s golden age, the collaboration of the workers was so complete and Successful that Kabuki was quite cast into the shade.

The movements of the dolls were so spirited, the doll-handlers so creative in the variety of gestures that they invented to express a whole world, gay and grave, that the actors came at last to acknowledge the puppets as a source of inspiration. At first they imitated, but as the vogue for the Joruri Gidayu grew intense, the yakusha were converted into enthusiastic devotees. They went to the Doll-theatre to learn, and returned to their own acting with a keener zest. The marionettes demonstrated before their eyes the heights and depths of acting, of which they had been unaware, and they were competitors in their own profession, saving them from the inertia of self-satisfaction.

The playwrights of Joruri Gidayu were responsible for the best dramas that have been produced in Japan. Especially were they highly successful in a new kind of play, the jidaimono, having historical personages for characters, fashioned out of the most fascinating imaginative material that brought the dolls into full play as creatures of a world of fantasy.

In time Yedo actors who were removed from the doll atmosphere of Kyoto and Osaka were obliged to journey down to these towns that they might know how to play the characters of the Doll-theatre plays. The jidaimono became all the rage in Yedo, and the actors could no longer remain indifferent to the activity of the doll performers.

But the movements of the dolls were not the only attraction, for stage costumes were purloined as well, and Kabuki appropriated unto itself all the novelties and ideas of the Doll-theatre one after the other.

Something of an influence was exerted upon the Doll-theatre [150]by the legitimate plays and players, but it was small in comparison with the highway robbery of everything of interest from the Doll-theatre carried on for years by the actors and stage managers of Kabuki.

Chikamatsu, who never hesitated to take his ideas, plots, and materials from any source that suited his purpose, borrowed to some extent from Kabuki. One of his plays, Tamba Yosaku, was originally played twenty years before his own composition by the first Arashi Sanyemon. Yuki-Onna-Gomai-Hagoita (lit., the Snow-Woman-Five-Battle-dores), a Chikamatsu masterpiece, was in reality one of Arashi Sanyemon’s favourite plays. The dolls also took for model the gestures and style of living actors, closely following their specialties, young women, heroes, and villains.

Sakata Tojuro’s most popular rôle, that of Izaemon, in the play concerning Yugiri, a heroine of the gay quarters, influenced Chikamatsu, for he took Tojuro’s one-act play and made it over into one of his masterpieces, Yugiri of Awa in Naruto. Moreover, the doll-handlers imitated Tojuro’s manner and gestures as Izaemon. Chikamatsu also modelled his characters on such actors as Yoshizawa Ayame, Midzuki Tatsunosuke, and Kataoka Nizaemon. Sawamura Sojuro played as Yuranosuke, the leader of the Forty-seven Ronin, and this Kabuki piece was the basis of Chushingura, the masterpiece of the Doll-theatre playwright, Takeda Izumo, in which the Yuranosuke doll portrayed the manners and gestures of Sojuro.

Lovers of Kabuki do not like to acknowledge the extent to which the actors borrowed from the stage of the inanimate players, but it was very great.

Sometimes famous actors were sons of the ningyo-tsukai, or puppet performers, and young actors who went to the dolls to study soon discovered that they were able to see themselves as others saw them.

O-Sato, heroine of a ballad-drama of the Doll-theatre. Reproduced from an oil painting by an Osaka artist and shown in a Tokyo art exhibition. The doll-handlers are grouped behind like shadows.

One of the most famous ningyo-tsukai, Bunsaburo, designed many costumes for his puppets. One he embroidered [151]in plum blossoms and young bamboo for the doll representing Michizane, the patron saint of Japanese literature—in history the prime minister who was exiled from Japan by his enemies; and he also dressed the triplets, faithful servants of Michizane, in kimono bearing large yellow horizontal stripes lined with scarlet to emphasise the fact that they were brothers. Thereafter, when these characters were represented by Kabuki actors the exact costumes were worn. Once during a performance Bunsaburo saw a doll on the point of falling and went to the rescue. The doll moved in an awkward manner, not according to the rules and regulations, and the audience laughed. It afterwards became the custom to make this doll do the same thing, and the Kabuki actors imitated even this.

The Battle of Kokusenya, by Chikamatsu, was one of the first doll-plays to be acted in the theatres of Osaka, Kyoto, and Yedo. Ichikawa Danjuro, the second, took the chief rôle, that of Watonai, a picturesque character who had a Japanese mother and Chinese father and went to China in search of adventure. Later the second Danjuro acted in other pieces by Chikamatsu that were first played by the dolls. Takeda Izumo’s plays, as well as those of Kino Kaion, both play-writers for the dolls, were used by Kabuki actors.

The relationship between the two theatres became far more complicated during the Horeki period. Not only the plays, but the acting, stage furniture, and costumes of the Doll-theatre influenced Kabuki. The music of the Doll-theatre was also incorporated into Kabuki.

Previous to the first year of Horeki (1757), the Doll-theatre was at its height. After this it declined.

As fast as the Doll-theatre artists evolved new plays, they were quickly seized upon by Kabuki. The public came at last to be more interested in the real actors than in the dolls. The vogue of the puppets slowly and surely began to wane. No progress was made, the theatres burned down, the minstrels and doll-handlers changed from one theatre to another.

[152]After 1804 the dolls almost went out of existence, but rallied in later years, and to-day this unique art is crystallised in the Bunraku-za, of Osaka. A small Doll-theatre held its own in the theatre quarter of Kyoto until recently, but the ever-increasing prosperity of the surrounding moving-picture theatres has driven it to the wall. There are touring companies that pay visits to the different towns at regular periods. Once a year a Bunraku-za company plays in Tokyo, and the leading actors may always be seen in the audience watching closely the puppets acting in their own familiar rôles. The art of the Doll-theatre is by no means dead, the spark of art is smouldering, but it would take some big wind to fan it into flame once again,—perhaps the wind of self-confidence among the theatre-folk of Japan in their own institutions.

The decline of the Doll-theatre was due to the fact that Kabuki took everything the dolls had to offer, and made such a poor return that the doll-stage began to starve. When Kabuki and the Doll-theatre had approached so nearly together, one had to go under, for there was not sufficient novelty to attract in the sphere of the marionettes, the source from which Kabuki had so slavishly drawn inspiration.

There was another very good reason, too, why the Doll-theatre almost ceased to be. The collaboration that had made it the centre of talent came to an end. Had the dolls continued to succeed, it would have been necessary to maintain the source of their originality, and it was the misfortune of these mute actors that the workers ceased to serve in their behalf, harmony died, and talent gradually fell away.

Kabuki, which benefited so largely from the creativeness of the dolls, faithfully preserves these traditions, and still lives on the past, that golden age when the doll was at its height, and for whom so many workers offered in their behalf the theatre gifts that in them lay.



The yakusha (lit., rôle man), of Kabuki, belongs to the actors’ fraternity, the brethren of the buskin, who form a peculiar company of their own, irrespective of the lands from which they have sprung or the creeds they hold.

Of Kabuki and its long line of brilliant actors, the world knows nothing. Their art was good, although it received but scant appreciation or recognition from those who occupied the seats of the mighty.

They were faithful to their ideals, and what they have accomplished is a contribution to the actor’s art of the world. In their day and generation the yakusha were members of a degraded class, looked down upon, derided, but nevertheless they were true to the theatre instinct within them.

Similar to their fellows in the West, these actors of Japan met with success and were the idols of the people. They died in harness, or passed their remaining years in obscurity. There were players whose names for some reason or other suddenly disappeared from the lists of the theatre chroniclers—others about to lose their popularity were fortunate enough to take a new lease of life, and continued to act until old age claimed them.

It was not infrequent that the yakusha took it into his head to retire, but, thinking better of it, returned again to the glamour of the stage. Among the yakusha there were always some who grew monotonous and old-fashioned, and failed to keep abreast of the times in which they lived.

[154]Above this innumerable tribe of play-folks tower the men of genius who carried all before them, delighting the audiences of the three theatre towns, the most-talked-of and most beloved personalities of the time, taking ill while playing a favourite rôle, or breathing their last in their dressing-rooms, in which they spent such a large portion of their lives.

Many of the yakusha were similar to the Western actors in one respect—they were great spendthrifts, and the larger the earnings the greater the extravagance displayed. When the authorities in Yedo who presided over the affairs of the theatre found a yakusha who was too fond of display, his goods were confiscated, or else he was obliged to pay a penalty.

Considerable literary ability was found among these despised theatre-folk. They were especially fond of poetry; and studied under the masters of the different forms of short poems, and often excelled. The part the yakusha played in the composition of the Kabuki plays has not been fully acknowledged. That they often wrote plays or aided materially in the collaboration is well known. It was a common stage custom for the actors to improvise in the plays to suit themselves, and while the greater portion of this ephemeral material has perished, much remains to be seen, particularly in the eighteen traditional pieces of the Ichikawa family.

That the yakusha had the heart to study literature and compose poems is very much in their favour, when it is considered that they were regarded as a low class of persons—the dregs of society. It would have been quite natural if they had neglected the difficult art of calligraphy, owing to their strenuous lives in the theatre, but many yakusha were as versed in writing the complicated characters as they were in all the other accomplishments that distinguished the genteel person of Japan at this time. One actor was so proud, of his ability in this direction that he wrote long epistles the better to show off his accomplishment.

YAKUSHA MAKING A ROUND OF NEW YEAR CALLS. In the foreground a member of the Ichikawa family, with two pupils and his servants, following behind an onnagata similarly attended. The kites in the picture show the favourite pastime of children during the New Year holidays. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kanpei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada.)

[155]They intermarried to a remarkable extent. Since they were segregated to certain quarters near the theatre, they chose their wives for the most part from among their own fraternity. The daughters of actor families married men of their father’s profession, and their daughters again became the wives of actors. This brought about such complicated genealogies that it became impossible to unravel the tangled relationships.

Now and then a yakusha strayed out of the fold and took unto himself a farmer’s daughter, or, as was quite common, selected a maiden who had passed her life in the theatre atmosphere, daughter of the proprietor of a chaya, or theatre tea-house, that catered daily to the audience. Sometimes a yakusha had for father the keeper of a restaurant, and the sons of wrestlers made good actors as they were of fine physique.

Many of the leading actors were sons of ronin, or samurai who had severed connection with their feudal lord and joined the ranks of the common people. The first Danjuro was of samurai stock, his father a ronin. Again, the dissipated sons of military families took up acting as a profession when turned out of doors by their stern samurai fathers for their sins and omissions.

A famous onnagata, Yoshisawa Ayame, was a page in a samurai house before he became an actor. The first Nakamura Utayemon was the son of a physician. Others were sons of ningyo-tsukai or doll-handlers in the puppet theatre, and the yakusha were related to stage musicians, dancing teachers, costumers, and even the menials of the theatre. Arashi Kanjuro became a colour-print artist under Toyokuni, and was called Kunihara.

Not infrequently the yakusha studied the Nō, and introduced many features of the classic drama into his own productions. There were actors of refinement, who stood apart from the vulgarity of their day, but on the other hand a great many who, influenced by the odium attached to their profession, led loose and immoral lives. But in this [156]they only followed the lead of their times, for vulgarity and sensuality was the order of the day, as might have been expected, since the monotony of peace and the stagnant regime of the Tokugawa Shogunate were largely responsible for the licentiousness that prevailed.

At this time there were actors who worked as understudies and were not regularly employed, and when not on the stage earned money by their immoralities. They did not accept compensation from the theatre, but appeared for the sake of exhibiting their personal charms and provided their own costumes. Until 1830 these good-looking young men were to be found in private tea-houses in connection with the theatre, and from their ranks came some of the famous onnagata. This is the other side of the theatre, but accounts in large measure for the deep social prejudice that existed against the Kabuki yakusha, a prejudice that is by no means entirely removed at the present day, although the standing of the actors has been elevated and their position in one of Japan’s most characteristic institutions is fully recognised.

Sons born in a leading actor’s family were given a thorough stage training, making their first bow to the audience while still infants in arms, but less fortunate children had great difficulty in winning a place on the stage. Yakusha who succeeded without family, and who relied only upon their talents, often received their early stage apprenticeship as members of travelling companies, or were seen in kodomo shibai, or children’s theatre companies. There were, also, temporary theatres set up in compounds of shrines, called miya shibai, or shrine theatres, and those along the river, called hama shibai, or shore theatres. The ability of many a popular actor was very often first discovered in such surroundings.

It was difficult for the outsider to break through the yakusha caste. The family system of preserving the line was as strong among the yakusha as it was from the Shogun and aristocracy down to artists, artisans, tea ceremony and [157]flower arrangement teachers and musicians. And if there was no direct descendant to inherit the family name an heir was adopted. This forms one of the most interesting characteristics of the yakusha, for the son not only succeeded to the family name, but carried on the traditions of his father’s stage art with an unswerving fidelity, preserving the inheritance of the past, but also attempting to enhance the reputation of the family, and in turn passing on the capital and accumulated interest to the next successor.

The inclination of the yakusha towards Buddhism was very strong. Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, says with regard to this characteristic:

“Those who played tragic rôles wanted to borrow the power of Hokkekyo (Buddhist Scripture of the Lotus of the Good Law), and especially were faithful to the Nichiren sect (founded by Nichiren, the stormy petrel of Japanese Buddhism, seven hundred years ago). They had to have some religion to forget the terrible characters they played, as they might be haunted by them when they went home.”

Ichimura Takenojo, a nephew of the first Ichimura Uzaemon, the proprietor of the Ichimura-za, became an acolyte in a Buddhist seminary in the district of Honjo, Yedo. He had his head shaved and put on priest’s robes, and giving up the applause of the stage for the calm of the cloister, went straight off to the Buddhist institution. Afterwards he studied at Hiei-zan, the mountain monastery overlooking Kyoto, and rose to a leading position in the priesthood, becoming the head priest of a mountain temple, and returning to a Yedo temple, where he died in his old age. Yamashita Kyoyemon, contemporary of Sakata Tojuro, had a priest brother, and Yamatoya Imbei of Osaka had two Buddhist priests for brothers.

Ichikawa Danshiro, the most talented pupil of the first Ichikawa Danjuro, left the stage in the middle of his career to become a priest. Many urgent messages were sent from his former theatre in Yedo requesting him to rejoin the actors, and at last he consented on condition that he return [158]immediately the performances were over to his secluded temple life.

Of quite a different character was Miyasaki Denkichi’s connection with Buddhism. He was with other actors imprisoned on account of a scandal in a nunnery, and since the head nun was a favourite of the Shogun’s Court she was sentenced to death.

Many of the yakusha shaved their heads as a sign of their retirement from active life. The fourth Ichikawa Danjuro was one of those who voluntarily abandoned a flourishing career, and Sadoshima Chogoro, the author of Sadoshima Nikki, or Journal of Sadoshima, took a holy name, and lived in front of the Kennin-ji, a Buddhist temple, in Kyoto.

Some of the star actors went on pilgrimages. Arashi Sangoro visited the thirty-three temples sacred to Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, in Kyushu, and afterwards became a priest.

The yakusha had his superstitions. He went to shrines and prayed to obtain the fame of actors past and gone, or made special supplications that he might be successful in a new rôle. He was like other men; he mixed up in fights and had to go to prison, he had his love affairs and rivalries; sometimes became despondent and committed suicide early, or retired to open a shop dealing in incense, or white powder for the face. There were not only skilled musicians, amateur poets, and painters among them, but they were uppermost in the making and producing of plays. They were able to sew their own stage costumes and to embroider them with elaborate designs. Their costumes had a considerable effect upon the fashions, inducing men to dress in extravagant taste, while women of good families followed the example set by the actors on the stage, copying colours, designs, and styles, even the width of the obi.

The yakusha travelled up and down the country from Yedo to Osaka and Kyoto, held their anniversaries and [159]ceremonies, and were careful of the type, training their sons in the way they should go. In spite of this, misfortune often overtook a prosperous family, and the line withered away. It was renewed by some young relative, only to disappear in after years. No family flourished generation after generation as did the Ichikawa Danjuro line, and yet there is no representative of this name upon the Tokyo stage to-day.

Nakamura Nakazo is on record as having expressed the opinion that actors should not be seen in public, but should be known only on the stage, and secure fame by their art alone. He thought it was a mistake for play-folk to attend picnics, moon-gazing or snow-viewing parties, or mix with the crowd.

The second Ichikawa Danjuro was also a believer in the actor’s anonymity and seclusion from the public, and considered that if an actor was not good-looking he would not appear to advantage on the street. It is true that if the yakusha went out wearing fine apparel and attracted people by his dignified bearing, the defects of his character or lack of talent would be hidden. As the face of the yakusha was certain to be less attractive off the stage than on, he should take care not to be seen by the people.

Danjuro further declared that as an actor’s life was full of anxiety, it was necessary that he should enjoy all the comforts of home, and receive every care to maintain his health. It was best for the yakusha to stay at home, so that he would have no occasion to become angry, and as he was the object of public attention he should aim to be as refined and beautiful as possible.

When young, Danjuro the second thought, the yakusha should wear his head covered, and in middle age that he should ride in a kago, the basket conveyance hung on two poles and carried on the shoulders of bearers. And this must not be regarded as extravagance, but to make a good impression upon theatre-goers and therefore a duty to the theatre proprietor, for he considered it of the greatest [160]importance for a yakusha to be magnificent in order to fill an eminent position.

Contrary to Danjuro’s opinion, Sawamura Sojuro, the first, believed in the simple life for an actor. He said a chief actor should mingle with the people in the streets, and aim to be unpretentious, for a yakusha would thereby be able to learn of his defects upon the stage. As for clothing, it was quite sufficient to have one kimono for each season. It was, however, natural to wish to dress well, but it often proved ruinous. It was best for the yakusha to leave his name to posterity as a stage celebrity rather than as a millionaire, to be remembered for his art rather than for his money.

Kataoka Nizaemon, the first, of Osaka, declared that actors should be conversant with poetry and literature, and know all subjects relating to Buddhism and Shintoism, information that would be of use to them on the stage.

When Ichikawa Danjuro, the second, built a fine new residence after his dwelling had been burned down, he gave a house-warming party, and a hundred short poems were written by the guests who attended. In the tokonoma, or recess of the reception-room, was hung an autographed poem by Kikaku, a well-known versifier. On the sliding doors were pictures by artists of the Tosa School. The small metal pieces inserted into the doors were of the best workmanship. There was a painting of chrysanthemums done especially for Danjuro by the master of flowers, Korin, and a flower vase after a design by Basho.

He counted among his friends many of the intellectuals of his day, and upon one occasion he was seen out for a walk between Hanabusa Icho, the painter, and Kikaku, the poet, the two outstanding geniuses of the age.

His name was known at the Shogun’s Court, for there is a mention in the diary of a daimyo, Matsura Sezan, that one day the Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, passed through the ward of Honjo, and the route took him near a shrine where he noticed a votive offering on which was written a [161]poem, signed Hakuin, Danjuro’s poetry name. Appreciating the literary talent the poem revealed, the Shogun turned to his retinue and asked who had composed it, but as none of them knew, he explained that it was the nom de plume of Ichikawa Danjuro.

Matsumoto Koshiro in the rôle of an otokodate, or chivalrous commoner, ready to defend the oppressed lower classes from the blustering two-sworded samurai.

Nakamura Nakazo has left mention in his journal concerning a visit he made to a member of the Choshu clan, to the effect that he had been invited by a retired personage to his residence, made of hinoki wood, meaning a mansion such as was erected for the aristocracy, and that he was entertained with tea and asked to dance. The appreciative host not only gave each one of the party a gift, but after his return to his domain in Choshu he sent Nakazo a suzuri, or box for holding the Japanese writing brush and ink stone.

Retired persons of the upper class were considered privileged to enjoy life as they pleased, and they often went to the theatre incognito. After the performance they invited the actors to the chaya, and gave them gifts.

Actor worship permeated the people; the playgoers of the three towns enjoyed them, criticised, gossiped about them, even as they do at the present day. The theatre was the great recreation of the people, and the actors, how they looked, how apparelled, and the quality of their acting formed the endless topic of conversations and discussions.

And yet in spite of the fact that the actors held such a firm place in the affections of the people; that they were the exponents of a theatre which reflected the national characteristics to a remarkable extent; that they represented the taste, style, and ideas of their time in no small degree, and that they were often men of cultivation and refinement off the stage,—their profession was scorned.

They were the object of long persecution. It would be difficult to find in the history of the theatre throughout the world a deeper prejudice or more complete contempt for the actor than has been the portion of the Kabuki yakusha.

[162]This state of affairs was largely due to the attitude adopted towards the theatre by the Tokugawa government. From the official standpoint the theatre was a vulgar institution and had an immoral effect upon society. Through the production of socialistic plays, the minds of the people were influenced, and the authorities sought to control the overflowing life that found a vent in theatre-going. The theatre also encouraged luxury, causing the people to wander away from the paths of economy, and to desire the elaborate houses, furniture, and clothing they saw upon the stage.

The strict control exercised over the actors was not all due to the desire of the governing classes to elevate and improve the governed. It was part of their plan to keep back the natural democracy of the people, which, like a rising tide, threatened to grow stronger than was good for the welfare of the shogunate.

Murdoch in his History of Japan, in characterising the rule of the Shoguns, touches the core of the matter when he says:

“The Yedo machine of mediocrities had converted Japan from a progressive into a stationary state, chiefly because the Tokugawa flunkeys of those days wished to preserve their own position....”

And it was the officials of government who were under the conviction that the theatre and actors were a source of moral corruption, and in consequence saw to it that this particular sphere of influence was segregated to special sites in the three towns, much in the same way that the “gay quarters” were separated from the ordinary channels of life.

But this was not sufficient restraint, and social intercourse with the townsmen was forbidden. To complete the social boycott the actors were obliged to reside together, were prohibited from going far from their homes and ordered to keep well within their own preserves; they could not mingle with the people unless they wore a deep basket-like straw hat that hid their faces from sight.

[163]Saruwaka Kansaburo, in 1624, in compliance with the Shogun’s order sang a sailor’s song at the helm of the Shogun’s pleasure boat, and in 1648 he and his followers were summoned to the Shogun’s palace to show their art.

But in 1719, when the mother of the eighth Shogun, Yoshimune, and his children wished to see dancing and were about to send for the actors, the officials opposed the plan, reminding them of Yenoshima, the Court lady, and her scandal with the actor Ikushima Shingoro. Doll performers were ordered to attend instead.

As for the status of the yakusha, it fell very low indeed after Saruwaka Sansaburo’s time, for they were ranked among the lowest classes, but one degree removed from the eta, the pariah class. In the census lists they were not entered as other men, but were noted by the numeral suffix, then used in the enumeration of cattle.

Although it was the deliberate aim of the Government to lower the standing of the actors, it is clear they were not placed on the same level as those outcasts of society, the eta, as is seen from a judgement given in a law court in 1708.

Satsuma Kogenda held a Kabuki performance in a village called Masaki, in the Province of Awa. The eta were debarred from attendance, and three hundred of them living in the neighbourhood were so enraged, they attacked and destroyed the theatre. A representative of the outcasts filed a suit in court against the theatre-owner and actors, as well as the musicians, but a decision was given in favour of the theatre, and the leaders among the eta who had instigated the attack were sentenced to exile.

In Okina Gusa (lit., Old Man Sayings) there is an account which well illustrates the social attitude towards the actor. Kirinoya Gonjuro, who acted chiefly in Osaka and Kyoto, was the son of a flower-arrangement teacher. A certain official living in Kyoto belonged to the same school of flower-arrangement as the actor’s father, and the two were on friendly terms. When Kirinoya was appearing in Kyoto he had to go to the magistrate’s office on some [164]business connected with the theatre, and the official discovered that his friend’s son had joined the ranks of the vulgar Kabuki players. He ordered Kirinoya to call at his residence, and when he did so he would not allow him to enter, but commanded him to prostrate himself on the ground before the entrance, and is reported to have said to him:

“Although I have been a friend of your father, your status in society is quite beyond the pale of intercourse. If you cease to be an actor I will allow you to enter my house and will renew our friendship, but not otherwise.”

The actor, quite overcome at this prejudiced attitude, replied:

“I thank you for your kindness, but it is impossible for me to give up my profession. Although I have thus lowered myself in the social scale, I am chief among the actors, and there are many of my followers who are dependent upon me for a livelihood. I cannot deprive them of this. Even among us who are despised there is loyalty and fidelity, and I have no other course but to follow my profession. In this case I cannot see you again.”

Another sidelight upon the social prejudice against actors is shown by a story that is told of Kosagawa Juyemon, a samurai in the service of a certain feudal lord, who had become an actor from choice. A member of his family went to the theatre where he was employed, and being informed that he was acting under his own name grew so infuriated that he threatened to kill the young man, but was finally pacified by the people of the theatre.

In Kabuki Koto Hajime, or the Beginnings of Kabuki, the author rises to the defence of the actor: “The Kawara Kojiki (Riverside Beggars) all belonged to the common people. But this was not so in reality. They washed and cleaned their bodies before praying for the safety and prosperity of the country. What is said of them is not true.”

Dr. Yuzo Tsubouchi, one of the leading modern [165]dramatists, in commenting on the prejudice against the actors, writes: “Many persons despised them and still harboured against them the prejudice which had originated in the tradition that they had been put under the control of the eta during the Kamakura shogunate. Even at the close of the Tokugawa rule they were not looked upon as respectable citizens, and consequently the military class studiously avoided intercourse with them and refrained from visiting the theatre.”

In a similar strain the late Rev. Arthur Lloyd says in his Notes on Japanese Drama in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan: “The shibai had but a poor reputation. No samurai or respectable person would have degraded himself by attendance at a performance. They were compelled to live like eta, in Ghettos or districts of their own, being shunned by all persons of position or repute. It was folly to expect anything at all noble or inspiring from persons compelled to live in such surroundings, and it speaks volumes for the despised play-actors and playwrights that they did not sink lower.”

Captain Francis Brinkley in the chapter dealing with Refinements and Pastimes in his Japan: its History, Arts and Literature, writes as follows regarding the attitude toward the actors of Meiji: “Ichikawa Danjuro and Onoe Kikugoro, the princes of the stage at present, would long ago have earned a world-wide reputation had their lot been cast in any Western country. There cannot be any second opinion about their capacities, or about their title to rank with the great tragedians of the world. But in their own country, though their names are household words, taint of their profession clings to them still. Men speak of them as a ballet dancer of extraordinary agility or a banjo player of eminent skill would be spoken of in Europe or America—renowned exponents of a renownless art.”

Undoubtedly this attitude of the upper classes had much to do with the triviality and vulgarity that existed in the theatre. But on the other hand, the isolated actors and [166]playwrights belonged all the more to the theatre. Left without leadership, they worked out their own salvation, and made their own standards. Lacking the stimulus that the recognition and encouragement of the highest in the land might have given them, they were able through their own innate sense of art and unerring desire for beauty to bring about the present rich accumulation of artistic forces within Kabuki which may yet be an impetus to the Western theatre, hungry as it is for just such fare as Kabuki is able to provide so bountifully.

When all is considered the yakusha was more sinned against than sinning. In fact, he was often more cultivated than the ordinary citizen, even the samurai who, especially in the lower ranks, were merely rough, unlearned soldiery, and often knew nothing of courtesy or manners. “Too often”, says Fenollosa, “we have read that the whole brilliancy and value of Japan lay in her samurai.”

The yakusha excelled in military arts, they used judo and fencing with good effect on the stage, and were expert in swordsmanship. They were obliged to be skilled counterfeiters of the samurai, since the most popular plays were those dealing with the exploits of the two-sworded hero, and nothing pleased playgoers better than to see the stately daimyo and his loyal retainers represented on the stage, for they were personages so far removed from the everyday life of the plain citizen.

After all, it was the outcast yakusha who upheld the flower of chivalry and idealised the faithfulness of man for master, loyalty and self-sacrifice, the favourite themes of the plays.

Again, it was the yakusha, held in such low esteem, who was to keep alive the feudal age, long after it had passed away. And it is the yakusha to-day who maintains the dignity of bearing and represents the heroic deeds of the samurai, when many of their descendants have wellnigh forgotten the principles that actuated their ancestors.

Nakamura Kichiyemon as Kumagae, a warrior of Old Japan.




One of the most remarkable customs connected with theatre going was the unearthly hour in the morning the shibai opened. Just before dawn, or between four and five o’clock, the big drum in the drum-tower was beaten as a signal that the performances were about to begin.

Those who lived near the theatres were obliged to hurry over an early breakfast that they might reach the playhouse by sunrise, but to the playgoers who were obliged to walk miles on foot, or countryfolk bent on seeing the famous actors, it was a matter of lengthy preparations the day before, and their journey shibaiwards was begun in the darkness of night. To a woman especially it was a serious undertaking to attend shibai, because hours were spent in oiling and arranging the hair, bathing, dressing, and making the face as attractive as possible with paint and powder.

Only the most enthusiastic playgoers planned on reaching the shibai in time for the first piece, and it was customary for people to stay overnight at the shibai chaya, or at an inn to be in readiness for the great event. To children allowed to accompany their elders the excitement preparatory to setting forth in the dead of night must have made these unforgettable occasions thrilling adventures. If by chance the grandparents formed part of the party, the child would listen to reminiscences of the fathers and grandfathers of the actors then playing, and the youthful playgoers when grown up would in turn recall their early visits to shibai, [170]the long day spent in the theatre, the dinner at sunset in the tea-house, after which came the return homeward.

By the time the first golden rays of the sun were gilding the grey-tiled roofs of the town, people might have been seen coming from all directions to theatre street, where the scenes were so lively that, according to an old book, Kokon Yakusha Taizen, or Ancient and Modern Actors, “the prosperity seen outside the shibai every day cannot be expressed by a writing brush”.

And, indeed, the excitement of arrival must have compensated for the loss of sleep and long travel, for there was noise and confusion outside the theatre where the bill-boards, gorgeous posters depicting the characters in the play in brilliant colours on powdered gold backgrounds, glistened in the sunlight, the many coloured flags, presented to the actors on which their names were to be seen, floated bravely in the breeze, and rows of lanterns bearing the actor’s crest decorated the theatre inside and out.

In a translation made by the late Lord Redesdale and published in The Far East Magazine in 1871, there is a description of the shibai taken from an old book about the sights of Yedo, which gives an intimate picture of the interior as it looked to a playgoer of that day.

“The gallery ... is hung with curtains as bright as the rainbow in the departing clouds. The place soon becomes so crowded that the heads of the spectators are like the scales on a dragon’s back. When the play begins, if the subject be tragic, the spectators are so affected that they weep till they have to wring their sleeves dry. If the piece be comic they laugh till their chins are out of joint. The tricks and stratagems of the drama baffle description, and the actors are as graceful as the flight of the swallows. The triumph of persecuted virtue and the punishment of wickedness invariably crown the story. When a favourite actor makes his appearance his entry is hailed with cheers. Fun and diversion are the order of the day, and rich and poor alike forget the cares which they have left behind them [171]at home; and yet it is not all idle amusement, for there is a moral included and a practical sermon in every play.”

As a testimonial to the respect the actors felt for their high calling, and a link with the ceremonial traditions of theatricals in Japan, it was the custom for a comic dance, or Sambasso, to precede the regular performances, and this was given before the sun had risen.

Originally Sambasso was a mirth-provoking dance performed in the courtyards of Shinto shrines to give pleasure to the gods. Sambasso is the masked figure of a jovial old man clad in ample robes bearing designs of large white storks, pine branches, tortoises and other emblems of good luck. He moves to the slow measures of flute and drum, postures with a fan, or shakes a bunch of bells used in the kagura, or Shinto dances. This ancient performance long ago passed into the possession of the Nō stage, became one of its most treasured ceremonies, is given on auspicious occasions, the secrets jealously guarded and handed down from father to son, the actors fasting and cleansing themselves before taking part in it.

Both the Doll-theatre and Kabuki appropriated Sambasso, modifying it to suit their own requirements. As to its outer appearance, the figure was a venerable old personage, but in fact it was believed to be the personification of one of the great deities worshipped at a chief Shinto shrine. This top-heavy, humoresque dancer, one of the most ancient theatrical figures extant in the world, that is faithfully preserved to-day and has a thousand years behind it, was looked upon by the theatre-folk with the deepest reverence and awe, since the performance of this dance meant the purification of the stage. It is well to recall this, when the yakusha of Old Japan are stigmatised as vicious, plebeian, loose, and immoral.

A picture of the stage in the early hours of the day, before the sun had made its appearance, is found in the old record of shibai, Kokon Yakusha Taizen, or Ancient and Modern Actors.

[172]It tells how above the heads of the audience there were lanterns on which were to be seen the actors’ crests, and suspended from the gallery hung others bearing the symbols of the tea-houses. In front of the stage many candles were seen burning. First, there was the Sambasso dance, and after this all the play actors with the principal actor in advance made their entrance upon the stage, each carrying a lighted candle in his hand and clad in ceremonial skirts, long and voluminous, that encased their feet and flowed yards behind them like a lady’s train—the same costume worn by the great daimyo when attending social and state functions at the Shogun’s Court. The spokesman for the actors asked the patronage of the audience for ten thousand years, meaning to the end of time, a characteristic salutation of Asia, and in response the audience signified their appreciation by clapping their hands.

When the actors had retired, music was heard and an auspicious song was sung, the Shikainami, or Waves of the Four Seas, a passage from Takasago, a Nō play in which a prayer is made for the peace of the world and the smoothness of the waves in the four seas.

Following this, an announcement of the programme was read by a dignitary of the theatre. He began by crying out in a ringing voice: “Tozai! Tozai!” or “East-West! East-West!” This was to call the attention of people to the east and the west, and, indeed, in all parts of the theatre, who were thus admonished to listen to the important details of the plays to be acted. These men knelt down on the stage in front of the curtain, and read the programme in a peculiar style and with a flourish that belonged to the theatre. Gradually they became few in number, their salaries were decreased, and their place in the theatre was less and less recognised. The custom is now and then seen to-day, particularly at the beginning of Takeda Izumo’s Chushingura. A puppet announcer is placed outside the curtain and manipulated from behind, the doll going through the motions of an animated delivery of details [173]connected with the play while an actor behind is responsible for the words.

Special performances were given four times a year, when the shibai ceremonial had a distinct place of its own; these were the celebration of the New Year, Spring, the Bon, or Festival of the Dead, in midsummer, and the opening of the shibai season in November. One of the most interesting of these was the Kaomise, or Face-Showing ceremony, on which occasion the actors were displayed before the admiring gaze of the audience, not as characters in a play, but in their own persons, to ask for the patronage of the people. It was a gracious acknowledgement of their close relationship to the audience, and at the same time gave expression to a subtle flattery of the playgoers, whom they thus took into full confidence as an essential part of the theatre.

The Kaomise was generally held in November with the inauguration of new theatrical season. At this time the actors prayed for the peace of the country and a bountiful harvest. Elaborate preparations were made. The night before many gay lanterns were seen on the theatre streets, even before the smallest and most insignificant of buildings. The actors’ residences as well as the shibai tea-houses were bright with crested lanterns, and large ones were placed at the entrance to the theatre and on each side of the actors’ dressing-rooms. It was a veritable feast of lanterns.

At this time the actors who had been engaged for the season were announced. It meant a new combination of players, for Kyoto and Osaka yakusha would come to Yedo, and vice versa. The playwrights and musicians who were to serve the theatre for the ensuing year were also secured, and proper announcements made during the Kaomise, as well as the forthcoming plays, whether newly written or old favourites in a new guise.

In the Kaomise ceremony the actors came to the stage by turns, and addressing the audience in an intimate way told what characters they would play, that they were glad [174]to see the audience, and asked for their favour. This took up a great deal of time, but the occasion was gay and pleasant, and formed a fitting beginning to the theatre season. On the first day there was no charge for admission, and after the actors had introduced themselves special plays were performed.

Details of the Kaomise differed in the three towns, and varied according to the taste of the actors, who improvised to suit their own fancy. In Osaka, according to the Kokon Yakusha Taizen, the Kaomise was given seven times in succession, beginning in the evening and terminating in the small hours of the next day. Lanterns festooned the Dotombori, Osaka’s chief theatre street, bearing the crests of the leading actors. Gifts to the actors consisting of tubs of sake, bales of rice, dried fish, etc., were piled up so high as to reach the drum-tower. Playgoers came in boats by way of the Dotombori canal, the town being transected, then as now, by innumerable waterways. The author declares that the Osaka Kaomise was superior in attractions to similar ceremonies in Yedo or Kyoto, and that the scene was so fine that words could not be found to give it adequate description.

The dignity of the theatre was again shown in the Kojo, another announcement ceremony, when a promotion in rank, succession to a new stage name, or accession to the headship of an illustrious actor-family was made known to the audience. At such times the actors prostrated themselves on the stage, their heads touching their outspread hands. Then the chief actor would raise his face and speak on behalf of the actor whose change in rank or name was thus announced. He would in his turn, with the utmost modesty and humility, ask the audience to be lenient with his many mistakes, but that he hoped to improve and to please them in the future.

Among the many actor customs there was the Ashigoroye, or Arranging-the-Feet-in-Good-Order. Previous to the opening day of a new performance, the young actors [175]would assemble outside the theatre and then proceed to the residence of the head of the company, their chief, who would receive them in state, sitting in a place of ceremony. The guests were clad in their best garments, and each one would receive a cup of sake from the host and return it to him. After partaking of a feast, all were requested to contribute to the evening’s entertainment by a song or dance. This custom gradually disappeared.

In connection with the November Kaomise there was a social gathering of the theatre people called the Yosehajime, or Getting-Together-for-the-First-Time. The men employed in the business management of the theatre attired in their best, carrying large lanterns in their hands adorned with the crest of the theatre, proceeded to the homes of the actors, where they were received and a fine repast spread before them.

Then the chief actors repaired to the residence of the theatre manager where they were warmly welcomed, while the onnagata gathered at the home of the leading onnagata, as might have been expected of such lady-like players.

At length actors, playwrights, managers, and musicians, all those engaged for the year to fill their respective niches in the theatre world, assembled outside the shibai just beneath the drum-tower, a goodly company of theatre-folk on the best of terms with one another. Under the leadership of the manager, they entered the theatre where a banquet was held in a room behind the stage.

To mark the opening of the theatre season when actors, playwrights, and musicians were engaged, there was a gathering called Seeing-For-The-First-Time. (Colour print by Torii Kiyonaga.)

There is a colour print by Torii Kiyonaga, painted and printed in 1784, depicting this custom so faithfully that it brings the scene vividly before our eyes. It shows the low two-storied houses on each side of theatre street in Yedo, with a glimpse of the drum-tower of the Nakamura-za to the right. On the big lanterns elevated on poles on each side of the theatre entrances, are seen the crests that recall the dream of Saruwaka Kansaburo, the founder of Yedo Kabuki, while waiting for a licence to open his theatre. He dreamed that a stork with a branch of an icho tree in [176]its beak flew from the summit of Mount Fuji and entered his house. He took this as a good omen for his new enterprise, and the theatre crests were chosen in accordance with his dream. In Kiyonaga’s print a flying stork is seen on one lantern, a fan-shaped icho leaf on the other, while these two emblems of the Nakamura-za are represented on the paper spheres adorning the tea-houses and actors’ residences that line each side of the narrow thoroughfare.

In this picture the representatives of the theatre world are clad in the silk shirts and the stiff upper garments, or kamishimo, worn over the shoulders and tucked into their belts, that distinguished the gentleman of that day. If the yakusha were spoken of as riverside beggars, they still clung to the conventional garb of the middle and upper classes at that time worn in Japan. They also carried a sword in their belts, which was the privilege of the samurai. But this concession had been allowed since the Shogun had issued an order that the actors should be taught morality, and as a step towards their “uplift” it was commanded that they should be neatly dressed and wear a sword on leaving the theatre. When the play was over, the chief actor was escorted home by two young actors, a servant bearing a chest of clothing. The onnagata was accompanied to his house by attendants, one holding a big protecting umbrella over the head of the creator of feminine rôles.

With a similar display of dignity, the actor made his round of calls during the New Year season, the sleeves of his kimono bearing the crest of his family, a retinue following in his wake, the cynosure of all eyes as he passed through the admiring throngs of holiday-makers.

There were interesting customs in connection with the door-keepers. They were strangely costumed in long trailing women’s kimono, of vivid hues and bearing loud designs, thrown on carelessly over their ordinary wearing apparel, ostensibly to keep themselves warm, as they sat for long hours on raised platforms just outside the entrance doors, but in reality this striking attire was assumed to attract the [177]attention of the public. Over their heads and drawn down over their ears were towels that were dyed with the crest of the chief actor of the theatre. One of these men was busy dealing out the tickets, long oblong pieces of wood, on which were written the big black Chinese characters denoting the place in the theatre it entitled the purchaser to take. The second door-keeper was more of a persuader than a distributor of wooden tickets, for with fan in hand he gesticulated while he loudly advertised the plays and players, sometimes imitating the delivery of the actor’s lines. His task was to keep up a flow of small talk, interspersed with wit and humour, and so induce people to enter.

ADVERTISING THE PLAY. During the performances two men garbed in long trailing feminine attire, their heads covered with cotton towels, attracted the passers-by by their verbal advertisement. One imitated the lines of the actors, and the other handed out wooden tickets. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kanpei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada.)

Previous to the opening day, the door-keepers read the names of the plays, the actors, and their parts. Dressed in their womanish kimono they presented an extraordinary sight, as, holding between them a long paper scroll on which the programme was written, they delivered their voluble announcement to the crowds anxious to hear news of what was going forward in the shibai.

With a change of programme, the actors and their rôles were advertised to the public by an actor’s crest board, narrow pieces of wood with the crest at the top. These were arranged side by side outside the shibai.

One of the most interesting customs was the kamban, or bill-board on which paintings of a high order were frequently to be seen. These posters illustrating the plays, done in bright colours, were hung on kamban that were bordered by wide lacquered frames often richly ornamented with brass, and placed along the front of the shibai.

A special school of painters was called into being to look after these pictorial advertisements, and they became the specialty of the Torii family. They were first started in Genroku by an actor-founder of this line of theatre artists. Less beautiful street posters were pasted up on fences and houses where several roads met.

With the beginning of Kabuki, the shibai advertisements consisted of boards on which Chinese characters were [178]written. Later on, in Kyoto these simple announcements were framed and decorated with artificial flowers. To make them even more attractive an actor pasted a picture on the board. These posters were placed in the street to proclaim to the passer-by the nature of the coming performances. This custom originated with Nagoya Sansaburo, when he sought to make O-Kuni’s river-bed show widely known. He was the first person to write announcements on wood in Chinese characters and to set them up at the cross-roads.

