This book is an annotated collection of English-language documents by foreigners writing about Japan’s kabuki theatre in the half-century after the country was opened to the West in 1853. Using memoirs, travelogues, diaries, letters, and reference books, it contains all significant writing about kabuki by foreigners—resident or transient—during the Meiji period (1868–1912), well before the first substantial non-Japanese book on the subject was published. Its chronologically organized chapters contain detailed introductions. Twenty-seven authors, represented by edited versions of their essays, are supplemented by detailed summaries of thirty-five others. The author provides insights into how Western visitors—missionaries, scholars, diplomats, military officers, adventurers, globetrotters, and even a precocious teenage girl—responded to a world-class theatre that, apart from a tiny number of pre-Meiji encounters, had been hidden from the world at large for over two centuries. It reveals prejudices and misunderstandings, but also demonstrates the power of great theatre to bring together people of differing cultural backgrounds despite the barriers of language, artistic convention, and the very practice of theatergoing. And, in Ichikawa Danjuro IX, it presents an actor knowledgeable foreigners considered one of the finest in the world.
Samuel L. Leiter is professor emeritus of theater at Brooklyn College, CUNY.
List of Figures
Part I: Overview
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: A Brief Survey of Meiji Kabuki
Part II: The 1860s
Chapter 3: From Japan through American Eyes (1859; 1860), by Francis Hall
Chapter 4: From Ten Weeks in Japan: “Japanese Drama” (1860), by Rev. George Smith
Chapter 5: From Japan through American Eyes (1861; 1862), by Francis Hall
Chapter 6: From the Capital of the Tycoon: “Osaca” (1862), by Si Rutherford Alcock
Chapter 7: From A Lady’s Visit to Manila and Japan (1862) by Anna D’Almeida
Chapter 8: “Japanese Theaters” (1864), by Humbert Aimé
Chapter 9: From A Diplomat in Japan (1866?), by Sir Ernest Satow
Chapter 10: More from the 1860s, by Jacob Mortimer Silver, R. Mountenney Jephson, and Edward Pennell Elmhirst
Part III: 1870s
Chapter 11: From Japanese Episodes: “A Day in a Japanese Theatre” (1872), by Edward H. House
Chapter 12: From Clara’s Diary: “Kabuki—the Japanese Theater” (1876), by Clara A.N. Whitney
Chapter 13: From Japan Day by Day: “The Theatre” (1877, 1878), by Edward S. Morse
Chapter 14: “Theatricals” (1878), by Isabella L. Bird
Chapter 15: From Clara’s Diary: Part I: “Chūshingura” (1878), by Clara A.N. Whitney
Chapter 16: From Awakening Japan (1879), by Erwin Baelz
Chapter 17: From Clara’s Diary (1879): “Entertaining General Grant”; “A Western Style Drama”, by Clara A.N. Whitney
Chapter 18: More from the 1870s, by William Elliot Griffis, Christopher Dresser, Arthur Collins Maclay, William Gray Dixon, Charles H. Eden, and Mrs. Julia D. Carrothers
Part IV: The 1880s
Chapter 19: From Japan Day by Day: “The Theatre” (1882), by Edward S. Morse
Chapter 20: From Jinrikisha Days in Japan: “Japanese Theatre” (1889), by Eliza Rumaha Scidmore
Chapter 21: From A Japanese Interior (1889), by Alice Mabel Bacon
Chapter 22: More from the 1880s, by Thomas W. Knox, Arthur H. Crow, Andrew Carnegie, William Henry Lucy, Henry Knollys, Henry Fauld
Part V: The 1890s
Chapter 23: From A Diplomatist’s Wife in Japan: “Danjuro, a Great Actor” (1890), by Mary Crawford Fraser
Chapter 24: From The Japs at Home (1892), by Douglas Sladen
Chapter 25: From Lotos-Time in Japan (1894), by Henry T. Finck
Chapter 26: From Japan: A Record in Colour (1896): “Art and the Drama,” by Mortimer Menpes
Chapter 27: “Japan’s Stage and Greatest Actor” (1896), by Robert P. Porter
Chapter 28: From Japanese Plays and Playfellows (1898): “Popular Plays”; “Afternoon Calls,” by Osman Edwards
Chapter 29: More from the 1890s, by Adolfo Farsari, M.B. Cook, G.J. Younghusband, Mae St. John Bramhall, Katherine Schuyler Baxter, William Eleroy Curtis, S.C.F. Jackson, Stafford Ransome
Part VI: The 1900s
Chapter 30: From Tales from Tokio: “Shibaya to Yakusha” (1900), by Clarence Ludlow Brownell
Chapter 31: From Awakening Japan (1903), by Erwin Baelz
Chapter 32: From Present-Day Japan: “The Drama” (1904), by Augusta M. Campbell Davidson
Chapter 33: From Things Japanese: “Theatre” (1904), by Basil Hall Chamberlain
Chapter 34: From Rare Days in Japan: “At the Theatre” (1906), by George Trumbull Ladd
Chapter 35: From Smiling ‘Round the World: “Visit to a Japanese Theatre, Tokyo” (1908), by Marshall P. Wilder
Chapter 36: From Every-Day Japan: “The Japanese Stage” (1909), by Arthur Lloyd
Chapter 37: From Japan and the Japanese (1910), by Walter Tyndale
Chapter 38: From The Full Recognition of Japan (1911), by Robert P. Porter
Chapter 39: From Japan of the Japanese, by Joseph H. Longford
Chapter 40: More from the 1900s (and Beyond), by Anna C. Hartshorne, Fred Gaisberg, Douglas Sladen, Walter Del Mar, George H. Rittner, Ernest W. Clement, W. Petrie Watson, Eleanora Mary D’Anethan, Clive Holland, Anonymous, Evelyn Adam, and A.H. Exner
