2nd Installment From Okamoto Kido’s Talks On Meiji Era Theatre – Under The Lamp
Part 14: The scene at the opening of the new Kabukiza!
Kabuza Gossip – ‘Heart Warming Historical Tales of Kōmon’ (Zokusetsu Bidan Kōmon Ki) — Scholar, Amateur Kabuki Dramatist and Journalist Fukuchi Ōchi — The Appearance of Kabukiza Banzuke advertising posters – ‘The Fire Brigade Fight’ (Megumi no Kenka).
After the Great Earthquake disaster (of 1923) the appearance of the Kabukiza theatre building was once again anticipated. Also a large part of the Old Kabukiza theatre remained there though in those days it was the feeling of the audience that they weren’t in favour of anything vastly different. Even with the caution expressed by the public there was still plenty of support. The layout of the published banduke programmes was unusual. Up till then the theatre play’s banduke showed, amongst other things, the zagashira troupe leader, the nakajiku (higher ranking actor), the kakidashi (a young actor who is becoming popular who’s name appears first on the actors’ name board), and the kyakuza (guest actor) which were always listed in the same position. As was the custom, the transcribed positions of those that were listed depended on their official title and stage name. So for example for the Shintomiza Theatre’s banduke the order was that Danjūrō was zagashira, Kikugorō was nakajiku, Sadanji was kakidashi, and Sōjūrō was kyakuza. I heard that there was an article disputing the ranking shown on the banduke which caused a lot of trouble. So what happened was that the official titles and the places that they would occupy had to be gathered and written down every day, a consequence of which was that the proper format of the banduke, including the status of the actors, was kept, though it wasn’t general practice for them to only work in their respective roles for a day at a time. The official titles, though somewhat vague, were prepared and printed on the banduke according to their status along with, amongst other things, their yotsuyaku (four roles) or goyaku (five roles). From this point on I can really consider what an absurd design this was, a custom from the olden days, though it wasn’t the person who was suspected who was responsible. Previously that person had spoken about these ‘Banzuke posters and picture books’ and at that time those close to that person at the Kabukiza Theatre did away with dozens of those old customs. Usually the assignment of roles for each actor was written down in sequence though they were concerned about the rankings rather than the order in which they appeared on stage which had until then been the continuing subject of rivalry between professional factions. The assignment of roles on the banduke using the conventional Kanteiryū style of calligraphy (traditionally used for Kabuki advertising) was abandoned to be replaced by conventional printing type.
Those innovations were of course debated. Outdated Kabuki tastes which pervaded some of the more famous play houses were really objectionable and were frowned on. I was told that people were unused to some of the banduke for plays that were being distributed as well as those who thought that those banduke were unusually convenient. Discovering the appearance of actors’ official titles was really without a doubt quite useful. Eventually even the dissenters capitulated, gradually beginning to praise the improvements. However the printing type that I have already mentioned, with Torii style (of ukiyo-e) scenes, was regarded as somewhat incongruous, a notion that was spoken of quite widely. However, the Kabukiza Theatre’s compromising style was subsequently adopted in the world of the theatre though still using the conventional Kanteiryū style of calligraphy. Gradually those opinions were eventually assimilated and how soon did the appearance and manufacture of banduke in the second half of the Meiji period through to the Taishō reflect this. This was everything that mattered and in those days the people associated with the Kabukiza Theatre were, without a doubt, greatly resolute in their decision. Similarly I and others were likewise, and for the first time the Kabukiza Theatre’s banduke were opportunistically collected though even if they looked strange I thought their pictures were interesting.
In January the following year, (Meiji) 23 (1890), a ceremony to celebrate a performance opening event took place at Kyōto’s theatre, a building in Gion. Morita Kan’ya contracted Danjūrō to bring his troupe. The very crowded vehicles left ferrying Danjūrō to Kyōto. At first there was an unusually full house and then the attendance dwindled until it was unexpectedly small, a bad predicament that needed to be salvaged. However, the failure proved to be fatal and it was reported that Morita Kan’ya had yet again embarked on another lost opportunity. In spite of this in March the Shintomiza Theatre, where he took refuge, opened for business. There were two acts; the second and last act that was peformed being an entirely new Jōruri production. The actors were Kikugorō, Sadanji, Shikan, and Fukusuke’s troupe. The first act was ‘Sassa Narimasa’, the second was ‘Fire Brigade Fight’ (Megumi no Kenka, aka Kami no Megumi Wago no Torikumi).
The murder of Sayuri (aka Hatsuhana) in the first act wasn’t at all challenging. The second act’s fight between the Sumo wrestlers and the Firemen was extremely effective at publicising the reputation of the theatre far and wide and it became the talk of the town with people everywhere saying that it was the way a play should be performed. Just like that history was made and what people said that was particularly interesting was that amongst Kabuki plays the ‘Fire Brigade Fight’ (Megumi no Kenka) was unique and since then it has been repeatedly performed.
Published as a series in 1935 and then in full as ‘Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Shitanite’ (On the Theatre of the Meiji Period – Under the Lamp) by Iwanami Shoten in 1993. These extracts are from the serialisation which appeared in the late 1920s early 1930s in the Tokyo Kabukiza Monthly Kabuki Review magazine as ‘Sugi ni shi Monogatari’ (Stories of the Past).
Note: Three times the Kabukiza Theatre was destroyed. In October 1921 as a result of an electrical fault and then as it was still being rebuilt on 1st September 1923 at 11:58 by the Great Kanto Earthquake. The third time was on 25 May 1945 during an air raid.
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.