The founder of the Torii family was an Osaka actor, who followed the onnagata specialty, but painting was his hobby, and he began to make pictures for the kamban of Dotombori. Later he removed to Yedo. His son, Kiyonobu, inherited his father’s talent, and as his style of painting greatly pleased the Yedo people, he soon became very popular and was called Torii, the first.

It is recorded that an artist of another school was requested to make the Yedo Kamban. In 1818 there was a disagreement between the then reigning theatre artist Torii Kiyomitsu and the management of the Kawarazaki-za, with the result that Utagawa Kuniyoshi was asked to undertake the work. He chose for his subject O-Kuni Kabuki, and treated it so well that all Yedo made a pilgrimage to gaze upon the picture, and the plays in progress within the shibai proved to be of lesser attraction. This not only resulted in a falling-off in attendance, but shortly after the theatre was burned down, and the superstitious playfolk traced this ill luck to the absence of the Torii posters. They hurried back to him, and he continued to monopolise this feature of shibai. To-day the traditions are being carried on with much success by Torii Kiyotada, the seventh Torii to be associated with the work of painting shibai posters.

The different members of the Torii school have also been responsible for the banzuke, or illustrated theatre programmes, that are sent out by an actor to his patrons or by the theatre to its supporters. The banzuke consists of a large piece of paper on which are seen brush sketches [179]of the plays and characters. These are neatly folded, and give the playgoers the whole story of the new programme. This old custom is still in force.

Shibai chaya, or the tea-houses that served playgoers, are not to-day what they were in former times, since their usefulness has practically departed. In the brave days of old, the chaya were influential institutions, for no respectable persons would dream of entering the shibai by any other way than through the tea-house.

Owing to the long theatre hours, which continued from sunrise to sunset, the chaya became a positive necessity. The intervals between the curtains were often very long, for the actors and their dependents performed their work in a leisurely manner, considerations of time scarcely entering into their calculations, as the plays went on from twelve to fourteen hours.

Moreover, there were no conveniences in connection with the shibai of those days, and it was necessary for every one to seek out the chaya for recreation, gossip, food, or rest. Although the samurai were not supposed to be seen at such a vulgar entertainment as the shibai, he managed to be a frequent visitor, often attending incognito. If he went in his proper attire, he carried two swords thrust through his waistband, and when such a dignitary condescended to witness the plays, his precious weapon, often a family treasure, had to be deposited in the chaya before he could kneel down to enjoy himself in his box in the gallery.

There were many kinds of chaya attached to shibai,—the great chaya, or first-class tea-houses, in close proximity to the theatre, and the front chaya, or those somewhat detached, generally opposite. Many little chaya or small places of business, were also to be found. A first-class theatre had as many as nineteen chief tea-houses, twenty-eight of a slightly different grade, and a great variety of minor places. The maids of the tea-houses waited on their guests with tea and cakes, cushions, tobacco, and the chaya [180]vied with each other in the cooking of tempting dishes. The old customs with regard to the tea-house in Tokyo were to be seen at the Ichimura-za until the earthquake disaster, where much that characterised the Yedo playhouses was preserved.

Kyoto audiences were unaccustomed to applaud in the early period of Kabuki. They discussed the plays and players and gossiped among themselves. If a playgoer wished to tell an actor how well he had done, he would write a note to this effect and have it sent into his dressing-room. Osaka audiences were not so restrained, and early in Genroku it was the custom for the Dotombori playgoers to shout and clap their hands. The actors were much gratified, for, like members of their fraternity in other parts of the world, they were not above playing to the gallery.

The first time a person in an audience in Osaka dared to express the pleasure the actors had given him, he shouted out loudly, “You did very well!” There were occasions, however, when the enthusiasts in the audience used complicated sentences when bestowing praise, and so interfered with the plays.

The audience was also quick to show disappointment at the failure of the players and did not hesitate to shower them with adverse criticism, some quick-tempered persons throwing cushions and other objects at the stage if the play did not suit them.

Yedo was not far behind Osaka in noisy demonstrations, and the audiences of present-day Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto still maintain the characteristics that distinguished their ancestors two hundred years ago.

Quite necessary to the management of an audience that remained under the roof of the theatre for twelve hours were the dekata, or servitors of shibai. The rank and file of the dekata were ushers, and wore dark kimono tucked into baggy Turkish trousers. They showed the people to their seats, brought them cushions on which to kneel, supplied them with programmes, tea, cakes, and tobacco, [181]and were as busy as the denizens of an ant-hill the entire day.

There were two divisions of dekata, headed by leaders, or managers whose higher rank permitted them to wear haori, or overcoats, which sometimes bore the crest of the theatre. The duty of some of these servants was to wait upon the actors in their comings and goings. Others had charge of the seats in the gallery reserved for special playgoers. Two of these men were selected to sit on either side of the stage, to see that the play was not disturbed, for the presence of a fighting man who had partaken not wisely but too well of sake would sometimes cause great confusion.

Another was stationed at the end of the hanamichi, where some of the best acting was done. His special duties, as keeper of the way, were to see that it was kept clear for the entrances and exits of the actors. Others were given the task to guard the actors’ dressing-rooms, to prevent the intrusion of unwelcome outsiders, who sometimes strayed unbidden into the calm atmosphere of the world over which the actors held sway.

While the dekata wore dun-coloured garments, the personal servants of the actors were truly theatrical in appearance, for they donned bright blue or red kimono that had for pattern a design showing the crest of the actor to whom they were attached. It was their custom to pay special courtesies to a patron of their chief when he visited the theatre, and the more consequential or wealthy this individual happened to be, the greater the number of actor attendants who waited upon him, which marked him out as a playgoer of first importance.

FACE LIGHTS FOR THE ACTORS. When the theatre became dark it was necessary to illumine the actor’s face with candle light. Here property men are holding out candles on the ends of pliant rods that the face of the dancer may be seen, and candles form the foot lights. The performer is the serpent princess in the disguise of a beautiful dancer in the piece Dojo-ji. (Colour print by Hasegawa Kanpei, the fourteenth, and Torii Kiyosada, father of Kiyotada.)

For footlights, there were candles set in tall wooden candlesticks along the front of the stage. These were not sufficient on a stormy or gloomy day, and tsura akari, or face-lights, were introduced the better to illuminate the actor’s countenance and costume. Stage assistants to right and left held these candles up, adapting themselves with great dexterity to the movements of the actors.

[182]Now and then this custom is still to be seen in the theatres of Tokyo and Osaka, when the effect is so pleasing that the electric light with its harsh glare appears to be anything but a happy invention for stage illumination.

Perhaps one of the most picturesque shibai customs in Yedo was the ceremony of Norikomi,—literally, to-come-riding. When an Osaka or Kyoto actor travelled along the Tokaido, the main highway between Kyoto and Yedo, he was accorded a special reception at the end of his long journey, and was generally met some distance out of Yedo.

His means of conveyance was a kago, or palanquin, something after the fashion of a sedan chair, which was firmly fastened to a stout pole borne on the shoulders of many bearers in front and behind. Often an actor of importance accompanied by his pupils and servants made quite a retinue, and caused a small sensation among the townspeople as the procession wound through the streets.

When the visiting actor drew near the theatre that had engaged him, the entire fraternity of shibai people, dressed in kimono of the same colour, waving fans, came out to meet the newcomer and shouted a noisy welcome, clapped their hands in regular rhythms, to which the actor would respond by clapping his own. Afterwards a feast was spread and sake cups exchanged. This began in Yedo, and was also observed in Osaka, but the Yedo Norikomi was always much more gay and festive.

These are a few of the many interesting shibai customs that were in vogue in Yedo, Osaka, and Kyoto, before such world events as the Declaration of American Independence or the French Revolution.

Ceremony of welcoming an actor. It represents the onnagata, Segawa Kikunojo, returning to the Nakamura-za in Yedo after an absence of two years in Osaka. (From a colour print by Utagawa Toyokuni.)



The rills of outside influence that trickled into shibai during the 225 years of Tokugawa peace were very small, but the real hunger of the people for knowledge from overseas is shown in the eagerness with which Kabuki appropriated such information as could be smuggled into the country.

From the time that O-Kuni and her successors wore rosaries with the cross attached as a decoration for their stage costumes, Kabuki exhibited receptiveness to imported ideas from Europe and China.

When O-Kuni was attracting the populace of Kyoto everything European became suddenly the vogue. Murdoch in his History of Japan refers to this period of Western influence as follows: “Western dress became so common that on casually meeting a crowd of courtiers it was difficult to say at once whether they were Portuguese or Japanese. To imitate the Portuguese some of the most ardent votaries of fashion even went so far as to commit the paternoster and the Ave Maria to memory. Reliquaries and rosaries were eagerly bought; all the lords, Hideyoshi and his nephew, went about with crucifixes and reliquaries hanging from their necks, a tribute not to piety, but to fashion.” Murdoch also mentions a feudal lord who marched to Yedo at the head of two thousand picked men, whose banners all bore beautiful crosses, while on his own helmet was a great “Jesus” in gold.

It was in the middle of the sixteenth century that the relations between Japan and the West first began, with the [184]coming of the Portuguese ships to the coast of Kyushu in 1543. They were followed by the Spanish, English, and Dutch. Xavier reached Japan in 1549 and left in 1551.

As the result of the Jesuit missionaries’ activities, Christianity spread in the neighbourhood of Kyoto, where churches were built. An English factory was established in Japan in 1613, but withdrew ten years later. The Jesuits came to be looked upon as political intriguers, and Hideyoshi issued orders to suppress Christianity. The expulsion of the Spaniards took place in 1624, followed by edicts against the Portuguese and Dutch.

By 1630 Western books were interdicted, and in 1635 all travelling abroad was prohibited under penalty of death. Ninety years after the first arrival of the Portuguese ships, foreign intercourse was forbidden, except with the Dutch and Chinese under severe restrictions. So rigorous were the measures taken against Christianity that by 1638 it had been practically extirpated.

This did not prevent the people from evincing great curiosity with regard to the unknown lands beyond the seas, and references to the forbidden subject were frequent in the plays, particularly those written for the marionettes. In these old pieces the playwrights equipped their characters with the firearms introduced by the Portuguese, who had given instruction how to make guns and cast cannon.

In one of these plays a telescope is seen, which two comedians use with such telling effect that they can see the approach of the heroine from afar. Other characters take out spectacles the better to see to read by the light of the oil wick in the andon, or portable paper lantern carried about to illuminate a room.

This early period of intercourse with other lands produced an unmistakable effect upon stage costumes. Many of them have been carefully preserved, and may be seen to-day. They are generally fastened in the front by many buttons, and are made of materials never in common use in Japan.

[185]In a play written long ago a line occurs with the words: “Love is a magnet”. And in one of the eighteen hereditary pieces of the Ichikawa family the theme of magnetism is dramatised.

Records are left to tell how various actors travelled to Nagasaki. This was not a theatre centre, and it may be surmised that the quest was made to obtain information from the Dutch, who were allowed to live at Deshima, a small island outside Nagasaki harbour. Here they were confined and allowed to trade, but were refused permission to put foot on the mainland. A gay dance known in shibai by the un-Japanese name of Kappore, is thought to have had a Western origin. Some actor or musician must have witnessed the sailors of a trading ship performing in a treaty port.

The treatment of the Chinese during the Tokugawa regime was much better than that meted out to the Dutch. The Ming dynasty in China was overthrown in 1644, and this brought many refugees to Japan. The Chinese were free to move about the country, to have their own quarters, and to build temples. Among them were traders, scholars, artists, and doctors. It is not unlikely that actors, or those familiar with the Chinese theatre, were also among the representatives of China in Japan at that time. Fenollosa mentions that complex Chinese movements of every variety were surging about Kyoto in Horeki (1751–1763), and that Japanese scholars obtaining painted scrolls and books in Nagasaki returned to Kyoto or Yedo laden down with them. Some indirect influence may have been brought to bear upon Kabuki and Ningyo-shibai from these sources.

Aragoto, or the rough acting of Ichikawa Danjuro, the first, was closely akin to the principles uppermost on the Chinese stage. His strange make-up, broad lines of black or red, or combinations of black, blue, and red, are acknowledged to have come from China, and other methods of making-up used on the doll-stage, later copied by the yakusha, are undoubtedly of Chinese origin, as may easily [186]be seen by comparison with the present-day conventions on the Peking stage.

It was in the matter of stage costumes that Chinese influence was greatest. Weavers had been brought over from China in Hideyoshi’s time and were gradually assimilated with native workers. The making of textiles reached the height of development in the Genroku age. This importation of materials, rich in design and colour, had a remarkable effect upon the costumes of the Nō stage, and to a considerable extent also upon Kabuki and Ningyo-shibai. Rare stuffs, woollen and velvet from Holland, were worn on the stage; gold brocades and embroideries from China. Wigs were also greatly improved at this time, and beards, probably from the Chinese theatre, began to be used.

In the Kabuki chronicles it is stated that a painting of Ichikawa Danjuro, the second, was taken to China by traders plying between Nagasaki and the Chinese ports, and it seems likely that the yakusha became familiar with some of the favourite Chinese actors.

In his Notes on Japanese Drama in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society, the late Rev. Arthur Lloyd suggests the possible influence of the West on shibai. He says:

“In 1603 the Spaniards had been fifty years in Japan, and they were not all priests and missionaries. Sailors and merchants came, too, many of whom would associate with Japanese, and some probably with Japanese of the class to which O-Kuni and her husband, the ex-samurai, belonged. Such men would naturally possess copies of some of Lope de Vega’s comedies, and thus may have come to Japan the seed from which grew the Kabuki theatre.”

This is pure conjecture on Mr. Lloyd’s part, but he used it to throw light on the proscription of Kabuki plays, and explained that there were other licentious practices in Japan in the seventeenth century which were not interfered with, and that the proscription would become intelligible and consistent if there was but a shadow of ground for [187]suspicion that the shibai and the Spaniard were even remotely connected.

Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka as a melancholy lover in a play of the people.

This view may be to some extent true, for the ever-suspicious authorities were aware that the best avenue for the forbidden knowledge to reach the people was the shibai, and hence their anxiety to prevent the spread of radical ideas. Many incidents attest to this watchfulness on the part of the officials. It is recorded that the father of the third Nakamura Utayemon received magic power from a foreigner in a rôle that required him to make a sudden transformation into a ghost.

Again, Tsuruya Namboku, a playwright who specialised in the ghostly, wrote a piece with a sea rover, Tenjiku Tokubei, as hero, and as it was necessary to effect a quick change in the stage management, the alert censor suspected that Namboku had secured his information from Christians, who were supposed to be devoted to magic methods. Namboku was arrested, but was released, as there was not sufficient evidence to prove that he had been in league with Occidentals.

Tsuruya Namboku created a character in Tenjiku Tokubei that has outlived generations of actors and remains popular with modern audiences. Tokubei sailed away on unknown seas to India and returned with wealth greater than that of a daimyo, many strange tales to relate, and curious articles to exhibit. Such a play must have been of lively interest to the shut-in people of Japan, who were gradually awakening to the attractions of the world without.

The costume of this sea adventurer is a most remarkable one, and no doubt reflects the knowledge of Western clothing as it existed in Japan a century ago, in Namboku’s time. It is a long coat of strange brown material, belted in at the waist with a brass buckle for ornament; the hat a circular affair banded with fur and crowned with a quaint top-knot.

He finds that the girl he loves has become the concubine of the feudal lord whose territory is adjacent to his village. Tokubei gains audience of the lord and with great pride [188]exhibits his fire-sticks (matches), crocodile skins, sneezing powders (snuff), and perfumes. He discusses with his host how the conquest of India may be effected. But the conservative aristocrat turns a deaf ear to Tokubei’s tales, and accuses him of harbouring Christian heresies. Kicking aside his offerings the host leaves the room in disgust.

At home with his parents Tokubei is warned that the police are coming to arrest him for practising Christian witchcraft. In the last scene he appears on his scarlet sailing ship decorated with many brilliant colours. There is a fight on board, a pardon arrives from the lord, but at the same time he learns that his love, O-Tae, in despair, has taken her life.

His native land holds nothing for him—better far that he follow the fortunes of the sea. He gives the order to sail, and the big vessel begins to turn, creaking and straining until the prow projects well over the footlights, as though it would sail straight through the audience.

Tokubei stands at the prow reading O-Tae’s farewell letter, which is so long it reaches down over the side of the craft. The great white square sail is hoisted, and the vessel points out to the imaginary ocean, the gorgeous scarlet junk, with its sail full of the mystery of sea-going, recalling dim memories of pirate tales which charmed in childhood.

In an article contributed to a theatre magazine, Ihara Seiseiin tells how he discovered the plot of Romeo and Juliet in a comedy by Tsuruya Namboku, that indefatigable seeker after weird material for his plays. The coincidence is attributed to the fact that at the time the play was written, during Bunka (1804–1817), the Dutch were in Nagasaki and may have produced the play, a report of which eventually reached Namboku’s ears.

This work, says Ihara, was a comedy rather than a tragedy, and it was called by the fanciful title, Kokoro no Nazo Tokete Iro Ito (lit., The-Solution-of-the-Heart-Riddle-Coloured-Thread). The last two words of the title were suggestive of the thread shop kept by a widow [189]named O-Ritsu, who had a beautiful young daughter, O-Chiyo, and also refers to the tangled strands of the plot. It was in five acts, the second and third showing Occidental influence. The head clerk, or banto, of the shop was a villain called Sagohei. But O-Chiyo had already bestowed her affections on a ronin, Honjo Tsunagoro. The mother, not in the secret of her daughter’s love affair, settled upon one Kambara Sagoro, and in spite of O-Chiyo’s unwillingness to accept this man as husband the mother went forward with the preparations for the marriage.

The scheming banto, who saw the pretty daughter as well as the prosperous thread business slipping out of his grasp, resorted to desperate measures, and consulted his confidential friend, a doctor called Torin. From him a quantity of poison was secured, but it possessed peculiar qualities, for like Juliet’s potion it produced sham death, and an antidote was to be administered that would bring O-Chiyo back to life.

The conversation concerning the poison was as follows:

Sagohei (turning to the doctor): I say, Torin-san, is this the poison I asked you to prepare?

Torin: Yes, it is. It is called Hammyo. I mixed it with suitetsu, hokyu, and sake, and it will kill a person in one minute. Should it succeed, the bridegroom will be turned out of doors, and you will take his place, also the thread shop will be yours. But I have an antidote that will revive the bride, and she will become your wife. The dead brought back to life! What a fine medicine I possess!

The banto received the deadly poison, and the doctor was just about to hand over the antidote when Sagohei was called away. At the same time the doctor received an urgent call to see a patient. There was nothing left for him to do but to trust the antidote to the little apprentice-boy of the shop.

This worthy went out to buy some pepper to be used in the soup at the marriage feast. When he returned, the boy gave the wicked Sagohei the pepper instead of the [190]antidote, and as the condiment was opened in the dark both Sagohei and the boy sneezed a good deal.

Then came that moment in a Japanese wedding when the bride and bridegroom drink sake from the same cup. One sip of the poisoned sake and O-Chiyo fell dead.

The stage then revolved, showing the kitchen and the sorrowful mother holding an argument with Sagohei as to the disposition of the one hundred ryo that was part of O-Chiyo’s dowry. The mother wished to present it to a temple, but the clerk insisted it should be buried with her.

O-Chiyo’s lover next appeared—discharged from service under his feudal lord because he had been implicated in the loss of a highly treasured poem in the handwriting of the poet. This had been pawned, and in order to redeem it he was obliged to find 250 ryo.

The apprentice-boy threw away the antidote, thinking it was pepper and therefore of no further use now that a calamity had overtaken the house. Tsunagoro picked it up, and the boy told him that 100 ryo was to be buried with the body. A night watchman happened to overhear the boy’s words, and planned to rob the grave, Tsunagoro in desperate need of money decided on the same course. Both the doctor and the clerk had a similar end in view.

A graveyard is the next scene, O-Chiyo’s coffin in sight, while a dead patient has been interred, with O-Chiyo’s name placed over it. Tsunagoro watches, and when the doctor comes prowling about, knocks him out with a blow. At this moment O-Chiyo begins to groan. Tsunagoro wishes to give her the antidote but hesitates. Is it to be the money or the woman? After a struggle, he decides he cannot leave O-Chiyo to die, and so brings her back to life. She gladly parts with the money, but asks him to run away with her, as she does not wish to return home. This the ronin is in no mood to do, but finally they steal away arm in arm as the night watchman and the clerk attempt to rob the grave, and administer the pepper to restore the corpse to life which makes the two rascals [191]sneeze prodigiously. Unlike the majority of Japanese plays that end in tragedy, Tsunagoro and O-Chiyo were married and lived happily ever after.

With such a play Tsuruya Namboku entertained Yedo audiences a hundred years ago.

Had shibai been wide open to the world, and relations with other theatres established, its character must have been entirely different. Very little evidence can be produced to show that either China or Europe exerted any considerable influence upon it.

Owing to its enforced seclusion of more than two hundred years, it was free to develop in its own way, and for this reason shibai may be regarded as one of the purest and most characteristic of Japan’s national institutions.

Crest of Otani Tomoemon
Crest of Kataoka Nizaemon
(Two circles and lines).



Just as the impulse back of shibai had been the need of the people to possess their own theatre, so the rise and development of Joruri during the Tokugawa period was but the spirit of the common people seeking expression in music.

Dignity, tranquillity, and refinement characterised the ancient Court music and the complicated measures of the flute and drum of the Nō stage. Something more cheerful, more stirring and gay, was necessary as refreshment for the people. The instrument that caused a revolution in the musical world of Japan was the samisen (lit., three strings), which opened the floodgates for the inundation of the three towns by the greatest variety of fushi, or tunes.

The samisen was not indigenous, and most accounts agree that it came to Japan from the Loo Choo Islands. Some authors seek a Western origin for the samisen, and think it was brought in by the Portuguese. One old writer believed it to be an instrument used by the savages of Loo Choo Islands, made from the skin of sea snakes. The ancestor of the samisen is to-day carried by strolling minstrels in all the odd corners of China, and must have been introduced into Japan by way of the southern islands where the inhabitants were largely Chinese. The difference that exists at present between the two guitar-like instruments of the Asiatic continent and the Island Empire lies in the bodies,—that of China covered with snake-skin in the natural colours, while white tanned cat-skin serves the same purpose in Japan. The performer in both cases uses a [193]plectrum to strike the three strings and thereby produces a whole world of rhythms unfamiliar to the ears of the Occidental.

The Chinese instrument came to Japan by an indirect route, and was not accompanied by musicians skilled in its mysteries. When it reached the hands of the blind biwa players they were unacquainted with the deep experience behind it, and were obliged to grope for a way themselves. The samisen led to a period of the greatest musical creativeness the country had ever witnessed, and the wonder grows that this innocent little instrument produced in some remote time as a necessity of the Chinese soul should have been discovered by the people of the three towns and adapted to suit their musical requirements with such astonishing results. Perhaps the magic measures of the samisen may yet meet some need of the people in Western lands, and so in the fullness of time please the ear of the whole world.

The samisen was not in use when O-Kuni and Nagoya Sansaburo began their collaboration, for their musicians borrowed the flute and drum of the Nō. Towards the end of the O-Kuni Kabuki, the samisen player had taken up his position behind the dancers, and a new and livelier element had become apparent in the performances.

Up to the advent of the samisen which brought about a complete change in the music in vogue among the people, the musical forms of the country had come to be the monopoly of the higher classes. The gagaku, or music of the Imperial Court, could not be heard on ordinary occasions, but was reserved for the highest functions. Transplanted from China in the early days of intercourse between the two countries, it was so far removed from affairs of everyday life as to belong to some celestial land. After a thousand years this ancient music is still heard at entertainments at Court, or in connection with Buddhist or Shinto ceremonies, and its slow and stately cadences produce a serenity in the minds of moderns that carries them back into an age when hurry was unknown.

[194]This music was too lofty, and beyond the grasp or enjoyment of the people, even if it had been accessible to them. Entertainment was afforded by the blind minstrels who played the biwa—an instrument not unlike a lute in shape. They sang and recited the melancholy adventures of the Heike, who were exterminated in their struggle with the Genji clan, in sad and tragic tones—sounding the very depths of negation. There was but little inspiration in this minstrelsy for the good people of the three towns hungering for romance.

Likewise the Nō was reserved for the intellectuals, whose inner life had been sufficiently cultivated to appreciate its rarefied atmosphere of the unreal. Inseparable from the words and movements of the Nō were the rhythms of drum and flute, full of mystery, Buddhism, asceticism, its warriors and ghosts far removed from the world and its ways.

Before the samisen’s supremacy, the minstrels who went about relating their stories scratched the ribs of their fans to form the beats necessary to their recitals, and priests who sang songs to popularise their scriptures beat their rhythms on the same metal gong as that employed by O-Kuni. So necessary was rhythm as an accompaniment to these ballads that the early minstrels shook a bundle of sticks, or waved a metal rod like a baton.

With the greatly improved rhythms of the samisen at their command, minstrels sprang up in all directions, the new style of music being called Joruri, since the first ballad to be composed to the strains of the samisen concerned the love adventures of Joruri-hime, or Princess Joruri. Abundant materials were at hand, and the minstrels competed with each other in depicting the life of the time. The songs sung at festivals, by sailors, horsemen, farmers, vendors, were eagerly seized,—stories of battles and love, even religious propaganda formed the theme set to the ripple of the samisen.

This great activity culminated in the Joruri of Takemoto [195]Gidayu who, gathering up all the existing materials, concentrated them in his little doll-theatre, the Takemoto-za of Osaka. Here Chikamatsu Monzaemon collaborated with him, by writing the plays for the marionettes that moved to the voice of minstrel and samisen accompaniment. Gidayu Joruri, or the balladry of Takemoto Gidayu, in turn had an overwhelming influence upon Kabuki.

It was Kineya Kisaburo who first introduced the samisen into the orchestra of Yedo Kabuki. Kisaburo was the grandson of Kineya Kangoro, a younger brother of Saruwaka Kansaburo, the founder of Yedo Kabuki. Kangoro was an expert in the O-Kuni Kabuki, and when young was attached to the Saruwaka-za as an actor. He had two actor sons, Kisaburo and Rokuzaemon. Later on Kisaburo gave up acting, and took up the samisen as his specialty. The name Kineya, or rice pounder, came from the crest chosen by Nakamura Kangoro. Thus it came about that this family of Kabuki musicians and singers were firmly established and have continued until the present day.

The Kineya genealogy is extremely complicated, but the headship of the house has been handed down from father to son. When there was a failure in blood relation, the best pupil succeeded. The present Kineya Rokuzaemon is the fourteenth in descent, a young man in the twenties. He is at the head of the Kineya musicians attached to the Imperial Theatre of Tokyo, possesses a good voice, and has appeared since he was a lad, growing up, as it were, in the service of the stage.

At the time of the fifth Kineya, the theatre music in which the family specialised became known as Nagauta (long poem or song). Before this, the Kineya singers had entertained with short pieces, but their art developed into something more important, for they furnished the accompaniment of drum, flute, and samisen, also the singing to which the actors danced in the music-posture dramas, or shosagoto, the most characteristic productions of Kabuki.

This style of theatre music originating in Yedo, it has [196]always been distinguished as Yedo Nagauta. The music is reminiscent of the Nō, from which it has taken much of its technique. The large number of Nō dramas that have been popularised in order to suit Kabuki requirements have received special treatment at the hands of different members of the Kineya family, who possess some two hundred compositions.

There are several branches to Kineya—offshoots of the main line a hundred or more years ago—such as Yoshizumi, Fujita, and Yoshimura. The last two companies of musicians are chiefly attached to the Kabuki-za of Tokyo, although they occasionally appear at other theatres. Tokyo critics consider Yoshizumi Kosaburo to possess the best voice, but it is not strong, and his activities are confined to entertainments given in small halls or private residences. He is a ronin among the musicians, and is not a regular member of a theatre company. The two most popular Kineya singers at present are Yoshimura Ejuro, of the Imperial Theatre, and Fujita Utazo, of the Kabuki-za. Kineya Rokuzaemon, although young, has proved himself worthy to assume the responsibilities as head of this old family.

After Nagauta, the most popular theatre music is Tokiwazu. It belongs to Joruri, or balladry set to the samisen, one of the innumerable streams of this music of the people. The minstrel who founded this line was Miyakoji Bungojo, and his tune was styled Bungo-bushi. This became all the rage in Yedo, for the words that went with the new airs were highly sentimental, treating of love adventures, elopements, and kindred subjects. It had an unwholesome effect upon society, however, the Bungo-bushi inducing men and women to step out of the prescribed paths of virtue. The authorities did everything in their power to suppress it, but without success. It was but a reaction against the Puritanic rule in force, and the themes of Bungo-bushi—adultery, elopement, suicide, and gambling—were but an expression of dissatisfaction on account of [197]the rigid feudal laws which continually interfered with the people, and caused them to break loose by way of protest.

Miyakoji Bungojo lived the life of which he sang, for he was the victim of an unhappy love affair and committed shinju, or double suicide, with a young woman. His adopted son, Mojidayu, succeeded to and completed his father’s work. When Bungo-bushi was forbidden, Mojidayu founded his own school. He was afraid that his new style of music might suffer the same fate as Bungo-bushi and made great changes. In order that it might survive he took all the life and sensation out of it, so that it now gives an impression of stiffness and repression.

When Mojidayu looked about for a name for his music, he hit upon one that offended the authorities. It was considered much too assuming and high-sounding, and was taken away from him in consequence. As Mojidayu lived near one of Yedo’s bridges, the Tokiwa-bashi, or Evergreen-Bridge, not far from the modern Bank of Japan, he selected Tokiwazu, and by this name his music has been known ever since. The present Mojidayu is the seventh in succession. Kiyomoto, another branch of Gidayu, is closely allied to Tokiwazu, and a great variety of these tunes may be heard among the people.

Shibai has faithfully preserved the most characteristic musical elements, and it is within the theatre that Japanese music is best represented. Gidayu Joruri, Yedo Nagauta, Tokiwazu, and Kiyomoto, with a variety of minor styles, form the musical settings for Kabuki productions.

The Gidayu Joruri in vogue in shibai is taken bodily from the Doll-theatre, and is used whenever a drama written originally for the marionettes is produced. In these masterpieces the actors are responsible for the dialogue, while the minstrel sings the descriptions to the accompanying rhythms of the samisen, giving the players an opportunity to posture and gesture to their hearts’ content. The Gidayu minstrel and samisen player kneel on cushions on a raised rostrum to the right of the stage, a silver or gold [198]screen behind them. In front of the minstrel is a lacquered book-rest, where lies the ballad book (joruri-bon) in which the passages of the play are written by hand in large, bold characters. Sometimes the minstrel enters into the conversation, when he scolds or weeps, laughs or pleads, according to the emotion of the moment.

The difference between Gidayu and Nagauta is that the first is balladry and requires both recitation and song, conversation and description, while Nagauta is but a series of songs, solo or chorus, interspersed with sustained orchestral effects of samisen, drum, and flute in complicated rhythms. A full Nagauta corps, composed of many singers and samisen players, all in ceremonial stage costume, kneeling in a row on a red-covered dais across the stage, with the drummers grouped below, forming a background for the gorgeous characters of the music-drama, is an unforgettable and truly representative Kabuki picture.

In Nagauta the singers commit the words to memory, or have a small book close beside them. Like the chorus of the Nō stage, they carry a closed fan which is taken up in one hand as they sing, and placed in front of them at the end of their song. Tokiwazu and Kiyomoto partaking of the nature of Gidayu, the singers kneel behind the lacquered stands supporting their books, and are generally stationed on a high platform to left or back of the stage, the only instrument being the samisen. The movable platforms on which the musicians and singers sit are pushed on and pulled off as the exigencies of the descriptive dance require. Sometimes a curtain is held up in order that they may make good their escape from the stage.

As Nagauta had an affinity with the Nō, and treated of poetic and mystical subjects, the upper classes patronised the Kineya family, and it has therefore always enjoyed a superior position. These singers and musicians were regarded in the theatre as guests of honour, who had condescended to accept the hospitality of shibai. They were [199]never classed so low in the social strata as the yakusha, but had a recognised rank and place.

With the members of the Gidayu, Tokiwazu, and Kiyomoto companies it was different. Their patrons were the wealthy merchants and tradespeople. And because Tokiwazu and Kiyomoto were so closely related to shibai, they came to be considered as something low class and vulgar. In addition, as the whole world of popular songs and short dances that formed the accomplishment of the geisha were associated with the samisen, this instrument was never heard in the homes of persons of taste and breeding, or those who valued their position of respectability.

One of the greatest defects of the samisen music is that it is divided into so many schools, each guarding jealously its traditions. When some new expression of the people’s will is necessary these separate elements may be concentrated to form a new musical force, just as Takemoto Gidayu recognised the value of the Joruri of his day and, combining them, established the balladry of the Doll-theatre on a firm foundation. Moreover, however much criticism may be levelled at the samisen for the trivial and superficial matter with which it is often related, it remains none the less the national music.

The samisen differs so largely from Western instruments that comparisons are useless. This is because samisen music depends almost completely on rhythm, rather than melody, to interpret emotion. Sound is inexhaustible, and by groupings of sounds in changing rhythms the samisen musicians gain the effects they desire. Western ears are so accustomed to harmony, that a departure from its stereotyped combinations causes bewilderment and irritation. Any other use of sound and rhythm than that to which their ears have grown familiar fails to affect them. The music of shibai presents a whole world of uncharted music material.

Ripple-clang-bang; smoothness, roughness, villainy, tranquillity; falling snow, a flight of birds, wind in the [200]tree-tops; skirmish and fray, the peace of moonlight, the sorrow of parting, the rapture of spring; the infirmity of age, the gladness of lovers,—all these and much more the samisen expresses to those who are able to look beyond the curtain that shuts this musical world away from Western ears because of its baffling conventions of sound rather than melody.

Symbol of the despised yakusha, and in use in the none-too-irreproachable geisha world, the samisen has been held in disfavour by the upper classes. Left to their own devices, the people created their own theatre, music, and art. There was no impetus from the aristocracy, who held themselves aloof from the mass of the people. The samurai had little to do with the creative spirit, the scholars steeped in Chinese philosophy and literature looked backward to the glorious past of Japan’s great continental neighbour,—it was the people of the three towns, unaided, without guide or inspiration from their betters, who produced the music of shibai, the plebeian legacy of the Tokugawa age.

Crest of Nakamura Jakuemon
(Two sparrows, face to face).



When the history of shibai is considered, the wonder grows that it did not die of discouragement. The effects of the ceaseless persecution that prohibited and hampered the creativeness of the theatre, and brought it into evil repute can hardly be measured.

Although the chilly formalism of the Tokugawa Shogunate seriously interfered with the development of the theatre, the latent genius of the people asserted itself repeatedly with new vigour after each fresh attack on the part of the authorities. Rules and regulations with regard to stage settings, costumes, architecture, furniture, and plays almost prohibited shibai out of existence. And the interference went so far as to concern itself with petty persecutions in the matter of the yakushas’ private lives.

Suppressed for centuries, the taste of the people began to express itself in luxury and extravagance, and nowhere was this state of society so perfectly mirrored as on the stage. Hence the constant conflict between the officials and the theatre. The enforcement of simple living ideals had gone too far, and the restless people, tired of repression, like a pendulum that swings back, began to long after the flesh-pots of Egypt.

How far frugality was carried out in Old Japan may be imagined from a statement made by the late Marquis Okuma when, on one occasion, he addressed new recruits to the Army. “In my province”, he said, “the cultivation of the sweet potato was forbidden at one time. Similar [202]to this was the prohibition of sericulture by the Shogun’s Government. The reason was that the fields were necessary for the cultivation of rice, and should not be used for materials of luxury, for by so doing the good old habits of the people would be entirely destroyed. In this age of enlightenment,” Marquis Okuma continued, “even a schoolboy could at once detect the fallacy of such a view, but it enables us to see what great stress our fathers and grandfathers put upon the importance of simple living.”

Another view concerning this side of Japanese life under the shogunate is expressed by Murdoch in his History of Japan: “Even at the present day the lower classes in Japan are remarkable for the fewness of their wants, rather than for the abundance of their possessions; but in the brave days of the sixteenth century few of them could indulge in the luxury of having any wants at all, beyond those of the birds or rabbits. The poverty of the country people at this time was clearly grinding.”

Quite contrary in every respect were the resplendent yakusha, with their extravagant tastes and striking styles that made such a strong appeal to the senses, and the guiding principles of the nation which placed little value on the possession of worldly goods and emphasised simplicity and economy. Permeating the people was the Buddhist doctrine of impermanency with its emphasis on the non-worship of things, and opposed to this stood the yakusha who delighted in stage costumes of the richest materials, the most dazzling embroideries in gold or silver. The actors’ love of display and extravagance required drastic measures in order that they should be held in check. The very gorgeousness of the stage showing the purest instinct for all the colours of the rainbow gathered up from the odd corners of Asia produced tendencies in the people that it was considered necessary to uproot.

It is curious to reflect that at identical periods the Puritans in England and the Tokugawa Shogunate were interfering with the theatre, for in 1642 an order of the [203]English Parliament forbade all public entertainments, and the shogunate prohibited the Wakashu Kabuki, or Young Men’s Stage, in 1644. There was thus a similar attitude towards the theatre in the two island nations of East and West, separated so widely and as yet scarcely aware of each other’s existence.

After the Women’s Stage, or Onna Kabuki, had been stopped, Government interference was frequent. The direct cause of the banishment of the youthful actors of Wakashu Kabuki in 1644 is attributed to the chief magistrate of Yedo. He was invited to a friend’s residence, and saw among the attendants a young lad who was not only above the average in good looks but graceful in his movements and showed superior intelligence. The magistrate inquired his name and parentage, hoping to engage him as a page in his household. To his astonishment he was told that the attendant was an actor. Straightway he ordered the officials under him to go to the theatre and see that the front locks of the young players were shorn, for fear their attractiveness might be the means of corrupting society.

The shaving of the actors’ heads, directly responsible for the downfall of Wakashu Kabuki, continued long in force. And a further indignity was heaped upon the yakusha, for they were obliged to proceed regularly to the police station that their heads might be examined, as they were prone to elude the authorities in this regard if not watched.

Soon after the edict that caused the abolition of Wakashu Kabuki the four leading playhouses of Yedo, together with the doll-theatres and minor places of amusement, were ordered to be suspended because of the scandal between an actor and the wife of a daimyo. The authorities were evidently bent on the extermination of the theatre, but after repeated petitions on the part of the proprietors permission to reopen was granted the following year.

That the actors were regarded with open admiration by the ladies of the aristocracy is evident. Many stories [204]are told with regard to the measures they took to see the players, often inviting them to their homes. This led to social breaches the officials were not slow to hold up as fearful examples of depravity. In 1648 the third Shogun’s Cabinet issued an order against members of the aristocracy attending the theatre, and in 1655 there was a regulation to the effect that as already proclaimed the yakusha were not allowed to attend the mansions of the aristocracy even if they were invited. With regard to their stage costumes they must not be luxurious, and plays in which extravagance was displayed were not allowed to be performed.

A conflagration that swept Yedo in 1657, in the third year of Meireki, called the Great Fire of Meireki, gave the authorities a good opportunity to confine the theatres to one quarter. The fire had started from a Buddhist temple, and lasted until the following day, destroying the business centre of the town. When after considerable delay the theatres were allowed to be rebuilt, fewer licences were granted, and but four large shibai were permitted to be erected in Sakai-machi. Here for a period all the places of amusement, large or small, were segregated.

A description of Sakai-machi is given in Joruri Shi, or the History of Joruri, by Takano. He writes that it was a long street running east and west. To the south were several doll-theatres clustering on each side of the Nakamura-za. But a short distance away were the Ichimura-za and Miyako-za, set in the midst of marionette shows. “Imagine how flourishing these places were in olden times”, observes the author.

Side by side were the shibai, wherein the inanimate marionettes competed with the actors of flesh and blood, all the buildings crowded together on one thoroughfare,—each theatre displaying its banners, flags, lanterns, and crests, while the sound of the drums beaten in the yagura, or drum-towers, must have made quite a stir in the peaceful Yedo of those days.

By 1661 the yakusha’s footsteps were dogged by regulations. [205]He was not allowed to mingle freely with the people. In 1662 it was forbidden for actors to use sticks ornamented with gold or silver, and he was ordered to wear a kimono of the plainest description. If he consulted his own taste and wore patterned material that showed a gay design, he was promptly pounced upon. Under pains and penalties the yakusha was not to ride in a kago, or palanquin, or on horse, and expressly prohibited from walking about freely.

These regulations relating to the daily lives of the play-actors became a species of tyranny, and it was not surprising that they were broken heedless of the consequences. For it was found impossible to suppress a human being’s most natural desires and instincts. In consequence the same rules and regulations were made over and over again, the strictness of the observance depending on the firmness or laxity of the officials in power.

Although the inclination of the actors and playwrights was always towards a larger and freer expression of their taste in colour and design, yet they were obliged to keep to things less ornate, for in 1668 there were declarations that the theatres of Sakai-machi must not be gorgeous, but as modest as possible. Cotton and silk materials of an inferior quality were to be used for stage costumes, the best workmanship in embroidery was to be avoided, and the use of red or purple dye was entirely forbidden. Curtains of cotton crepe were granted, but those of silk could not be used. Yakusha were ordered not to meet members of the samurai class after acting, and they must not speak with traders or artisans except for a brief meeting. The actors were also forbidden to enter the shibai chaya, or mix with the audience, and as these regulations were frequently ignored, punishments were continually inflicted for infringements.

Again in 1678 there was an official announcement to the effect that it was rumoured the actors were called to the residences of samurai and merchants. If discovered, the delinquents were to be severely punished. The actors’ [206]residences were restricted to the theatre district; furthermore, they were not to lodge in the houses of other people, or to have as inmates of their homes those who pursued other walks of life.

Regulations issued in this same year concerned finery on the stage, which was to be carefully avoided. The costumes, both of the yakusha and the marionette, were required to be fashioned of cheap silk or cotton, and greater strictness was to be observed in the shaving of the actors’ heads.

Should an actor and his patrons feel inclined to take a pleasant outing together on the Sumida river, it was regarded as a serious lapse from grace, and as for straying outside the prescribed limits the authorities found themselves busy enforcing their rules, since the irrepressible yakusha could not be kept within bounds very long at a time.