About the Editor
Leiter is well known as one of the foremost scholars of Kabuki. In the present volume, he offers a fascinating glimpse of the cross-cultural moment when Japan opened to the West after the Meiji Restoration (1868) and "foreigners" encountered Kabuki for the first time. Including some 40 first-person accounts dating from 1859 to 1912, the anthology comprises six chronological sections and provides a kaleidoscopic view of Kabuki through non-Japanese eyes. The individual pieces are fascinating, but the value of the anthology is greater than the sum of its parts because of the variety and depth of the individual essays and Leiter’s erudition and strong, clearly written commentary. The book is equally intriguing for the range of its authors/observers: Americans, Europeans, Australians. Who were they? Why were they in Japan? What do their impressions of Kabuki reveal about them? This brilliant book will be an invaluable resource for scholars of Japanese theater and for those interested in history, intercultural encounters, and changing cultural perceptions. Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.
Samuel L. Leiter, a foremost scholar of kabuki, has compiled a rich trove of firsthand accounts of kabuki theatergoing in Japan during the Meiji period. The selections were written by people from Britain, the United States, and other countries who traveled to Japan during the first decades of Japan’s modernization. They offer fascinating insights into ways that the outside world viewed kabuki and the culture that produced it. Dr. Leiter’s introductory material and extensive annotations and commentary provide essential context for the accounts. Meiji Kabuki: Japanese Theatre through Foreign Eyes is a valuable contribution to the growing body of scholarship on what has become one of the world’s most revered art forms.
Following two-plus centuries of isolation, Japan in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) overflowed with new possibilities, stimulated partly by a nonstop stream of foreign visitors. Japan’s traditional theatre—nō, kabuki, and bunraku—so different from Western theatre, garnered far more than superficial “if it’s Tuesday, it must be Kyoto” reactions. Samuel Leiter has assembled in this eminently readable book their accounts of kabuki performances. None better than he, the world’s leading kabuki scholar-translator outside Japan (he’s also a prominent critic of American theatre), to assume this task. He brings alive the excitement—sometimes, the puzzlement—in the foreign accounts. Very few of these early observers were well informed about kabuki, but their gawker-like, enthusiastic accounts provide collectively a fascinating, incipient take on a salient feature of Japan’s deeply rooted traditional culture.
The combination of domestic turmoil and foreign incursions brought immense change to Japan during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Kabuki, the reigning stage art, took a leading role in the political and social agendas of the period. In Meiji Kabuki: Japanese Theatre through Foreign Eyes, Samuel Leiter has gathered written accounts left by a significant number of foreigners who attended kabuki during the Meiji Period, and he has added generous and highly informative commentary. The volume takes readers into theatres over the decades of kabuki’s rapid transition from a broadly popular cultural attraction to an art forced from on high to serve new purposes and new audiences. This exceptionally valuable volume is an eye-opening and essential contribution to the study of kabuki, while also augmenting understandings of Japanese history, modernization, foreign relations, and foreign interest in Japan.
Samuel Leiter’s many books and articles have cemented his place as the foremost English language scholar of kabuki history alive today. His latest, Meiji Kabuki: Japanese Theatre through Foreign Eyes, is a fascinating and often eye-opening compilation of primary sources by a wide variety of Anglophone visitors, with Leiter’s perceptive commentary on each. Carefully edited and presented in groupings by decades, contributions include such items as journal entries, letters, reports, travel guides and random notes by Victorian ladies, diplomats, journalists and others who recount their impressions of kabuki’s theatres, entertainment districts, plays, audiences and performers. While some anecdotes have been published elsewhere, many are new and often surprising. Leiter puts each in cultural, theatrical and historical context. He not only tells us who these foreign visitors were, but generously gives their often surprising observations the benefit of the doubt, even when their comments cannot be verified by more traditional historical sources. This openness to actual lived experience (rather than being dismissive of it) is a crucial decision that may suggest fruitful avenues of research for future scholars. The book will be an invaluable resource to cultural and theatre historians of Meiji era Japan.