Meiji Era Kabuki: Three Shintomiza Tsuji Banzuke Part Two – 1899
Second in a three-part series by Kabuki collector and researcher Trevor Skingle!
Having adopted the Western calendar in 1873 the turn of the century was on the horizon in Japan. Many changes had taken place in the previous century, not least some pivotal ones for Kabuki.
In 1872, with the ending of the Tokugawa prohibitions on the location of the Kabuki Theatres, following the lead of Morita Kanya XII (the owner of the Shintomiza) the Kabuki theatres had all moved away from Saruwaka-cho further in to the centre of Tōkyō and in 1887, Morita Kanya XII presented a performance starring Danjurō IX and Kikugorō V for the Imperial family marking a turning point in the fortunes of Kabuki which had until then been perceived by the upper echelons of Japanese society as artless. Kabuki actors had since become major stars.
One such rising star in Tōkyō of the late 19th century would not live to see the turn of the new millennium or his potential fulfilled. Born 2nd May 1884 Suketakaya Kodenji I the son of Sawamura Tosshi VII, having debuted at the age of four in 1887 on the occasion of the opening of Tōkyō’s Azumaza Theatre later became zagashira, or leader, of children’s troupe at the theatre in 1896 when it was renamed the Miyatoza. In 1894 at the age of ten he debuted one of his disciples, the then six year old Sawamura Daisuke. He appeared on stage alongside Nakamura Kichiemon I in January 1899 and after he had performed to great acclaim at the Shintomiza had been expected to become a great Kabuki actor. However in August 1899 he fell ill and passed away on the 24th of that month aged 16 and was interred in Saikoji Temple in Chitose just south of Ryogoku, Tōkyō alongside generations of the Sawamura line of Kabuki actors.
This Shintomiza tsuji banzuke (above) of 16th September 1899 advertises the staging of a memorial performance which paid tribute to his short life and achievements.
First was Ichinotani kaiga no kōtai–Ichinotani Triumphal Song a play in two acts written by Kawatake Mokuami. A kotai (or yōkyoku or Noh chant) refers to the vocal section of the music associated with classical Noh drama and is sometimes performed as a tribute at the end of a successful tour or to celebrate an event. In the context of the tragic death of Suketakaya Kodenji I the previous month and his sibling’s tribute performance next on the same programme it is highly likely that this play was staged in his honour and quite possible that the entire show was dedicated to his memory.
Before the next, commemorative, play there was a kōjō, a ceremonial announcement, during which, in accordance with the traditions of Kabuki, his memorial portrait (National Theatre of Japan, Nishiki-e Database), or shini-e, appeared on stage and a commemorative speech was made by the leading actor.
The second, memorial play, was The Priest Karukaya – Karukaya Doshin Tsukushi no Iezuto by Namiki Sōsuke. A memorial portrait of Suketakaya Kodenji I can be seen in the in the upper left hand side of the nishiki-e.
To escape being hen-pecked by his jealous wife, Kato Sayemon Shige-uji, a Feudal Lord, has fled to Mount Koya and become a priest called Karukaya Doshin. His wife follows searching for him accompanied by her son. Arriving at the priest’s retreat his son Ishidomaru recognises his father’s birthmark. Resolving to remain true to his priestly vocation in spite of his love for his son he denies that he is the father and tells his son to return home. Though longing for his father Ishidomaru agrees to return home and vows not to tell his mother the truth so that Karukaya can continue his peaceful priestly life. The play was staged with the younger brothers of Suketakaya Kodenji I – Sawamura Sōnosuke in the role of Monk Karukaya and Sawamura Chōnosuke (later Sawamura Chōjūrō VII) in the role of the monk’s son Ishidōmaru.
The third play Shiranui Monogtari – Tale of Shiranui (1874 performance, National Theatre of Japan, Nishiki-e Database) was a supernatural drama written by Kawatake, Mokuami in which during a feud with the Kikuchi clan the family of Princess Wakana are all killed. She is rescued by a giant magic spider and given the gift of spider magic and decides to take revenge by using a magic scroll to defeat one of the Kikuchi retainers, Akisaku.
The fourth and final part of the performance was Kuzunoha, Act four in three scenes from the play Ashiya Dōman Ōuchi Kagami – A Courtly Mirror of Ashiya Dōman (1881 performance at the Namauraza, National Theatre of Japan, Nishiki-e Database) written by Takeda Izumi. The story revolves around the character of Kuzunoha, a beautiful woman who meets and rescues the young Lord Abe no Yasuna after he has freed a white fox from a hunter in Shinoda forest. She helps him return home where they fall in love and marry. She bears him a child called Seimei who inherits some of her powers. Sometime later her son accidentally sees the tip of her fox tail protruding from her kimono. She has been discovered. In one of the most famous scenes in Kabuki with the brush in her mouth and holding her child in her arms she writes a poem on a sliding screen inviting her husband to find her in Shinoda forest. She appears to them and revels that she is spirit of Shinoda Shrine and bestows on her son the ability to understand the speech of animals.
In the third and final part of this series, the style and quality of the 1912 tsuji bazuke reflects the changes in the fortunes of the Shintomiza.
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.