There was a regulation demanding that metal should not be used for stage swords; they were to be of wood or bamboo covered with silver powder. Another forbade actors from being smuggled into the mansions of samurai or merchants clad in female costumes, nor were they to enter the homes of private citizens under the assumption that they did not belong to the degraded fraternity.

During these long years of interference, one outstanding event came to be largely responsible for the strict supervision of the theatres, and this was the scandal involving the actor Ikushima Shingoro and Yenoshima, a lady-in-waiting at the Shogun’s Court. Their amours proved to be a social upheaval the officials could neither forget nor forgive. Long after the affair had blown over it remained a dark cloud that cast its shadow on succeeding generations of actors.

An account of this, taken from Chiyoda no Oku, or the Harem of Yedo Castle, is quoted by Ihara Seiseiin, in his History of the Japanese Stage. It tells how the unfortunate theatre-folk became victims because of Lady Yenoshima’s passion for Ikushima Shingoro.

[207]Some time in 1714 the Yamamura-za, one of Yedo’s original shibai, was opened, and Ikushima Shingoro was playing there with much success. At the same time, one of the most prominent among the ladies-in-waiting in the castle was to be sent to pray at the temple of Zojo-ji, as a representative of the mother of Shogun Iyetsugu. Owing to the fact that several daimyo, or feudal lords, and hatamoto, or direct vassals of the Shogun, had selected this day to repair to the temple to take part in Buddhist services, the Court lady’s visit was postponed, and Yenoshima chosen to fulfil the duty.

Accordingly she sent a messenger to acquaint the priests that she intended to arrive very early in the morning, and that no preparations would be necessary for her reception. She would, however, find it highly gratifying if arrangements could be made whereby she and her party could pay a visit to a theatre in Sakai-machi. As might have been expected, the reply of the priests to this missive was that the theatre part of the lady’s programme was impossible, since it was outside their jurisdiction.

This made Yenoshima very angry, and she arranged matters to suit herself. There was a young clerk, or banto, in the employ of a Yedo dry-goods establishment, and he was accustomed to go to the castle regularly for orders. Here was a likely person to carry out her commands, and he was accordingly commissioned to prepare the gallery of the Yamamura-za for a party of one hundred persons.

As planned Yenoshima proceeded to Zojo-ji, but hurrying over her spiritual duties, and presenting but a portion of the money, materials, and other gifts that were designed for the priests, she kept the remainder to be distributed as personal favours at the theatre. She was accompanied by several other ladies-in-waiting of first rank, as well as those who occupied lesser positions in the secluded world of the Shogun’s household; also by male attendants.

The arrival of this company at the Yamamura-za must have presented a most unusual spectacle in theatre street. [208]Yamamura Chodayu, the proprietor of the theatre, with the leading actors, Ikushima Shingoro and Nakamura Seigoro, clad in ceremonial costumes, welcomed the distinguished visitors at the entrance to the theatre. During an interval between the plays a feast was held, and Yenoshima, who became slightly intoxicated, spilled a bottle of sake, the contents of which fell down on the heads of a party below. It happened to be a samurai of the Satsuma clan accompanied by his wife. Although one of Yenoshima’s party apologised, the irate samurai left the theatre.

Yenoshima was advised to return to the castle without delay, but she would not listen, determined to enjoy the adventure to the utmost. Yamamura Chodayu invited the ladies to his private residence, where Nakamura Seigoro and his wife assisted in the entertainment. This young woman was very beautiful, a graceful dancer as well as accomplished samisen player, and had often been called to the castle to amuse the Shogun’s mother.

It was not until late at night that Yenoshima retired, returning to the castle, and entering by an inconspicuous gate. Yenoshima, who was a bold and independent character, 33 years of age, with an income of 600 koku of rice to her credit, patched up a story of the day’s proceedings for the benefit of the Shogun’s mother, omitting all reference to her wild escapade at the theatre.

In due time the whole matter came to the knowledge of the officials, when it was discovered that Yenoshima had been carrying on relations with Ikushima Shingoro for seven years, and that she had taken one of this actor’s daughters into the service of the Court under the false pretence that the girl was from a samurai family.

The Government dealt severely with all those who had participated in the carousal. Yenoshima was sentenced to exile on a lonely island, her fate being softened at a later date through the clemency of the Shogun’s mother, who pleaded for her, when she was taken into the custody of the daimyo of the Province of Shinano.

[209]It was the custom of these days for the entire family to suffer when one member had committed an offence, and consequently the death penalty was meted out to Yenoshima’s elder brother, while a young brother was exiled. Other relatives shared in the punishment.

As for Yamamura Chodayu, Ikushima Shingoro, and Nakamura Seigoro, they, too, were exiled—even Iwai Hanshiro, the most popular onnagata of the period, sharing in the banishment. The Yamamura-za was first deprived of its licence, then the building was demolished and the property confiscated by the Government. Such was the end of the Yamamura-za, for it never dared to raise its head again among the Yedo shibai.

At the same time the theatre censors drew their net of regulations closer and closer. Yedo shibai, unlike those of Osaka and Kyoto, had previous to the Yenoshima affair two galleries, making three stories, but the authorities reduced them to one. Thin bamboo blinds had been suspended from the galleries as a protection for high-class playgoers that they might be removed from the vulgar gaze, but these were ordered to be taken down. This meant that persons of good family could no longer attend the theatre. Passage-ways from the theatre to the homes of the proprietors were taken away, special rooms for banqueting at the tea-houses were given up. Even the roofs of the theatres, that had been constructed in a more substantial way to protect playgoers against the elements, were ordered to be made in a lighter fashion. When alterations were desired in the construction of theatres or tea-houses, report had to be made first to the officials before permission to proceed could be obtained. The theatre was closed early, and no plays allowed to run after sunset.

Such were some of the shibai regulations that came about as the result of the Lady Yenoshima’s indiscretions.

Stage costumes especially came under the merciless scrutiny of the authorities. Special restrictions were made in 1789. All costumes were examined on the day preceding [210]the performance. Officials were appointed whose duty it became to examine stage affairs to the minutest detail, and after they had peered into all the nooks and corners behind the stage, they gave permission for the play to be performed, or interfered sadly with the arrangements, by demanding alterations at the last moment, according to their whim, or from some idea of the proper respect due to their dignity. If there were any changes in the plays after the inspection, the offenders were summoned to appear at the censor’s office and were fined or reprimanded.

Many devices were resorted to by the yakusha to protect their beautiful kimono that they often designed themselves and as frequently embroidered with their own hands. Sometimes the better to pass the officials’ inspection they sewed pieces of plain material over the decorated portions of their costumes, but if a report of fine raiment reached the ears of the ever-watchful ones, reprimands were in order.

As a means to put down extravagance, it was ordered that the actors’ salaries should be reduced by half. But the yakusha generally found ways and means to evade this attempt against his income. Requests were made to the officials by the management that an actor wished more salary, and if this was refused he remained away from the theatre under pretence of illness. The plays could not go on without the drawing attraction of the popular actors, and there came a time when the troubled managers asked the officials how the shibai could be maintained under such circumstances. The fourth Nakamura Utayemon was fined for receiving too much salary. Nakamura Nakazo records in his journal how his theatre could not make the customary advance on his salary and he received a short sword by way of compensation.

When an onnagata, Segawa Kikunojo, was returning home from the theatre one day in the year 1789, he wore an attractive kimono made of good silk crepe, and his clothing was confiscated. Onoe Matsusuke, when taking [211]the rôle of a Court lady, wore a beautiful over-garment tied with silver cords, and was reprimanded for extravagance. The third Nakamura Utayemon was responsible for a costly curtain used during one of his performances, and he was taken to task by the officials, with the result that he became disgusted and decided to return to the Osaka stage. As he had made an agreement with the Yedo theatre for a term of two years and he had remained but one, the authorities brought him back to serve out his contract.

A gay performance was given at the Nakamura-za in 1791, and the stage properties were confiscated. Ichikawa Yaozo made a gift of one hundred and ten kimono to the people of the theatre, and when this raised the ire of the economy-loving officials Yaozo is reported to have said: “My father Yaozo left 100 ryo to be used in accordance with his will. I gave the kimono as he wished.”

At the Ichimura-za a robber was depicted selling the treasures of a daimyo, and the authorities stopped it because it related to a feudal lord. When a festival was held at the Ichimura-za in memory of the Soga Brothers, the heroes of many a Kabuki piece, the theatre people wore conspicuous kimono, and displayed a great many lanterns for decorations. Since it was something out of the ordinary, they were all fined.

Once, when the play required the interior of an Imperial Palace, very beautiful stage furniture was used, but this came under the ban, and inferior articles were ordered to replace the originals.

Interference even went so far as to plays. The sakusha, or playwrights, were strictly forbidden by the Government to write real history into their dramas. In consequence, they were obliged to camouflage fact with fiction. Reports that were circulated far and wide, matters that had been discussed in every household, were represented as belonging to a distant period. The playgoers, however, were quick to understand the reference. This is the reason why the opening scene of Chushingura is placed a hundred [212]years or more previous to the date of the sacrifice of the Forty-seven Ronin.

A quarrel broke out in the audience at the Yamamura-za at one time because the name of a contemporary personage had been used in a play, and thereafter no reference was allowed to living persons. Great care had to be taken in the choice of names given to the characters in a play, for if a cognomen selected was already in the possession of some high family complaints were lodged with the authorities.

When fire again destroyed the Nakamura-za and Ichimura-za, they were ordered to be rebuilt away from the centre of the town. The Kawarazaki-za, which stood somewhat apart from the other theatres, and had been untouched by the fire, was left undisturbed. The removal of the theatre site was explained as due to the laxity of the actors, who were forgetting themselves and mingling with the people; because they played such common, vulgar things that had a bad influence upon society, and because shibai was the source of changes in the fashions that incited the citizens to extravagance.

The severest period of interference the theatre had to undergo was during the administration of Mizuno, Lord of Echizen, the prime minister of the shogunate, who began his sweeping reforms in 1842, hoping thereby to prop up the falling Tokugawa Government. And when the Ichimura-za and Nakamura-za were burned down, this dignitary decided that the time had arrived to put an end to the fortunes of shibai. It was his intention to crush this institution of the people at a blow, in order that the widespread immorality alleged should be suppressed.

Mizuno stopped the work of theatre reconstruction, and would have carried out his reforms with a high hand if it had not been for the head man of the theatre district, called Toyama. This official was brought in for consultation. The fate of Yedo Kabuki hung in the balance, and the whole question depended on Toyama’s views as to the right of the people’s theatre to exist. Whatever his defence [213]it proved an effective checkmate to Mizuno’s plan to abolish shibai, and a compromise was made by means of which the theatres were to be removed as far as possible from Yedo castle, and at a safe distance from the homes of the citizens to preserve them from contamination.

The new quarter selected was Saruwaka-cho in Asakusa, the most thickly populated district of modern Tokyo, where the lurid pictures outlined by electric light of kinema houses, second-rate theatres, and many other places of entertainment are now to be found. This district is still called theatre street, although Tokyo’s leading playhouses are scattered throughout the capital.

Mizuno’s attempt to check the evils of society were all in vain. Soon after his time, Meiji era dawned with the restoration of the Emperor to power, and the lives of the people began to flow in new and unexpected channels. The thoughts of those in power were too much engrossed with the opening of their country to trade and outside influences to trouble about the shaving of the actors’ heads, and the innumerable and wellnigh insupportable restrictions that had so long been endured gradually became null and void.

For 244 years, from the prohibition of the Women’s Stage to the Restoration, or from 1624 to 1868, interference with the theatre had continued without relaxation in the three towns—the regulations in Yedo, which form the subject of Ihara Seiseiin’s painstaking researches in his History of the Japanese Stage, applying in a greater or lesser degree to the shibai conditions of Osaka and Kyoto.

One of the most deplorable results was the relegation of the actor and playwright to the lower strata of society. The repetition of the rules and regulations against the theatre as a nest of iniquity that had no right to existence caused the people to grow indifferent towards the actors and playwrights. They undervalued them personally, although they enjoyed their art. Yet had their genius attained a much higher level than it did, there would have [214]been no recognition for them in the scheme of things made possible by the shogunate, since the spiritual products of the people counted for nothing.

The venerable and eloquent Marquis Okuma, addressing a gathering of literary men and women at his residence, admitted literature’s place in Japan. His past career, he said, had been taken up with politics, diplomacy, religion, and economics; but he had given no consideration to literature. He confessed that he now realised for the first time, after a long life of eighty years, that literature was necessary in the building up of a new civilisation and the reconstruction of a new society for human beings, just as the different branches of science were necessary. As he had been born into the serious Saga clan, which had no idea of pleasure, he had never once in his earlier career witnessed a theatrical performance. He had no taste for music, and was taught to look down upon literature.

This was the common attitude towards the drama, acting, and everything else that pertained to the Japanese theatre. Badgered and beset by unsympathetic outsiders,—who were the mere minions of officialdom,—isolated and degraded, the players and playwrights, pariahs of society as they were, builded better than they knew.

Nakamura Fukusuke of Tokyo in an onnagata rôle.



For a faithful preservation of the stage of the Murayama-za, one of Yedo’s first shibai, modern playgoers are indebted to a play within a play. It concerns Banzuiin Chobei, a plain citizen of Yedo who was treacherously done to death by an evil samurai, and brings to mind the turbulent Yedo days when the samurai tested their new swords on such loiterers as happened to pass their way, while the otokodate, or chivalrous commoners, were ever ready to take the part of the oppressed, and risk their lives in crossing swords with the blustering soldiery.

Chobei and Mizuno happen to meet in the Murayama-za. The play is progressing on the old-fashioned stage, patterned so closely after that of the Nō theatre. Four pillars support a heavy sloping roof that is constructed like the entrance to a temple. The stage is square, the musicians kneeling at the back. A long bridge passage joins the stage at right angles—the hashigakari of the Nō theatre.

The characters in the play are a youthful hero in gorgeous attire and a timid onnagata listening to an argument between a peaceful priest clad in scarlet and Kimpira, the grotesque, bloodthirsty hero of the old ballads.

Guards are stationed on either side of the theatre near the stage proper to preserve the peace. Looking down on the stage to right and left are upper boxes hung with fine bamboo curtains for such members of the privileged classes as may attend. For audience there are the playgoers of [216]Tokyo. And when all eyes are focussed on the stage of the Murayama-za, a character in the play, a drunkard looking for a quarrel, swaggers in along the hanamichi and causes a disturbance. Chobei suddenly appears, springing out of his seat in the pit, and as if by magic the twentieth century is wiped out, and the playgoer travels back into the past, and for the moment is immersed in the very atmosphere of the old Yedo shibai.

This early Yedo stage showed scarcely any difference from the type in vogue during the Onna Kabuki and Wakashu Kabuki periods, and was in all essentials like that of O-Kuni Kabuki with the exception that it was of a more permanent construction.

There was, however, no roof as a protection against the weather. The pit was of beaten earth, and the groundlings had a straw mat apiece and were provided with a small hibachi, or brazier, Tickets were purchased for the whole or half day, or for one act. But evidently the theatres knew how to charge,—a matter that is not overlooked even at the present,—for in an old book it is mentioned that it was necessary to pay even to light one’s tobacco. These lights were called fire-ropes, a twisted cord of rice straw set on fire and left to smoulder, a convenient manner of starting a pipe in the days before matches, when the only means of producing fire was by striking the flint.

During the first years of Genroku, a roof to cover the audience was built, and galleries added for the accommodation of the increasing attendance. The construction of the theatre made great progress when Government regulations demanded that playhouses be of one story and straw mats used to keep out rain and sunshine.

After the segregation of the Yedo shibai to Sakai-machi, many improvements came about. The Ichimura-za used drop as well as drawn curtains, and large stage furniture was seen for the first time.

A Kaomise, or Face Showing ceremony at the Nakamura-za in 1772. By this time the roof of the stage had disappeared and only its symbol remained over the front of the stage, which now approached the long narrow style in vogue in the Doll-theatre. (Colour print by Utagawa Toyoharu.)

But by 1750 the main externals of the shibai were fixed and showed a striking change. The bridge passage of the [217]Nō used by shibai for entrances and exits had given place to the hanamichi, or flower-way—the continuation of the stage through the audience. There were galleries behind which were sliding doors and movable screens of fine bamboo, ensuring privacy for those occupying these elevated seats. In Yedo three galleries were a feature of the shibai, but these were not seen in Kyoto and Osaka. This was because the Yedo playhouses enjoyed greater prosperity and were more crowded than those of the other towns. Drawn curtains were used, the stage was decorated with artificial flowers, and elaborate stage furniture came into use.

Owing to the scandal of Lady Yenoshima and Ikushima Shingoro in 1714, the architecture and developments of shibai externals received a severe check. Substantial roofing was forbidden and straw mats were ordered instead. The building was limited to one story, and galleries were abolished. As the result of a petition filed by the three chief theatres in 1718, permission was granted to cover the theatres with boarding, and afterwards, when frequent fires threatened to destroy these flimsy erections, more substantial structures were allowed with tiled roofs, and thick mud walls, like those of warehouses, or godowns, in which valuables are still stored. Until recent years this type of playhouse persisted in the three towns.

One of the most interesting facts concerning the development of the externals of shibai was the rapidity with which the stage outgrew its original form.

The place for performances in the Nō, later in O-Kuni Kabuki, and likewise in the first Yedo theatres, had all been square. Greater space was needed for the representation of complex plays, and the back pillars were eliminated. When Chushingura was to be presented in Yedo in 1757 the two large front pillars to right and left of the stage were found to be in the way, and were sacrificed. With the four supports gone, the temple-like roof of the stage also went out of commission. This roof, associated with the Nō stage for hundreds of years, and about which clung something [218]religious and sacred, had so long been a familiar external of shibai, that the theatre people, while realising that it had served its purpose, did not wish to part with it altogether. It was therefore represented in relief, projecting over the proscenium.

Nowhere is this adaptation of the stage to the new requirements of a developing drama more clearly to be seen than in the illustrations of shibai left by the print artists. A picture attributed to Masanobu shows the interior of the Nakamura-za in 1740. The thatched roof of the stage is still in existence, as well as the two front-pillars, but those at the back have disappeared in order to give greater room. Slightly elevated to the left is a platform for the musicians, and although the square platform had not been dispensed with, it was becoming too cramped.

In this picture the second Danjuro appears in one of the family pieces, Yanone, or Arrow-Point, acting on a small apron-like projection of the stage. His big three-rice-measure crest is clear upon one shoulder, and in front of him there is an exaggerated whetstone on which he is about to sharpen a huge arrow. The small enclosure in which he sits represents the temporary dwelling-place of this highly imaginary character. There are two galleries, and a narrow passage-way through the pit, while lanterns bearing the actor’s crest are suspended from the ceiling.

Practically the same scene is represented in another colour print by Masanobu of the Nakamura-za interior four years later, in 1744. A near view of the stage is obtained, but it shows no change. Actors of the Ichikawa and Otani families hold the centre of the stage. In the background is the bell which shows the piece to be Dojo-ji, the music-drama Kabuki appropriated from the Nō relating to a female demon that comes to wreak vengeance on the new bell of the temple, Dojo-ji, which has just been hung. Segawa Kikunojo, the onnagata, stands on the hanamichi representing the fascinating maiden who is the evil creature in disguise.

Interior of the Nakamura-za in 1798 when Ichikawa Danjuro, the sixth, was promoted to the head of the theatre. By this time the roof of the stage had become a decoration overhead. (Colour print by Utagawa Toyokuni.)

[219]Still another colour print by Nishimura Shigenaga, of the Nakamura-za in 1749, shows a sudden transformation of the stage. The two front pillars and the heavy roof that had come to be an encumbrance have disappeared. In this picture the piece represented is Takeda Izumo’s Chushingura, enacted with so much success by the marionettes that the real actors sought to emulate them. Sawamura Sojuro, popular as Yuranosuke, the leader of the loyal Forty-seven Ronin, and Ichikawa Ebizo are the central figures. The musicians have been relegated to a position in the wings; there are screens for background, and a curtain to the left bears the icho-leaf emblem adopted by Nakamura Kansaburo, the founder of Yedo Kabuki, after his lucky dream.

Practically the same theatre interior is reproduced in a print of the Ichimura-za made in 1752, with the exception that the curtains on either side of the stage show the crest of this theatre, a conventional orange with its leaves.

In a colour print by Utagawa Toyohara in 1771, the stage of the Nakamura-za has lost all connection with its square origin. In this picture there are seen the two hanamichi, large and small, that are still a feature of the modern shibai. Another picture by the same artist done in the following year shows a Kaomise, or Face-Showing ceremony, at the Nakamura-za, and perspective is used to suggest the spaciousness of the interior. This is evidence of the complete transformation from a square to a long stage parallel to the audience. The picture is one of the series depicting eight famous places of Yedo.

The Kaomise, or Face-Showing ceremony, with Danjuro, the sixth, as leading actor at the Nakamura-za in 1798, also forms the subject of a print by Toyokuni, which shows that the externals had by this time become permanent.

This transformation of the stage within a short period, approaching in its essentials the Western theatre, would lead to the supposition that outside influence was at work. But the cause lay nearer at home. It was the stage of the Doll-theatre that eventually prevailed. This was long, low, and [220]deep, to afford ample room for the complicated movements of the marionettes, the combined efforts of groups of doll-handlers, and for the comings and goings of the property-men and scene-shifters.

In order to cope with the plays introduced from the realm of puppetry, the externals of the doll-stage were adopted, and the only link with the origin of shibai on the banks of the Kamo River in Kyoto was the roof-symbol placed in a position of honour as decoration above the new stage.

The two most striking features of the interior of the theatre brought into use with the changed form of the stage were the hanamichi and the revolving stage.

The hanamichi, or flower-way, was a continuation of the stage through the audience, a place for entrance and exit, where the intimacy of actor and audience was firmly established.

As to its origin, there is an opinion that it was a path leading to the stage through the pit, bordered on either side by a low bamboo fence decorated with flowers. There is also the idea that it came about to accommodate admirers of particular actors who started the custom of bestowing gifts upon their favourites. According to the ceremony of the East, their presentations were elaborately wrapped up, the string that tied the parcel was decorated with an artificial flower, and for the bearer of these gifts a regular path was made connecting with the stage.

These are fanciful ideas that can hardly be justified. For the presence of the two hanamichi in shibai shows conclusively how consistently the Kabuki actors and playwrights conformed to that inherent desire of the audience to be on intimate terms with the gorgeous personages of the theatre.

The largest Nō theatre in Japan, that of Onishi Ryotaro in Osaka, a modern construction combining architectural features representing the different periods of the Nō theatre development.

When the bridge-stage connecting with the square platform, purloined from the Nō theatre, was abandoned, the hanamichi, raised just above the heads of the playgoers, was substituted, an audience stage designed for striking [221]entrances and sensational exits, a place to display to the fullest extent beautiful garments, fascinating actors, to intensify emotion, and heighten a dramatic situation.

In the same manner, the revolving stage became of great assistance in staging the long plays with many acts, for while the actors were playing out in front, the carpenters were busy with their creations behind, and the change of scene could be quickly effected.

With long use it developed a special technique, and was turned to suit a variety of landscape and architectural requirements. It has been very largely responsible for the undeniable beauty of Kabuki settings. This was acquired in the same manner as so many other good things of shibai that had not emanated from within; it was borrowed from the Doll-theatre. Among the complex apparatus of the Doll-theatre was found the revolving stage long before it came into the possession of Kabuki.

Outside the shibai, the most characteristic feature was the yagura, or drum-tower. This was a small square platform built out from the roof and above the main theatre entrance, where was placed the big drum used to announce the opening of the shibai. Around it on three sides a curtain was stretched, bearing the crest of the theatre. This had been used by O-Kuni and Nagoya Sansaburo when they established their new entertainment, and it was supposed to resemble a castle tower with a battle drum. It was the custom to erect five spears in this tower, which Kabuki Koto Hajime, or Beginnings of Kabuki, mentions as representing five retainers who held the lances for their feudal lord. But the origin of the yagura is vague.

Since the time of O-Kuni, however, until the present, it has continued to adorn the outside of the theatre, and although it is seen no more in Tokyo, in the shibai of Kyoto and Osaka it is still preserved. The drummer no longer beats his signal from the big-drum tower, but he now performs this duty within the theatre just previous to the drawing of the curtain, making a stirring sound that [222]causes playgoers to hurry to their seats with pleasurable anticipations.

By the middle of Meiji a flood of Western stage ideas had begun to inundate Japan. Imported styles of theatre architecture, together with externals, now threaten to supersede those that are so thoroughly characteristic of shibai and have been in existence for so long. Old shibai is passing. It seems but a matter of time before the picturesque externals developed in the three towns in the brave days of old shall have vanished from the land.

Crest of Jitsukawa Enjaku
(Double well-head).
Crest of Nakamura Fukusuke of Tokyo
(Back of plum blossom).
Crest of Onoe Baiko
(Chrysanthemum and leaves).




The Kabuki playwright, or sakusha (lit., to-make-man), was part and parcel of the theatre. He served the theatre because it was in him to do so, but the smallness of his remuneration and the inferior position assigned to him greatly restricted the scope of his activities and retarded his development. He degenerated finally into a mere drudge of the actors, a menial to carry out their commands. The actors enjoyed the right of way, and while the ideas of the playwright were eagerly seized upon, the sakusha continued to be crushed to the wall. There were no literary men aloof from the theatre to form a higher court of appeal and dictate in the matter of plays.

A glimpse of the dignity of the old sakusha and the theatre gatherings in which he figured, as well as some of his customs, is afforded in Engeki Taizen, or Complete-Account-of-Drama, by Sekine Mokuan, one of the leading modern writers upon the theatre.

The sakusha were divided into different classes, and assigned to various duties in the theatre. The tate sakusha, or leading playwrights, were also called the tate tsukuri, while the second ranked as nimaime, and the third were called the sanmaime. Under these were the kyogen sakusha, or kyogen kata, and there were still a lower class whose duty it was to act as secretaries and to write out the plays by hand. Another function of these supernumeraries was to write the announcement of the plays in big characters on the boards in front of the theatre, and they were responsible [226]for the synopsis of the play, provided for the enlightenment of the audience. They also attended to the correspondence of the theatre folk. The different rôles in a new play were given to the clerical sakusha to be transcribed for the actors.

Since the performances began early in the morning and continued all day, it was a task to provide a long programme with many acts and scenes. In the writing of these lengthy plays an inferior sakusha was always allotted the opening scenes, which merely prepared the minds of the audience for what was about to happen, fixing a few landmarks by way of introduction. The secondary sakusha was held responsible for the act that followed, but the most important act of a piece was always reserved for the best writer. This is the reason why so many of the strongest scenes in a play have survived when the work done by the less gifted writers is now sunk in oblivion. The composition of the poor writers merely served to make known the characters of a play to the audience and generally had very little merits.

In the old days the first and second playwrights were obliged to attend the theatre every day before the second act, and to stay until the performances were over. It is therefore not surprising to find that they practically spent their lives in the theatre. When the good old customs began to relax, the chief writers took turns in visiting the theatre, and if there was no special place for their use, they sat themselves down in the space reserved for the superintendent, or disciplinarian of the busy world back of the stage. Later on a room was assigned to them.

The wages given to these men were very small. The head sakusha received a lump sum, and this he had to divide among the others. If a sakusha displayed some particular talent and the play went well, then he received a gift in money direct from the management.

Tsuruya Namboku was considered to have received quite an unusually high payment, for he was given 50 to 60 ryo for the run of one of his plays, and a certain small [227]sum for every day of the performances. The ordinary sakusha was paid a sum very much less than this, and when he divided among the smaller fry there was precious little left for himself. Mokuami and Fukuchi, the two star playwrights of Meiji era, received as remuneration from 150 to 200 yen for their new plays in which Danjuro, the ninth, appeared. This was handsome treatment compared to the meagre compensation considered sufficient for the old sakusha. On the other hand, Danjuro reaped thousands of yen—a fortune compared to the pittance doled out to the men who had provided him with a vehicle for his talents and the means of stage success. The recognition of the talent of the yakusha was out of all proportion to that accorded the sakusha, and this still holds true of modern Kabuki.

In the early days of the Kabuki playwriters, it was the custom for a theatre to employ a first-class sakusha, and after he had written his piece, he would decide what actors were to take the different characters, and the play was planned according to the qualifications of the actors. But as time went on the actors came to decide themselves what should be performed, and the playwrights were invited to assist in the carrying out of the actors’ ideas. There were also the suggestions of the theatre proprietors to be considered, for they had an eye to the main chance, and the freedom of the writer of plays was continually curtailed, his dignity impaired, and his originality hampered.

One Kabuki ceremonial, however, allowed the leading sakusha to take a prominent part, and this was the announcement of a new play. It was called sekai-sadame, or world-decision, meaning the selection by the sakusha of certain material from the interesting world at large.

After the playwriter had received the approval of the chief actors, consulted with the theatre proprietor, and arranged the minor rôles with the players of lesser rank, he then began to write his play. He received a sum of money in advance, settled on a lucky day, and started to[228] work. Paper and ink were supplied. Generally when the sakusha knelt before his small low table to begin he was provided with five bundles of the very best paper, and five bundles of a lesser quality, five pairs of fude, or writing brushes, and five tablets of concentrated ink, called sumi, which after being moistened and rubbed against the stone in the ink-box produces the jet-black fluid into which the brush is dipped before making the beautiful characters of the Japanese written language.

Those privileged to attend the “world-decision” were the leading playwright, chief actors, the proprietor and manager. After the time of the second Ichikawa Danjuro, second-class playwrights were allowed to be present and two or three onnagata. Originally it was a most dignified meeting, but the good old customs degenerated and it became less significant.

On the day of the announcement of a new play, towards sunset, long, narrow, gaily-coloured lanterns were hung above the entrance to the theatre, and the innumerable tea-houses also displayed their lanterns in honour of the occasion. The theatre streets were ablaze with paper spheres, and the whole district felt the importance of the ceremony. Those especially invited attended clad in their best, a silk skirt or hakama, and a black silk overcoat, or haori, on the sleeves of which was to be seen the family crest, in white, of the wearer.

Behind the stage in a room reserved for the purpose was the place of meeting. A series of folding screens were arranged about the chief participants, outside of which were grouped the various theatre folk and attendants. The number of persons within the screened space was limited, as the details of the new play were to be kept secret, and news concerning it was not allowed to leak out too quickly to rival theatres.

There is one instance on record when the privilege of being invited to the ceremonial of the play announcement was granted to an outsider. It was when Danjuro, the [229]seventh, was actor-manager of the Kawarasaki-za in Yedo, and Sawamura Toshi, who was very popular, was taken to the meeting, but there was much discussion and a great fuss made over this innovation.

Kataoka Nizaemon, the eleventh, as Yuranosuke, the leader of the Forty-seven Ronin, in the play Chushingura.

When the dignitaries of the theatre had taken their places the stage manager would formally address the leading playwright as follows:

“I hope that you will give us your support this year as before. It would be a very auspicious thing if we could learn what choice you have made of a play.”

Then the chief sakusha stood up, holding a folded paper in his hand, and read forth the name of the play and its characters, also the names of four or five of the leading actors who were to take the chief rôles.

At this juncture there might be some disagreement between the stage manager and the sakusha, and if so the point was decided by lottery, but afterwards when all details of the play were decided beforehand this part of the ceremony became a mere formality.

The sakusha holding the paper, symbol of the play, tied with red and white cords, handed it first to the stage manager and afterwards to the actors, and when this was over all present clapped their hands with regular beats, as is the custom at gatherings in Japan, as a sign of congratulation. Then the much-handled paper was given to the chief actor, and the stage manager said to him:

“May it please the spirit of the god in your house to keep this paper”, to which the actor would make answer:

“I will take it home and keep it until to-morrow, and congratulate myself on having this play.”

Then all present again clapped their hands, and the meeting came to an end.

The matter of the refreshments served at such times differed in each theatre. At the Morita-za, manju, a bean-paste cake, was given to the people within the screen, while at the Ichimura-za a dinner with sake was served generously.

This old custom gradually lost its significance, and in [230]later years it was not observed in the same dignified manner. Sometimes the new play meeting was held at the house of a sakusha, and later the manager of the theatre invited those concerned to his house. The play had to be endorsed by the manager first, and the position of the sakusha gradually changed for the worse.

When the play-deciding meeting was over, the sakusha wrote out the actors’ rôles, and when everything was settled a draft of the piece was sent to the police authorities, a practice that exists even at present. The police censors examined the new play before permission to stage it was granted.

Another event of importance to the sakusha in Yedo’s theatrical world was the first rehearsal held every year on October 17th, when the general plan of new plays was announced and the actors assembled for rehearsal. This was called yorizome, or first gathering, and was held on this particular date because it happened to be the annual festival of the Goddess-of-Mercy temple in Asakusa. This particular day was selected by Nakamura Kansaburo, since he had such a strong faith in Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy. The temple sacred to this Buddhist divinity was the centre of worshippers from all parts of Yedo, as it still remains to-day in teeming Tokyo.

It was a gathering attended by the playwrights, the actors, with the exception of the lowest ranks, and officials of the theatre. The head of the musicians, or hayashikata, was also present. This was a festive occasion in the theatre quarter, and the streets were bright with lanterns. After a general exchange of dinner parties, these people of the theatre gathered together in front of the shibai right under the yagura, or drum-tower, and entered by the small door called the nezumi-kido, or rat door, so called because it was so low that people had to bend their bodies almost double to go through. When they came to the stage they clapped their hands in unison, and passed on. Upon arrival at the place of meeting, which was generally held in a [231]room on the third floor behind the stage, the company again clapped their hands.

The meeting was conducted with such a rigid regard for details, that even the sitting position assigned to the respective persons was minutely arranged beforehand.

The theatre manager addressed the proprietor, saying that he deemed it a great favour to be able to hold the meeting this year, to which the proprietor answered: “May all the years to come be as auspicious as this”. Short songs were then sung, after which the chief sakusha turned his body towards the theatre shrine, where a symbol of the animal of the year was placed—the years being called after the tiger, rat, horse, cow, monkey, dragon, etc., according to the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.

Since the sakusha was obliged to read the play before the actors delivering the lines, according to the distinction between old and young, hero and villain, men and women, it is easy to imagine that when he faced the shrine and declared the title of the new play it must have been given with a sonorousness and a flavour of the theatre that impressed itself upon those who were to take part in it, and shows a reverence for the ideas that emanated from the sakusha’s brain, even if these worthies of the theatre were never placed on an equality with the actors.

After the title of the play had been announced with all due ceremony, a repast followed. At the Nakamura-za, the front of the theatre was adorned with an arrangement of artificial pink and white plum blossoms, and various refreshments were served, while at the Ichimura-za Japan’s diminutive oranges were thrown about from one person to another to increase the merriment.



The actors were their own playwrights in the early period of Kabuki, for the pieces they produced were the result of collaboration. They planned, altered, or improvised as they felt inclined.

Previous to the Genroku age which produced Chikamatsu Monzaemon, who stands head and shoulders above the dramatists of Japan, both for the quality of his work and for the number of pieces he produced, there were two pioneer writers of plays—Fukui Yagozaemon, in Osaka, and Miyako Dennai, in Yedo.

Yagozaemon was the first Kabuki playwright of importance. He wrote Hinin no Adauchi, or The Beggar’s Revenge, in three acts, in the year 1664. Plays up to this time had been limited to one act. The convention of the Nō stage to give but one-act pieces had been established long before Kabuki was born. Yagozaemon’s departure from all precedent was something of an innovation, and the piece met with great success.

It had for plot the adventures of a samurai who disguised himself as a beggar in order to take revenge upon an enemy, but was himself attacked by the man whom he sought. The piece had qualities of longevity, for it has remained a favourite with actors for the past 250 years, and is at present one of the best plays in the repertoire of Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka. When he acts the beggar, Ganjiro resurrects the Kabuki of Yagozaemon in a vivid manner.

Middle-aged female characters were Yagozaemon’s [233]specialty, and he was considered an encyclopaedia on theatre matters, for no young actor was supposed to know his art unless he had studied under him. By means of his plays he was largely instrumental in adding lustre to the careers of the actors Fujita Koheiji and Araki Yojibei, as well as Kaneko Rokuyemon, for whom the Beggar’s Revenge was especially written.

In the same year that Yagozaemon produced his continuous play, Miyako Dennai wrote Imagawa Shinobi Guruma in two acts, that was produced at the Ichimura-za, in Yedo. It concerned a loyal vassal by the name of Imagawa Toshihide who, while making an effort to save the life of his lord, was injured and carried home by his wife, the title meaning, Imagawa in Disguise in a Cart.

And it was in this piece that Ichimura Takenojo played. He was the nephew of the first Uzaemon, the proprietor of the Ichimura-za, but shaved his head and became a Buddhist priest.

Rapid development in settings, costumes, and plays had already begun when Miyako Dennai wrote this play, for at the end of each act a black curtain was let down, and during the interval when the next scene was being prepared a dance was performed. Stage furniture was used and many improvements carried out in stage settings.

An actor who studied under Yagozaemon, called Kaneko Rokuyemon, had two followers, Tominaga Heibei and Kaneko Kichizaemon, and both of the latter became well-known playwrights.

Heibei has left no record as an actor, but he was the first to separate the two professions, making them distinct from each other. In 1680, Heibei signed his name as a playwright on the banzuke, or illustrated announcement of the plays. The theatre folk considered it a very presumptuous proceeding, and Heibei was cordially disliked for putting himself forward. Yet by so doing he definitely disconnected the two professions.

He lived until the middle of the Genroku age, when [234]playbooks began to have wood-cut illustrations. Some of his works have been preserved, in which there are complicated plots of fair ladies, gentlemen ready in the use of swords, revenge, women disguising themselves as men, and males masquerading as women, the appearances of ghosts, all of which appear to have been popular Kabuki themes in Heibei’s time.

Towards the end of his career, Heibei’s plays were not successful, and he was advised to write better ones. According to the Kokon Yakusha Taizen, or Account of Ancient and Modern Actors, Heibei is said to have replied to the criticism levelled at him by saying that it was not right to compose uninteresting plays, at the same time it would be the greatest good fortune for the theatre proprietor if there were always good plays. But before the audience grew tired of good plays, the grass would grow in the Dotombori canal (which waterway the Osaka theatres all faced in these old days as they do at present). Heibei must have been confronted by the same problems that beset the modern playwriter all over the world.

More is known of Kaneko Kichizaemon than of Tominaga Heibei, although they were both pupils of Kaneko Rokuyemon. Perhaps it is because Kichizaemon wrote later than Heibei, beginning in the middle of Genroku, in Kyoto. He was an actor, and ranked as a dokegata, or comic specialty, and was criticised adversely because he made his own part prominent in the plays he wrote.

The most significant fact in relation to Kichizaemon is that he collaborated with Chikamatsu Monzaemon in writing for the most outstanding actor of Kyoto during Genroku, Sakata Tojuro. They first began this collaboration in 1699, at the Miyako-Mandayu-za in Kyoto, and it lasted for ten years, when Kichizaemon continued to write for Tojuro’s successor, Yamashita Kyozaemon, and Chikamatsu threw in his lot with the marionettes, leaving for Osaka, where he produced pieces in rapid succession for the Doll-theatre. His plays written for the doll-actors were the first real [235]contribution to Japanese literature that a playwright had made.

Kaneko Kichizaemon wrote two volumes called Jijinshu, or Collection of the Year’s Dust, little stories about actors in which he played Boswell to Tojuro’s Johnson, recording this famous actor’s words and advice and handing down a vivid impression of the man. It is to be regretted that he has not treated us to similar glimpses of his co-worker, Chikamatsu, but the latter had not then distinguished himself, and it can easily be understood how Kichizaemon worshipped the great actor for whom he wrote, and put down his sayings about the theatre and his art as though they were oracles.

There is one passage in Jijinshu which shows Chikamatsu Monzaemon and Kaneko Kichizaemon at work. We read:

“One day Chikamatsu and the author collected the actors in the gakuya, or dressing-room, and told them about the play. Those who had received good parts praised it, but those who had rôles not to their liking did not say anything. Those who could not decide whether the play was good or bad looked at the faces of the other actors and sided with the majority. And those who were ignorant and did not understand good plays, became cross and scolded the servants, and left the gakuya or dressing-room without saying good-bye.

“At this time Tojuro was zamoto, or stage manager, and if he did not give an opinion no one would say anything. He would address the actors: ‘Now, you actors, practise your parts well,’ and so would take his departure. The actors would begin to rehearse from the next day; they learned their rôles in four or five days, and as soon as they had learned one play they would begin another. And when this new play was given to the actors, Tojuro said he wished to have it explained once more, after which he did not say anything with regard to his rôle.

“The character he was to play required him to wear high rain clogs and a wide straw hat, so he ordered these [236]properties to be made, and when they were handed to him put them on and said: ‘Now give me my lines,’ and Chikamatsu Monzaemon gave them to him. ‘This is a good play,’ he said. ‘When I first heard it I thought so. Some plays are greatly admired by the audience, while others are not popular. Now I am over fifty years, and yet I am unable to criticise the play, or tell whether it is good or bad, for had I known how to criticise plays I might have become an extraordinary person by this time. Before I began to learn the words I wore the geta and took the stick. It is better not to criticise at first, but to try and understand.’”

Kichizaemon concludes by saying: “Whenever a rôle was given to Tojuro, whether short or long, good or bad, he always studied it carefully”.

The giant among the playwrights of his time was Chikamatsu Monzaemon, but as his best plays were written for the Doll-theatre, he does not rightly belong to an account of Kabuki playwrights. It is true, however, that the great influence his compositions had upon Kabuki, even to the present day, can hardly be over-estimated.

His real name was Sugimori Nobunori, and the little town of Hagi, in the Province of Hizen, that has produced so many men famous in Japanese history, regards him as an illustrious son. This is disputed, since several other villages in different parts of the country also put forward claims as to Chikamatsu’s birthplace. Even his last resting-place is not known, for his grave is found in two places, the cemetery of Hyomyo-ji, a Buddhist temple in Osaka, and in a village near this city. And so the greatest playwright of Japan, who wrote more than one hundred plays, was born and died in obscurity. It is thought that he was an illegitimate son, since there seemed to have been some cloud upon his life. The Sugimori family were of good repute, and served the lord of Hagi.

In his youth Chikamatsu entered the temple named Chikamatsu, at Karatsu, in the province of Hizen, and it [237]was from this temple that he took his professional name later in life. While dwelling there he must have laid the foundation for that large knowledge of Buddhism, history, and literature he displays so abundantly and convincingly in his plays. The calm of the Buddhist retreat soon became monotonous to his vigorous spirit, which sought for new worlds to conquer. He went to Kyoto, where he remained for some time with a brother, then entered the service of the noble house of Ichijo, where he became familiar with the customs and ceremonies of the aristocracy, and more particularly with the traditions of the Nō, which influenced his earlier writings greatly. When he severed his relation with this princely establishment, he had conferred upon him a certain rank in acknowledgement of his service.

So little is known concerning Chikamatsu’s life that it is impossible to conjecture the reasons that led him to write for Kabuki, and associate with the “riverside beggars”. His first success was at the Miyako-Mandayu-za, Sakata Tojuro’s theatre. Kokon Yakusha Taizen, or Account of Ancient and Modern Actors, a chronicle of the theatre, published in 1750, records that Chikamatsu surprised the audience by a novelty, in the form of the ghost of a Court lady called Fujitsubo that came out of wistaria flowers and was transformed into a snake. People in the audience were so pleased they shouted: “Monzaemon! Monzaemon!”

In spite of his apparent popularity, Chikamatsu had a sudden change of heart, and at the age of 38 he left for Osaka there to collaborate with Takemoto Gidayu, the Doll-theatre minstrel. What was Kabuki’s loss at this time proved to be a gain later on, for his masterpieces were absorbed by Kabuki and generations of actors since Genroku have performed the varied characters of his plays.

A brother, with whom Chikamatsu had stayed when he first went to Kyoto, was a medical authority in his day, who had published books on medical subjects, and also works on history. This younger brother once suggested to [238]Chikamatsu that he could utilise his talent to better advantage than in writing for the Doll-theatre, as we are told by Dr. Fujii in his Life of Chikamatsu. But the latter retorted that the profession of writing plays might be less harmful than the writing of treatises on medicine, because in the latter case misprints or errors might prove very harmful to the lives of men.

Chikamatsu took his materials from all sources. He helped himself liberally to the plots of the Nō drama and of Nō Kyogen, Buddhist sermons that were recited to popular tunes, songs of the people, children’s airs and even vulgar ditties, while the songs of folk-dances he used to advantage. He was a scholar, familiar with the Chinese and Japanese classics, and learned in Buddhism. But he always aimed to make the common people understand, and considered that the lower classes were his regular audience and chief patrons. He died at 64, in 1724, having written steadily for thirty years, composing one hundred and thirty pieces.

When Chikamatsu Monzaemon was engaged in producing his plays for the Takemoto-za of Osaka, a playwright who attempted to rival him was Kino Kaion. He had been a priest, and was a man of culture, but his knowledge was not so deep as that of Chikamatsu. Ten years younger than Chikamatsu, he wrote for twenty-five years, producing forty plays. But there are few masterpieces among them.

After Chikamatsu’s death Takeda Izumo, his most brilliant pupil, became the head of the Takemoto-za. Although Takeda was not so prolific a writer as was his master, several of his plays may be said to surpass the best pieces of Chikamatsu, particularly his Chushingura, also Terakoya, or the Village School, that fine scene in the long play concerning the exiled Michizane, a high official of the Imperial Court, victim of an intriguing enemy a thousand years ago. Most of Takeda Izumo’s plays were appropriated by Kabuki, and are still played by the real actors as well as the puppets.

[239]The rival Doll-theatres, the Takemoto-za and the Toyotaki-za, brought about two camps of playwrights, and their keen competition supplied a large number of plays. At the Takemoto-za, which always attracted to itself the greatest number of talented workers, there were after Chikamatsu and Takeda Izumo—Hasegawa Senshi, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Matsuda Wakichi. Chief among those who wrote for the Toyotaki-za were Kino Kaion, Nishizawa Ippu, Tanaka Senryu, Namiki Sosuke, and Yasuda Abun.

Very few details have been handed down regarding these writers, but their plays are eloquent testimony to their genius. When the Ningyo-shibai was on the decline Chikamatsu Hanji wrote a number of plays that helped to stem the tide of misfortune.

Such an array of first-class writers cannot be found in the annals of Kabuki. Indeed the dolls and their plays were the real foundation of the Japanese stage, and even to-day it is these plays, repeated over and over again, that please both actors and audience. The men who wrote that the dolls should become radiant figures in a world created by their imaginations, left behind them a richer legacy of plays than did the sakusha of Kabuki. Succeeding generations of actors have acted in them, for they are plays that never lose their power to please; their vitality remains undimmed by the passage of time.

Among the many talented as well as minor writers who were inspired to compose for the marionettes, Chikamatsu ranks first, Takeda Izumo second, and Chikamatsu Hanji third, judging by the number of their plays that became the property of Kabuki and have withstood the shocks of time.

The Genroku age, which produced Chikamatsu, Sakata Tojuro, and Ichikawa Danjuro the first; which saw the rising tide of talent in all directions and a deepening of the consciousness of the people, also witnessed an increased activity in the production of plays. And one characteristic of these pieces was that theatre managers were often [240]responsible for plays, while many of the actors composed for themselves.

Saruwaka Kansaburo, the founder of Yedo Kabuki, had been a playwright as well as the proprietor of his theatre, the Saruwaka-za, afterwards the Nakamura-za. Sadoshima Saburozaemon owned a theatre in Osaka, and also wrote his own plays. After Miyako Dennai in Yedo, there was Kawarasaki Gonnosuke, who wrote a play about the revenge of the Soga brothers that was a great success. The name Kawarasaki Gonnosuke has been intimately connected with the history of Yedo Kabuki, and was inherited by a modern actor. There was Nakamura Hichisaburo, the rival of the first Ichikawa Danjuro in Yedo, whose play, Keisei Asamagatake, or The-Lady-of-the-Gay-Quarters-Mount-Asama, brought him a wonderful success.

Fukuoka Yagoshiro was an actor specialising in old men’s rôles in Kyoto. He recorded the opinions of the noted onnagata Yoshisawa Ayame, in his Ayame Gusa, or the Sayings of Ayame, concerning the secrets of onnagata acting, for which he is better known than for the plays he left to posterity. And there was Midzushima Shirobei, who was a tatayaku, or chief actor, as well as a sakusha. He was a patron of Yoshizawa Ayame.

Miyasaki Denkichi, who played with Ichikawa Danjuro, the first, and who was implicated in a Yedo nunnery scandal with another leading actor, Yamashita Kozaemon, also wrote his own plays and was often assisted by his son, Sakakuyama Kanpachi, who was a sakusha.

But of all these actor-playwrights, by far the most interesting and significant was Ichikawa Danjuro, the first. The eighteen hereditary pieces of the Ichikawa family to-day are the treasures of Kabuki, reflecting much of the vanished taste and style of these old days.

More than half of these eighteen pieces were originated by the first Danjuro, and among them is Kanjincho, adapted from the Nō, and unquestionably the most perfect music-drama [241]of Kabuki. Kanjincho (the name for a Buddhist scroll, in which the donors to a temple building fund were recorded) was first played by Danjuro in 1702, and the popularity of the piece was so great that the theatre was crowded daily. The first performances continued for 150 days—an unusually long run for those times, and gained the nickname, Oshiai Yunidan, or the To-Crowd-Together-Play. Danjuro had a nom de plume, Mimasuya Hyogo, and this he used when signing his plays. In the composition of the Ichikawa plays, Hayakawa Dengoro is said to have had a hand. He was the son of an Osaka theatre proprietor, and played upon the Yedo stage, appearing in the specialty of a katakiyaku, or villain. He collaborated with Danjuro in the play in four acts about the revenge of the Soga brothers, a piece which attracted great attention. Other of the Ichikawa plays owed much to this sakusha, and even Nakamura Hichisaburo was indebted to him for assistance in the composition of his piece, Keisei Asamagatake.

Adzuma Sampachi was a dokegata, or comedian, and wrote plays, and towards the end of his theatre career devoted himself exclusively to writing for the stage. At one time he presented a piece to the actors, and it was refused. Nothing daunted, he re-wrote again and again, presenting it six times. On the seventh trial it was appreciated, and the actors apologised and thanked him for his work. It was his custom to go out in a kago, or palanquin, slung on poles carried on the shoulders of bearers. He would pay the kago men to take him out into the country, or to some place of interest. On excursions of this kind he gained his ideas, and when his plan for a play was complete he gathered the actors together and began rehearsals. The piece by which he is best known is Yaoya O-Hichi, or O-Hichi, the Daughter of the Vegetable Dealer, based on a Yedo story of a girl who, in order to see her lover, committed a capital offence, setting fire to her father’s house, for which she suffered the death penalty. This play [242]still remains a favourite on the Tokyo and Osaka stages. The critics of Sampachi’s time described him as utterly ignorant, that he pandered to the popular taste, and did not rank high among the sakusha.

Contemporary with these men, there was Nakamura Denkichi, who was the first professional playwright in Yedo. Before him the actors had combined in themselves the two professions, but Denkichi confined himself exclusively to writing. He was a cousin of Nakamura Kansaburo, and studied for the stage under Nakamura Denkuro, but abandoned it.

He considered that plays should above all please the eyes, and be written so as to be understood by women and children. Although his pieces were not distinguished for literary qualities, they made up for this lack in the spectacle provided for the eye. Denkichi must have been a better stage manager than a writer of plays, for under him the settings made great improvement.

At this time, there was Arashi Seisaburo, an illegitimate son of the second Nakamura Kansaburo, half-brother of the leading actor, Nakamura Hichisaburo. He collaborated with Danjuro, and one of his best plays is Ryujo Sanjuniso, or the Thirty-two-Faces-of-a-Dragon. There were also Nakamura Seigoro, a follower of Nakamura Denkichi, and Tsuuchi Jihei.

Kabuki’s wholesale borrowing of plays from the Ningyo-shibai began in 1717. The play that started this movement was Kokusenya Kassen, or The Battle of Kokusenya, by Chikamatsu. It had as hero a warrior whose mother was Japanese and father Chinese. The warrior went over to China to restore an emperor to the throne, performing the most amazing feats. The piece was full of Chinese ideas, and as a breath of the outside world, must have been appreciated at this time.

Whatever the attraction of this Chikamatsu piece, it ran for seventeen months at the Takemoto-za, the Osaka Doll-theatre. The second Ichikawa Danjuro gave this [243]play in Yedo, and it was produced in Osaka and Kyoto. After this all the plays that proved successful in the Doll-theatre were quickly adapted to the needs of Kabuki.

Namiki Shozo (1730–1773) was one of the most prominent sakusha in Kyoto, during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. He studied under one of the best Ningyo-shibai playwrights, Namiki Sosuke, and wrote for the dolls as well as for the actors. In his time the vogue for the Doll-theatre had already begun to wane, and allured by the superior attractions of Kabuki he wrote more for the latter than for the dolls. His plays were full of complicated situations that tested the actor’s ability, a technique he had acquired as a result of his apprenticeship to the ningyo school, which demanded many situations to keep the movements of the marionettes full of significance, for otherwise their dollships would have become all too apparent.

In Osaka during the Horeki period the leading sakusha was Nagawa Kamesuke, and he was followed by Tatsuoka Mansaku and Namiki Gohei. Mansaku was the son of an onnagata, and lived in Kyoto until he was 51 years of age, when he went to Osaka. He died at 68, in 1809. His talent was best expressed in historical plays, but as the authorities prohibited the use of real facts upon the stage, he contented himself with making over historical events, which he did in a way very satisfactory to the playgoer.

Namiki Gohei, born in Osaka in 1747, was the chief playwright of his time. His plays were so much in demand in the theatres of the three towns that he travelled back and forth a great deal. He was patronised by Sawamura Sojuro, the third, and also wrote for the third Onoe Kikugoro. Banzuiin Chobei, written for the fourth Ichikawa Danjuro, remains exceedingly popular at the present day, showing the democratic leaven that was working in Japan in Gohei’s day. This is among his best pieces.

Chobei was an otokodate, or brave commoner, ever ready to champion the cause of the weak and down-trodden citizens, often the victims of the tyrannical two-sworded [244]gentry. He incurred the enmity of an evil samurai, who put him to death. This was a theme to stir the audiences of Osaka and Yedo.

After the death of the third Sojuro, Namiki wrote for his son, the fourth Sojuro, and for the fifth Matsumoto Koshiro. As he had been an actor in his early days, he knew something of the stages of Osaka and Yedo, that had many different characteristics, and he combined the two. His play, written around the ever-verdant story of the Soga brothers’ revenge, one of the most fruitful sources for the Kabuki’s sakusha’s inspiration, was so popular that it was given for many years at every Yedo theatre on the New Year programme, and the custom was only discontinued at the beginning of Meiji. In using historical material, Gohei felt the cramping influence of the authorities, and he skilfully combined the true with the false facts of history. Popular rumours of the day, gossip that went on round the hibachi in the dwellings of Yedo, were prohibited from finding representation on the stage, and consequently Gohei utilised the talk of the town as false reports, and the audience knowing the true inwardness of things that had been circulated far and wide, could easily understand his references.

That the business of playwriting was not very lucrative seems to be suggested from the fact that Gohei once kept a tobacco shop in Osaka, later becoming a seller of sake. In Yedo he also opened a little medicine shop and sold pills, an old-fashioned Chinese remedy for colds.

His excursions into business could not have been to his liking, but due rather to forced circumstances, since he is on record as having said when he sat down before his desk: “All the world is my own. No enemy is near me. All the actors are my own, and I can use them as I like.”

A Yedo playwright some years younger than Namiki Gohei was Horikoshi Nisanji, but his plays have not been handed down as have been those of his more popular Osaka contemporary.

[245]Nisanji was followed by Sakurada Jisuke, who became the first playwright of Yedo, and wrote during a period of forty years. He was associated with such distinguished actors as the fifth Ichikawa Danjuro, the fourth Matsumoto Koshiro, the first Nakamura Nakazo, and the fifth Iwai Hanshiro. He excelled in plays depicting real life, or sewamono, and took his characters from the varied life about him,—handsome young samurai, heroines of the gay quarters, and brave men of the people. The play of his that has lived longest is Sukeroku, one of Kabuki’s most characteristic pieces, with scenes laid in the gay quarters, and Sukeroku, the very personification of bravery and loyalty, as the hero.

The periods of Bunka and Bunsei, or from 1804 to 1817, saw the beginning of Kabuki’s decline, and for fifty years before the Restoration in 1868 there was little development. It was a time of stagnation, and the people shut up within their own country were beginning to suffer from lack of outside stimulus. A distinct loss of originality began to show itself in the theatre, and there was a dearth of good playwrights, while the Doll-theatre had taken a plunge downward, and there was little activity among the writers for the marionettes. Kabuki had depended largely upon the Doll-theatre playwrights, and failing these fell back upon dramatisations of popular fiction. The novels of Bakin, Tenehiko, and Kyoden were dramatised for the stage.

Although the theatre had become more complex, and material for plays was abundant, the period did not produce the playwright. The position of the sakusha, which in the beginning had been of great dignity, changed for the worse. They became mere slaves of the actors. There was a stage writer called Nagawa Shimesuke, son of the keeper of a theatre tea-house, who did not create, but patched and altered at the bidding of the actors, so that he was nicknamed Sentaku-ya Shimesuke, or Laundry-Man Shimesuke, which gives a good idea of the playwriters’ low estate at this time.

[246]Nagawa Tokusuke gave up the priesthood to become a playwright. He had been connected with a country temple, and went to Osaka to learn how to write. There were so few sakusha at this time, that the third Nakamura Utayemon invited him up to Yedo, and was so anxious to encourage him, hoping that he would prove to be a goose to lay golden eggs in the way of popular plays for the actors, that he bestowed upon Tokusuke the precious family pen-name of Issen, used by the first Utayemon when he signed his poetry. One of his plays was a failure, which disconcerted the actors to a considerable degree. He returned the literary nom de plume with which his patron Utayemon had honoured him, and departed whence he had come. Thereafter he wrote pieces for side-shows, set up along the banks of rivers, on temporary sites in the compounds of shrines, or at cross-roads. At last he shaved his head and retired as the keeper of a tea-house in Kyoto, dying at 79. So the sakusha, like the yakusha, had their falls from favour, and their lives often ended in disappointment.

The third Utayemon wrote his own plays, but did not have good luck in the sakusha whom he engaged to help him,—Nagawa Seisuke. He did his best with Nagawa’s poor compositions, but the latter possessed inferior ability. On one occasion the playwright became angry because his ideas had not been carried out properly, and he drew his sword to kill Utayemon, when he was stopped.

Tsuruya Namboku stands out from among these unsatisfactory writers, and several of his plays are regular features of the modern stage. He was the son of a dyer in Yedo, wrote especially for the third Bando Hikosaburo, and was particularly successful in ghost plays. Onoe Matsusuke and Onoe Kikugoro, who were in their element when playing ghostly rôles, shone in Namboku’s compositions. The most familiar of his plays to modern audiences is Yotsuya Kaidan, or The Ghost of Yotsuya, the latter a certain quarter of Yedo that remains to-day one of the thriving centres of Tokyo. Namboku was a genius [247]in the invention of stage apparatus to make his supernatural characters more gruesome, and Yotsuya Kaidan is an example of his skill in overcoming mechanical difficulties.

He caused O-Iwa, the weird heroine of this play, to make her entrance upon the scene through a large lighted lantern, and disappear through the solid wall, etc. Once he pasted black paper all over the stage to fashion the body of a whale, and a Jonah-like actor stepped out of it carrying a crown. The audiences of his time were quite carried away by the boldness of his ideas, and his works have a lasting quality, for their power to make the flesh creep is undiminished.

It was the lot of the sakusha to be poor, and Namboku was no exception. An incident is told of him that during a period of poverty he was kneeling in front of his little writing-desk, when his wife entered and asked for the wherewithal to buy some rice. He had no money, so she took the mosquito net, an indispensable article in a Japanese house in warm weather, and went to the pawnbroker, where she exchanged it for sufficient coin of the realm to keep the house supplied with rice for a short period. Namboku made good use of this domestic episode, and has immortalised it in Yotsuya Kaidan. The long-suffering O-Iwa is cruelly treated by her husband that she may leave the house, as he wishes to marry another woman, younger, prettier, and richer in this world’s goods. In his attempt to get rid of her he sells everything in the house piece by piece, the mosquito net among them, hoping by his callous cruelty to drive her away.

Namboku died at the age of 75, in the compound of the well-known Fox Shrine in Fukugawa, a ward of present-day Tokyo. He had a son who succeeded him, and who became adviser to the seventh Danjuro. The latter was a quick writer, and specialised in plays that had the gay quarters for settings.

A quaint character among these pre-Restoration playwrights was Hanakasa Rosuke. This was not his real name, [248]but rather a theatre nickname, Flowery-Straw-Hat-Rosuke, given him because of his habit of going about in extraordinary clothing. He generally wore a gaudy kimono, yellow velvet tabi, or socks, and on his head a wide straw hat adorned on top with artificial flowers, in imitation of a festival reveller in the cherry-blossom season. He was the eldest son of the chief doctor of the Takeda Clan, and had been bred in a samurai atmosphere. He was also something of a scholar, but never became a first-class sakusha.

Rosuke went to Osaka and wrote for the theatres there. He returned with the seventh Danjuro, when this great actor was allowed to return to Yedo, after the long exile imposed upon him for extravagance. Later, Rosuke wrote for the third Kikugoro, but he spoke against Kikugoro’s son, and was requested to cease composing plays for the Onoe family. Again he left Yedo, and went to Osaka, where he died in poverty at the age of 76.

For many years after Namboku Tsuruya, there were no playwrights capable of filling his place except Mimasuya Nisoji, who gained a position in Yedo because of his long service to Yedo Kabuki. For twenty years Nisoji wrote for the third Kikugoro, the fourth Nakamura Utayemon, and the seventh Danjuro, but his work consisted largely in revision. He belonged to a wealthy family and began to write for his own amusement. On account of extravagance and dissipation, he was sent away from his home, and died in his seventies.

Nisoji and Namboku were great friends, and they played practical jokes upon each other. Namboku was once slightly ill and Nisoji asked a Court doctor to go and examine him. A kago, or palanquin, carried on the shoulders of six stout bearers proceeded to Namboku’s humble dwelling. The Kabuki sakusha had received no warning of the Court physician’s visit, and was greatly surprised. Taken unawares, he got out of his bed and bowed low on the mats. When the great medical man took his departure, the kago bearers asked for money, but the maker of plays was incurably [249]poor, and could only pay a small portion of the kago men’s demands.

In order to get even with Nisoji, Namboku planned a counter joke. There was a certain shrine in Shinagawa, a suburb of Yedo, where the spirit of the famous general, Kato Kiyomasa, was enshrined, and it was Nisoji’s habit after visiting the shrine to repair to a tea-house in the vicinity. There was some gossip that Nisoji had carried on a flirtation with the daughter of the tea-house keeper, and Namboku ordered a lantern to be made bearing his friend’s crest together with that of the tea-house maiden, and hung it up in front of the shrine. Nisoji was much perplexed, and acknowledged that Namboku had evened up the score.

The second Namiki Gohei was the second son of a vassal of the Shogun. He was expelled from his house because of dissipation and association with actors. The third Gohei was a follower of the first Namiki, and it was he who collaborated with the seventh Danjuro in giving the finishing touches to Kanjincho, Kabuki’s music-drama masterpiece.

Nishizawa Ippo was the grandson of a novelist and kept a bookshop. He had many literary friends, and wrote plays, but there are few genuine pieces of his left, as they have been patched and altered, there being no protection for plays, and no conscience about changing them to suit the requirements of the actors.

Segawa Joko kept a gofuku-ya, or drapery shop, in Yedo, and wrote plays because he felt an inclination to do so. Finally he was persuaded to give up his business, and he became a tate sakusha, or chief playwriter. He sinned in verbosity, and the actors tired of his long speeches. It might have been better for Joko’s peace of mind had he continued to deal in kimono and obi. His specialty consisted in dramatising the stories related in the yose, or places of amusement where the professional story-teller held forth. The eighth Danjuro was successful in some of these pieces, and they are still favourites with playgoers.

[250]The last sakusha to shine before the dawn of the Meiji era was Sakurada Jisuke, who was born in 1802 and died in the tenth year of Meiji, 1877. He was associated with actors and literary men for forty years, and during most of his career he was head of the Yedo playwrights. He wrote many plays, and among them are a number frequently given by the actors of modern Tokyo and Osaka.

The little eccentricities of the sakusha were long remembered after they had passed away. Sakurada Jisuke had a habit of frequently moving his residence. He would make a hole in his cupboard through which his rice was poured by the delivery boy from the rice shop, as he did not like people to see how much he had ordered at a time. But while he was parsimonious in some matters, in others he was prodigal. He lived in Mukojima, across the Sumida River from Tokyo, and at times bought a whole bag of charcoal, for use in the hibachi, to warm himself in the boat that took him across the river—just to make a show. The trip across the river was brief, and he was well aware he required but a small portion. When an old farmer came selling squash, Jisuke purchased his entire stock-in-trade and then presented him with one of the vegetables as a reward, after which the countryman spread the tale of the sakusha’s generosity.

It was a time when the fortunes of the sakusha were at the lowest ebb, when writers for the theatre were entirely subordinate to the actors, and yet the dignity of his profession must have been felt by Jisuke, for it is reported that he resented being placed under young actors. After Jisuke, the most prolific stage-writer was the second Kawatake Shinkichi, better known in his later career as Mokuami, who belongs more appropriately to the story of Meiji Kabuki.

When dying, Sakurada Jisuke expressed a last wish:

“Do not have Buddhist ceremonies or anniversaries for me, but be careful not to neglect Yedo plays.”





The four characteristic play forms of Kabuki may be classified as follows: sewamono, plays of everyday life; jidaimono, historical drama; shosagoto, music-posture drama; and aragoto, highly imaginary improvisations. Closely allied with these forms is odori, the descriptive dance, which forms the very foundation of the actor’s art, as it is known and practised in Japan.

Sewamono are plays in which human nature holds sway, the playwright selecting for his material the joys and sorrows of the people around him. Those composed for the Doll-theatre partake of the nature of balladry, the marionettes moving to music, song, and recitative, while those written for Kabuki are more akin to the drama of the West.

Jidaimono, historical drama, are pieces that have heroes and heroines taken from the pages of history for central characters.

But since the playwright was forbidden by the authorities to represent the real events of history, his only recourse was to take famous personages and set them in the midst of a wholly imaginary and irrelevant plot. As he was unable to confine himself to truth, he allowed his imagination to run riot in the painting of characters and scenes as far removed from the realities of life as possible.

Shosagoto, also called furigoto, the music-posture drama, provide the most characteristic Kabuki pieces. Largely [254]influenced by the Nō, the shosagoto combine all the Kabuki arts—plot, music, scenery, acting, movement, and colour, and represent the most sincere collaboration of the Kabuki specialists.

Even more detached from life than the jidaimono is the fourth variety of Kabuki play, the aragoto (lit., rough acting). Originated by the first Ichikawa Danjuro, these pieces cannot be classified as drama, for they scarcely possess any form, and are the result of improvisation on the part of the different members of the Ichikawa family, who added or altered, improved or patched up, producing the traditional eighteen pieces of this house.

The essence of aragoto is exaggeration, and this applies to every detail, gesture, posture, movement, costume, and acting. The flimsy material that serves to unite all these strange ingredients is generally an abstraction, and the expressions and words used are largely symbolic. The entire emphasis is placed on the art of acting, and the playwright is left a long distance behind.

Modern stage-writers have made signal departures from these time-honoured forms, and melodrama, as well as translations and adaptations of Western plays, are now frequent. In the weaving of their patterns, however, the modern playwrights appear to wish to throw overboard as much lumber of the past as possible, but without great success. Out of the fusion of East and West that is going on upon the Japanese stage at present, much of interest is to be expected in the future.

On account of the long hours through which the performances extended, it was necessary to spread a veritable theatrical feast to sustain the interest of the audience and keep its attention from wandering. The programmes were so planned as to include all types of Kabuki pieces, and this holds equally true of the entertainments afforded by the modern stage.

In the old days the arrangement of the programme was fixed and unchangeable, and although at present changes [255]are made now and then, the sequence of the pieces remains practically the same.

Ichibamme, or the first piece, is a selection of three acts from a jidaimono, or historical drama. Then comes the naka-maku, or middle curtain. This is a short shosagoto, but occasionally a one-act aragoto offering is presented. Sometimes two short pieces are given, and nowadays this is the position assigned to any attempt by a new writer.

Next comes the nibamme, or second piece. This is a sewamono, or play depicting the life of the people. For conclusion there is a gay dance in which the young actors are generally to be seen. This is called the hane-maku, or end curtain.

Although the Kabuki play forms fall into these four categories, actors, playwriters, dancing masters, musicians, and others responsible for the productions never allowed themselves to follow rigidly the special forms that had been evolved. These stage workers were like a painter who dips his brush into the colours on his palette as they are needed. Similarly the Kabuki experts combined the real with the unreal; introduced dance, pantomime, and, music, even feats of acrobats as they saw fit, and worked freely, unconscious of limitation.


Chikamatsu Monzaemon was one of the first dramatists to discover the value of human nature as material for his plays, and his contemporaries and successors also sought inspiration in the domestic life about them, producing the type of drama called sewamono, or plays of the people.

That “All the world loves a lover” is as true of Chikamatsu’s Izaemon as of Shakespeare’s Romeo. Originally acted by Sakata Tojuro of Kyoto in the Genroku age, Izaemon is one of the oldest rôles on the Japanese stage, and never loses its freshness. Animated, sentimental, full of the eternal dreams and joys of youth, [256]Izaemon makes his appearance on the hanamichi eager to see his love Yugiri, an inmate of a house called Ogiya in Shimmachi, the gay quarter of Osaka. Here at a tea-house where he is well known he buys a wide straw hat that hides his face, it being the custom at the time for frequenters of the quarters to go about with their faces hidden. Izaemon selects one that has a red cord on the top, so that Yugiri shall know him. Yugiri, the centre of a courtesan train, makes a brilliant show upon the hanamichi, and within her domain Izaemon is seen as a petted, gilded youth, accustomed to the luxury of the day, as became the son of a prosperous business-house in Kyoto, the Fujiya.

Then is seen the abode of Izaemon’s business-like mother, who, left a widow, has carried on the house in a capable manner. She sorrowfully disinherits Izaemon because of his prodigality as Yugiri’s lover.

Izaemon alone, on a snowy day, in a room of his home looking out on the garden, dreams of Yugiri; asking himself what she is doing at that moment, regretting he cannot go to Osaka since his mother has declared he must find a livelihood for himself. Anxious, yet happy in his dreams, his mother appears, and presents him with a poor kimono made of paper, that his father was obliged to wear when working hard to lay the foundation of the family fortune. This is given the youth as a symbol that he must leave the house on account of his extravagance and likewise must build up his own career. Poor and unsuccessful, tired with wandering about, Izaemon returns to see Yugiri as he has heard that she is ill. A deep straw basket-shaped hat covers his face, his kimono is weather-stained and patched, a forlorn figure, as he stands at the door of the Ogiya. Servants of the place take him for a beggar, and attempt to drive him away, but the proprietor recognises his former wealthy patron, and warmly invites him within.

Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka in his favourite rôle, that of Izaemon, the lover of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s drama, and played for two enturies by the Kabuki actors.

Izaemon next learns that although Yugiri has been ill she has recovered, that a samurai, Hiraoka of Awa, is [257]interested in her, and that the son born to Yugiri and himself has been adopted by Hiraoka.

Believing Yugiri faithless to him, and overcome by jealousy, he enters her room and awaits her coming, pretending to be asleep. When she succeeds in arousing him he feigns coldness and indifference, but finally he can no longer suppress his true feelings, and they give expression to the sufferings they have both undergone during the separation. It is one of the best love idylls of the Japanese stage.

The conversation between the youthful lovers is interrupted by the abrupt entrance of a stranger dressed as a samurai, wearing a sword. Taking off the cloth wrapped about the head, the newcomer reveals the coiffure of a woman, adorned with beautiful combs and hair-pins. It is O-Yuki, the wife of Hiraoka, who, disguised as a man, has sought an interview with her rival. She has come to ask Yugiri to relinquish all claim to the child, wishing to adopt him as heir of the Hiraoka family.

There is a pathetic scene when Yugiri journeys to the home of the samurai that she may see her son for the last time, and Izaemon, in order to obtain one glimpse of the boy, goes disguised as a kago, or palanquin bearer.

The path of true love never did run smooth. Yugiri becomes ill. The plight of Yugiri and Izaemon appears hopeless. O-Yuki, overcome with pity, sends money to ransom Yugiri from the Ogiya, and at the same time Izaemon’s mother, softened by her son’s sufferings, sends a still larger amount to buy Yugiri’s freedom. Her child is also restored to her, and with her loved ones she goes forth to freedom, all to be happily united with Izaemon’s mother in Kyoto.

In one of the best sewamono, Nozaki-mura, or The Village of Nozaki, by Chikamatsu Hanji, is seen the eternal triangle composed of Hisamatsu, O-Some, and O-Mitsu.

Hisamatsu, employed in the establishment of a well-to-do [258]pawnbroker of Osaka, fell in love with the daughter of the house, O-Some. They were apparently made for each other, and the parents of O-Some would have gladly given their consent to the marriage, had not the villain of the play, an elderly, dissipated clerk of the pawnshop, cast covetous eyes on his master’s daughter, and, jealous of the growing friendliness between Hisamatsu and O-Some, spread scandal about them.

There is another obstacle, however, for Hisamatsu has already been betrothed to O-Mitsu. He has been selected by O-Mitsu’s father, according to the prerogative of parents in Japan to choose life companions for their children. O-Mitsu lives with the old man in the country, anxiously awaiting the day when she will become the bride of Hisamatsu, they having been brought up like sister and brother.

One of the best scenes in this long domestic tragedy is the meeting of the three youthful characters. There is something so genuinely homely and human about O-Mitsu, as she is seen busying herself in preparation for her marriage to Hisamatsu, all unaware that her future husband has already given his heart elsewhere. The drab interior of a humble farmhouse seems to have been transformed, and to reflect something of the girl’s radiance as she poses to the rhythm of the samisen, the minstrel on his rostrum to the right of the stage explaining her movements.

Those long acquainted with the play know that O-Mitsu will cut slices from daikon, the long, white, radish-like vegetable, in readiness for the wedding feast, but how she does it is watched with fascination. Every one, too, knows that she will make her toilet before the round metal mirror, full of bashful happiness at the thought of her approaching marriage.

Even while O-Mitsu is deep in thoughts of herself as a bride, her rival, O-Some, of whom she has never even dreamed, appears on the hanamichi in the midst of the audience. She is the very acme of good taste and style, [259]the daughter of an Osaka family that does not lack in this world’s goods. She is clad in a resplendent purple kimono. O-Mitsu can never hope to compete with this beautiful creature, who comes knocking at the cottage entrance.

Looking within her mirror O-Mitsu sees the reflection of the visitor, a vision of beauty, in contrast to her own rustic simplicity, and the flame of jealousy begins to bum. In her confusion she pays no attention to O-Some, overturns her mirror, and chops up the daikon recklessly into small pieces.

Still hostile to the visitor, who remains waiting for admittance, O-Mitsu is joined by Hisamatsu and the father, who are not yet aware of a stranger’s presence, although O-Mitsu puts her head out of the door in anything but a hospitable manner, making exclamations of scorn and anger expressive of her hostile state of mind as she pushes her rival away, closes the latticed door, and to make sure that it is secured against O-Some’s invasion, places against it a bundle of dried twigs gathered for fuel.

Very human, too, is the application of moxa, a burning medicine, to the legs of the old farmer, who writhes with pain at each fresh ministration by his daughter. Hisamatsu, taking part in this operation by massaging the old man’s shoulders, is surprised to find O-Some at the entrance and motions her to go away. He has not yet had time to break the news of his relations to the Osaka maiden, and is at a loss what to do. O-Mitsu also continues to show her displeasure, but the unwelcome visitor cannot be driven away. The farmer, at last viewing the newcomer, realises the situation, and drags the unwilling O-Mitsu out of the room, leaving the lovers together.

After a sorrowful love scene between Hisamatsu and O-Some, O-Mitsu returns, but they are astonished to find that she has cut off her hair and wears the garb of a nun. She has decided that Hisamatsu and O-Some belong to each other, and so sacrifices herself that they may have no regrets on her account. O-Some is full of gratitude, and [260]Hisamatsu is overcome by her sacrifice. O-Some’s mother next appears to take her daughter home.

The stage then revolves showing the side of the cottage, a stream of water, a boat landing, and a boatman waiting for his passengers to the left, while on the right two palanquin men are ready to take Hisamatsu away.

Quickly the hanamichi is spread with a blue and white cotton cloth to represent water. Mother and daughter prepare to embark in the boat. The shoji, or white paper windows of the cottage, are pushed aside, and O-Mitsu gazes out sadly.

To the rippling, merry rhythms of the samisen, and a spring song in praise of the plum blossom sung in a rollicking way by the palanquin bearers, they take their departure; Hisamatsu carried in a palanquin on one hanamichi looking across the heads of the audience at O-Some, and again with regret at O-Mitsu; O-Some and her mother borne over the cotton waves spread out along the main hanamichi, the boatman working so hard at the task of plying the oar that he has to take off his coat to cool himself, the blue and white robed property men really doing all the pushing and pulling of the craft so that it moves smoothly through the audience. O-Mitsu and the old father stand together outside the cottage, lonely figures, bearing the brunt of the sorrow of farewell; the whole theatre becomes a stage, and each and every person in the audience feels his or her connection with the play and with the actors.

Hisamatsu and O-Some were not destined to enjoy life. Believing that they could never clear themselves of the aspersions cast upon their characters by the slanders of the evil clerk, they seek a happier world where their spirits may be united. In the gloomy storehouse, erected as a mark of congratulation when O-Some was born, the bodies of the lovers are found together.



For the exploitation of the unreal we must turn to the jidaimono. The audiences of Old Japan did not bother their heads if the plot of a play was so complex that they really could not remember where it began and how it ended, to judge from Kokusenya Kassen, or the Battle of Kokusenya, a jidaimono by Chikamatsu Monzaemon that enjoyed unbounded popularity when first produced in 1710, and continues to hold its own, proving its lasting qualities.

Like Tennyson’s Brook, the complicated characters in this piece come and go, and the play goes on for ever; in consequence, modern audiences must witness it piecemeal, since it is only the doll-actors that are able to give the play in its entirety, and even they must be active from morning until late afternoon if they are to act all the scenes in this queer old Chikamatsu drama.

Fashioned out of the cloth of exaggeration, Chikamatsu’s hero, Watonai, has no kinship with human beings; his fierce countenance showing broad red and black markings, the bushy hair, the outer costume of purple covered over with a design of twisted rope in white, the inner garment of scarlet studded with brass buttons, the huge curved sword—Watonai might as well belong to the theatre of the moon, since he has nothing in common with ordinary mortals.

Watonai’s father was a faithful minister of a deposed Ming Emperor, who took refuge in Japan, and married a woman of Kyushu. Their son, fired with enthusiasm to go to his father’s country in an attempt to restore the Ming dynasty, reaches the castle of Kanki, a Chinese general married to Watonai’s half-sister, who had been left behind when her father was obliged to flee to Japan.

Arrived at the Lion Castle, Watonai allows his Japanese mother to enter as a hostage, and his Chinese sister, Kinsho, whom he has never seen, declares she will try to win her husband to Watonai’s cause. If he is favourable, she will pour white face powder into the stream beneath her window, [262]and should the answer be in the negative, a quantity of rouge will dye the water. But the general does not favour his unknown brother-in-law from Japan, and Kinsho stabs herself in the breast, her blood dyeing the rivulet that flows into the Hoang-ho.

Watonai, standing on a stone bridge, watches for a sign from his sister, understands the answer is unfavourable (a property man dexterously turning over a flap in the blue stage river to show the necessary red colour). Amid much stage agony Watonai’s mother and sister die, and Kanki consents to aid the hero.

When the bridge on which Watonai stands, gazing anxiously into the river searching for a sign from his sister, is slowly forced up from below the stage, the hero is seen shading his face with a wide straw hat, and holding a flaming torch,—the audience little realises the amount of preparation that has been necessary for this impressive entrance.

Nor can the trouble the actor takes to make up according to the Ichikawa traditions be fully realised, unless a close inspection of this remarkable personage is made behind the stage.

The actor who takes the rôle of Watonai must transform his everyday countenance into a theatrical mask, that might be an apparition from the planet Saturn. The face is first painted dead white, and on this ground he draws red lines with a writing brush. Beginning with the bridge of his nose, two lines curve out over his forehead suggesting a lobster’s claws, the sweeping lines on cheeks and about the mouth forming spaces of white that are shaped like peony petals. Touches of black about the eyes and mouth are made to make them large and aggressive. Then the terrifying wig is put in place—large, bristling, the hair standing on end, signifying the daring courage of a character half Chinese and half Japanese with intent to conquer China.

After seeing Chikamatsu’s Watonai, it is realised that Japanese actors take even more pains to be unreal than Occidental actors endeavour to be lifelike.

Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, as Watonai, the grotesque hero of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s drama, Kokusenya Kassen, or the Battle of Kokusenya. The inner garment is bright red studded with brass, the lower purple with a design of twisted white rope.

[263]Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, built by the Shogun Yoshimitsu in the fourteenth century, still stands for the public admiration in Kyoto, an historical sight in the old capital. This forms the setting for a popular scene in a fantastic doll-theatre play that is one of the best examples of jidaimono.

In this long complicated drama by Nakamura Ake and Asada Icho, the chief character is the villain, Matsunaga Daizen, who has usurped the Shogun’s power, and taken up his residence at the Golden Pavilion, where he leads a dissolute life. A beautiful young woman, Yuki-hime, daughter of a famous painter, is confined in Kinkaku-ji, this mansion of romance being reproduced in a realistic manner by the scenic craftsmen of Kabuki.

Tokichi, a loyal retainer of the Shogun, enters upon the scene, and his battle of wits with Daizen over a game of go, the Japanese chess, is a familiar and favourite scene with playgoers. Outplayed by Tokichi, Daizen in his anger overturns the go table and throws a lacquered counter-box into a well in the garden, ordering Tokichi to pick it out without wetting his hand.

Not to be outdone, Tokichi immediately overcomes the difficulty by placing a hollow bamboo pole to the waterfall that forms part of the painted scenery of the background, and the water in the well rising he lifts out the counter-box with his fan, and places it on the upturned table which he holds outstretched in one hand, his postures signifying triumph over the tyrant.

Yuki-hime, left alone with Daizen, is commanded to paint a picture of a dragon, which she declares she cannot do without having seen one. Very conveniently a silver dragon jumps up the painted waterfall aided by the indefatigable property men, and Daizen holds out his flashing sword that she may catch the reflection of the dragon.

But she sees much more, for the blade is that once owned by her father, and she knows that Daizen is her father’s enemy. Without more ado Yuki-hime’s arms are bound [264]about with rope and she is tied to a cherry tree. She struggles to free herself, but as this is all in vain, she calls magic to her aid. Rats rush to the rescue and gnaw the rope, setting Yuki-hime free from Daizen’s clutches.

Tokichi once more enters, searching for the Shogun’s mother, who has remained immured in the Golden Pavilion and invisible. He climbs a tree to reach the upper story, and, rolling up a curtain, the hostage is seen sitting calmly within. It is an unusual and picturesque scene worthy of the jidaimono tenets.

After entering into the doings of all these queer stage-folk, it is a pleasure to find that Daizen, like most theatrical villains, is finally defeated by Tokichi’s superior strategy.


In contrast to the realistic plays with their snow-storms and earthquakes, fighting bouts and harakiri scenes, there are the shosagoto, or music-posture dramas. Dr. Yuzo Tsubouchi once characterised these pieces as phantasmagoria. To the stage workers in the Occident, groping their way to find a new method to unite the independent arts of the theatre, this Kabuki form would come as a delightful surprise.

The shosagoto consists of a slight plot, simple dialogue, descriptive dances, symbolic movement, descriptions sung by a chorus,—welded together by the rhythm of drum, flute, and samisen. For the shosagoto the three different styles of stage music are used, Nagauta, Tokiwazu, and Kiyomoto, that originated in Yedo and are as typical of Yedo Kabuki as the Joruri, or balladry of the Doll-theatre, is of Osaka.

Both as to plot and music, the shosagoto owe their inspiration to the older music-drama of the Nō, and the best pieces are adaptations of Nō plays. A partiality for the weird is pronounced in shosagoto. No doubt the fantastic characters of the Nō had much to do with the [265]cultivation of this taste in the people, and the craftsmen of Kabuki have become master-hands in the staging of such plays.

Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, as Benkei, the warrior-priest in Kanjincho He performed in this rôle when the Prince of Wales visited the Imperial Theatre.

Kanjincho, a scroll on which are written the names of those contributing to a fund for the erection or repair of a temple, is an acknowledged Kabuki masterpiece.

The play had its origin, far back in the past, in the classical Nō drama, but for 200 years has been produced on the popular stage. Preserving much of the Nō tradition as well as Buddhist atmosphere, it gives an impression of dignity, but even more of unity of plot and treatment, of speech and chorus, of posture and costume, centring in the motive of loyalty of man to master.

The setting represents the Nō convention—a wide-spreading pine tree painted on the background, bamboo decorated walls to right and left. Singers and samisen players of the Nagauta orchestra are clad in the terra-cotta ceremonial kimono of the Ichikawa actor family, to whom the piece belongs by inheritance. Below the red dais of the Nagauta, the Nō drum beaters sit on stools, the flute player and round-drum performer kneeling at the sides. The movement, straight forward to the climax and dénouement, is built upon the ever-complex and conflicting rhythms of drum and flute. The colour and design of the costumes lend a larger beauty to the harmony of their postures, gestures, and dances.

Benkei, a warrior priest, is the principal personage in the play, and he holds the centre of the stage for an hour. As the drama opens, the drums begin to beat, and voice and flute are added. Togashi, the keeper of the mountain barrier, makes his appearance from the left, where the black, green, and red curtain is held on high to let him enter, according to the Nō tradition. He makes an impressive entrance, accompanied by a page bearing a sword, and advances to the front of the stage, where he announces that he has heard there is trouble between Yoritomo, the lord of Kamakura, and military dictator of the country, and his [266]brother Yoshitsune, and that the latter, with his attendants, has started from Mutsu in the disguise of a yamabushi, or mountain priest. He has received orders to prevent them from passing the barrier.

Yoshitsune presently appears on the hanamichi, a wide hat and a staff in his hand, with a Buddhist box upon his back to carry the sacred sutras, or other religious writings.

When the yamabushi with Yoshitsune are standing in a line in the midst of the audience, Benkei comes last, a striking figure in his brocaded skirt and black upper robe adorned with gold characters related to the doctrines of the yamabushi. He carries a rosary with vermilion tassels. He is the hero of many adventures, and has sworn faithfulness to his young lord, Yoshitsune.

Togashi, on guard, bars the way. Benkei declares that they are on a mission to collect funds to rebuild the temple of the great Buddha at Nara, but the ever-watchful Togashi announces that if the yamabushi are upon such a mission, they must have a subscription list, and he will listen while Benkei reads it.

Benkei must pass this test. Slowly he takes out of his box the Kanjincho, a scroll containing the names of donors to the temple fund, and pretends to read the contents. Togashi doubts him as he unwinds the scroll, and creeps up quietly to have a look. Benkei snatches it away and Togashi starts back. The dramatic value of the situation is greatly intensified by the exaggerated costumes of the two principal figures, whose postures bring storms of applause from the audience.

Then comes one of the most interesting moments of Kanjincho, the questions and answers. Togashi says that he does not doubt that they are genuine yamabushi, but still he would like to ask Benkei some questions, and he puts the warrior-priest through a cross-examination; why he dresses in such a warlike costume when his life is devoted to Buddha, why he wears a sword, being a priest of Buddha. Benkei has a quick answer for all the [267]questions that Togashi hurls at him, and at length the party are permitted to proceed on their way, the keeper of the pass admiring Benkei’s faithfulness to his master.

Sawamura Sojuro, the seventh, of the Imperial Theatre, as Togashi, the keeper of the barrier, in Kanjincho, Kabuki’s music-drama masterpiece.

Benkei leaves by the hanamichi, the yamabushi follow, and Yoshitsune is left behind on the stage. One of Togashi’s men whispers in his ear. He thinks he has discovered Yoshitsune among the yamabushi. To throw him off the scent Togashi calls them back. The little company is proceeding quickly along the hanamichi when the abrupt order causes them to halt in dramatic attitude. To allay all suspicion, Benkei takes an unpardonable liberty and strikes Yoshitsune with his staff. After Togashi and his men have retired, Benkei seeks Yoshitsune’s forgiveness for his rash act, and weeps because of his offence, but Yoshitsune signifies his approval of Benkei’s strategy, which has saved their lives. The delighted retainer jumps back, bows his head to the stage, and then expresses in a dance the emotions he has gone through. Yoshitsune and the yamabushi pass out by way of the audience path to the beating of drums and light ripples of the samisen.

Left all alone, the faithful Benkei takes up once more the yamabushi box, slips it on his back, and starts by way of the hanamichi. The curtain is drawn, the attendant holding back one end as Benkei pauses before making his wonderful exit. He takes three jumps on one foot and then leaps forward, whirling his staff in air, and repeating this, clears the hanamichi in three great bounds, giving expression to his triumphant mood and the strength of his loyalty to his master, amid the thunder of big drums, the shrilling of the flute, and the steady metallic clapping of the hyoshigi, that announce the end of the piece.


For the same reason that the music of shibai, depending as it does on unfamiliar groupings of sound and intricate and ever-changing rhythms, does not appeal immediately [268]to Occidental ears, so the aragoto plays of Kabuki are equally incomprehensible. They are largely the improvisations of actors, have little plot, and sometimes are quite meaningless. Unliterary they are to a degree. But their whole value lies in the remarkable stage treatment they display, how it is done apparently being of much greater importance than what it is about. These strange plays do not appeal to the intellect, nor are they planned to stir the emotions. They are not intended to be anything in particular, simply the unconscious theatre instinct at work creating a feast of colour and movement to spread before the eyes.

The eighteen pieces of the Danjuro family are for the most part aragoto, in which acting and posture are the chief features. Sukeroku is among the best of these quaint Ichikawa pieces. The scene is the outside of a house in the gay quarters, the entire front vermilion-coloured and barred, the usual show place for the inmates according to the old custom. Several gorgeous processions pass over the hanamichi to the stage, and then comes the villain, a venerable white-haired old gentleman, in bronze brocade, the very person the hero, Sukeroku, seeks.

Sukeroku makes an unusual entrance, running in through the audience, his head bowed low and covered from sight by a half-shut oiled-paper umbrella. He makes a striking theatrical figure, for he wears a black kimono lined with pale blue and edged with scarlet, while his belt, or obi, is of green brocade bearing for design in gold the familiar three-rice-measure crest of the first Danjuro. A red neckcloth sets off the white mask-like face with the broad red outlines about the eyes, true to the make-up traditions of the Ichikawa house. A purple band is tied around his head and falls in folds at one side.

In his postures on the hanamichi with his black and white umbrella, Sukeroku every second assumes a new pose, that causes him to appear like a piece of statuary in a bewildering number of aspects, as he shadows forth the [269]meaning of the character he represents,—the bravery and fighting spirit of an otokodate, or man of the people, always ready to defend the weak. He also suggests that Sukeroku is in reality Goro, one of the Soga brothers, and that he is disguised as Sukeroku, and is searching for a lost sword.

Morita Kanya, the thirteenth, son of the aggressive theatre manager of Meiji, as Yoshitsune, the young hero of the music-drama Kanjincho.

Thus the actors who created the character in the time of the fifth Danjuro knew what they were about, for the Soga brothers, otokodate, chivalrous commoners and searchers after swords, were prime favourites with Yedo audiences, and they were combined for greater effect in the character of Sukeroku.

Seeking for a quarrel in the pleasure quarters, brave Sukeroku is no respecter of persons, for his only aim is to make men draw their swords that he may find the one of his quest.

His taunting of the stately old villain in the attempt to arouse his ire, and the intimidation of a samurai whom he causes to throw down his swords and then crawl on all fours between his outstretched legs, are full of humour.

As a last attempt to make the venerable miscreant show his sword Sukeroku, championed by Agimaki, the gorgeous belle of the quarter, suddenly jumps forth from his hiding-place behind Agimaki’s ample robes, and assaults the brocade-clad dignitary, who involuntarily draws his blade. At sight of it Sukeroku immediately recognises that it is the precious weapon of his search.

Later he kills the villain and takes the sword, when a new danger threatens him as the men of the enemy are about to surround him. He looks about to find a place of concealment, and as a last resort jumps into a big water tank used on the occasion of a fire. Throwing aside a pyramid of small tubs, that are used as ornaments across the top of the same, he knocks the bottom out of one and placing it over his head allows it to float on the surface of the water.

The searching party look everywhere to find him. They [270]even climb to the roof of the house, but Sukeroku and his stolen sword are safe under the water.

When he emerges real water splashes all over the stage and comes as a surprise in a play so entirely artificial and unreal. Perhaps on that very account it has the intended effect, for the audience is quite startled by the audacity and bravery of this highly imaginary hero.

Kagekiyo, a legendary character, the hero of several Nō dramas, is the central figure in an aragoto piece in the possession of the Ichikawa family. It represents the actors’ impress upon theatre material, nebulous, without the concentration that comes from a literary mind. Yet to lovers of the unreal it is full of attraction.

Certainly very little of the world of reality clings about the material or movement of this one-act species of drama which has for motive the valour and strength of Kagekiyo, a general of the Heike clan, whose cause has been defeated and who is confined in a cavern.

His appearance is dramatic in the extreme, when the guards allow him to gaze forth from a square opening in the bars of his prison-cave. His face is heavily lined with broad red lines, his fierce and threatening top-knot of hair that stands straight on end is accentuated by peculiar side wings of lacquered wood suggesting strands of hair that form a frame for the ferocious countenance. His costume of glittering gold brocade, with vivid touches of green and red, is in keeping with the strange visage of the dauntless warrior.

That he may taste all the bitterness of defeat, his wife and daughter are led in bound with rope, and he is brought forth to speak with them, his arms tied behind him in the most approved manner of the modern serial moving picture.

When everything seems against the outlandish hero, he is freed from his fetters and allowed to sit on a huge boulder in the centre of the stage, where he postures as he relates the misfortunes of his clan and declares his loyalty—an [271]active figure whose every gesture is all the more conspicuous because of the groupings of the immovable personages on either side.

Kagekiyo shows some traces of human emotion, and is overcome at the treatment meted out to his wife and daughter, yet still keeps a stout heart, even when his son is placed within the gloomy cavern.

He scorns the Genji generals who gaze on his captivity, by refusing their offerings of food, kicking it unceremoniously away, and bellows in the extravagant style that is so typical of aragoto. At length his outraged feeling getting the best of him he lifts up the great stone on which he has been sitting and uses it as a missile to throw at the Genji followers, who, driven hither and thither, are finally routed. Kagekiyo, fighting to a finish, reaches a climax of grotesqueness as he poses in triumphant attitude brandishing a large beam of wood which has been his weapon of defence.


Odori is closely allied to the Kabuki arts, and forms an essential part of a great variety of pieces. Since without it no theatre programme would be considered complete, odori becomes one of the most important Kabuki forms.

Tamura Nariyoshi, a theatre manager with a long experience of Kabuki behind him, a genius of the Meiji period, who died a few years ago, once said that the mere movement of the limbs was not dancing. Should a dancer wish to suggest that he was looking at Mount Fuji, gazing at the sea, or watching a shadow, the three ideas must be expressed in different ways. Dancing, like acting, he said, should have a meaning, and the performer must keep steadfastly to the central idea, otherwise interest would be lost.

This is the clue to the understanding of odori. The least gesture made by the dancer has significance, and nothing is left to chance. The training in dancing the yakusha undergoes gives him control over all parts of his body. He [272]uses his head and shoulders equally with the eyes and face; the arms, hands, and fingers are all expressive, while the waist and feet play no small part in the presentation of the idea of the dance. Pantomime is first cousin to odori, and rhythm and song next of kin.

Of the many material objects the Kabuki dancers have chosen as media of expression, the chief is the fan. For a thousand years this has been a symbol of the dance, and its technique has come about through the desire of centuries of dancers to convey emotion through the movements of the dance.

What magic this fragile object is able to create is clearly visible when some dancer of long training who has acquired a mastery of movement, opens and shuts his fan, causing flowers to bloom, and rain to fall; or waving it outstretched, butterflies flutter and a boat tosses on the waves. He closes it and traces the outline of a mountain and points to the stars; or opens it sweepingly in imitation of the frolic of the wind.

What a world of romance the fan discloses, suggesting shyness, affection, disapproval, consent! How the widespread silver fan beckons to some enchanted moonlit garden; upraised, reveals a triumphant mood; or the dancer, with a stamp of feet and swift motion of the body and fan thrown about from hand to hand, describes some merry festival under the falling petals of the cherry trees.

In connection with odori there is an important Kabuki expert, the furitsuke-shi (lit., movement-to-make master), who is largely responsible for the charm of the descriptive dance, but who has received scant recognition for his work. The furitsuke-shi has trained the actors, assisted in the production of the music-posture dramas and innumerable short dances, and when given an opportunity to create has left behind him pieces that are still the stock-in-trade of the actors.

Since the early Kabuki performances largely consisted of dances, the players were accustomed to manage according [273]to their own ideas and tastes. With the rapid development of Kabuki a dance specialist was necessary.

Onoe Baiko, as the Wistaria Maiden, in a descriptive dance.

Pantomime as an element of dancing had long been old on the Nō stage, but it came afresh to Kabuki from the Doll-theatre, where the movements of the marionettes were so remarkable in the sphere of the dance that the actors were obliged to imitate them. Gradually there came into existence experts who devoted their time and talents to the teaching of this art to the actors.

The furitsuke-shi was an obscure profession, but nevertheless very important for the stage. The sakusha furnished the libretto for the odori, or shosagoto, while the furitsuke-shi planned the movements, studied the relation of the dancers to each other, calculated the picturesque groups, and produced the ensemble so characteristic of these Kabuki forms.

The furitsuke-shi were the repository of the complicated dancing technique of their day, yet they were quite subordinate to the actors, and when they wished to carry out an idea they were obliged to consult their superiors, and in consequence worked under great difficulties. Apartments were assigned to the stage dignitaries as became their rank in the shibai world, but such was the position of the humble dancing-master that he generally fraternised with the men who furnished the incidental music for the plays, and who were considered far beneath the regular musicians performing out in front, the Nagauta, Tokiwazu, and Gidayu performers. The furitsuke-shi were regarded as merely hangers-on behind the stage.

It often happened, however, that these men became actors. The fourth Nakamura Utayemon was the son of a furitsuke-shi. A modern instance of this is Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, the most versatile actor of the Tokyo stage, who was adopted when a child to become the head of the Fujima school of dancing, but later was taken under the patronage of the ninth Danjuro Ichikawa, and is the master’s most brilliant follower.

[274]On the other hand, actors who were good in dancing but failures on the stage, often followed this profession. Bando Mitsugoro, one of the best dancers of the Tokyo stage to-day, has practically given up acting, appearing only in dancing pieces. He gives his time largely to the instruction of young actors.

At present the Fujima house of dancing is the most flourishing in Tokyo. The founder of this family was a Nō Kyogen actor called Kambei, who hailed from a village named Fujima. He migrated to Yedo and taught dancing, and was succeeded by his son. The third Kambei, however, was one of the most original exponents of this school, and how he came to inherit the headship of the family forms an interesting story.

He was employed as a boy of all work in the fish market, that stronghold of independent Yedo citizens, and was sent by his employer to escort his little daughter to and from her dancing lessons. Having to wait in the entrance of the house, the boy soon came to take a vivid interest in the proceedings, and by dint of peeping within he learned the dances much quicker than the legitimate pupils. The second Kambei recognised the lad’s ability, and not only took him under his wing, but eventually married him to his daughter, and made over to him the Fujima school.

Kambei, the third, died under strange circumstances. It was found out that he had carried on a love affair with the mistress of a daimyo who was one of his patronesses. The lord is supposed to have had him secretly dispatched, and then sent his body home with the explanation that he had suddenly expired. It was thought by his wife and pupils that he had been poisoned, but the mystery was never solved.

His wife carried on the teaching but, being a woman, she had no relation with the theatre. Among the third Kambei’s pupils was Nishikawa Senzo, who became a star of the Nishikawa school.

Onoe Kikugoro, the sixth, as the transformation of a maid into a white fox, in a descriptive dance, Kagami Shishi, or the Mirror-Lion.

After the third Kambei’s time the Fujima house had [275]two branches founded by his pupils; one was called Fujima Kangoro, and the other Fujima Kanyemon. As the Kangoro line has always had a woman at its head, it has not been employed by the theatre. That carried on by Kanyemon is now the first school of Tokyo, with Hanayanagi second. Nishikawa maintains its prestige in Nagoya; Kyoto possesses the Katayama school, while the leading schools of Osaka are the Umemoto and Yamamura.

Crest of Nakamura Denkuro
(Metal cross).
Crest of Sawamura Sojuro
(Alphabetical character repeated).




One overwhelming motive is to be found in the plays of the Doll-theatre and Kabuki—loyalty and self-sacrifice. These were the popular themes that stirred the people to the depths.

It is the conflict of giri (sense of justice, duty, obligation) and ninjo (humanity, sentiment, feeling) which forms the backbone of all the drama produced before the Restoration of the Emperor in 1868. Lord Macaulay has said somewhere that we may safely conclude that the feelings and opinions which pervade the whole dramatic literature of a generation are feelings and opinions of which the men of that generation partook.

This is true in a particular sense of the loyalty tragedies enacted by the marionettes and played by the Kabuki yakusha, for not only did these representations inculcate in the masses a passion for service and self-abnegation, but in them are faithfully mirrored the life of Japan’s feudal age.

If, as Mr. St. John Ervine has said, “the supreme test of a nation’s health is its capacity to produce and to appreciate tragedy”, then these old tragedies, full of the devotion of man for master, the filial duty of children, the faithfulness of wives, and readiness to lay down life for a cause, are revelations of the peculiar virtues and strength of soul that have characterised the humbler people of Japan for the past two hundred years.

[277]Of the many loyalty pieces that come to mind, few are more typical than the long, complicated play concerning the exiled Michizane, the patron saint of Japanese literature, Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (lit., Sugawara-Family-instruction-hand-writing-mirror). To Takeda Izumo, the Doll-theatre playwright, Kabuki owes a debt of gratitude for this loyalty masterpiece that is the test of the modern actor’s ability. It has even found its way in mutilated form to the London stage as The Pine Tree, and has been performed on the New York stage as Bushido.

Terakoya, or The Village School, is but one of many fine scenes in this long drama dealing with Sugawara Michizane, an historical character who lived a thousand years ago, suffered exile because of a court intrigue, and is venerated to-day as the patron saint of literature. The loyalty of Michizane’s servants, the triplets, called after the plum, cherry, and pine trees, or Umeomaru, Sakuramaru, and Matsuomaru, forms the complicated strands of the drama. Genzo, who has been in the service of the high dignitary and learned writing and letters under him, attempts to hide the heir to the Sugawara family, whom the unrelenting enemy wishes to destroy. Hoping to evade the searching eyes of the villain, Genzo starts a school in a distant village.

There is the familiar opening, the village children busy at their desks writing in their very much-used copy-books, the little son of Michizane, although in disguise, distinguished from the others by his aristocratic bearing. The fat dunce is punished by Genzo’s wife, and stands on his desk with a lighted incense stick in his hand, admonished not to stir until it is burned down.

Matsuomaru’s wife comes to place her son Kotaru in the school, but in reality to give him as a willing sacrifice that he may become a substitute for the princely heir whom the enemy seeks to kill.

Genzo’s entrance by way of the hanamichi focusses all attention upon him. He walks slowly and sadly, with folded arms. For he is faced with a situation which will [278]test his loyalty to the fullest extent. He must save his master’s son. Entering the school the children bow respectfully. He calls two of the boys by name and they answer, raising their heads. But they are country-bred, and cannot be substituted for the prince.

The dejected schoolmaster sinks down deep in meditation, when his wife introduces the new pupil, the son of the faithful Matsuomaru. He does not look at the child at first, but when he does he gives a start, for the handsome boy is a veritable solution of his difficulties. He gazes steadfastly into his face, showing his determination. If the worst should happen, he will be obliged to kill the newcomer as the only means of saving the little prince.

A gorgeous red-faced official arrives to receive the head of the prince, and Matsuomaru accompanies him for purposes of identification, while the fathers of the pupils prostrate themselves humbly on the hanamichi, waiting to take their precious children home, afraid of the peril that awaits one of the pupils in Genzo’s school.

The examination by the pompous official of the school children must always remain a classic of the Japanese stage, as one by one they are called, the official placing his fan under their chins to look into their upturned faces, Matsuomaru shaking his head as the country bumpkins pass before him,—a comic relief from the tenseness created by the coming tragedy.

Not finding the prince, the official and his numerous attendants, or country policemen, file into the school and take possession. Matsuomaru says that not even an ant can escape, as a warning to Genzo, and the impatient official demands that the head may be cut off without delay.

Nakamura Ganjiro of Osaka as Genzo, the village schoolmaster in Terakoya, or the Village School, by Takeda Izumo.

Genzo hesitates; the head-box the official has brought is under his arm. Then he goes to an inner room, and the sound of the blow of a sword is heard. Genzo returns and the box with its gory trophy is placed before Matsuomaru for final judgement. The actor taking the rôle of Matsuomaru [279]suggests without words Matsuomaru’s anxiety. The face of Michizane’s heir may confront him, or he may be obliged to look upon the face of his own child, and this forms one of the most dramatic situations in the scene.

“Good!” he says at last. “There is no mistake! It is the real head!”—and he covers it up quickly, since he cannot bear the sight of Kotaru’s face.

Genzo, who has been watching closely, ready to strike Matsuomaru down with his sword should he disclaim the head, exchanges an amazed but relieved glance with his wife. The tension is over.

Then comes the explanation, Matsuomaru asking how Kotaru behaved knowing that he had to die for the prince; the regrets of Genzo and his wife; the meeting of the little prince with his mother. Of all the countless loyalty scenes of the Japanese stage, Terakoya for construction, pathos, and swiftness of movement cannot be surpassed.

Ichikawa Chusha as Matsuomaru in Terakoya (The Village School), who sacrifices the life of his son that the Michizane heir may survive.

Another scene that stands out vividly among the loyalty plays is also by Takeda Izumo, and it would be difficult to judge which displays the better workmanship, Terakoya, The Village School, or the Sushi-ya scene from Yoshitsune Sembonzakura. Yoshitsune is the name of that legendary hero of Japan whose adventures form the plots for many a Kabuki play, and Sembonzakura signifies ten thousand cherry trees, suggesting something of the lustre and fame of Yoshitsune’s name.

Sushi-ya is a humble shop where rice sandwiches stuffed with vegetables or fish are sold. It was in this sushi-ya that a Heike prince lived in disguise.

The interior of the sushi-ya is shown, wooden buckets arranged in neat rows. The young man of the shop, who is in reality the Heike prince, enters with a small tub slung over his shoulder, as he has been about the business of the shop. O-Sato, daughter of the proprietor, loves the effeminate youth, and is seen making overtures to him, [280]which he does not particularly relish. Gonta, the prodigal son of the family, returns home.

This character has the bushy hair which Kabuki has conventionalised to identify robbers and bold, bad men. His large black-and-white-checked kimono is in striking contrast to his bare skin and the inky blackness of his wig. He has come after money, and knows well how to play upon the feelings of his mother. She is inclined to scold him at first, but he relates a tale of woe with such telling force that she is instantly won over to his side.

When Gonta turns his face towards his fond parent his countenance expresses all degrees of contrition and misery, but when he takes the audience into his confidence he swiftly changes to the prodigal again, crafty and watchful, lest his good acting in the rôle of a much-abused person may fail to secure him the advantage he desires.

The mother goes to open a chest of drawers to give him some money, but she cannot unlock it. Gonta, who really belongs to the light-fingered gentry, easily picks the lock and helps himself generously. Some one is heard approaching, and to hide his newly acquired riches he places the money in one of the sushi tubs standing on the verandah, and disappears behind the blue and white curtain that separates the shop from the dwelling.

By way of the hanamichi, the old keeper of the sushi-ya returns home in a state of agitation, with some object concealed under his arm wrapped in a kimono, and when the prince, in the capacity of a servant of the place, comes to welcome him, the master sends him on an errand, and when alone unwraps a human head and slips it for concealment into a tub standing next to that in which Gonta has deposited his ill-gotten gains.

Disclosing his secret to the prince, the old man tells him how his enemies are searching for him, but that he accidentally came upon the body of a samurai who had been killed in a fray and with whose head he intends to mislead the enemy.

[281]Shortly after, Gonta comes forth, seizes the tub with the head and makes a hurried exit by the hanamichi. Then the wife and child of the prince appear. O-Sato, who has been sleeping behind a low screen, awakens at the sound of their voices and realises the high degree of her supposed lover. Her love-dream over, she is weepingly respectful to the fine lady.

For safety’s sake, the Heike prince and his family leave the house, and have barely escaped before a resplendent warrior walks with stately tread through the audience, accompanied by a retinue of attendants. He is dressed in black and white, with a wonderful head-dress, the decorations of which are like the golden antennae of an insect, glittering in the mellow glow of the lights carried by the torch-bearers.

In terror the sushi-ya runs to meet the train and peers up into their faces, but they pay little attention. The old man, at the command of the grandee, places the sushi tub which he thinks contains the head in front of the examiner, who orders that the ghastly object be brought forth. The mother has seen her erring son, Gonta, place the money in that very tub, and she objects to the examination of the contents since she knows what a disappointment awaits her husband.

While they struggle over the tub, Gonta strides bravely along the hanamichi, full of importance, the sushi tub containing the head under his arm. This he offers for the examiner’s inspection, and so saves the day!

But the parents think that he has proved disloyal and taken the head of the prince for the sake of the reward, and their belief is strengthened when they see that he has with him the supposed wife and child of the prince, gagged and bound, whom he treats in the most insulting manner.

The pompous official then demands the head. The torch-bearers draw near that he may view it the better. He unfolds his gold fan and continues to gaze for a long time, conveying to the audience without words that he is satisfied [282]it is the head of Prince Koremori, and prepares to depart. Gonta watches his every movement, fearful that something may happen at the last moment to upset his carefully made plans. Before the official departs he presents Gonta with a gift in the shape of a kimono.

No sooner has the examiner left, than the sushi-ya, overcome at the idea of his son’s lack of loyalty in giving up the prince and his family to the enemy, falls on Gonta with his sword and pierces him to the heart.

With his remaining strength, poor, misjudged Gonta places a whistle to his mouth, and the true prince, with his wife and child, come at the call from their hiding-place. It is Gonta’s own wife and child who have been sacrificed. The parents realise too late what has happened, and are overwhelmed with grief, and the prince examining the garment given to Gonta discovers that part of a priest’s robe has been hidden within its folds. He takes the suggestion and puts it on, realising that the official was well aware that the head placed in front of him was not that of Koremori, and had sent this hint to the Heike prince to retire to a monastery.

The dying Gonta surrounded by the now priest-prince and his wife and child, his own parents and sister, breathes his last as the curtain is drawn amid the noise of the loud clapping of two pieces of wood, which in Kabuki always signifies the end of the play.

Jitsukawa Enjaku of Osaka as Gonta in the sacrifice play, Sembonzakura, by Takeda Izumo.

Another scene from a loyalty play, Sendaihagi (Sendai referring to former generations, and hagi, a flowering shrub), written by Matsu Kanshi for the Doll-theatre in 1784, has withstood the shocks of time so well that it may be seen many times a year on the modern stages of the three cities, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

It concerns a young daimyo, one of the wealthiest among the feudal lords, who led a dissolute life. The lord’s excesses were encouraged by a relative, who intrigued to have him removed from the headship of the family that he [283]might manage the domain to his own benefit. There was a small heir, Tsurukiyo, in the way of the final completion of this dark design, and Masaoka, his faithful nurse, was ever watchful in her protection of him.

The finest scene in Sendaihagi is that in which Masaoka prepares the food for Tsurukiyo, for she knows that his enemies will attempt to poison him. The splendid room of a great daimyo’s ancestral mansion is a strong contrast to the meagre fare the faithful nurse prepares.

At all costs she must cook the meal herself, for enemies lurk in all parts of the house, and have been given orders to kill the boy who stands in the way of the coveted inheritance.

Masaoka unfolds a low gold screen, disclosing the utensils used in the tea ceremony, and slowly begins to make the meal for the little prince and her son Semmatsu, who is his playmate. The children ask when the rice will be cooked, as they are very hungry, and trying to forget the pangs of hunger they engage in play. Masaoka, busy at her work, is overcome with emotion, as she alone realises the desperate situation, and the peril which threatens Tsurukiyo.

With this fear at her heart, she does not go about her task happily or briskly, but pauses now and then to weep.

When Tsurukiyo comes to take a look at the boiling pot, inquiring how long it will be before the meal is ready, he surprises his nurse in a tearful mood. But she regains her composure, and announces that the rice will soon be boiled. A flock of sparrows fly near the verandah, and Tsurukiyo throws them some uncooked grains of rice. After the sparrows have disappeared, the children realise their hunger again and make a fresh appeal. Semmatsu, who is patience itself, understands that he must amuse the prince and begins to sing a song and clap his hands, in which pastime Tsurukiyo joins.

This does not divert for long, and Tsurukiyo becomes [284]angry at repeated delays and murmurs discontentedly, his small companion shedding tears because he is unable to console him. Finally Tsurukiyo says that even the sparrows are fed, but that they have nothing to eat.

After the children have partaken of Masaoka’s frugal repast of plain boiled rice, the action is rapid. An aged relative of the family enters clad in gold brocade, her white hair flowing down her back, guided over the hanamichi by maids bearing lanterns, and an accomplice carrying the box of poisoned cakes, a gift for Tsurukiyo.

As his fare has been of the scantiest, Tsurukiyo looks longingly at this box, but a whispered word from Masaoka warns him in time. Semmatsu is mistaken for Tsurukiyo, and the wicked woman who has been commissioned to kill him performs her task in a cruel fashion, Masaoka sacrificing the life of her son in order to save that of the little lord.


The working out of the ends of justice, the righting of wrongs, the trailing of a murderer for years by the entire members of a family, such were the plots that appealed to the audiences of Old Japan, and the writers of plays knew well how to serve their desires.

As the secret map describing a lost gold mine, or parchment hidden in the head of a bronze idol relating to a buried treasure starts the interminable, harrowing incidents of a modern cinematograph serial, the subject of revenge for wrong done held together the many scenes and acts of the Doll-theatre and Kabuki plays.

The greatest revenge play of Japan is Chushingura (lit., Loyal Retainers’ Storehouse), or the story of the faithful Forty-seven Ronin, who waited an opportunity to slay the miserable old villain who had caused their lord, Hangan, to commit harakiri, and when they had accomplished their end died as one man by their own hands.

Produced in 1748, Chushingura was written by Takeda [285]Izumo in collaboration with Namiki Senryu and Miyoshi Shoraku.

Ichikawa Sadanji as Sadakura, the highwayman, in the play Chushingura.

If the final test of drama be character, then the claim of Chushingura to a first place among the plays of Japan is thoroughly justified.

First and foremost, there is Yuranosuke, the leader of the loyal Forty-seven. Both his entrance upon the harakiri scene to catch the dying request of his feudal lord, Enya Hangan, and his exit sternly resolved to avenge the death of his master, are things to remember, not only because they show the true dramatic situations born of a good dramatist, but also because the actor suggests so powerfully Yuranosuke’s emotions.

Hangan must carry out the severe decree in the presence of the officials who have announced the penalty for his offence committed within the Shogun’s palace. He hesitates, since he is anxious to see his chief retainer before he bids farewell to the world.

Yuranosuke, who has been sent for, hastening on his way from Hangan’s fief in the provinces, has not yet reached the Yedo mansion of his lord. The audience, feeling the suspense, watches the hanamichi. At the very last moment he comes along the narrow way above the heads of the playgoers without noise or clatter, dropping down on his knees humbly before he reaches the stage proper. Sorrow, anxiety, respect—all are mingled in his manner.

Not a moment too soon, he catches Hangan’s last words, and gives him the consolation he needs so sorely. Yuranosuke takes the dirk from the lifeless hand, pays the last marks of respect to the body, and places it within the palanquin to be carried to the temple for the burial service.

And what a situation it is for a good actor, as Yuranosuke with composure, yet regretfully, performs his duties in a mansion that is to know his master no longer! Grouped about are the retainers who have served the lord since childhood, and whose fathers and forefathers were employed in like capacity under the lord’s ancestors, suddenly [286]made ronin, unattached samurai, set adrift, to wander about the land! Castle and lands confiscated, wives and children turned out-of-doors, men ready to unsheathe their swords in their lord’s defence, depending on him for their living and well-being, all to be scattered to the winds to lead poverty-stricken existences. Rough justice the men would have immediately, but the superior-minded Yuranosuke begs them to wait for a better opportunity.

The Harakiri Scene from Chushingura.

Left alone outside the red gate of his master’s yashiki, Yuranosuke suggests his future plan, as drawing forth the bloodstained dirk he gazes upon it, there being no doubt that he is prepared to sacrifice his life in the cause of righting the great wrong inflicted upon the house and all its dependents.

For contrast in character there is the self-controlled, well-bred Hangan, trying his best to behave himself as becomes his rank and station, and the unscrupulous old official Moronao, hardened in the school of intrigue. If only Hangan’s men had taken the precaution to bribe the crafty Moronao as had the representative of Wakasanosuke, Hangan’s friend! But then there would have been no play. Unconscious that he is expected to stoop so low, Hangan keeps watch over himself, as Moronao by taunt and insult tries to make him take the offensive that is to cost him so dearly.

In the fourth act, again comes the clash of good and evil. The disloyal Sadakuro in the midst of the faithful has turned highwayman, seeking his livelihood by waylaying travellers. A colour-print actor come to life, he seems to be,—his whitened legs, arms, and chest vivid against the black kimono that is tucked into his belt; the black, bushy robber’s wig against the white face,—a picture in black and white.

As though quite accustomed to put wayfarers out of commission, Sadakuro halts old Yoichibei, slays him with a sword and throws the body over the hillside, then wrings out his wet clothes. How much suggestion plays its part in Kabuki acting may be seen throughout Chushingura, [287]but nothing is more interesting than Sadakuro’s wordless play, as he wrings the rain from his kimono and wipes the imaginary drops from his face, bringing before our eyes his wild life in the lonely places, showing the high courage of the samurai, yet the hardened soul of the criminal.

No doubt the dramatist created him to make the deeds of the loyal retainers shine forth all the more brightly. And so he stands, counting with satisfaction his booty, when a stray shot from Kanpei’s gun strikes him in the chest, dyeing him red, an evildoer gone to his just deserts.

There is, again, the erring Kanpei, Hangan’s servant, loitering about with O-Karu, a maidservant of his mistress, when he should have been attending to his duties by waiting at the Shogun’s gate. He returns to find the uproar caused by Hangan’s attack upon Moronao. Fearing that he will be censured for his neglect, he runs off with O-Karu to the home of her father, Yoichibei, in the country, hoping to return to the service of his lord when they are both pardoned.

Yoichibei, glad to aid Kanpei in his endeavour to raise funds that he may contribute towards the cause, sells O-Karu to a house in Kyoto, and is returning home with the money when struck down by Sadakuro. Kanpei, out hunting, runs after a wild boar, but finds he has killed a man instead, and takes the purse he finds on Sadakuro, reaching home to discover that O-Karu is on the point of leaving for Kyoto, and that the purse he has secreted within the folds of his kimono must be that of Yoichibei, and in consequence that he has killed his father-in-law.

When Yoichibei’s body is brought into the cottage the old widow believes Kanpei to have committed the crime. He cannot save his wife, O-Karu; he believes himself guilty, and when two of the ronin arrive, sent by Yuranosuke to return a sum of money already sent by Kanpei, as he has not yet been reinstated in the good favour of the band, Kanpei can stand it no longer and commits harakiri. Before he expires he is cleared, for Yoichibei’s wound was [288]not made by Kanpei’s gun but Sadakuro’s sword. Ghastly and realistic is Kanpei’s end, but he is not forgotten, and is regarded henceforth as one of the band.

There is, also, that gay scene in the Kyoto tea-house where Yuranosuke leads a dissipated life in order to put the spies of Moronao off the scent, and the sadness of farewell when the leader of the Forty-seven takes leave of his wife and home, and finally the gathering together on a snowy day, and the storming of the great red gate that guards the entrance to the residence of the enemy. Swarming within they return in triumph with the head of the villain. Later they commit harakiri, and are buried together with their lord in the compound of Senkaku-ji, the Buddhist temple in Tokyo, where before their tombs the incense is still kept burning.


Those who believe that Kabuki has no love scenes might be enlightened after witnessing some of the tender passages in plays that have pleased audiences for two centuries, and are yet able to hold the attention, as modern pieces scarcely ever do.

Miuranosuke, the brave young hero, comes home wounded from the battle because he has heard his mother is ill. He serves the great Lord Yoriye, of Sakamoto Castle, on Lake Biwa, who has declared war upon Hojo Tokimasa of Kamakura. Toki-hime, his betrothed, is the daughter of Tokimasa, and Miuranosuke finds that his future wife is the daughter of the sworn enemy, and that she is taking care of his mother in a poor country cottage, where they have taken shelter.

Toki-hime in her long scarlet robe, into which is woven a pattern of golden winding water and flowers, and wearing a silver head-dress that forms a frame to her face—dainty, appealing, the very spirit of youth and devotion,—shines forth in her splendour, the shabby cottage interior as a setting.

[289]Miuranosuke makes a young warrior to suit the taste of the most carping of critics. Staggering through the audience, clad in sky-blue brocade and scarlet armour, the heads of the people in the boxes on a level with the hanamichi turn to see his entrance. He reaches the gate of the cottage and then sinks down from exhaustion. Toki-hime quickly restores him, and they express their devotion for each other in postures that instead of tearing the affections to tatters, as is the way with realism, suggest the depth of their feeling, the minstrel singing and describing, and the samisen player beating the rhythms.

The hero’s aged mother, lying ill in bed, opens the shoji of her sick-room only to upbraid him for leaving the battle; she threatens to sever their relationship as mother and son unless he returns.

Then follows one of the best scenes in the province of onnagata acting. Toki-hime tries to aid Miuranosuke to attire himself in his armour, and her grace and delicacy are emphasised by the efforts she makes to carry the heavy helmet, which at last she is obliged to drag across the floor of the cottage.

Later Toki-hime is seen standing alone in quiet meditation by a dim oil light. Here is the eternal conflict in the female breast in all ages and all countries, the struggle between love and duty. Will she kill Miuranosuke’s mother as her father has commanded, giving her a sword for this express purpose, or will she be faithful to her love?

In the midst of her quandary a queer personage enters, dressed in the unmistakable costume of the Kabuki comedian: a bright yellow kimono with broad black stripes running from shoulder to shoulder, short baggy trousers made of horizontal stripes of brown and fawn, and the sleeves bound with broad bands of scarlet. To the overtures of the fool she turns a deaf ear.

When Toki-hime is just about to kill herself as the only way out of the difficulties that beset her, Miuranosuke stops her and says his doubts regarding her loyalty to him [290]are at an end. He begs her to live a little longer in order to dispatch her father, his enemy, and as he intends to die in battle, pleads with her to join him in death, when they can be married in another world.

The playwright thus strains the love-loyalty and filial piety themes to the utmost.

Rather poor consolation for Toki-hime this, but her love for him conquers and she consents. Then the spies come and say that they have overheard all, and the arch-spy robed in black hastens on his way to inform her father, when there issues out of the well in the garden a deadly spear-thrust, and he is killed on the spot. An imposing personage clambers out of the well. He is Sasaki, staunch supporter of Miuranosuke, who has been masquerading as the comedian, and in that capacity tested Toki-hime’s fidelity.

There is a sound of battle, the clash of cymbals and the thunder of big drums, Miuranosuke and Sasaki must away to the fray. Toki-hime, winsome and wistful, watches their departure.

Word comes to Toki-hime at Kamakura that Miuranosuke has died on the battlefield. She is overwhelmed by sorrow. One day she gives Sasaki the opportunity to strike down her father, but when he examines the head that he has taken as a trophy, he finds to his bitter regret it is that of Toki-hime.

Usuyuki, or Thin-Snow, and her lover, Sonobei Sayemon, are the youthful figures in a love idyll of the Doll-theatre of which Kabuki players never seem to tire.

They meet in cherry-blossom time at Kiyomizu, that fine old Buddhist temple built up on the steep hillside commanding a view of Kyoto nestling in its wide valley. This is always an appropriate play for the cherry season, and these flowers are used as a pendent curtain across the stage, while trees in full bloom are placed on either side, and in the centre there is an ornate red-lacquered temple structure.

In addition to its romance, the play of Usuyuki and [291]Sayemon is one of the most famous sword pieces of the Japanese stage. Sayemon presents the gift of a sword to the temple, but an evil swordsmith damages it in order that Sayemon may be punished, jealousy prompting the villain to come between the lovers.

Usuyuki and Sayemon have just been married, when messengers arrive bearing accusations against Sayemon on account of the tampered sword. The affectionate, innocent young couple are parted. Usuyuki is taken into the custody of her husband’s father, and Sayemon entrusted to the keeping of his wife’s father.

Love laughs at barriers, however, and they secretly escape together. The fathers commit suicide that their children may be cleared of all doubts and suspicions, and Usuyuki and her husband return to enjoy an uninterrupted life of peace and happiness.

Miyuki and Asojiro are household names in Japan, the chief figures in a romance that started one summer evening in Kyoto, when at a fire-fly festival on the river their boats came together, and they fell in love at first sight, exchanging fans on which they had written extemporaneous verse. They plighted their troth, but stern samurai business kept Asojiro in another part of the country, and Miyuki, neglected and forlorn, wept so much that she became blind, and started to wander about the country with her nurse trying to find her faithless lover.

The finest scene is that in which the blind girl plays the koto, or long harp-like instrument, at an inn where her lover is stopping. Asojiro and an elderly samurai are on a special mission, and his companion thinks only of his duty, and allows for no delinquency or soft-heartedness on the part of Asojiro, who is overcome when he finds the blind koto player, brought in by the innkeeper to amuse them, is no other than his own Miyuki.

All he can do is to give her some remembrance and a sum of money which he leaves with the innkeeper. By [292]these tokens Miyuki knows that she has been in the presence of Asojiro, and half distracted she runs to the river to overtake her fleeing lover, who has been obliged by his taskmaster of a travelling companion to hasten on his way. The river has risen, and the ferrymen will not take any more passengers across. There are many wet eyes in the audience, for the parting of young lovers never fails to appeal to the tender-hearted in all countries the sun shines upon.

The playwright knew that his audience would be disappointed were the lovers never to meet again, and the sympathetic innkeeper makes a gash in his body in order that he may provide the blind maid with a liberal portion of his blood, whereby her eyesight is miraculously restored. Later she is united with Asojiro, and all ends well.

No mention of the lovers in Japanese plays would be complete without the names of Yayegaki-hime and Katsuyori, characters in a Doll-theatre jidaimono by Chikamatsu Hanji, called Nijushiko (lit., Twenty-four Filial Persons), after a book of Chinese tales regarding the filial deeds of this exact number of personages.

This long play relates the rivalry between the heads of two clans, which is settled by the betrothal of the daughter of one great daimyo to the son of the other. But Yayegaki-hime’s father has in his keeping a much-treasured helmet belonging to Katsuyori’s family, and the young man dressed as a gardener secretly visits the house of his betrothed that he may secure the helmet.

Yayegaki-hime soon penetrates his disguise and in spite of his cold demeanour she wears her heart on her sleeve. They are in the midst of an exchange of affection when the eavesdropping father breaks in and spoils it all. He hands Katsuyori a letter enclosed in a lacquered box with the request that it be delivered at once. Then two villainous retainers are sent after, with intent to waylay and kill Katsuyori.

Meanwhile the faithful heroine decides to steal the [293]helmet and carry it to Katsuyori. Fox fires are seen burning in the garden, and aided by the magic of foxes she becomes possessed of supernatural strength, and bearing the helmet aloft steals out of the house. Servants rushing in to prevent her escape are overcome by enchantment, and she flees along the hanamichi, the minstrel explaining that she traces her way across frozen Lake Suwa by the footmarks the accommodating and sympathetic foxes have left in the snow to guide her to her lover.


Kabuki ghosts are more artistic than matters for psychical research. Supernatural visitors are dearly loved by playgoers in Japan, and as material for stage treatment the ghostly is handled with great skill.

Tall autumn grasses waving silvery plumes, a lonely deserted cottage that gives one a creepy sensation, a rising moon casting a melancholy effulgence, the distant booming of a temple bell—and ghostly Japan is well represented.

In such a play, a travelling silk-dealer neglects his wife and wanders far afield, experiencing many adventures. At last his steps turn homeward. His wife appears, but he does not know that she is a visitant from another world, although the audience is in the secret, the delicate suggestions of ghosthood preparing them for the supernatural. She tells him her sad story, he falls asleep, and she disappears in a truly ghost-like fashion, sinking down slowly behind the stone which marks her burial-place. The stage is darkened and with the light there is seen the reality—the dwelling in ruins and decay, tall weeds growing through the broken floor, and a pale moon throwing its white light over the deserted scene.

In a play by Mokuami, Sogoro, a fish-dealer, of a low type but chivalrous, comes to right the wrong done to his sister O-Tsuta, a maid in the residence of a daimyo. She has been tortured and put to death at the instigation of a [294]man-servant in the lord’s service whose overtures she had spurned. Sogoro appears brandishing a sake tub, from which he has imbibed too freely. He is finally calmed by a gift of money for the girl’s funeral expenses, and the news that the plotter against his innocent sister has gone the way of all stage villains.

O-Tsuta, who has been sent to her untimely end under such wrongful circumstance, returns as an apparition. Her body has been thrown into the garden well and issues forth in a puff of smoke, a haggard, grey, emaciated spirit with uncanny movements appearing as a shadow on the shoji, or white paper window.

Kasane is another ghostly heroine popular with Kabuki audiences. She is disfigured and deformed, and has been transformed from a pretty woman into one unpleasant to behold. Kasane has married Kinugawa, her dead sister’s husband, and, all unknowing, she is the victim of ghostly jealousy.

Her husband keeps her blissfully unaware of her facial defects, as he has forbidden her to look in a mirror. She does so, is overcome by horror, fights with Kinugawa and is killed. Her ghost rises out of the river, long, wan, grey, tapering, like a shadow that moves upward through no power of its own, to disappear in a similar strange fashion behind a bridge.

Once more the wraith appears calling Kinugawa to come, and he is just about to sink under the enchantment of the ghostly Kasane, when he thinks of a spell to break the chains of death that seem binding him and is released just as morning dawns. A black drop curtain falls revealing a sunny morning, people passing over the bridge, among them a charming young maiden, the very actor who impersonated the unfortunate Kasane but a moment before.

Of all the ghostly heroines of Kabuki, O-Iwa is certainly the most tragic. She is the creation of Namboku Tsuruya [295]in his play Yotsuya Kaidan, The Ghost of Yotsuya, the latter a thriving quarter of modern Tokyo.

Scene from Yotsuya Kaidan, or The Ghost of Yotsuya, by Namboku Tsuruya. Onoe Baiko is seen as the disfigured O-Iwa, and Onoe Matsusuke the kind old masseur who holds up the mirror that she may learn the truth.

Iyemon, oil-paper umbrella maker, one-time samurai, then ronin in hard luck, has a pretty young wife, O-Iwa, who has just borne him a child. His indifference to her is remarkable. The daughter of a well-to-do neighbour is in love with Iyemon, and her family conspire to put the wife out of the way by sending her a gift of medicine which is a powerful poison that will disfigure her face. The poor creature, weak and ill, unsuspecting the dark design, thankfully drinks the fatal cup. An old masseur takes pity on the unfortunate O-Iwa, and is thoroughly solicitous, a character that saves the play from becoming too sordid.

O-Iwa changed by the poison presents a hideous aspect, and the actor taking this rôle plays directly upon his audience.

The following scene shows Iyemon feasting at the neighbour’s house, where he is asked to put away his wife and marry their daughter. He consents, but his hesitation is the one redeeming quality to his credit. Then he returns home with set purpose to treat O-Iwa so shamefully that she will leave the abode of her own accord.

He refuses to give her money, even takes her clothing and the mosquito net, which he pretends to pawn. O-Iwa, shocked by her altered looks, overcome by her husband’s inhumanity, no longer desires to live, and kills herself with a sword.

Iyemon returns home once more to find her dead body, and at the same time discovers Kohei, the servant, whom Iyemon had gagged and imprisoned in the cupboard in a previous scene. Kohei is a witness to O-Iwa’s misery, and so Iyemon puts him out of the way. The two corpses are no sooner bundled out of sight by Iyemon’s ruffians than the bride arrives in state and there is a scramble to prepare for her. When Iyemon approaches his new wife she is still in her wedding robe. He takes off the white veil that covers her head and discovers the frightful visage of O-Iwa. Making a plunge with his sword he cuts off the head of [296]his bride. In haste he runs to tell her father, when he encounters the ghost of Kohei, and using his weapon again he severs the head of his father-in-law.

The scene which follows, however, quite outdoes anything in the supernatural in which Kabuki is wont to specialise. Iyemon fishing in the river discovers the door to which the bodies of the two victims were tied when they were thrown into the water. O-Iwa raises her head and speaks in sepulchral tones, and the door turning over, Kohei’s ghost repeats its tragic phrase: “Master, medicine, please!” For these were the words Kohei used when interceding on O-Iwa’s behalf. The same actor takes the rôles of both ghosts, and the lightning change from wife to servant is left to the imagination of the spectators, and only the stage mechanics beneath the blue and white cotton waves know how the transformation is effected.

Without doubt Botan Doro, The Peony Lantern, takes first place among the ghost plays of Kabuki. A Chinese tale retold by the professional story-teller, Encho, and dramatised by Mokuami and Fukuchi, the two outstanding playwrights of the Meiji era, it is always performed in midsummer. Ghosts are a cooling influence for theatre-goers surfeited with the sights and sounds of the hot thoroughfares, and shades from another world clad in grey, with wan, indistinct faces, seen vaguely behind weeping willow branches, seem appropriate stage characters in summer weather.

The chief characters in Botan Doro are O-Tsuyu, a beautiful maiden in love with Hagiwara Shinsaburo. There is also the young lady’s maid, and a picturesque evildoer, Tomozo.

O-Tsuya meeting secretly with her lover is suddenly surprised, and they are rudely parted. In despair, she commits suicide with her maid, and the ghostly shapes visit Shinsaburo nightly. A priest gives him a small golden image of the Goddess of Mercy to ward off her nocturnal visits, and puts up a charm to keep O-Tsuya away.

[297]Tomozo, the hero’s faithless servant, steals the image and tells his wife that the ghost of O-Tsuya will appear and pay him a sum of money for hiding it, the influence of which prevents her from entering her lover’s house. He is firmly convinced the ghost will appear, and his look-out for the apparition is so full of surprise and contrast, and the suspense so well sustained, that the audience is thoroughly keyed up in anticipation. Tomozo and his wife talk so much of the ghost that every moment they think she has come, and soon are trembling with fear, the frightened wife taking refuge under the large green mosquito net suspended over her bed.

O-Tsuya and her maid are suddenly seen to float behind the drooping branches of a willow tree, seemingly suspended in air, the maid carrying the ghostly lantern, shaped like a pink peony, that gives out a dim and intermittent glow.

The transaction over between O-Tsuya and Tomozo, the ghosts make their way towards Shinsaburo’s house, but they cannot enter unless the Buddhist charm above the doorway is removed. This Tomozo accomplishes, and immediately as the two weird shapes vanish, a peony lantern is seen to rise mysteriously from mid-stage and without the aid of hands, sail through the air and enter an open space over the door. Shinsaburo is now left to the mercy of the ghosts, who claim him as their own and take him away from the land of the living.

There is a superstition concerning The Peony Lantern to the effect that actors who play the ghosts’ rôles soon pass away. This was brought home when the play was presented at the Imperial Theatre in August 1919. During the performances two of the most promising young actors of Tokyo, taking the rôles of mistress and maid, took ill and died within a week of each other. Nightly they had been seen, pale-faced, the hair worn long and dishevelled, the maid with the ghostly lantern in hand, moving behind the willow tree. Soon they were to become like the shades they impersonated, no longer of the earth, earthy.



The frequency with which heads—the variety that Salome bore on a charger when she danced before King Herod—enter into Kabuki plays would seem to bear out the pronouncement made by the late William Archer that the Japanese drama was “barbaric and insensate”. This was the impression made upon a Western critic on first contact with Kabuki during a brief visit to Japan. Considering, however, the wide range of Kabuki plays, this sweeping statement revealed but half-knowledge.

Even as the unnatural crimes in Shakespeare’s plays pleased the Elizabethans, so the playwrights of Old Japan provided strong fare for their feudal audiences. Unless the abstract motive of loyalty is recognised, the significance of a head symbol as a stage accessory is lost.

One of the best of many such loyalty pieces is Omi Genji, by Chikamatsu Hanji and Miyoshi Shoraku. Two brothers, Moritsuna and Takatsuna, descendants of the Genji clan, live near the lake of Omi. They are on different sides, one for the Shogun, the other a rebel. Moritsuna holds his brother’s son, Koshiro, as a hostage and tells his venerable mother to instruct the lad to commit harakiri that Takatsuna may be influenced to take an honourable course of action.

The boy is disinclined to listen to his grandmother, the more so as he sees his mother approaching the gate. His grandmother tries in vain to carry out the execution, but her love for her grandchild renders her powerless to act. Messengers arrive and relate in descriptive posture dances how the battle went and that Takatsuna has been killed. A representative of the Shogun comes with Takatsuna’s head in order that Moritsuna may identify it. He is Tokimasa, a dignified old warrior in gold armour, his white hair bound with a silver band, and comes through the audience followed by his retainers in armour, one carrying the head-box, another a chest of armour.

[299]The head-box is placed in the centre of the stage and the ceremonial of examination proceeds. Moritsuna slowly seats himself in front of the box. With eyes that do not see, he carefully takes off the long upper portion and lifts up the shallow lower portion of the box on which rests the head, placing it on top of the cover which makes a stand for it, the face looking out toward the audience.

Koshiro, peering forth to see the head, disturbs the august assembly by leaping down from an upper room and committing harakiri, Moritsuna taking no notice of the tragic deed further than to upbraid him for his impolite behaviour in the presence of the exalted guest. He continues his silent examination of the head. The audience is so hushed that the stray notes of the samisen sound like drops of water echoing through a vacant house. It seems an endless time before he lowers his eyes, and the longer he evades looking the more the actor hypnotises the audience. At last Moritsuna’s brotherly affection overcomes his strong self-control, and conflicting emotions are seen upon his face.

Slowly his gaze travels down. It is the moment the audience have been awaiting. There is a slight start when his eyes rest full upon the face, an imperceptible surprise, and then a smile of relief. It is not the head of Takatsuna. His brother is still alive.

But even while smiling he makes up his mind to resort to subterfuge to deceive Tokimasa, and to hide the truth from this worthy person.

Moritsuna takes the head in his arms, addresses a lament to it, places it before the dignitary and declares it to be the true head of his brother. Here is revealed the psychology of the Oriental audience, for Moritsuna’s camouflage is mightily approved, and shows itself as something essentially Eastern.

Tokimasa retires and Moritsuna gives vent to sorrow that Koshiro should have sacrificed himself. The boy, realising that the head was not that of his father, and hoping to lead Tokimasa into the belief that it was, takes his own [300]life—another species of Eastern camouflage. There is not a dry eye in the audience when the dying boy says farewell to all the members of the family, and breathing his last as a spy, hidden within the chest of armour, is discovered and killed.

The Occidental will say: What an unpleasant and disagreeable play with a gory head for chief object of interest! Yes, so it seems to Westerners accustomed to regard things, externals, as of more importance than the inner but more potent expression. To the Kabuki audience the head is not repugnant, nor suggestive of a corpse or bloodshed; it is merely the medium for the expression of Moritsuna’s emotion, and the whole interest centres not in the inanimate object, but in the art of the actor.


Socialistic tendencies, dissatisfaction with the oppression of the governing class, often found expression in Kabuki plays. A favourite piece of this kind has the champion of the downtrodden, Banzuiin Chobei, for hero.

Chobei is at the head of a business that supplies men to feudal lords, kago bearers, attendants to travel in the long trains that escorted the daimyo in their goings and comings to and from the capital. His men are loyal to him and fearless, and when they encounter the samurai of a hatamoto, or direct retainer of the Shogun, called Mizuno, an evil character, there is a skirmish and Chobei’s side is victorious.

Mizuno and Chobei happen to meet in the theatre, the Murayama-za, one of Yedo’s first shibai. The play is progressing on the old-fashioned stage, when a drunkard bursts in through the audience and causes a disturbance. Chobei springs out of a box in the pit to help straighten things out. At this juncture Mizuno appears in an upper box reserved for the gentry to the left of the stage, and they exchange words. From this time onward Chobei is a marked man.

Banzuiin Chobei, a man of the people, rôle by Matsumoto Koshiro.

[301]Mizuno’s messenger comes to Chobei’s dwelling, and delivers an invitation to dinner. Chobei’s wife does not wish him to accept, but he cannot refuse, as he would be taken for a coward. He says farewell to his wife and little son, gives his men last instructions, and sets forth.

Within Mizuno’s residence, Chobei is received with every sign of hospitality. He is unafraid, and behaves with the courtesy of manner that belongs to a man accustomed to stand up for what is just and right. An attendant purposely spills sake over his clothing, and then recommends that he take a bath. The maid leads him to the bath-room. The steam is issuing forth from the big tub. He is just about to enter when he is attacked. Chobei, with only his fists to defend himself, lays about him, and five men are stretched on the floor, the stage bath-room being considerably larger than that in real life.

The host then attacks, and even he is no match for the alert Chobei. Left alone he might have fought off his enemies, but one of the men strikes him from behind, and so he dies,—a victim to the treachery of that day.

Mizuno was afterwards ordered by the Government to commit harakiri to atone for this and other crimes. So says history, but Chobei’s memory is kept fresh by generations of actors.

Still another play of the people is that of Sakura Sogoro. He was the headman of a village not far from Tokyo. The people were oppressed by the feudal lord, and groaned under the taxes imposed until famine and destitution stared them in the face.

Sogoro decides to go to Yedo to present a petition to the Shogun, knowing that his life will be forfeit for this act of insubordination. When he returns, his wife and four sons are executed at the command of the daimyo.

He bids good-bye to his wife on a snowy evening, and tries to induce her to accept a divorce, and so escape the punishment that is bound to overtake the family. But this she refuses to do, preferring to share his fate. Sogoro [302]trudging through the snow-drifts, with his eldest son clinging to him, and his wife and little ones looking forth from the open shoji, is a typical Kabuki farewell scene.

He knocks at the rude hut, where an old watchman is trying to sleep beside a few embers of charcoal, and guarding the boat that is chained to a stake just below on the marshy lagoon—or blue and white cotton cloth which represents the historical watercourse that bore Sogoro away on his desperate mission. Sogoro is recognised with joy by the watchman, who tries his best to dissuade him from going, but at last agrees to row him on his way, and breaks the chain, thus defying the law of the daimyo.

The direct appeal is made when the Shogun, after a hawking expedition, stops to rest at the shrine sacred to his ancestors in what is now known as Uyeno Park (Tokyo). The retinue is passing over a bridge connecting two red-lacquered buildings. Sogoro throws his petition, which a sympathetic follower of the Shogun secretes in his sleeve, and the procession passes on, leaving Sogoro bound, a martyr to the cause of the suffering country people.

Whenever this play is produced in Tokyo, the actors taking part repair to the district of Sakura where Sogoro lived and pay their respects to his shrine, likewise a little shrine is erected within the theatre where offerings of sake, fruit, and vegetables are made before the spirit of the man who died that the wrongs of the people might be righted.

Nakamura Kichiyemon as Sakura Sogoro, the Village Head who sacrificed his life for the good of the people.


Love tragedies were in high favour, as may be seen by the number of plays produced that have for motive shinju, or the double suicide of unfortunate lovers who hope by departing this life to obliterate their sins and omissions and to be united in the after-world. Invariably the settings of these romances were the immoral quarters.

Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote several pieces of this character, and they were so popular that they had a great [303]deal to do with the encouragement of young people to become partners in the shuffling-off of this mortal coil.

If Chikamatsu had written little else, his characters Jihei and Koharu would save his name from oblivion. This piece, Sayo Shigure Tenno Amijima (lit., Evening-shower-heaven-net-island), was first staged in 1720 in the Osaka Doll-theatre, when Chikamatsu was in the sixties. He had taken an excursion to the ancient Shinto Shrine of Sumiyoshi, near Osaka, when the news reached him of the double suicide of a couple called Jihei and Koharu. He ordered his palanquin-bearers to carry him home as quickly as they could, and within his dwelling seized paper and writing brush and elaborated the ideas that had come to his mind, scarcely stopping to take breath until the play was finished.

Koharu is a belle of the Kinokuniya, a house in the Osaka pleasure quarters, and Jihei conducts a prosperous paper shop, and has a wife, O-San, and two children. His wife has been bestowed upon him by his parents, and as she is not his own choice, his wandering fancy is captivated by Koharu. He forgets everything in his infatuation, and is on the brink of ruin when O-San writes to Koharu asking her to give up Jihei. This Koharu consents to do after a struggle between her apparent duty and her love for the young man. Jihei, unacquainted with the facts, believes her false and mercenary.

Jihei cannot settle down to the domestic routine, and his thoughts will turn to Koharu. His peace of mind is further disturbed, for he learns that he has a rich rival who intends to purchase Koharu’s freedom and who has invented various belittling tales about his desertion of Koharu.

When O-San hears how things are, she declares that Koharu would die rather than submit to her new patron, and that Jihei must buy her out without delay. Her treasured kimono are given to Jihei, and, sobbing, the loyal wife says that although she and the children may have no clothing, reputation is dear to a man, and that the wealthy [304]person who wishes to take possession of Koharu must be defeated at all costs.

O-San’s father then arrives on the scene, declaring that he has come to take her home, and that they must consider themselves divorced.

Beset on every side, Jihei and Koharu decide to die together. Jihei leaves the Kinokuniya after paying his account. Then he stands by the side of the house waiting for Koharu. His elder brother, Magoyemon, who fears that Jihei may do something rash, comes to inquire about him, and is told that Jihei has returned home and Koharu is sleeping. It is late at night, and Magoyemon has Jihei’s little son on his back to whom he says: “I hope you won’t take cold. You are unfortunate to have such a father”, which remark Jihei overhears as he hides in the shadow.

The night-watch strikes his two pieces of wood as a signal that all is well, and the sound echoes in the deserted street. Then Koharu keeps the tryst, and they run as fast as they can to the river-bank, where their bodies are found together in a clump of bamboo the next morning.

Nakamura Fukusuke of Osaka as a belle of the gay quarters. Letters are made as long as possible to produce the better effect.

Equally familiar are Wankyu and Matsuyama in a drama of the gay quarters by Kino Kaion; while Hanshichi and Sankatsu in a long play by Takemoto Saburobei are stage characters known the length and breadth of Japan. Hanshichi, a victim of the marriage system, becomes enamoured of Sankatsu, which brings so many complications around them, they are obliged to commit shinju, Hanshichi’s long-suffering wife O-Sono adopting their daughter as her own.

Almost all the playwrights of this period pandered to the popular taste, and wrote long plays with the gay world as background, but there is a marked difference in the compositions of the Osaka and Yedo writers, since the tastes of the audiences of these two towns were so unlike. The tragic heroines of the Yedo Yoshiwara did not resort to shinju to the same alarming extent as did the members of the frail sisterhood in Osaka.

Ihara Seiseiin, explaining the close connection between [305]the gay world and shibai, says: “Foreigners sometimes ridicule the intimate relations between the plays and the Yoshiwara. This was not the fault of Kabuki, but rather must be attributed to the state of society at that time. Just as priests and temples had ruled the spirit of the people during the Hojo and Ashikaga periods, so during the Tokugawa age it was the courtesans’ quarters which influenced the customs and spirit of the people. The leading characters of the Nō plays were priests, while the plays of the people related to heroines of the gay world.”

The patronage of these quarters and interest in plays dealing with the inmates was largely a protest against the official desire to make of society one drab, colourless pattern. The immoral quarters were almost the only places where men could assemble for relaxation and amusement. Peace continued for more than two centuries, and the samurai had nothing to do. The country was shut off from intercourse with the outside world, the atmosphere grew stagnant, and men resorted to the pleasure-quarters as a relief from boredom. In consequence, gossip of prostitutes, their love stories and tragedies, formed the chief topics of the day, and these were faithfully reflected in the works of the Doll-theatre and Kabuki playwrights.


A partiality for the weird is one of the most pronounced tastes of Kabuki.

Modori Bashi, a shosagoto, by Mokuami, has for hero Watanabe Tsuna, who meets a beautiful woman and discovers she is a supernatural creature. He pursues her into the air, fights with her, and at last as a climax cuts off her arm, after which he drops down upon the roof of a temple. The play is full of demon lore.

The time of Modori Bashi is a thousand years ago, and the place the Modori bridge of Kyoto by moonlight. Watanabe wears one of those exaggerated costumes so characteristic of shosagoto, and looks cautiously at the [306]bridge which is supposed to be enchanted. The long branches of a willow tree move as though a ghostly wind was blowing, although the curious-minded wonder how many stage assistants are pulling the strings down below, and the quick beating of a drum announces the approach of something uncanny.

The female demon is in the guise of a beautiful maiden brilliantly arrayed, and she immediately makes advances to the warrior, who does not seem to be very anxious to accept the amorous overtures. The attitude of the two is exactly opposite to the conventional love scenes on the Western stage, where the maiden refuses and is hard-hearted, while the lover tries to gain her favour. The demon uses all her arts, but the warrior cannot easily be won over.

Watanabe’s flirtation with the devil woman in disguise continues until he leads her upon the bridge, and then looking down into the water he catches the reflection of her face and knows that she is not a human maid, but that she is his enemy and would lure him to destruction. The gradual change from a charming woman into a terrible devil is effected by changes in face, voice, and posture, a transformation that gives an actor with the weird for specialty a good opportunity.

While the hero and the uncanny creature attack each other in a posture dance, the bridge disappears, drawn off by invisible hands behind the scenes, and a red-lacquered shrine is pushed partly into view and completes the very striking stage picture.

The dance between the two becomes wilder and more intense, reaching a climax as the maiden darts behind the scene. Almost immediately she returns in her true shape, wearing a grotesque mask, while her mane is light brown, with a white stripe down the middle and so long it trails over the stage. She dances wildly about in a fight with warriors, whose swords glint in the semi-darkness of the stage; storm clouds hurry across the sky as though scurrying before a cyclone.

[307]A curtain of gauze representing clouds shuts off the view. The warrior and the creature he pursues are in mid-air struggling together right over the roof of a temple. He cuts off one of her arms, and clutches it wildly in triumphant posture while the mutilated devil woman disappears into the aerial regions.

Onoe Baiko as the demon woman in Ibaraki, escaping with her severed arm.

As companion piece to Modori Bashi there is Ibaraki, by the same playwright, which shows the very highest and best development of the music-posture play.

Watanabe Tsuna, after capturing the arm of the devil woman, guards the box in which it is kept, as he is certain she will return to claim her severed member. Disguised as a venerable old lady, refined, peaceful, and altogether attractive, the weird monster appears and desires to enter Watanabe’s abode, but is refused admittance.

Much disappointed, she is leaving, when Watanabe calls her back under the impression that she is one of his relatives, and she is taken within and a feast spread, before her.

When Watanabe’s adventures are related, she expresses a wish to see the arm. At sight of it there is a sudden transformation of her face from that of a placid, kindly old woman to something hateful and sinister. Unable to disguise her true nature, she snatches up the arm and makes off, followed by Watanabe.

When she returns in full fiendish regalia, with long flowing white mane, wearing a terrifying horned mask with staring gold eyeballs, there is a clever fight in the nature of a posture dance, and the strange, picturesque creature suddenly breaks away from the struggle and jumps into the air, where she is poised for a moment—the triumphant posture of all the characters at the end satisfying the audience that the devil woman has been overcome.

Among the many weird shosagoto, few equal Dojo-ji in beauty and interest. Taken from a Nō drama of the same name, Dojo-ji, The Temple of Dojo, it is concerned with that [308]old tale of a beautiful princess who, loving a priest, pursues him, and changing herself into a serpent and twining around the bell in which he is hiding, melts it in her jealous rage. A new bell is hung and she returns to vent her spite upon it.

The temple atmosphere is created when the action begins, the hanamichi swarming with priests and overflowing upon the stage. The Nagauta singers and musicians sit motionless in the background, while a great verdigris-hued temple-bell suspended by a red and white twisted rope swings high among pendent cherry flowers, making a gay scene.

The priests in their quiet black and white costumes are a foil for the radiant princess who, upon her entrance, becomes the centre of the picture, and by her changing movements absorbs all the attention. As soon as the kimono of her serpent highness vanishes like magic under the deft touch of the black-robed stage attendant, the lady with the hidden snake-like nature undergoes a series of rapid costume-transformations, one exquisite creation following the other.

Now she dances with a little gilt drum, small rounds of silver, or bewilders with a sudden display of scarlet and gold disks, one on her head, and one in each hand, that give place to a succession of others, or simply waves a wand of cherry blossoms. As a relief to the movements of the snake in disguise, a large number of theatrical priests dance, motley fellows in yellow, black, grey, and red, adding to the rhythm which is felt as the compelling undercurrent of the whole piece.

When the serpent-princess feels her diabolical self getting the best of her, she seeks safety in the big bell swinging high overhead. It descends, and she disappears within. Then the priests work hard trying to exorcise the evil spirit, all to no purpose. Their movements about the big bell add to the picturesqueness of the scene.

Soon the hanamichi is again filled with strong men, clad in white and silver kimono, who come to use their force [309]against the princess-serpent, for the priests cannot prevail. With one accord and uttering a long cry in unison, they take hold of the bell-rope and begin to haul.

By degrees the great bell swings upward, and a weird figure is seen crouching under a blue-green silk scarf. To the thunder of big drums, the serpent begins a fighting-dance which makes a strong stage movement and prepares for the entrance of a hero resplendent in vivid green, bright red, shining gold and black, armed with a huge piece of green bamboo. He comes to subdue the creature of evil that, entirely surrounded, climbs upon the top of the bell, and crouches there, a frightful figure in silver brocade, black flowing mane, and face terrible to behold. The priests in fear and trembling wrap themselves about the bell as in a human cord, and the valiant man stands triumphant.

After it is all over and the curtain is drawn, the inquisitive theatre-goer wonders how it was possible for the beautiful princess to completely change into the garments and make-up of the uncanny creature within the limited space underneath the bell. But that is a stage secret, and does not concern the audience.



They make a strange passing show, like personages from dreamland, the people of Kabuki: a daimyo on a hawking expedition, strolling puppet showmen, monkey performers, blind minstrels, pilgrims and priests, samurai and farmer, swordsmith and robber. Creations of playwright and actor, these warriors and lovers, villains and ghosts form vivid and abiding memories in the minds of the Japanese people.

In the consuming passion for loyalty and self-sacrifice, character was often subordinate, and the heroes and heroines of the plays went to absurd lengths to justify the overwhelming theme. The ethics taught by these rôles differ in many respects from the familiar figures of the Western stage, yet at the same time the depths of human nature are sounded, the same tragedies and comedies that make the whole world kin; the eternal clash of evil and good. In addition, there are the rôles fashioned out of the pure fabric of fancy, showing an unquenchable thirst for beauty, and love for the striking and the strange, grotesque and supernatural, creatures called forth from enchanted gardens of the imagination.

A strict adherence to rôles was brought about in the early stages of Kabuki’s development, and this system persisted. There were first the tateyaku, or hero rôles, characters always championing the right; the katakiyaku, or villain specialty, a necessary rôle where the upright and ignoble were thrown into contrast; oyajigata, or old men’s rôles, and kawashagata, the characters of elderly females. [311]The comedian was called dokegata, while onnagata was the name given to men who played women’s rôles, and koyaku were children.

As the plays became more complex these rôles underwent modifications. Of villains there was a rogues’ gallery,—an interesting study in itself. Deep-dyed personages, irredeemably wicked, were created, the worst of the worst; bad men in gorgeous costumes were sometimes half good, and there were villains with a hint of pathos in their natures, while the smooth individual who could smile and smile and be a villain still was among this company. The favourite character of this description was one outwardly bad, a disguise to cloak the good within, a person merely pretending to be among the evildoers but all the time assisting the righteous cause.

Many different types of heroes were born, from those of honest peasantry to the samurai and aristocrat. Venerable old men were as popular as callow youths. A popular rôle was a karo, or chief retainer, in the service of a feudal lord, and a mediator who tried to bring peace and harmony between warring factions was a rôle that pleased the people. Brave fighting men who could hold off an overwhelming number of attackers thrilled the audience; young daimyo, elegant, effeminate, robed in rich brocades; otokodate or chivalrous commoners, ready to unsheathe their swords in the protection of the brow-beaten lower classes; lovers torn between the affections and stern duty, and strong unrelenting characters forsaking wives and children to wander about the land in search of an enemy that the ends of justice might be attained,—such were the rôles played to the delight of their audiences by the yakusha, or rôle men.

In the sphere of the onnagata there are an endless number of good women and true, from the consort of a Shogun to the fair ladies of the nobility and wives of ordinary citizens. Beautiful, youthful princesses wearing flowing kimono of scarlet, purple, or pink adorned with gold, and crowned with silver head-dresses, are a fascinating creation of the [312]onnagata. The three favourite rôles of this description are Toki-hime, who forsakes her father for her husband; Yayegaki-hime, who takes a treasured helmet from her father and restores it to its rightful owner, her lover; and Yuki-hime, who, bound by a tyrant to a cherry tree, calls rats to her aid that gnaw the ropes and set her free,—all youthful maidens of high degree.

Middle and old age are not despised in Kabuki, and the matron, white-haired grandmother, and middle-aged women have a recognised place. They are sometimes the chief characters in a play, for in Asia it is just as natural to be old as young—a stage in the journey of life that all must reach.

Admiration for the actors who create such contrasting types of women grows the greater the more we become familiar with these fascinating females; bad, slangy, naughty girls; voluble, gossipy wives of the tradespeople; brave, heroic women of the samurai class; not to overlook the faithful nurse, innocent maidens, the bad stepmothers, and maidservants, honest and faithful.

Rôles the actors enjoy playing, characters that are household names, such is the combination which has established Kabuki on such a firm foundation that it has weathered the storm of the conflicting influences that have broken about its strong citadel.

Tomomori, of forlorn hope, the last of his clan, his white and silver armour bespattered with blood, makes a final stand before plunging into the waves. He climbs to the top of a rock, and picking up a huge anchor lifts it high above his head; then casts it into the sea, the rope attached to his body drawing him relentlessly, until he falls over backward to his fate, as realistic a death-agony as could be found on any stage.

Kezori Kuyemon, a sea rover, in a drama by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, talking Nagasaki dialect, a swaggering freebooter the actor loves to paint. And Kezori’s junk that fills the entire stage, the crew, a rough-and-ready lot, looking [313]for trouble. The vessel begins to turn as though a real pirate craft, and not one resting upon a painted ocean with a painted sky for background. Kezori stands on the prow, his hair, brown and bushy, bleached by exposure to sun and wind, his beard shaggy and unkempt, his seafaring costume having for design a diabolical devil-fish.

For contrast, Heiyemon, a servant to one of the Forty-seven Ronin, who undergoes a struggle between filial duty and faithfulness to the loyal retainers. Heavy-hearted he leaves home, saying farewell to father, wife, and child, knowing that he may never see them again. He stops to rest in the shade of the big pine trees that line the great highway, the Tokaido, and to eat the simple boiled rice his wife has prepared for him. Home-sickness overtakes him, and he cannot touch the food. Doves fly down from the trees above, and they make him think all the more of home. He must see his father once more, and apologise to him for his neglect; he must show his heart, and tell of his secret intention to join the band. But when he starts, remembrance of the cause he has espoused pulls him back. Wavering between the two desires, he sees the mother dove has fallen to the ground dead, and the young ones hover about her as though bereft. Casting all scruples to the winds, he runs homeward, only to find that his father was aware of his undisclosed plan, and the better to aid him has committed suicide that he may be free to devote himself to the great cause.

Kochiyama, a crafty priest of low rank, visits the mansion of a daimyo, and passes himself off as a prince of royal blood at the head of a great temple. He makes a striking figure in his white inner garment and thin scarlet outer robe, and is treated with every mark of respect. Knowing of a scandal within the household, he seeks to profit. He tells the lord he will lose all his possessions should the affair be made known. The maids spread a fine feast in front of him, but he waves it aside, saying that he would prefer a drink of the tea brewed from the golden globe flower. [314]Acting on the hint, the steward of the household brings him the required hush money. On his departure he coolly confesses the game he has played, and laughs insolently at the enraged servants of the daimyo. On the hanamichi he meets with a confederate and counts the booty.

Seven hundred years ago the Soga brothers, Goro and Juro, revenged themselves upon Kudo, the slayer of their father, and since that time, like the story of how Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old, the tale has been sung and acted, there being hundreds of Kabuki plays with Goro and Juro as characters; their story inspired the playwrights of the Doll-theatre and formed the theme of several Nō dramas. The mother desires the eldest son to do the fatal deed, hoping to save the two younger. They are all anxious to take part in the killing of the man who treacherously put their father to death when they were children. Goro pleads that Juro be allowed to accompany him, and the mother reluctantly consents. The blind brother who has become a priest is denied, and so takes his own life.

They wear straw raincoats and rough straw sandals and the wide hat of the farmer; they start off to the foot of Mount Fuji, where Kudo has gone on a hunting expedition. Goro’s costume is black with a gay design of butterflies, white plovers on the wing adorning that of Juro. They creep into the hunting-lodge where Kudo is sleeping, and accomplish their end. Soon the youths are surrounded, put up a brave fight, but forfeit their lives.

Few plays reflect the national characteristics more than the Soga Brothers’ Revenge,—the impersonal emotions of Goro, Juro, and the mother; the deeply implanted desire for revenge in Old Japan for wrong done; the allegiance to the dead rather than the living. The Soga brothers did not think at all of leaving their mother; they were consumed with loyalty to the spirit of their departed father.

Stammering Matabei—how many fine actors have essayed this rôle created by Chikamatsu Monzaemon! [315]In history he was the founder of colour prints in Japan, but in this play he is an artist who desires his master to recognise his ability by giving him the great name of Tosa. His teacher, however, is not willing to acknowledge his genius. Tongue-tied, he cannot reveal his mind to the master, and his voluble wife, who makes up for his loss of speech, only complicates matters. Suddenly, a number of farmers run through the audience armed with hoes and other agricultural implements announcing that there is a tiger in the neighbourhood. Matabei stutters that there are no tigers in Japan, and that it must be the creation of some artist come to life. Scarcely are the words uttered than a tawny tiger emerges from a bamboo thicket and wags its head. A younger and more favourite pupil takes a brush and draws an outline of a tiger in the air, and in this is sufficient magic to drive the ferocious animal away.

Then Matabei and his wife out of disappointment plan to die together, and the artist decides to paint a farewell picture. He chooses a square stone water-basin, and gazes into the water to catch the reflection of his face, for he wishes to draw his own portrait. He selects the side away from the audience and begins to work when, on the opposite side, facing the audience, appears the picture he is drawing. His art is so wonderful that the picture has penetrated the stone, and when the teacher sees the miracle he relents and allows Matabei to take the coveted name.

How a common robber may become so picturesque that all his faults are forgiven is to be seen in the rôle of Ishikawa Goemon. He had a Chinese father and a Japanese mother, and in punishment for his highway robberies he was finally boiled in oil. Goemon took up his quarters in the second story of the great red gate of Nanzen-ji, a Kyoto temple, and made his depredations by night. In a huge black velvet costume, a loose outer garment of gold brocade, and the conventional wig of a villain, hair that stands on end like a chestnut bur, Goemon emerges from his place of concealment to the gallery above the entrance gate and [316]surveys the scene, smoking his pipe peacefully. Then the man searching for him appears out of the nether region of the stage, catches the reflection of the robber’s face on the surface of the water in a bronze temple-urn, and exclaims that so long as there is sand on the seashore there will be robbers in the world.

Bad characters transformed into heroes—these rôles appealed to Kabuki audiences. Such was Gonta, a vagabond, a braggart, and a bully, and yet he proves to have a heart of gold. He was ready to bluff a samurai out of his money, swagger boldly, yet shows tenderness for his child, and does not hesitate to sacrifice both wife and offspring when he responds to the clarion call of loyalty.

An uncompromising villain is Kosai, the octogenarian keeper of a house of ill-repute, a revelation of selfishness and indifference to the suffering and anguish caused by his slave traffic. A red tam-o’-shanter worn by ancients in Japan covers his head, beneath which is the aged, seared, hardened face. His kimono is of large brown and yellow checks, over which is thrown an upper garment of dark green, and he leans on a tall red-lacquered staff,—a harsh and fantastic figure. His is a personality so deeply sunk in crime that even those actors who specialise in katakiyaku, or villain’s rôles, scarcely ever act such a despicable character. It seems a thankless task to play such a monster, and yet the very strength of his wickedness is sufficient to stir up lethargic citizens who allow such persons as Kosai to flourish like green bay-trees. He meets his just deserts, but hanging seems too good for him.

Fortitude in the face of suffering and death gives the Kabuki actor the opportunity to perform some of his best rôles. Such a Spartan rôle is that of Sato Masakiyo; poisoned by his enemies and with but a short time to live, he is seen with his beautiful young daughter-in-law seated in an ornate red pleasure-craft on Lake Biwa. A small boat comes near with a messenger from the enemy to see if the [317]poison has taken effect, and he is surprised at the hero’s complacency. Next a gift of armour is presented, but Sato strikes his sword against the chest, and the would-be assassin concealed within turns a somersault over the side of the vessel. A temple bell booms out, a sailor’s song is heard in the distance, and the ship points out over the audience. Sato, who has shown admirable control in the face of physical suffering, reels to the prow, and there calmly surveys the scene, remarking that it is a fine day, while the stage-blood which oozes from the corner of his mouth falls down upon his white neckcloth.

In the Kabuki actor’s large repertoire of weird rôles there are few to equal the frightful monster, Tsuchigumo, or The Earth Spider, a popular version of a Nō drama. This creature weaves its spell round a warrior who suffers from some mysterious illness. The spider visits him in the disguise of a priest and throws the web that enmeshes him. It is like day fireworks, made of thousands of strands of compressed paper, that when released fly forth like a fine-spun web, spraying far out over the footlights and above the heads of the people. Again, the spider is tracked to its den and comes forth to fight, shooting the fragile strands of its web into the boxes of the pit. Old and young reach out eagerly for the filmy stuff that wanders gossamer-like from stageland, and the intimate relation between the audience and the players is fully established.

Matsumoto Koshiro and Onoe Baiko in Seikinoto, the music-drama piece, in which Baiko appeared as the spirit of the cherry tree.

Out from the phantasmagoria of the shosagoto stands Seikinoto. In this, Seikibei, a grotesque character, is seen enjoying himself alone on the stage, imbibing from a large red sake cup, when there is let down from the realm of the stage hands above a piece of grey carved wood to represent clouds in which are prominences the audience is led to believe are stars. Shining down into his broad sake cup the stars foretell that should he cut down the ancient cherry tree in the centre of the stage, he will be able to realise his ambition.

He seizes an axe almost as large as himself and proceeds [318]to fell the tree. But he is stopped by an apparition, the spirit of the cherry tree. She is seen at first, faint and weird, within the bole of the tree, but comes forth and dances with Seikibei, property men causing sudden transformations in their costumes. She is in a cherry-coloured kimono, her hair long, and face pale. Seikibei wears a queer black costume bordered with large black and white checks, his hair all tumbled. In a picturesque posture dance they attack each other, he armed with his exaggerated axe, she defending herself with a branch of the cherry, the spirit coming out victorious in the strange encounter.

Three female entertainers in the mansion of a great lord are an entertainment in themselves. Like creatures of some other world they make their appearance through the stage, forced up from the depths of stagedom by a special contrivance to form a motionless group like a piece of statuary. Clad in similar costumes, one carries a bamboo rake, another is armed with a garden broom, while a third has a basket. They are in frolicsome mood as they attend to the garden and pick twigs of scarlet maple. To add to their enjoyment they make a fire with the maple leaves and warm some sake, which is supposed to have additional virtues if so prepared, according to a Chinese poem.

A mere sip of the beverage sends these fanciful females into different states of intoxication, and there is such a fantastic scene that it could not by the wildest flight of imagination be made into an argument against the cup that cheers; one laughs, the other scolds, and the third weeps. The samisen and the minstrel support now one and then the other, causing a din and clatter that is so well calculated as to be less confusing than it seems in the mere description.

One is in reality a spy, and slips away thinking her companions are still under the magic of the sake warmed by the burning maple leaves. The other two come quickly to themselves since they are also secret-service damsels on the look-out for spies, and so it turns out that the intoxicated trio were only feigning drunkenness after all. When three [319]well-matched actors take these rôles, there is an interesting display of onnagata skill.

Three onnagata rôles in Kagami-yama (lit., Mirror Mountain) provide sharp contrasts in the types of women. Iwafuji is a wicked maid in the household of a feudal lord, while ranking below her is O-Noe, all that is gentle and good. Jealous of the virtues and accomplishments of O-Noe, the evil Iwafuji intrigues, and her plot succeeds so well that the good maid is disgraced beyond all hope of redress. There is no way in which O-Noe can clear herself, and she takes her life.

O-Hatsu, servant to O-Noe, true-hearted and valorous, heedless of the consequences, meets Iwafuji in the garden and fights to a finish, the bad Iwafuji dying to the satisfaction of the audience, while the young lord of the mansion appears to approve O-Hatsu’s action, and promotes her to the position in the household her mistress enjoyed.

Among the heroines of the common people there is O-Fune, the daughter of a ferryman named Tombei, in the village of Yaguchi. A fugitive samurai takes shelter in their cottage with his lady-love, whom he passes off as his sister. As a price has been put on the guest’s head, Tombei, an old villain, wishes to obtain the money. O-Fune manages to spirit the hero away. It is a rôle of many emotions. In love with the guest, made love to by her father’s assistant, jealous of the fine lady, she is wounded by her father who has attempted to kill the fugitive,—and summoning all her strength she beats the drum in the tower, gathering the people together that the samurai may have the opportunity to escape to a place of safety.

Should any one ask a ferryman on the Sumida River in Tokyo to tell an old story of that muddy commercial stream, he would no doubt relate the tale of Takao, and how she was ransomed from the courtesan life by a daimyo who paid her weight in gold, and how when she attempted to escape from his pleasure-boat on the river, as she loved another, the enraged lord cut off her head.

[320]And that character taken from the pages of a fairy-tale, O-Ryu, the spirit of the willow tree! She lives in a rustic cottage in the heart of the forest, with her husband Heitaro and little son. When she hears the woodsmen chopping down the old willow near by, she knows that her earthly life is over. As the stroke of the axe resounds, O-Ryu is transformed from a modest wife to a greenish ghost. There is a great whirl of willow leaves about her, and in the fitful glare of uncanny green light she says farewell to her child and disappears among the trees, becoming fainter and fainter until she is lost in the distance.

Some actors are better fitted to act rough Yedo girls, or women of the lower classes, but it is the ambition of the best onnagata to portray noble women. Such a rôle is Kesa Gozen, or the Lady Kesa, the unfortunate but heroic noblewoman. Held up as an example of chastity and devotion, Kesa Gozen should take her place among the good women of the world’s stage.

A samurai falls in love with her, and to protect her honour and save her husband, she becomes privy to a dreadful plot against him that she knows will never be carried out. At night the samurai approaches the bedroom, gropes about, and finds the wet hair that he has been told is that of the husband. Tragic indeed is the youth’s awakening when, on the steps leading to a temple close by, he uncovers the head he has taken, and sees by the light of the moon that it is the face of the woman he loves.




Yakusha of Meiji

Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth, was the torch-bearer of Kabuki during the long reign of the Emperor Mutsuhito, known as the Meiji era, which endured for forty-five years (1868–1912).

There were barren years for the theatre previous to the Restoration, and the stagnant condition of the people showed itself in the lack of Kabuki creativeness. When the long-shut gates of Japan were suddenly thrown wide open to the dazzling wonders of the West, men did not have time to spend in shibai, and their thoughts were engrossed by the rapid changes that took place in politics, industry, education, and religion. The whole course of Kabuki could not be changed overnight, and in consequence remained stationary. The theatres almost went out of existence, and women and children formed the audiences. It took some years for Kabuki to pull itself together, for Western influences were inundating the country, and neither the players, the playgoers, nor the playwriters were able to “find themselves”. If it had not been for the greatest member of the Ichikawa family, the actors might have become like lost sheep and strayed from the fold, separating themselves from their past, and worshipping all the new and confusing tendencies of the day.

Danjuro, the ninth, was the bridge that spanned the [324]sudden gulf which yawned between the traditional past and the uncertain and changing modern world. He may be regarded as the saviour of Kabuki during a period when it might have suffered shipwreck, had there not been a man of genius at the helm to guide the craft through the troubled waters.

In the last days of the shogunate and the early years of Meiji, there were a number of yakusha who shone even in these troubled times. The theatres were still grouped together in Saruwaka-cho, Asakusa, when the Emperor, travelling in state from Kyoto, reached his new capital. Commodore Perry, who knocked at the door of Japan at a most opportune moment, could have witnessed a performance at the Ichimura-za or Nakamura-za in this quarter of Yedo, had he been so minded.

For thirty years three men had held the centre of Kabuki in the days of the fast-decaying shogunate. They were Onoe Kikugoro, the third; the seventh Ichikawa Danjuro, and the fourth Nakamura Utayemon.

Danjuro, the seventh, became the chief actor of the Ichimura-za at the age of 23. His extravagances both on and off the stage came to the attention of the authorities, and he was suddenly summoned to appear before the district officials, and there sentenced to exile from Yedo on the ground of unwarranted indulgence in luxury.

“Ebizo, Kabuki actor”, so the sentence read, “we have long warned the above person that he is not allowed to build an extravagant residence and to use fine furniture”, and continued to enumerate his lapses from grace, particularly mentioning the fact that he wore on the stage a suit of real armour which belonged to a military officer.

Although a petition asking for a pardon was presented by his relatives and friends, the hard-hearted officials were unrelenting, and he was obliged to wander about the country for seven years, playing for the most part in Osaka, where he was most popular. In 1849 was allowed to return to Yedo, and gave special performances to express his thankfulness that his years of exile were at an end.

[325] On the way out of his dressing-room to the stage, he complained of illness, and was advised not to appear, but persisted. While acting his speech failed, and he made a sign with his hand, when the curtain was drawn. He was carried off the stage, and died soon after.

His eldest son succeeded as Ichikawa Danjuro, the eighth. He became chief actor of the Ichimura-za at the age of 16, repairing to a temple every day to pray for success. The Government had no opportunity to reprove him,—on the contrary, he was given a reward for filial piety. To his exiled father he sent money, repaid the debts of his family, was kind to his numerous brothers, left the theatre between acts to inquire about his mother, and assisted the family pupils when old age overtook them.

Reports of his high character were spread, and he was worshipped by the Yedo people. In spite of his genius and probity, his father’s marital adventures (for the seventh had three wives and many concubines) must have weighed heavily upon his mind. He went to play in Osaka, but the audiences were studiously cold, there being the old jealousy of the Yedo stage, and the eighth Danjuro was treated slightingly. This was more than the sensitive young actor could endure, and he committed suicide at an inn in Osaka, dying unmarried at the age of 32.

During the first years of Meiji there was one actor who attracted great attention,—Ichikawa Kodanji, a pupil of the seventh Danjuro. He was the son of a man who kept a stall selling fireworks at the Ichimura-za. On one occasion he was detained by illness, and was late in taking his cue. His superior, Arashi Rikaku, chastised him for the offence by striking him with a zori, or straw sandal, which caused him to fall down a stairway behind the scenes. He never forgot this incident, and later, when he had become successful and was playing with Rikaku, he cleverly inserted a reference to the zori incident into his lines.

It is Kodanji’s association with Kawataki Mokuami, the leading playwright of Meiji, that makes him of interest in [326]the history of early Meiji Kabuki. The two formed a close partnership, Mokuami writing the realistic plays of the plain citizens that showed Kodanji’s talents off to the best advantage. His son became the fifth Kodanji, a veteran of the Tokyo stage who continued to act until within the last year of his life, dying in 1922.

After the Kodanji of early Meiji had passed away there was no one to take his place, and Kabuki was almost derelict.

The actors upon whom the responsibility of Kabuki rested were Nakamura Shikan, Bando Hikosaburo, Onoe Kikugoro, the fifth, the eighth Iwai Hanshiro, last of this long onnagata family, and the young actor who was to succeed as head of the Ichikawa line.

By far the most capable actor of the time was Bando Hikosaburo, the fifth. His father was a carpenter attached to the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Asakusa, but as soon as he was born he was adopted by the fourth Hikosaburo as his stage heir. After performing in Osaka for some time, he returned to Tokyo, bringing with him a geisha called Ichiryu (One-Dragon), a young person with whom he had become enamoured. For the sake of his new love he caused his wife O-Yei to be divorced. O-Yei was a sister of the fifth Kikugoro, and one of the latter’s pupils stole into Hikosaburo’s house and attempted to injure the fascinating One-Dragon. Such a sudden lapse from grace on Hikosaburo’s part started all tongues wagging, especially as he had been strict in his behaviour, and most modest and decorous in his demeanour. His popularity was lessened for a time, but as his acting continued to improve, people forgot all about his morals.

Next to Hikosaburo in ability, and a close rival, was Nakamura Shikan. He was the son of a minor actor, but adopted by Nakamura Utayemon. With such a stage sponsor, Shikan was trained in dancing and greatly excelled in this Kabuki art. Utayemon presided at the kojo, or announcement ceremony, when the young actor took one of the Nakamura family names, that of Fukusuke. But [327]soon after this he was given a sum of money and returned to his own home. The gossips of the day said that he had fainted several times on the stage and was physically unsound; others contended that he had become involved in a love affair displeasing to his adopted father. He had been playing in Osaka with Utayemon, but suddenly returned to Yedo alone. Two years later Utayemon died in Osaka and a wealthy patron provided the funeral expenses in the divorced son’s name, as though nothing had happened to sever their relations. There were two funerals, one in Osaka and one in Yedo, and Shikan gained a great deal of sympathy, having posed as most filial to an unkind parent.

Shikan was, however, a worthy successor to Utayemon, as was evidenced when he acted at the Ichimura-za in company with Nakamura Tomijuro, one of the first onnagata of Osaka. Later on, to announce his increased fame and reputation, he took another name of the Nakamura family, Shikan, but the public regarded this as an unwarranted procedure, for had he lived Utayemon would certainly not have bestowed it upon him.

So nearly matched in ability were Shikan and Hikosaburo, with but two years’ difference in their ages, that they were pitted against each other, and their patrons often indulged in fights over them. During a performance, when these actors were playing together, they came through the audience by way of the two hanamichi, the one to the right of the stage a mere footpath, that to the left a platform that was in reality a continuation of the stage proper. They quarrelled as to who should take the main hanamichi, and the dispute waxed so hot that they finally drew lots to settle the matter. Shikan’s mother was a person of influence in shibai circles, and she was so zealous on her son’s behalf that she caused considerable trouble.

Even in his old age Shikan’s light was not dimmed, and he continued to act until death claimed him. Hikosaburo was also an actor of fine parts—handsome in appearance, [328]possessed of a rich voice, and clever in making-up. He was generous-minded, proud of the position he had gained, but always lacked in good taste and refinement.

An actor of the first ability was Sawamura Tannosuke, the second son of Sawamura Sojuro, the sixth. In the first year of Meiji, he was playing at the three chief theatres in Saruwaka-cho. At the age of 16, he began to act in leading onnagata rôles, and was a genius in the delineation of women’s characters. A tragic fate overtook him, and his loss to the Tokyo stage was very great. Suffering an injury to his feet, gangrene set in. Everything was done to save him, and he was taken to Yokohama, where an American medical missionary was consulted. Both feet, however, were amputated in the third year of Meiji. In spite of this great physical disability, Tannosuke continued to appear on the stage, supported by several black-robed property-men, and so great was his popularity that the people crowded to see him. His wife was unfaithful to him, and was on intimate terms with one of his pupils, and this added to his hopeless condition, filling the remaining days of this unfortunate onnagata star with unhappiness. The young actors who followed afterwards in Tannosuke’s specialty were deprived of the stimulus and high standard he had set, and a lack of good onnagata was characteristic of the greater part of the long Meiji era.

The three stars of the Meiji era were Ichikawa Danjuro, the ninth, known in his early career as Kawarazaki Gonnosuke, the fifth Onoe Kikugoro, and Ichikawa Sadanji. Associated with them was Iwai Hanshiro, the eighth, the last of this talented onnagata line.

Twenty years elapsed after the death of the eighth Danjuro before the succession of the ninth. Onoe Kikugoro, the fifth, was the second son of Ichikawa Uzaemon, the twelfth, and his mother was the daughter of the third Kikugoro. He succeeded to the headship of the Kikugoro family, ranked with the ninth Danjuro, and in some respects surpassed him. It was in drama of everyday life that [329]Kikugoro most excelled, the sentimental and realistic having the greatest appeal for him in contrast to the unreal proclivities of Danjuro, the ninth, who was a faithful exponent of the traditional style of his family.

The fifth Kikugoro left behind him three sons. He adopted his nephew, Onoe Baiko, now the leading actor of the Imperial Theatre; and two sons were born to him in middle age, Kikugoro, the sixth, and Bando Hikosaburo, of the present Tokyo stage.

Ichikawa Sadanji was born in Osaka, studied under several actors, finally becoming a disciple of the Ichikawa family. At first he was a poor actor, and gave no sign of a promising career. Mokuami, the playwright, assisted him greatly by providing him with new plays and furnishing him with advice, and so great was his advancement that he was able to hold his own with Danjuro and Kikugoro, the three stars playing together until death separated them. The eighth Hanshiro who appeared with these actors was the son of the seventh, and was born in Osaka. He was extremely effeminate in manner, a true onnagata of the old school, and was known for his good deeds, always assisting his pupils, and kindly disposed to his servants and the menials of the theatre. An award of merit was given him by the Government, as an example to others of a good citizen and loyal subject.

On his deathbed the characteristics of this actor were not subdued. He exercised his talent for verse-making as a parting gift to life. “Hakitate no waraji”, he wrote, “tsumetaki Haru no Yuki”, the “Waraji I am accustomed to wear are cold in the spring snow.” Thus he made the suggestion that life was like a pair of waraji, or coarse straw sandals worn on a long journey, and that they suddenly felt cold as in a spring snow.

Still another onnagata was Ichikawa Monnosuke, the fifth. Born the son of a Yedo restaurant proprietor, he served his apprenticeship to the stage in Osaka. His son was one of the most popular onnagata in the latter part of [330]Meiji, and a brilliant young grandson, Omezo, is an adornment of the Tokyo stage to-day.

One after another the three stars, Kikugoro, Danjuro, and Sadanji, passed away, and gloom settled down upon the Tokyo stage. It was years before the people took an active interest in shibai, and an equally long time before the actors regained confidence in themselves. The three stars had been the centre of attraction, and a considerable period had to elapse for the new growth and development that was to culminate in the flourishing theatre condition of the present.

The Ninth Ichikawa Danjuro

From the point of view both of character and of art Danjuro, the ninth, is considered the greatest actor that Japan has produced.

Kaburagi Kiyokata, one of Tokyo’s leading artists, describing Danjuro, said that he could only be painted with broad lines, for upon the stage he presented such beautiful figures as could only be seen in old sculptures. And such was his ability in portraying historical characters that the people thought of past heroes only in the light of Danjuro’s creations.

Although he upheld the treasured anti-real style of the Ichikawa line, he threw himself with enthusiasm into the portrayal of rôles in a new type of play called katsureki, or living history, in which he painted his characters with accuracy of detail, showing the influence of Western drama, and also his revolt from the inconsistencies of the jidaimono, or historical pieces of the Doll-theatre. An actor of such great parts was never seen before in Japan, and his like may not appear again for generations to come.

The ninth Danjuro (born 1838, died 1903) was the son of the seventh Danjuro. His mother was not the legal wife of his father, and was the daughter of a restaurant proprietor.[331] She had in addition to Danjuro, the ninth, three sons and a daughter.

The hereditary owner of the Kawarazaki-za, Kawarazaki Gonnosuke, had made a promise to the seventh Danjuro that he would adopt one of his numerous brood, and the fifth son was selected to become the head of this family. Gonnosuke was an influential shibai proprietor, and the boy was regarded as a young aristocrat of the theatre. At the time of his adoption Gonnosuke was not married, and his mother undertook the task of bringing up the coming Danjuro in the way he should go.

From his fifth year there were but few pleasures in store for the boy. He was carried to the house of his dancing master on the back of his nurse. Once, when the seventh Danjuro visited Gonnosuke, the latter remonstrated, and said the boy would certainly be killed by his severe training. To this the grandmother sarcastically rejoined that Danjuro’s children were all dipped in tubs of sugar, but that there was some pepper mixed with it. Evidently she had no faith in the manner the Ichikawa children were managed, and time has shown the correctness of her view-point, for the boy in the care of Gonnosuke’s mother was the only one of the family to attain success. Certainly Danjuro, the ninth, appreciated the interest shown in his welfare by this old woman, for in his later years he never failed to express his appreciation of the training he received in his youth.

Afterwards Gonnosuke took a wife, and she had a son and a daughter. It was a severe disappointment when the daughter died young, for it was planned that she should marry the adopted son. Thereafter Danjuro did not get on well with his adopted mother.

A whole series of misfortunes overtook Danjuro. First, his father was ordered out of Tokyo, and his own mother accompanied him into exile. At the age of fifteen he took the name of Kawarazaki Gonnosuke. Danjuro, the eighth, committed suicide in Osaka, and this family tragedy was followed by the death of a younger and promising brother. [332]Still another brother was unable to become an actor, as his face was marred by smallpox, and a brother adopted by Matsumoto Koshiro was not a success. Then came the destructive earthquake of 1855, and the Kawarazaki-za was entirely demolished, as was the city. There was trouble in securing a license for the reconstruction of the Kawarazaki-za; it ceased to be, and the young Gonnosuke faced a barren inheritance. In addition to all this, his adopted father was attacked and killed by robbers.

The various vicissitudes through which he passed did not prevent him from becoming an actor, and he made rapid progress in his profession. At 34 he married Masu, whom his adopted mother had chosen for him. Hard times followed, and he was obliged to travel in the provinces, but even when acting in country shibai, his Tokyo creditors followed and attempted to take the receipts. When they returned to Tokyo he and his wife had no home to go to, and took temporary shelter in the abode of one of Danjuro’s patrons.

The construction of a new playhouse, the Shintomi-za, by the energetic theatre manager, Morita Kanya, started Danjuro on a new and prosperous career. Kanya was more than willing to produce novelties that would startle Tokyo, and Danjuro set to work to make improvements in Kabuki. In this he was greatly encouraged by the famous statesman Prince Ito, and Matsuda Michiyuki, a Governor of Tokyo prefecture, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the Shintomi-za.

Morita Kanya’s innovations were often failures in that they went over the heads of the people, and the finances of the Shintomi-za were far from satisfactory. Danjuro played in a minor theatre, but ill-luck followed him, and during one of the performances fire broke out and destroyed this shibai. He escaped wearing his stage wig and costume, to the great astonishment of his family on his return home.

A signal honour was given Danjuro in 1887. He was commanded by Count Inouye to play before the Emperor. [333]His Majesty had consented to visit the Inouye residence, and would witness a Kabuki entertainment for the first time. Not since the days of Saruwaka Kansaburo, who had danced before the Emperor in Kyoto, had there been such recognition of the officially despised play-folk.

In the beautiful Inouye garden a temporary stage was set up, and facing it a throne before which hung a thin bamboo curtain. From this elevated position the late Emperor watched the plays and expressed deep interest. The first piece was Kanjincho. The same piece was selected for presentation when the Mayor of Tokyo entertained the Prince of Wales at the Imperial Theatre in April 1922, and on this occasion the Prince Regent entered the portals of a theatre of his own land for the first time.

The Danjuro performances lasted for three days, the Emperor witnessing the plays on the first day, the Empress on the following day, and the Emperor’s mother on the last day. Takeda Izumo’s Terakoya, or The Village School, was presented before the Empress, and her sympathy and feelings were so stirred that those near Her Majesty saw tears in her eyes, and were perplexed, thinking that the play had better be stopped. The tears of an Empress over the sacrifice of Matsuomaru’s son that the heir to Michizane might live, and the loyalty of Genzo, the village schoolmaster! These were red-letter days, indeed, for the whole yakusha fraternity.

With the building of the Kabuki-za, Danjuro enjoyed his greatest prosperity. Here one success followed the other; and Tokyo showered its approval upon the great actor. Later in life Danjuro was persuaded to go to Osaka. He had refused repeatedly to accept an engagement since the eighth Danjuro had committed suicide there; the treatment meted out to his brother by the audience was an insult to the Ichikawa name that had never been wiped out.

Contrary to his expectations, Osaka received the distinguished Ichikawa like a conquering hero, and he reaped a golden harvest, the largest sum of money ever given an [334]actor in the history of Japan,—something like 50,000 yen for forty days. Throngs of people came to see him upon his arrival, but he carefully avoided the crowds as he did not care to ride through the streets to make a show of himself.

Some delay was caused in the stage arrangements on the opening day, and the audience became impatient, causing a great uproar. This so troubled Danjuro that he told his wife that he was quite prepared to leave Osaka should the audience make disagreeable remarks. He had purposely excluded Ichikawa plays from the programme, for should the audience prove unfriendly the affront to his ancestors could not be endured. With the noise out in front increasing, the dutiful wife was told to make preparations for a hasty departure, and left for the railway station, where she awaited her husband’s messenger. It turned out to be good news that he brought, however, for Osaka had behaved well, and welcomed the Tokyo star with every sign of respect and admiration.

Towards the end of his life he took great pleasure in the building of a beautiful country home on the sea-coast not far from Yokohama, and here he retired when his health began to fail, exhausted with his long stage service. He planned to give a farewell performance, and selected Takeda Izumo’s Chushingura in which all his pupils were to appear. But this plan could not be carried out, for he became steadily weaker. Like other yakusha he had his gods to whom he prayed, and there were two god-shrines placed in his garden where he paid his respects every morning.

When he knew his end was near, he requested that his hands and mouth be washed with water, and turning in the direction of the garden shrines he clasped his hands together in worship, and recited a sutra. After that he never spoke again, the members of his family each in turn taking part in the last Buddhist rite for the dying, wetting his lips with a piece of paper dipped in water, during which he was conscious. He passed away in the early morning. His [335]funeral was more imposing than that for a minister of state, and it seemed that all Tokyo mourned his passing.

Danjuro left behind him no son to assume his mantle. His elder daughter married the son of a banker, and this young man became the head of the private family, and has never been able to succeed to the illustrious name and become Danjuro, the tenth, although he has spent years in the study of acting in Osaka. Ichikawa Sansho, as he is known, will never be able to follow in the footsteps of his father-in-law.

Danjuro’s younger daughter married a minor actor, Ichikawa Shinsaburo, and they have a daughter, who is thus the last representative of the family. Danjuro left behind him a number of talented pupils. The best among them is the present Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, of the Imperial Theatre. Because of a youthful escapade, Danjuro declared that Koshiro should not succeed him, which seems a severe penalty, for Koshiro is the one Tokyo actor capable of carrying on the Ichikawa traditions. In consequence, not until Danjuro’s grand daughter grows up and marries and her offspring show traces of the Ichikawa genius, will there be seen again a worthy successor to this illustrious actor line.

No greater proof of the strong affection of the people for Danjuro could have been witnessed than the unveiling of a bronze statue to his memory in June 1919, in the compound of the great temple sacred to the Goddess of Mercy in Asakusa, that crowded district of modern Tokyo where lived the ronin father of the first Ichikawa Danjuro.

The statue is of Danjuro in the character of a warrior of the Kamakura age, Gongoro, in the play Shibaraku, or Wait a Moment, one of the eighteen Ichikawa pieces. Perpetuated in bronze are the grotesque costume, the strange wig, the two great curved swords thrust through the belt, and a fan raised in one hand—a pose that delighted lovers of the aragoto style when Danjuro was seen on the stage in this piece.

[336]All those who had enjoyed any relation to Danjuro during his life were invited to be present, which meant the attendance of the entire theatre fraternity,—actors and managers, playwrights, critics, journalists, artists, as well as representatives of official life. A band of Asakusa firemen in their old-time picturesque Yedo costumes were prominent, and all classes of theatre folk, musicians, property men, ushers, dancing teachers, pupils and servants of the actors, were assembled together. It might have been a scene of a hundred years ago in Yedo, but for an occasional frock-coated dignitary, and the presence of the monotonous straw hat of the West.

Speeches were made by the Mayor of Tokyo, and other men of weight and importance. It was when Danjuro’s best followers stood up to view, four of the most popular actors in Tokyo, that the applause broke forth. They were Matsumoto Koshiro, Ichikawa Chusha, Ichikawa Danshiro, who died in 1922, and Ichikawa Sadanji, son of Sadanji, the star of Meiji.

There was, however, one moving spirit in the proceedings, an informal master of ceremony, and this was Ichikawa Shinjuro, long associated with Danjuro and as loyal a retainer as ever served a feudal lord. Shinjuro was accustomed to assist Danjuro in his preparations to go on the stage, and no one was so eager as he to do honour to his late master on the occasion. Danjuro’s widow and her two daughters, and their husbands, Ichikawa Sansho and Ichikawa Shinsaburo, stood at the base of the stone pedestal. Danjuro’s little grand daughter pulled the string, and the late actor as Kamakura Gongoro, symbol of bravery and courage, was revealed.

The curtain that had hidden the statue had scarcely touched the ground when the faithful Shinjuro scaled the stone base. A black lacquer stand was handed up to him and next a large silver bowl filled with sake. Quickly they were placed at the base of the statue. In the brief space of time in which Shinjuro made the offering before the statue of [337]the ninth Danjuro, it seemed that his spirit was present and animated the lifeless bronze.

The sudden sight of the characteristic aragoto posture of the statue also recalled the peculiar position the Ichikawa family have maintained in the Japanese theatre for the past two hundred and fifty years.

A Theatre Manager of Meiji

The foremost and most progressive theatre manager of Meiji was Morita Kanya. He laboured hard to improve shibai and elevate the status of the actors. Unquestionably he was a benefactor, and if he erred in following after false gods, and was under the impression that the superior theatre of the Occident should be his pattern, he was no more astray than hundreds of others who allowed themselves to be swayed by the worship of the West.

At the age of 18, Morita Kanya, the twelfth, started to manage the hereditary theatre of his family, the Morita-za. In the early days of Kabuki the Morita-za was one of the important shibai of Yedo, but later became amalgamated with the Kawarazaki-za. In time the Kawarazaki-za gained the ascendancy, and for a long time the Morita-za was non-existent. When the Kawarazaki-za was destroyed by an earthquake, a suit was brought against its owners for the re-establishment of the Morita-za, and a licence was granted the latter shibai. No sooner was the victory won than the elder Morita Kanya died, and the son was left with large responsibilities.

The first step of Kanya was to obtain permission to move the Morita-za to the centre of Tokyo. The theatres grouped together in Saruwaka-cho were too far removed, and so close together that competition was harmful. If the theatres had been left in this condition, they would have speedily deteriorated. The people were no longer eager patrons of the theatres, and the actors were lukewarm.

[338]Kanya did not sit down and wait for prosperity; he made it. He was quick to understand the trend of the times, and that it was fatal to repine at the decline of Kabuki, and thought it should keep pace with the rapid development of the nation in this remarkable period of transition.

His new theatre was opened in 1872 in Shintomi-cho, not far from the residential quarter of Tokyo set apart for foreigners. He made many changes, doing away with some of the long-established customs, which greatly astonished the good people of that day. His efforts were crowned with success, and he soon secured as supporters some of the most important men in the realm.

It was characteristic of Kanya that he should have cast aside his old friends for new. The fish-market was one of the strongest guilds in the town, and its members were a power when it came to the theatre. For years the fish dealers were among the staunchest supporters of the Morita-za, and Kanya had been in the habit of consulting these independent spirits on important occasions. But now he found they would be a clog on his actions. He knew he would lose their sympathy and support, but decided to sever relations with them.

To Kanya’s credit, he had early recognised the genius of the ninth Danjuro, having known and observed him from his youth, and with good judgement he invited Danjuro to become the head actor of his new theatre. Danjuro owed much to the fish-market people, since they had long been patrons of his family. The actor stood between two fires, and at last was obliged to leave the manager.

Danjuro then acted in a minor theatre with but poor success, for it soon had to close on account of financial losses, and he became a strolling player in the country. When he returned he was in a desperate plight, and was glad to accept an offer from Kanya to play in his theatre, the name of which, on account of debt, he had changed from Morita-za to Shintomi-za, after the name of the cho, or street, in which the theatre was built.

[339]One of Kanya’s innovations was to light the theatre with gas. This created a great sensation at the time, although extraordinary Western innovations of all sorts were now common. He then gave special performances, sending out invitations to ministers of state, army and navy officers, and members of the diplomatic corps. The ushers on this occasion all wore frock coats, and the event was a great success.

As might have been expected, the plays Kanya selected did not please the regular patrons of shibai. Men of letters and returned travellers offered advice, and the Governor of Tokyo prefecture, with well-known scholars of the day, attended rehearsals. The reformers objected to Kabuki conventions. They wished to do away with the onnagata, the revolving stage, the hanamichi, and raise the moral tone of the plays. Kanya even entertained the idea that a theatre would one day be built under the patronage of the Imperial Household. He also tried what he called a night shibai, in imitation of the Western theatre, but this the playgoers did not like, and considered they had been cheated, having been so accustomed to the long, peaceful, all-day regime.

In consequence of Kanya’s strenuous efforts, Kabuki was elevated with a vengeance, and the actors were no longer looked down upon, and referred to as “riverside beggars”. This was largely due to the discovery that the actors of other lands enjoyed a much higher place in society than those of Japan, and the sudden change of front with regard to the theatre was but a phase of westernisation.

Mokuami, the chief playwright of the Meiji era, wrote a play based on a novel by Bulwer Lytton. Thirty-three Dutch residents of Yokohama presented a green curtain to Kanya, who was very much pleased, and later when he extended an invitation to the foreigners in Yokohama to attend a performance, the programmes were printed in English.

The first distinguished visitor from overseas to be invited to Kanya’s theatre was a German prince. Such [340]dignitaries as princes of the blood, ministers of state, and the plenipotentiaries of foreign countries, were among Kanya’s guests. Later on a British official from Hong-Kong was entertained, and the Shintomi-za became, truly, a social centre.

General Grant, former President of the United States, visited the Shintomi-za during his stay in Japan in 1879. It was a proud moment for Kanya when, attired in the new Japanese badge of respectability, a frock coat, and accompanied by Danjuro similarly clad, they stepped out before the curtain and thanked Grant for honouring the theatre with his presence, and for the gift of a red curtain that he had presented to the manager.

But the height of Kanya’s Western intoxication was reached when he invited a Frenchwoman to sing, and English and American actors to play in the Shintomi-za.

In this Kanya showed little insight, for the audience could not understand the Western entertainers, and the venture ended in a serious loss to the theatre. Hence Kanya’s enthusiasm for reform cooled, and he turned to Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Sadanji as his only hope.

Kanya had been at the head of theatre affairs in Tokyo for so long that he received a shock when he heard of a project to launch a new theatre, the Kabuki-za, which was to be the largest and finest ever built in Japan. He started an opposition movement, concluded an alliance of four Tokyo theatres, and bound the chief actors to stay with him.

The greatest theatre in Japan was the plan of Fukuchi, who ranked with Mokuami as a playwright. When the theatre was completed, Fukuchi went to Danjuro and Kikugoro, to invite them to play in the Kabuki-za, but they refused, as they had pledged themselves to Kanya. Fukuchi was surprised at the tactics of the Shintomi-za manager, but pretended not to be disappointed, joked, and said he would have to paint his face and dance in their stead. But the best theatre and the best actors could not long remain apart. The shrewd Kanya, seeing an advantage to himself, at last [341]consented to lend the three stars provided he was given a certain large sum. This was agreed upon, and his actors appeared at the opening performances of the Kabuki-za, which were a pronounced success from the start, while Kanya was enabled to pay off his pressing debts.

Morita Kanya, the twelfth, died in 1897, after a strenuous life spent in trying to improve the theatre, leaving behind him nothing but a legacy of bankruptcy to his three young sons.

He has been described as a man of extremes, proud one minute, humble the next. Sometimes he treated the actors as though they were his own children, and again regarded them as his enemies. Prosperity and failure were his portions. A newspaper writer, commenting upon Kanya, likened him to a long-tailed pheasant pleased with its plumes that stood beside a river looking at its reflection, and at last fell in and was drowned.

His two actor sons, however, have made up for their father’s delinquencies. They suffered poverty while young, Danjuro, Kikugoro, and other friends of Kanya providing a sum for their living and education. Both received their stage discipline under Tamura Nariyoshi, the beloved theatre manager and contemporary of Kanya, who, until his death a few years ago, was the acknowledged Kabuki authority in Tokyo. Bando Mitsugoro, the elder son of Kanya, is one of the best dancers of the Tokyo stage, excelling in the music-drama. His face and voice do not fit him for the rôle of a chief actor, but his remarkable skill as a dancer makes up for this. Morita Kanya, the thirteenth, the younger son of the Meiji manager, is one of the most brilliant young actors in Tokyo, handsome, versatile, eager, as was his father, for new things. He has won a distinct place in the affections of theatre-goers, and is but on the threshold of his career.

In the autumn of 1921 the Kabuki-za was burned down; the actors of this theatre were obliged to play at the Shintomi-za, and Kanya was avenged. Later his two sons, [342]Mitsugoro and Kanya, for the first time played together in special plays in the parental theatre in memory of their father, the progressive manager of Meiji.

Rise and Fall of Shimpa

A by-product of Kabuki in the form of Shimpa, or New School, was one of the most striking developments of Meiji. A second O-Kuni and Nagoya Sansaburo, in the persons of the beautiful geisha, Sada Yakko, and her political-agitator husband, Kawakami Otojiro, started this form of entertainment. But unlike the founders of Kabuki, their efforts were resultless. Shimpa consisted chiefly of crude melodrama, and while it reached a certain standard, it has now outlived its usefulness, and is practically extinct.

The idea of setting up an opposition to Kabuki grew out of the activities of one Sudo in Osaka. He had been a samurai, but fled from home without his father’s consent, earned his living in Tokyo while studying, and went to Osaka where he spent his time in arguments about popular freedom. He began to lecture in public places, airing his views about the rights of the people, and at last wrote a political novel, which he sought to dramatise the better to spread his doctrines. In front of the theatre where the piece was given there was a large arch erected by the Asahi Shimbun, a newspaper that had made its influence felt at this date, 1881.

A spectator of this performance was Kawakami Otojiro. The idea of a students’ theatre, where all the burning questions of the day could be preached to the people, seized hold of him, and he never rested until he had formed a company for this purpose.

Kawakami was one of a large family living in a village, and they had a hard struggle for existence. At the age of 19 he was a policeman, but this did not satisfy the ambitious [343]youth. With his sword for protection, his feet roughly shod with straw sandals, he came to Tokyo seeking his fortune. He had dreams of becoming a minister of state in the future, and when he arrived at the railway station in the capital, we are told he was surprised to find it all so different from the village life he knew.

Kawakami did not have sufficient money in his pocket to take a lodging at an inn, and he slept under the stars. At times he took refuge in the shade of a temple. He found employment by serving a priest of Zojo-ji, the great Shiba temple in Tokyo, and later became a servant to Fukuzawa, the founder of Keio University and great liberal educator of Meiji.

Joining the ranks of the soshi, or turbulent agitators, Kawakami began to make political speeches, and was repeatedly put in prison because of the freedom of his remarks. But the more he was arrested, the more eloquent he became. To earn a living, and at the same time spread the ferment of new ideas, he became a story-teller in a yose, or entertainment hall. This was a temporary expedient, and he soon began to interest himself in the starting of a theatre of his own.

He was regarded as a dangerous character and followed about by detectives, and therefore his theatrical debut was not striking. Both he and his wife were poorly clad, and the members of the company were in a miserable condition. In comparison with the performances of Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Sadanji, this new attempt was indeed very insignificant. Something had to be done to attract attention, and a piece was produced about Count Itagaki, the liberal statesman, who was represented as a radical and attacked by political assailants. Just at the moment when the hero was about to be killed, a number of policemen appeared on the hanamichi. There was great confusion in the audience, for the idea prevailed that the officers of the law had really visited the theatre. Kawakami explained they belonged to the play. The scheme worked well, and the theatre was [344]crowded daily. Danjuro and Kikugoro came to see what it was all about, and the newly established actor felt greatly encouraged.

With ideas of political success still in his mind, he tried to run for parliament, but was unsuccessful, gave up his ambition in this regard, and settled down in earnest to acting.

Then a plan to go to America took possession of him, and he started off to conquer the new world in a small boat, accompanied by Sada Yakko, her little niece, and a dog. They set sail from Omori, a suburb of Tokyo, on the shore of Tokyo Bay. They lost their bearings and drifted into Yokosuka, where the authorities were on the point of arresting the couple for thus entering a naval port.

This bad beginning did not deter them, and having disposed of the supercargo, the niece and the dog, a new start was made, but the wind was high, the boat began to fill, and they regretted their temerity and resigned their fate to providence. Their situation at one time became so dangerous that Kawakami invoked the aid of Buddha. He rowed, and Sada Yakko tried to stop the inrush of water that came into the boat quicker than she could bail it out. Shipwrecked near a fishing village, they were rescued, well treated, and stayed in this place for some time. The gossips of Tokyo said that Kawakami wished to gain notoriety, the better to increase his popularity as an actor, and that this was the reason the modern O-Kuni and Sansaburo had undertaken such a hazardous trip.

Nothing daunted, Kawakami and Sada Yakko again started off for America with a company of players. This time they took passage on an ocean liner, and upon reaching San Francisco were so poor they had no money with which to buy food, and were obliged to ask one of their countrymen to give them some rice which they boiled themselves. However, they appeared in a theatre and obtained the wherewithal to go on to New York, where they had little to eat for days. But Kawakami was a man of resource, and [345]dressing his company in the variegated armour of Old Japan, part of his theatrical equipment, and Sada Yakko attired in a gay kimono, they walked through the streets of New York. All were so hungry that little walking was done, but this unusual Oriental procession attracted attention, people flocked to see them, and within a few days they had made a considerable sum.

Two other trips abroad were taken by the intrepid Kawakami and the attractive Sada Yakko. They played before King Edward and Queen Alexandra, and the President of France. The Tsar of Russia presented Kawakami with a gold watch.

Thus Kawakami did much to delay a true recognition of Kabuki and the fine actors of Japan. He was nothing more than an adventurer in the realm of the theatre; his performances were in no sense characteristic; in fact, he was an outsider and an amateur who ignored all that had gone before, building a structure on the sands that collapsed after his death. His countrymen who saw his hybrid plays in England and France and America hung their heads, ashamed at the bold effrontery of the man thus strutting upon the Western stage as a representative actor of Japan. The poor impression he gave of Japan’s theatre art has not been erased, since no leading Kabuki actor has yet been seen in the West to show what is sincere and true on the Japanese stage.

One of Kawakami’s announcements was as follows: “Our national drama is very vulgar, and only fitted to please ignorant and common people, and is not for great men or sages. Some people wish to improve it, but this is of no use. Therefore, I am going to do away with the old style and have a shibai with men and women players, and abolish Joruri. The chief idea of our improvement lies in the spirit of the actors. We do not lay stress on the outward appearances of the actors.”

When Kawakami returned from Europe he produced Hamlet, but the stage entrance of the Dane was made on [346]a bicycle. Othello and other Western masterpieces were similarly misrepresented.

The Sino-Japanese War was a good opportunity for Kawakami, and he made the best of it. He gave the people plays dealing with current events, filling the stage with soldiers. Long-winded speeches, sensation, lack of concentration were the features of the hastily written pieces of Shimpa. Yet Kawakami and his company soon became popular, and his theatres were packed. Ii Yoho and Kawai Takeo, two members of the company, were soon favourites, Ii had first studied medicine, and later entered a bank, before he joined Kawakami. Kawai missed his calling when he did not become a Kabuki onnagata, for he is the one genius Shimpa has produced,—a clever impersonator of women. Takada, Fujisawa, and Kawamura were also stars of the company.

The themes of the Shimpa plays were politics, the law courts, war, love, and murder,—just the strong theatrical fare the people wanted. When such material was not at hand, serial stories in the newspapers were dramatised, or European novels or plays were adapted.

Kawakami was more of an opportunist than a creator, and his school reached a certain standard and then stood still. The taste of the people demanded something better than his poorly constructed, blood-and-thunder pieces. The Shimpa could not reach the level the public demanded, and interest in it began steadily to decline. Ii and Kawai for a number of years carried on after Kawakami’s death, but at present they have separated, and the Shimpa school is practically non-existent.

When Shimpa was at its height, Kawakami’s company was largely composed of men, but Sada Yakko, who had a prominent rôle in most of the plays, was a brilliant exception. There is no doubt her beauty and attractiveness had much to do with Kawakami’s success. Training in dancing and other female accomplishments she had secured as a geisha, but preparation for stage work she had none, [347]and was just pushed before the footlights at a moment’s notice to do the best she could. She appeared in a transient period, and the proper circumstances for the development of her grace and talent were lacking. She is but another example of the ruthlessness of Japan towards women of talent, there being scant recognition of their right to express themselves.

Ritsu-Ko Mori: The leading actress of the Tokyo Stage.

With a true understanding of her own handicap in the matter of stage education, she founded a school for actresses, and this was taken over by the Imperial Theatre, when it established a department to train young women. In 1919, seven years after the death of her husband, having failed to secure financial support to carry on the theatre Kawakami had founded in Osaka, she retired from active stage life, playing a farewell in a piece founded on the opera Aida as translated by Matsui Shoyo. On the occasion of a banquet given to celebrate the ten years’ activity of the Imperial Theatre actresses, Sada Yakko sat beside the star of this woman’s company, Ritsu-ko Mori, and it was felt that this second O-Kuni, three hundred years after the founding of Kabuki and the monopoly of the theatre by males, had once more given the impetus for a woman’s stage.

Reforms of Meiji

Meiji Kabuki is less a record of achievement than a reign of amateurs,—well-meaning outsiders acting under the illusion that Kabuki was flat, stale, and unprofitable, and that its only hope lay in abandoning its old-fashioned conventions for the realism of the Western stage.

At the beginning of the forty-five years of the Meiji period, reform was the idea uppermost in men’s minds, and Kabuki, like some family heirloom that has been relegated to the garret, was dragged out into the full glare of new criticism. Those who were loudest in their denunciation [348]were officials and scholars who had returned from abroad and regarded their own stage as an inferior product. Everything was wrong; the plays were termed immoral, obscene, barbarous. The gentlemen of the aristocratic classes who suddenly turned their attention to Kabuki wished to make the stage refined and elegant. They objected to the artificial stage voice, the imaginative costumes and make-up, the symbolic gestures; the onnagata was an absurdity, and the revolving stage, the inconsistencies of the plots, the vulgarity of language, all came in for censure.

For three centuries the upper classes had held themselves aloof from the people’s theatre, and officialdom had wellnigh regulated it out of existence; now the leaders among intellectual circles wished to “improve” Kabuki, aiming to confine the Oriental temperament within Western stage conventions.

This fever to reform Kabuki was based on the belief that Kabuki’s exploitation of the unrealities was wrong, while the realism of the Western theatre was right.

It was, moreover, a conflict between those who put their trust in the idea that the aim and end of the theatre is to be literary, and those for whom the whole purpose of the theatre is to be theatrical.

A Dramatic Reform Association was established by Viscount Suyematsu, son-in-law of the great Prince Ito, with Marquis Inouye, Baron Kikuchi, Baron Shibusawa, and other men of importance as leaders. This society encouraged Danjuro to act in new historical plays based on accuracy of fact, correct settings, and appropriate costumes. Danjuro called this new form of play Katsureki, or Living History.

But the people soon lost interest in such offerings. Weak in dramatic values, the whole emphasis in these pieces was placed on the dialogue, which, however, had little significance. These imitations of the talking play of the West were quite opposed to the forms of Kabuki, whose whole worth lay in the unity of the theatre arts,—colour, [349]movement, music, and acting. Danjuro was criticised on all sides for his proud attitude and noble bearing, and he was advised to come down to the people and perform something they could understand and appreciate.

In consequence Danjuro returned to the masterpieces of his family, pleasing the audience with aragoto and jidaimono, the very theatrical play-forms the reformers had decried; Kikugoro was popular in sewamono, depicting the life of Yedo as written by Mokuami. All was well with Kabuki again, and the people forgot that the decadence of their stage had set in, and that it had become inert and lifeless, according to the higher criticism of the time.

Literary men discussed the theatre in magazines and the press, and societies were formed to produce imported plays. Scholars and professors were arrayed on one side, the people who liked Kabuki undiluted shouted on the other. It was clear that the new ideas were in direct conflict with the popular taste.

The sudden interest in the actors was due largely to the realisation they had not been fairly treated in the past. This awakened consciousness with regard to the actors had been caused in part by the attitude of Occidentals towards shibai.

In 1887 the Italian Minister to Tokyo, Signor Martino, who was a great admirer of Danjuro, invited him to the Legation to dine with some of the greatest dignitaries in the land, the late Prince Ito, Prince Mori, and others, who must have been not a little surprised to find one of the “riverside beggars” asked to share the same board. On this occasion the Minister, in making a toast to Danjuro, said it was much easier to become a minister of state than the first actor of a land. There was also General Grant’s visit to the Shintomi-za, and his warm appreciation of the entertainment, and later the appearance of Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Sadanji before the Emperor in the garden of Marquis Inouye.

Aid yet, in spite of the fact that the yakusha was coming into his own, he was regarded as far too vulgar, uneducated, [350]and unliterary to understand the imported dramas that were being translated in such great numbers.

Blindly the advocates of reform continued to pour new wine into old bottles. The Shimpa school, yielding to the desire for novelties, produced plays depicting Western manners and customs. But currents of life and thought so much opposed could not flow together, and the attempt to blend them upon the stage produced something that was neither of Occident nor of Orient, something strange and almost repulsive. The vivid colours of carpets, and wallpaper, and the atrocious furniture which represented to the audience Western interiors cannot be recalled without a shudder. Nor can be forgotten the costumes so nearly nightmares,—fashions that have never existed in any part of the world—and the hats worn by male actors of the Shimpa school when impersonating foreign females, headgear which might have adorned the inmates of an insane asylum, and other crude details conveying totally erroneous impressions.

The reformers, quick to see the absurdities of Shimpa, set themselves up as advocates of Western masterpieces which were to be so produced as to elevate the drama in Japan. Associations were formed in quick succession, all with the same aim, to see new actors in the newest European plays and to forget for a time the crying need of Japanese drama. Imported plays were produced one after the other on the Tokyo stage, always with more perfection of detail,—clever imitations.

The most ambitious attempt to reform the drama by means of imported masterpieces was made by Dr. Yuzo Tsubouchi, who formed the Bungei Kyokai, or Literary and Art Association, in 1906. It was a Waseda University movement, with the late Marquis Okuma at the head. Dr. Tsubouchi, one of the founders of Waseda, dean of the department of literature of this University, and known for his translations of Shakespeare, was the guiding spirit.

Dr. Tsubouchi believed that society in Japan did not [351]appreciate the importance of the drama as an art, but regarded the theatre as mere pastime. Even among the educated classes there were many who could not understand a man of Dr. Tsubouchi’s standing wasting his time in such an attempt. One gentleman is reported to have said that he did not see why well-known scholars should devote themselves to the work of improving the drama, for the drama was not a bit superior to a geisha performance. A military officer advised Dr. Tsubouchi to devote his energies to the moral education of the people rather than the improvement of the drama, which was not of urgent necessity.

Notwithstanding these protests, a small theatre was erected in the garden of Dr. Tsubouchi’s residence, and a group of amateurs gathered together to study how to act in Western masterpieces. The leader considered that the Kabuki yakusha were hampered by their conventions, and he could not find among them the education and culture necessary to understand Shakespeare. He then began to train actors for the task he had before him. The first play given was The Merchant of Venice; the following year Hamlet was presented, but both were unsuccessful. Profiting by these failures the society worked patiently for several years without performing in public, and finally a revival of Hamlet was regarded as quite a triumph for the Bungei Kyokai. Matsui Suma-ko, a young woman quite new to the stage, developed into a leading lady, and Mr. Togi and Mr. Doi became the chief actors. Then followed the Doll’s House, Magda, The Man of Destiny, You Never Can Tell, The Merchant of Venice, etc. The last performance the society gave before dissolution was Julius Cæsar.

Born under the happiest of circumstances, the society came to an abrupt end. One of the staunch supporters of the movement was Shimamura Hogetsu. He had been a student under Dr. Tsubouchi, studied literature and the drama in England and France at the expense of Waseda University, and was Dr. Tsubouchi’s right-hand man in the management of the Bungei Kyokai.

[352]But the serenity of the undertaking was greatly disturbed. Professor Shimamura left his wife and children for the fascinating leading lady, Suma-ko, broke off friendly relations with Dr. Tsubouchi, and was asked to resign from Waseda.

Soon afterwards he started a company of his own to star Miss Matsui. Their partnership did not continue long, as death suddenly overtook Professor Shimamura, and soon after Suma-ko killed herself by hanging. Doi Shunsho, who had taken the chief rôles, suffered a nervous breakdown and died, and the remaining members of the company drifted apart, leaving the model theatre deserted. The one member of this society who has remained faithful to its ideals is Togi Tatsuteki, who has taken leading rôles in Dr. Tsubouchi’s new drama.

A rival to the Bungei Kyokai was the Jiyu Gekijo, or Liberal Theatre Society, whose leader was Mr. K. Osanai, a graduate of the department of literature of the Imperial University, and a pupil of the late Lafcadio Hearn. This society gave Ibsen, Gorky, Maeterlinck, and Hauptmann. Likewise, half-a-dozen such societies arose, only to be doomed to early death.

Tamura Nariyoshi, the influential theatre manager of Meiji, a contemporary of Morita Kanya, once said that new actors could not grow up like mushrooms, but they must be thoroughly imbued with the atmosphere of Kabuki and understand all that had taken place in the past before trying to produce new things. Contrary to this view the reformers did not think it necessary to build on institutions already existing, and their efforts were misguided and misdirected. Tamura Nariyoshi for half a century fought for all that was best in Kabuki, carefully preserving the traditions amidst the welter of new movements, managing and producing for Kikugoro, the fifth, and his son, the sixth, at the Ichimura-za.

Towards the close of Meiji, in 1910, the height of the reform was reached in the building of the Imperial, Japan’s premier theatre. Erected according to a French model, it [353]has a beautiful European interior with all modern equipment and comforts. In connection with the Imperial a school for actresses was established. Signor G. V. Rossi, an Italian ballet-master from London theatres, was engaged, and opera was produced for some years, but like all other Western methods of improvement, interest in it died away, in spite of Signor Rossi’s earnest endeavours. The lack of singers was the chief obstacle. It was during this opera vogue that Madame Miura, who has been so well received on the Western stage as Madame Butterfly, made her debut.

The Imperial Theatre, under its capable manager, Mr. K. Yamamoto, continues to be the centre of the conflict of old and new ideas. Here modern playwrights are encouraged, the Kabuki actors create new things, or act in the old plays of which the audience never seems to grow tired, while the actors, musicians, and dancers of England, America, and Europe, and even the stars of the Peking and Moscow stages, are warmly welcomed.

Actresses of Meiji

One of the striking developments of the theatre in Meiji was the appearance of various types of actresses for the first time since the prohibition of the women’s stage in 1629. Returned travellers told tales of the prominent place the actresses held in the Occident. The female player had not been seen with the actor for centuries in Japan. She was a feature of the Western stage, then why not of the stage in Japan?

Danjuro, eager to try new experiments, and believing that women should have an equal chance with men in the theatre, decided to introduce his two daughters on the stage. The uproar and confusion that ensued among the theatre folk because of this petticoat invasion of the male sphere of influence caused them to withdraw. Danjuro also acted [354]with a French actress to show that he was not bound by the conventions of Kabuki.

Among Danjuro’s pupils was a remarkable woman, Ichikawa Kumehachi. She began life as a dancing-mistress, studied under Danjuro, and formed a woman’s company of her own. So successful were these players that in the early days of Meiji they were allowed entrance to the houses of the nobility, when the actors could not be admitted on account of their low position in society.

On Kumehachi’s stage only women appeared, and the manly rôles were so well taken by women that it was difficult to penetrate the outward guise that concealed the feminine personality. All the stage duties, including those of carpenters, were performed by women.

Kumehachi had the hands of a dancing-mistress; they were long, narrow, and flexible, and her bright eyes were full of life and intelligence. She passed away in 1913 at the age of 70. A few days before her death she was playing in her small theatre, and so died in harness.

Danjuro once said of her: “If she had been a man her acting would have surpassed mine.” At one time she was called the “Woman Danjuro”, her acting so closely resembled that of her master. But such was the handicap of sex in Meiji that Kumehachi was not given the freedom to develop that would have proved her genius, and although she was undeniably popular with the people, the fact that she was a woman proved a stumbling-block to her advance. In its craze for new things and desire to imitate the Western theatre, Tokyo overlooked Kumehachi, and she died obscure and neglected, the company she had formed disbanding for want of leadership.

Nor did the attractive Sada Yakko ever succeed in reaping but a small measure of success from her barren Shimpa environment. She was a dimming star when towards the end of Meiji she founded a school for actresses that was to form a new departure of the progressive Imperial Theatre.

At the beginning of the craze for imported plays men [355]attempted to portray the rôles of women. Their manner of walking—a sort of hop, skip, and jump—was as true to the habits and customs of Occidentals as the mincing stage gait of Orientals affected by Western players. Men were seen to be an impossibility as the heroines of the intellectual drama of the West, and a demand for young women for such rôles increased the number of stage-struck damsels in all parts of the country. Many a would-be actress strutted her brief hour upon the stage as Juliet or Ophelia, and then was heard of no more.

The career of Matsui Suma-ko clearly represents a certain undesirable phase of westernisation, a sort of frenzy for imported drama that took hold of the theatre reformers. At the time she entered Dr. Tsubouchi’s Bungei Kyokai, or Literary and Art Society, that was to reform stagnant Kabuki by producing Western drama, the novelty of the actresses was at its height, in Osaka as well as Tokyo. Dr. Tsubouchi sought to create intellectual actresses removed from all immoral influences. Matsui Suma-ko was the most promising aspirant for the newly created position, and she became the star of the society. At the age of 18 she had married an innkeeper in a fishing village. Later she was divorced, and came to live with her brother, who kept a cake shop in Tokyo. She waited on customers until she found another husband who was interested in the new drama, and with him she joined Tsubouchi’s company.

It is an unpleasant story how she parted from her second husband, fascinated Shimamura Hogetsu, Dr. Tsubouchi’s chief supporter and stage manager, causing him to resign as professor of Waseda Daigaku and to abandon his wife and children. Together they formed a company called the Art-Theatre. It was as Tolstoy’s heroine in Resurrection that Miss Matsui made her greatest success, and with this and other Western plays she toured the country, the novelty of her venture and the boldness of her character bringing her a fair measure of success.

When Shimamura died in 1919, her position was greatly [356]changed. He had been almost wholly responsible for her success. She did not possess the mental or spiritual capacity to go on alone, without his assistance. He had been conspicuous among Japanese literary men for his study of Western literature, and was the recognised leader of the naturalistic school. She had no reserve of education or experience to draw upon. Furthermore, after his death voices in the audience called out tauntingly, and some of the minor Kabuki actors who had been asked to play with her in an effort to maintain her popularity refused to do so. Things had come to an end, and she could go no further in plays that were not indigenous to Japanese soil. The only way out of the many difficulties she had created for herself was to make a grand exit, and this she did some weeks after the burial of her leader, Shimamura, by hanging herself in the building that had been erected as the headquarters for the new stage naturalism.

Matsui Suma-ko, a daughter of the rice fields, essayed to play the whole repertoire made famous by Ellen Terry, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Sarah Bernhardt, Julia Marlow, and Mrs. Leslie Carter. It was an impossibility. There was no natural growth from within, only unhealthy camouflage. She attempted to produce, but always failed, because what she could impersonate never sprang spontaneously from her own soul. All her efforts aimed not to construct, but to dazzle for the moment,—time and strength wasted in a vain endeavour.

By way of contrast there is Nakamura Kasen, a natural successor to Kumehachi, whose influence and popularity were very great. She owned a little theatre in Tokyo, and it was always crowded. She had the temerity to imitate the Kabuki actors, and was never so popular as when in a male rôle. She began her stage work at the age of 13, and was practically self-taught, never having come under the instruction of an actor, but studying Kabuki plays and players from the vantage of the audience. Much of her success was due to the fact that she was true to herself [357]and the traditions of Kabuki. She created her own sphere, and was regarded as a woman-ronin of the Tokyo stage, but has now retired.

With the opening of the Imperial Theatre in 1911 came the introduction of actresses into the sacred fold of Kabuki, following the custom of the mixed players of the Western stage. The new recruits, having no art of their own, were obliged to imitate that of the long-established male stage, and as no copy is ever equal to the original, it has gradually become recognised that they are unable to compete with the actors. During the first years of the new experiment the actresses played freely and frequently with the actors, but now there is a separation, the female company performing at stated periods during the year, supported by several of the young, progressive actors, and occasionally honoured by the assistance of one of the stars of first magnitude. The audiences prefer to see the actors performing in their own masterpieces, and the actresses in new pieces. From this it appears that mixing men and women players is not the success in Japan it was thought it would be.

Ritsu-ko Mori, who stands as the head of the actresses, was the first woman of good family to take up the stage as a career. She was educated in one of the exclusive young ladies’ schools of Tokyo, and her father was a member of the Imperial Diet. It was an unheard-of thing for a woman so educated to go upon the stage, and she was quite prepared to meet opposition in the domestic circle and from society. After a course of three years’ discipline she made her first appearance with the opening of the Imperial. Miss Mori excels in comedy, but has been seen in many rôles. She has undoubtedly earned for herself a first place among this new class of professional women, both for her hard work and her correct standard of life.

Associated with Miss Mori during the past ten years have been her close rivals, Murata Kaku-ko, Hatsuse Nami-ko, Kawamura Kikuye, and Fujima Fusa-ko—a member of [358]the Fujima family, the leading dancing school of the Tokyo stage. In addition, a large number of actresses and skilled dancers, graduates of the Imperial Theatre, are now available, and there is every reason to believe that the actress is a permanent institution. But as she is such a new acquisition time alone can tell whether she will prove to be an important factor in the Japanese theatre.

Playwrights of Meiji and Taisho

Kawataki Mokuami was not only the representative playwright of Meiji, he was the last of the Kabuki sakusha. After him theatre conditions changed rapidly, the good relations between sakusha and yakusha that had so long endured were destroyed, and peace and harmony between them have not yet been restored.

To such an extent does the modern stage owe allegiance to Mokuami that there is hardly a month that does not see a production of one of his plays in Tokyo, and as he wrote some three hundred plays, there seems no danger that the supply will run out for some time to come.

He was essentially a Yedoko, for he came of five generations of a Yedo family which lived in Nihonbashi, the centre of the metropolis, and the headquarters of the national domestic trade. His plays show wide familiarity with the lower and middle classes of Yedo, and are a mirror of his times. He was a precocious youth, and early started to indulge in dissipation. As he seemed disinclined to stop his irregular life, his father disinherited him—a younger brother succeeding as head of the family. Mokuami had little education, and began to associate early with the people of shibai, becoming an apprentice to drama at the age of 20, and dying in the middle of the Meiji period at 78.

When the seventh Danjuro returned to Yedo after his long exile, Mokuami wrote the piece played by this member [359]of the Ichikawa family as a sign of his thankfulness that he had been able to return to the Yedo stage. For Danjuro, the ninth, Mokuami also wrote some of his best plays. He saw Yedo change to Tokyo; composed realistic Yedo plays for Kodanji, who was active in the early years of Meiji; and in his old age collaborated with Fukuchi in the writing of Botan Doro, or The Peony Lantern, one of Kabuki’s best ghost plays.

So repeatedly did Mokuami choose highwaymen and thieves for the characters of his plays that he was sometimes called the dorobo, or robber, playwright. He was also fond of priests, and the scenes of his plays pass from robbers’ dens, reminiscent of Oliver Twist, to temples and lonely graveyards. Through the whole series runs the contrast between the richly clad priest and the sinister robber. The night side of Tokyo life was often his theme, but frequently he portrayed the lower classes in their struggle against injustice and oppression. His zampatsumono, or cropped-hair plays, are a study of the disordered times when the impact of the West upon Japan caused the two swords as well as the queue to be discarded, and show the comic as well as tragic side of life in this transitional period.

Among his numerous works may be mentioned Kochiyama, a play dealing with an historical personage, the daimyo of Matsue, who was noted in his day for his profligacy. It is interesting to know that the loyal retainer of this feudal lord, who committed harakiri because his master would not listen to his advice and mend his ways, was the grandfather of the widow of Lafcadio Hearn. Some seventy years ago, this dramatic happening was written for the stage, but the daimyo of Matsue stopped its production by paying a large sum of money. Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Sadanji acted together in this play, and it has been revived many times.

Fukuchi Genichiro, known better under his pen name, Ochi Kochi, “Here and There”, was a man of varied talents. [360]He was in the Government service, and might have risen high in official circles but for his predilection for drama. He distinguished himself during the days of the Restoration and travelled abroad in the suite of the late Prince Ito. Few men of his time were better versed in English literature. For a time he entered journalism, but it is as a playwright that he will best be remembered. Fukuchi was one of the promoters of the Kabuki-za, and wrote almost exclusively for Danjuro.

One of his best pieces is the music-drama, Omori Hikoshichi, a favourite play of Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh, in which a warrior, Omori Hikoshichi, meets a seductive-looking maiden on a country road and volunteers to help her across a river. He is performing this kindly deed when she draws a short sword and attacks him. He is in possession of her father’s precious blade, and she is determined to recover it. Instead of retaliation, as she had expected, he generously presents the much-desired weapon to her and behaves in so chivalrous a manner that she goes on her way rejoicing, while he feigns to be overcome by enchantment in order to distract the attention of his companions, and mounting his black velvet stage-steed rides off triumphantly.

Fukuchi lived through an unprofitable period of the theatre, tried to conform to the demand of the time by writing “living-history” pieces for Danjuro, and the interest of the public cooling, he was pushed aside, and passed away forgotten and neglected. Many of his plays are more appreciated to-day than they were in his lifetime, especially Kasuga no Tsubone, or The Lady Kasuga.

A pioneer among the literary playwrights of Meiji, Dr. Tsubouchi wrote several elaborate dramas, showing the influence of his Shakespearean studies. The most ambitious of his works are Kirihitoha, A Leaf of the Kiri-tree, and Maki-no-Kata, The Lady Maki. The first is a play in seven acts and many scenes, and has for theme the overthrow of Osaka Castle by Iyeyasu, when Hideyori, the son of the great Hideyoshi, perished in the flames.

[361]The climax of Oriental stage splendour is reached in the production of this long play. There is such an elaboration of detail, extravagance of gold screen, and prodigality of colour forming the stage pictures that is at once sumptuous and overpowering. The play would become nothing more than a series of tableaux vivants were it not for the characters of Yodogimi and Katagiri. Yodogimi, the mother of Hideyori, mistress of Hideyoshi, drawn from history, goes insane as Iyeyasu’s forces gain entrance through the gates of the castle and the watch-towers are seen in flames. Katagiri, a faithful old retainer of Hideyoshi, bowed with age and infirmity, gives proof of his loyalty as he watches the burning castle.

Among Dr. Tsubouchi’s music-posture pieces there is O-Natsu Kyoran, or Mad O-Natsu, a maiden all forlorn seeking her lost lover, and mistaking a stupid country bumpkin of a horse-driver as the hero of her dreams. In 1920 his Honan, or Religious Persecution, was produced. This centred about the founder of the Hokke sect of Buddhism, and shows the martyrdom of Nichiren and his followers. It created a storm of discussion by press and public, a play with a religious theme being somewhat of a novelty in Tokyo. The appointment of Dr. Tsubouchi as an adviser to the Imperial Theatre comes after a lifetime spent in literary work, translations, playwriting, and endeavours to reform the stage. It is with his lectures and translations of Shakespeare that his name is largely identified. Waseda University was founded in 1882, and since that year Shakespeare has continued the favourite study of the department of English Literature, of which for many years Dr. Tsubouchi was the head. Collegiate interest in Shakespeare, however, dates back to 1877, with the creation of the literary department of Tokyo University, now the Imperial University of Tokyo.

During the middle part of Meiji, Okamoto Kido began to write for the Tokyo stage, and is regarded as the representative modern playwright, both for the number and [362]variety of his successes. He is a most indefatigable worker, and several of his new pieces are produced yearly. One of his favourite themes is the persecution of the early Christian converts in Japan,—and he has written a number of plays concerning these martyrs.

An Okamoto play that is often repeated, and is certainly one of his best, is The Mask-Maker, showing the high regard in which the artisans of Old Japan held their work. It expresses Kabuki’s love of the Spartan spirit, when the daughter of the mask-maker returns home in a dying condition, after attempting to protect the Shogun from attack, and her face inspires her father to execute a masterpiece.

Attached to the Kabuki-za during Meiji was the late Enomoto Torahiko. He started his career on the newspaper Yamato Shimbun, then studied under Fukuchi, and after Fukuchi’s death succeeded as head sakusha of the Kabuki-za. He was a deep student of French drama, and his plays were influenced strongly by the literature he so greatly admired. One of his most popular plays is Meiko Sakaido Kakiyemon, or Kakiyemon, the Potter. This tells how Kakiyemon devoted himself to making a rich red-glaze porcelain. A wealthy neighbour wished to gain the secret that he might profit thereby, and withheld aid from the old man until he was so reduced he could not buy wood to keep his kilns going. A good scene in this piece is that of the kilns in the moonlight, the red glow of the fires, the smoke rising into the air, while in the background is the glare of a conflagration—the city of Nagasaki on fire.

An Osaka playwright who has given Kabuki several fine plays is Takayasu Gekko. His father was known as one of the leading physicians of Osaka, and he was expected to take up the same profession, but preferred to devote himself to literature and the stage. Sakura Shigure, or The Cherry Shower, is regarded as his best play. An old man angry with his son for an affair with a belle of the gay quarter expels him from home. Shifting for himself, the son and [363]the woman he loves begin life together in a cottage. The father happens to pass that way one day, and is caught in a shower. He seeks shelter within the humble cottage, but does not know that he is accepting the hospitality of his despised daughter-in-law. She prepares ceremonial tea for him, he is struck with her accomplishments and good manners, and when he discovers that she is the wife of his son, a reconciliation is effected.

Dr. Ogai Mori worked persistently during Meiji in the translation of German literature and drama. Osanai Kaoru translated from the French and German, and has produced a number of his own plays. Matsui Shoyu was tireless in his efforts in the translation of English drama, and is known as an adapter rather than an original playwright. The late Miigita Torahiko, attached to the Imperial Theatre, produced a number of excellent plays. Masuda Taro, a clever writer of light society pieces and farce, has composed chiefly for Miss Mori and the actresses of the Imperial. One of his successes was Noroi, or The Curse, with an imaginary Damascus of a thousand years ago as setting. After a week’s run it was noticed that the wicked princess who causes all the trouble, and who must die in the end in order that the good shall triumph over evil, according to the eternal convention of the fairy-tale, did not tumble down at the fateful dagger thrust, but remained erect, standing in a very commanding pose upon the throne with the final curtain. The police authorities who censor plays had objected to the death by such means of so exalted a personage. It was not proper in their minds to kill the princess, although she richly deserved it, and the whole point of the play was lost.

Among the playwrights of Taisho, some of the best known are Oka Onitaro, Yoshii Isamu, Kume Masao, Yamamoto Arizo, Osada Hideo, Yamamoto Yuzo, Yamazaki Shiko, Ikeda Taigo, Nakamura Kichizo, Nagai Kafu, Dr. Rohan Koda, Roppuku Nukada, Mushakoji Saneatsu (brother of Viscount Mushakoji), and Juichiro Tanizaki, [364]whose plays have been much discussed and criticised. During 1921 the best play to be produced by an aspiring playwright was Tojuro no Koi, or The Love of Tojuro, and concerned an incident in the life of Sakata Tojuro, the great actor of the Genroku period. It was by Kikuchi Kan, of whom much is expected in the future. He also wrote Okujiyo no Kyojin, or The Mad Man on the Roof, which was a success at the Imperial. Miss Chiyo-ko Hasegawa and Mrs. Kayo-ko Omura are among the women who have written plays for the Tokyo stage.

Not in their wildest dreams could the stage folk of fifty years ago have predicted the remarkable development of Kabuki in the years 1918–1920. Ten years before this the chief playhouses of Tokyo were almost deserted, and at best they were never more than half full. But the audiences increased to such an extent that standing room in the topmost gallery was at a premium.

This overflowing of the theatre was due to the general prosperity of the country as a result of the Great War. Faith in the West was rudely shattered, and the people swung back to their own institutions with a new zest and enthusiasm.

For lack of stimulus Kabuki had been at a standstill for half-a-century before the Restoration; then came the flood-tide of Western influence. Unconscious of the value of its art, Kabuki remained powerless to proceed, and led the superficial observer to believe that it was unable to create and on the downward path to oblivion. But the forces within were gaining strength, and during the height of national prosperity brought about by the European War, the existence of Kabuki was justified as never before in its three hundred years of history.




The present condition of Kabuki is like that of an old temple within a walled garden, around which flows the modern life of a great city, where rages a conflict between two civilisations, that of Asia, and the other, largely commercial, imported from the West. Reformers believe that the temple is all out of date, and are seeking with conscious effort how best they can change the style of architecture.

Some there are who go boldly within the sacred precincts with pots of paint in order that the fading hues of the pictures beneath the curving roofs may be covered by a new design. It is not in their thoughts to restore the tarnished colours, but to destroy and make anew. Still others climb upon the walls and look with scorn upon the priests, calling them lazy, indifferent, and ignorant. And now and then some learned gentleman from the West enters with the worshippers on a festival day, and declares that he wonders what it is all about, while others, even more learned, proclaim in solemn tones that the temple is in decay, and in a few years it will fall with a crash, and so give way for a Western edifice to be built upon the ruins.

In spite of these dire pronouncements,—the rushing modern life outside, the ill-advised observers on the walls, the reformers who seek to destroy,—Kabuki still has its priests, the actors, and goes triumphantly on its way. Heedless of the critics they carry on, performing the old ceremonies, preserving the ancient traditions and [368]conventions with all fidelity, yet turning their faces resolutely toward the future.

Three groups of actors now control the destiny of Tokyo Kabuki,—the companies attached to the Imperial Theatre, Kabuki-za, and Ichimura-za.

With the opening of the Imperial Theatre in 1911 a new force began to work in this shibai world. Not only did the Imperial draw audiences from the most representative citizens of the capital, but it became a centre for the entertainment of distinguished guests from overseas. Here, also, have been welcomed the musicians, actors, and dancers of many lands.

American and British touring companies have appeared at the Imperial. Prince Arthur of Connaught witnessed a play here, and the Prince of Wales, as the guest of the Mayor of Tokyo, attended performances with the Prince Regent. Enthusiastic audiences have applauded a score of Western musical celebrities at this theatre. Russian singers, dancers, and actors have been warmly received from time to time, and Madame Pavlova and her company performed for two weeks with great success. Here, also, the people of Tokyo have had the opportunity to listen to a repertoire of Italian grand opera. Mei Ran-fan, the popular actor of the Peking stage, also filled two engagements at the Imperial. Shakespeare’s plays have been performed by Japanese players, while new plays influenced by England and Europe are frequently presented.

Onoe Baiko, the sixth, is the head actor of the Imperial. His specialty is that of the onnagata, as is that of Nakamura Utayemon, the chief actor of the Kabuki-za. This is the first time in the history of Kabuki for two actors devoting themselves to female rôles to take such commanding places. In the old days the onnagata with becoming modesty was content with a lesser position among the yakusha.

The Imperial Theatre of Tokyo, completed in 1911. The building withstood the earthquake shocks of the great disaster of 1923, but the interior was destroyed by fire. It has now been entirely restored. The Imperial is becoming an international theatre centre, and has welcomed actors, musicians and dancers from England, America, Russia, Italy and China.

Mansfield once wrote: “But who shall say when this generation has passed away how Yorick played?” In Japan, however, how Yorick played is known, for every [369]actor of genius leaves his mark upon the son or pupil who succeeds him, and his style and type are handed down. Both Onoe Baiko and Nakamura Utayemon have sons who give evidence that they are worthy to preserve the type. Eisaburo, who serves as an understudy to Baiko, already closely resembles his father, while Nakamura Fukusuke seems to have inherited the elegance and grace of his parent and teacher, Utayemon. These two young men are the leaders among the younger onnagata and will no doubt uphold the honour of this specialty at a not distant period.

Baiko, following the traditions of the Onoe family, for he is the grandson of the third Kikugoro, and was adopted by the fifth, is clever in the weird, and never pleases so much as when he plays an unearthly woman, ghost, or demon. He is particularly successful as a woman of the people, but it is as a dancer that he has endeared himself to all Tokyo. The grace of his movements, the power of suggestion in his descriptive dances, fill all who witness them with admiration.

Next to Baiko comes the versatile Matsumoto Koshiro, the seventh. Without doubt Koshiro is the best-equipped yakusha in Japan. He is both a good actor and an accomplished dancer. Born in a provincial town, his father was a builder and contractor, and he might have missed his calling had not Fujima Kanyemon, the furitsuke, or dancing master of the Tokyo stage, taken such an interest in the child that he adopted him as his heir and successor.

Danjuro, the ninth, saw that the boy was better fitted to become an actor than to be an exponent of dancing, and early took him under his protection. Of all Danjuro’s followers, Koshiro is the best qualified to carry on the Ichikawa traditions. Unfortunately, Koshiro was indiscreet in his youthful escapades, and so angered his master that he was expelled by Danjuro from the theatre, and for a time it seemed that he might never return.

When the Imperial was opened, Koshiro became [370]attached to this theatre, and was quickly reinstated in the favour of the public. Danjuro’s widow, however, never forgot the injunction of her husband that Koshiro was not to succeed him, and while this actor is in every respect an Ichikawa, the great name of the tenth is still going begging.

In the Ichikawa aragoto rôles Koshiro is the best in Japan. Thoroughly trained in the Fujima school of dancing, he is a creative dancer, always producing new modes of expression. As a realistic actor he has few equals, and shows much cleverness in new plays. It is in making up, however, that he greatly excels, and can transform his countenance by means of strange, imaginative designs, or become a rogue, policeman, statesman, doctor, or lawyer in modern plays with surprising success.

The seventh Sawamura Sojuro is also one of the Imperial Theatre stars. He acts so well with Baiko and Koshiro that they form a perfect trio, and when there is a break in this stage comradeship, Tokyo will be conscious of a blank like that which was experienced when the three great actors of Meiji passed away one after the other.

Sojuro is at his best in samurai and aristocratic rôles, He also makes a fascinating woman, and his ability in the dance, while not so striking as that of Baiko and Koshiro, is still very great. Acting with Sojuro are his four sons, and a nephew, Sawamura Chojuro. A few months after the earthquake disaster of 1923, Sawamura Sonosuke, also a nephew of Sojuro, one of the best onnagata of the Tokyo stage, passed away. During a performance in a small theatre that had escaped the general ruin of the city he fell from a height on the stage and died a few hours later.

Onoe Baiko, leading actor of the Imperial Theatre in an onnagata rôle.

Morita Kanya, the thirteenth, among the most promising young actors of the Imperial, is a name to conjure with in Tokyo. The son of the theatre manager of the same name who became intoxicated with Western ideas and experimented in the new only to return to the sanity of Kabuki in the end, Kanya has a deep hold upon the affections of Tokyo playgoers, not only because of his long lineage and [371]the association of his family with the city, but for the reason of his handsome appearance and unquestioned ability.

He has become so popular in modern plays dealing with the problems of the young man of to-day that he is forgetful of tradition. Like his father, however, he is original and eager to seek out new paths. His brother, Bando Mitsugoro, is one of the chief exponents of the shosagoto school in Tokyo, and a dancer of whom Tokyo is proud.

Associated with these players is Onoe Matsusuke, the fourth, the oldest actor on the Tokyo stage. He played with Danjuro, but old age has no terrors for him, and he is never absent from the footlights. Although Matsusuke is benevolent and fatherly in appearance, he delights in acting villains, and when he takes old men’s rôles he is such a complete success that it will be very difficult to fill his place after he is gone.

For twenty years the acknowledged leader of the Tokyo actors has been Nakamura Utayemon, the fifth. The most finished onnagata in Japan, having played with the three stars of Meiji—Danjuro, Kikugoro, and Sadanji—he is still active at the end of a long career, playing maidens of sixteen, though he is approaching the sober judgement of the sixties.

At the Kabuki-za, Nakamura Utayemon still holds his own. His audiences notice the signs of advancing age, yet their attitude is one of great loyalty. The chief Tokyo yakusha has a world of meaning for the patrons of shibai, as it signifies the actor has obtained the highest rank possible. He is proud and something of a martinet in the theatre, but on the stage Utayemon’s fair women are a study in themselves. His elegance will be remembered long after he is no more.

Nephew to Kikugoro, the fifth, Ichimura Uzaemon, the thirteenth, has inherited a name that adorns the history of Kabuki, the first Uzaemon being the owner of the Ichimura-za, for long years one of Yedo’s chief shibai. He is brilliant, showy, sentimental, an actor of many accomplishments, [372]accustomed to play lover, brother, or father to Utayemon’s heroines.

Follower of Danjuro, the ninth, Ichikawa Chusha is an actor who enjoys much popularity. His restrained manner and well-modulated voice, and cleverness in the realm of the unreal have marked him as a true disciple of the Ichikawa family. He manages to make his villains more thoroughly wicked than those of any other player.

Belonging to Utayemon’s generation is Kataoka Nizaemon, the eleventh. Only two actor lines have come down from Genroku unbroken, those of Ichikawa and Kataoka, the one uppermost in Yedo, the other the first family of Osaka. The present Nizaemon, discouraged, perhaps, because of the overwhelming popularity of Nakamura Ganjiro, with no background of family, but who has captured all before him, has made Tokyo his headquarters for the past fifteen years. When Ganjiro comes at long intervals to play in Tokyo, Nizaemon leaves for Osaka, a deep rivalry existing between them. Something in Nizaemon’s temperament has made open competition with Ganjiro impossible, although in certain rôles no one can approach him.

Nakamura Kichiyemon, a member of the Kabuki-za company, is a meteor-like actor, having risen rapidly and by sheer ability, for he has little ancestral prestige to enhance his reputation. He has no pretensions to boast of as a dancer, but in the loyalty characters of the Kabuki masterpieces, in creating afresh the rôles left by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Takeda Izumo, and Chikamatsu Hanji, he is unsurpassed. His brother, Nakamura Tokizo, is one of the young onnagata of whom much is expected.

The youngest actor of the Tokyo stage is Nakamura Matagoro, aged 12. His actor father died a few years ago, and Kichiyemon took the lad under his protection. It is no exaggeration to call Matagoro’s acting remarkable. Something of Kabuki’s Montessori methods are clearly shown in this boy’s performances, but personality counts [373]also. He seems to the manner born, and it is felt that he will develop into a future leader of Kabuki.

Bando Shucho of the Kabuki-za is like an old-fashioned onnagata in type, and his son resembles him very closely. There seems no danger that this specialty will become extinct, although the Tokyo stage has lost within recent years four of its most talented impersonators of women.

Onoe Kikugoro, the sixth, son of the popular Kikugoro of the Meiji period, is at the head of the Ichimura-za company of players. He follows his father in acting men of the people, yet has never been able to equal the parental standard. In shosagoto and the descriptive dance, however, he is a genius, original, picturesque, a master of movement. Possessed of energy, creativeness, and eager for new ideas, Kikugoro is one of the most interesting personalities on the Tokyo stage.

Ichikawa Sadanji, the fifth, son of the Meiji actor, and one of Tokyo’s most popular players, is at the head of his own company, has travelled abroad, and is more favourably inclined to new ventures than the revival of the old plays.

Nakamura Ganjiro bears the same relation to the Osaka stage as Utayemon does to Tokyo. He follows the natural school founded by Sakata Tojuro of Kyoto, and like this Genroku actor, one of his favourite rôles is that of Izaemon, the lover of Yugiri, in the Chikamatsu drama. Born the son of an actor, but unfortunate in his family circumstances, he is self-made, and by many is considered the first actor of Japan. He is the last of the fine old yakusha; in the Meiji period he had already won a high place for himself, appearing with the three Tokyo stars, Ichikawa Danjuro, Ichikawa Sadanji, and Onoe Kikugoro, and to-day he dominates the Dotombori, the theatre quarter of Osaka.

An onnagata who baffles description, since he is so subtle, is Nakamura Fukusuke, of Osaka, there being two actors of the same name at present. Some years older than the Tokyo Fukusuke, the Osaka actor plays many types of [374]women, each creation appearing better than that which has gone before.

After Ganjiro in Osaka, there is Jitsukawa Enjaku, an actor of the first quality, who for some reason known only to the profession is rarely seen in Tokyo. Gado, of Osaka, is a nephew of Nizaemon, and spends his time between the two cities. Nakamura Jakuyemon, the third, an Osaka onnagata, frequently plays in Tokyo. He differs from all the other actors because he has persistently and consistently patterned after the marionettes, and seems to have associated with the dolls in such a familiar way as to belong to the sphere of elfs and fairies rather than to the ordinary characters of drama.

The effect of the earthquake disaster of September i, 1923, upon the Tokyo stage can hardly be estimated. By this catastrophe the leading theatres of the city were demolished, with the exception of the Imperial and the Kabuki-za, which remained damaged and gaunt reminders amid the general devastation. The Imperial withstood the earthquake shocks, but fire destroyed the interior. It has, however, been restored and reopened. The Kabuki-za, burned down in 1921, was being rebuilt on an elaborate scale, and its outer shell of concrete by some miracle was left intact in a region of the city that was levelled to the ground. The work of construction, however, went forward as soon as conditions would allow, and was completed in time for the opening performances in January 1925. The solid Occidental structure has been combined with some of the most ornate Japanese architectural features, and the new Kabuki-za is one of the most gorgeous buildings to be found throughout the East.

Poverty, suffering, hardship, followed in the wake of the unprecedented earthquake disaster, and it will take many years before the scars are healed and the theatre once more reflects the restored prosperity of the people. Whether this chastening will be a benefit or lasting injury remains to be seen.


The new Kabuki-za, with a seating capacity of 4000, which was opened on January 6, 1925. Under construction at the time of the earthquake disaster, September 1, 1923, the concrete structure remained intact. Japanese architectural features have been used throughout the Kabuki-za, and, rising out of the ruins of the city, it is one of the most imposing buildings in Tokyo.

The new Kabuki-za, with a seating capacity of 4000, which was opened on January 6, 1925. Under construction at the time of the earthquake disaster, September 1, 1923, the concrete structure remained intact. Japanese architectural features have been used throughout the Kabuki-za, and, rising out of the ruins of the city, it is one of the most imposing buildings in Tokyo.

[375]Kabuki, always acquisitive, standing between the idealism of the Nō and the realism of the Doll-theatre, is no longer self-centred, but has become, like Kim, the friend of all the world, and is ever ready to learn from London, New York, Paris, or Berlin.

On the other hand, to cause the inner consciousness of the Japanese people to speak to that of the West through the medium of what is genuine in Kabuki—this is the large untried experiment of the future.

The Western Theatre, possessing the traditions of the Greeks and of Shakespeare, has yet to discover the Eastern Theatre, a sphere of human endeavour that remains unexplored and unexploited. Out of the theatrical wisdom of the East may come a force to produce a new era of creativeness in the West. By the recognition and appreciation of Kabuki, the Western Theatre would not only greatly enrich itself, but stimulate the actors of Asia to higher things.






Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.

Transcriber’s Notes

Word hyphenation has not been standardised.

Illustrations within a paragraph have been move to either before or after the paragraph. The page number in the “Illustrations” section may not match the new location.

Other changes:

In several cases the spelling of Japanese names in the index differ from those in the text. These differences have been retained. A few are noted below: