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The Man Who Saved Kabuki

The Man Who Saved Kabuki: Faubion Bowers and Theatre Censorship in Occupied Japan

Shiro Okamoto
Translated and Adapted By Samuel L. Leiter
Copyright Date: 2001
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    The Man Who Saved Kabuki
    Book Description:

    As part of its program to promote democracy in Japan after World War II, the American Occupation, headed by General Douglas MacArthur, undertook to enforce rigid censorship policies aimed at eliminating all traces of feudal thought in media and entertainment, including kabuki. Faubion Bowers (1917-1999), who served as personal aide and interpreter to MacArthur during the Occupation, was appalled by the censorship policies and anticipated the extinction of a great theatrical art. He used his position in the Occupation administration and his knowledge of Japanese theatre in his tireless campaign to save kabuki. Largely through Bowers's efforts, censorship of kabuki had for the most part been eliminated by the time he left Japan in 1948. Although Bowers is at the center of the story, this lively and skillfully adapted translation from the original Japanese treats a critical period in the long history of kabuki as it was affected by a single individual who had a commanding influence over it. It offers fascinating and little-known details about Occupation censorship politics and kabuki performance while providing yet another perspective on the history of an enduring Japanese art form.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6484-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Samuel L. Leiter

    Not long after World War II ended, the American Occupation, led by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) Gen. Douglas Mac-Arthur was ready to administer a lethal dose of censorship that would have killed Japan’s great classical theatre,kabuki. The tombstone over its grave might have read, “Here lies kabuki, 1603–1946, able like a willow to adapt to three and a half centuries of native oppression, killed in a year by democracy.”

    Kabukiis famed for its remarkable diversity of styles, ranging from flamboyant fantasy to roguish realism and from everyday behavior to lyrical dance, with characters inspired...

  4. Author’s Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Shiro Okamoto

    When looking at photographs of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the time that he was known as SCAP, one sees next to him a tall, aristocratic-looking young man. He is dressed in military uniform and hat, his mouth drawn tight, and his face rather serious. His name is Faubion Bowers, a twenty-eight-year-old army major when he arrived in Japan. He served as Mac-Arthur’s aide-de-camp and as his interpreter during the early Occupation.

    Bowers lived in one of the apartments at the foot of the American embassy in Tokyo’s Akasaka section, which is where MacArthur was domiciled, and he was assigned a...

  5. Chapter 1 Faubion Bowers and Japan, 1940–1945
    (pp. 1-16)

    In late March 1940, Faubion Bowers entered Japan on a mail-carrying cargo boat out of Seattle that docked at Yokohoma. The boat was making a temporary stop on its way to Singapore. The Oklahoma-born Bowers, of Cherokee ancestry, had dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, for which he had studied in France and at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. Deciding that he was insufficiently talented for his chosen career, he elected to study Indonesiangamelanmusic in its native environment. He was on his way to Indonesia when he arrived in Japan.

    It cost only one hundred dollars in...

  6. Chapter 2 Wartime Kabuki: Censorship on the Home Front
    (pp. 17-29)

    “Well, to speak frankly,kabukiis used to being suppressed. I think that thekabukiworld always has to face oppression from above. Therefore, you know, if we can’t follow the script literally, we just alter the content and get on with it. That’s how we did it during the war when we were very strictly regulated.”

    Sitting in a second-floor training room at Tokyo’s Kokuritsu Gekijō,kabukiactor Nakamura Matagorō II (b. 1914), Living National Treasure, spoke of his wartime hardships. The indefatigable Matagorō was eighty-four at the time I spoke to him. A few moments earlier he had...

  7. Chapter 3 The Occupation Commences and the Actors Return
    (pp. 30-42)

    At 2:05 P.M., on August 30, 1945, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) Douglas MacArthur landed at Atsugi Airfield in the C-54Bataan. He had been named SCAP by President Harry S Truman on August 14, 1945, a day before the end of the war. He appeared on the ramp with a corncob pipe clutched between his teeth and dark green aviator glasses. So dramatic did he seem that some compared his posturing to that of akabukiactor.

    When MacArthur assumed his duties as SCAP, many in the advance party returned to the United States. Bowers, however, remained,...

  8. Chapter 4 Kabuki Censorship Begins: The “Terakoya” Incident
    (pp. 43-65)

    InReminiscences, MacArthur wrote, “Japan had become the world’s great laboratory for an experiment in the liberation of a people from totalitarian military rule and for the liberalization of government from within.”¹ The Occupation policy was a grand, historically unprecedented one whereby, through strong political leadership and systematic and thorough educational propaganda, Japan’s entire value system—so different from that of the West—was to be overturned and homogenized in the fashion of the occupying powers. This Occupation, unlike those of the past, was not simply concerned with the victorious nation depriving the vanquished one of its arms, stripping it...

  9. Chapter 5 How Faubion Bowers “Saved” Kabuki
    (pp. 66-102)

    As noted in Chapter 4, the examination ofkabukiplays by GHQ’s Civil Information and Education Section (CI& E)—known before September 22 as the Information Dissemination Section—and Shōchiku during the four days from December 4 through 7, 1945, resulted in 174 plays being given the green light. Since no more than about one-third of the approximately 500 plays examined were permitted, this was an ominous moment for Shōchiku and its actors. Still, their reception by the censors, such as Capt. John Boruff, was gentlemanly and polite and temporarily put the company at ease. A mere month later, however,...

  10. Chapter 6 Kabuki’s Suffering Ends
    (pp. 103-114)

    “I have not once been impressed by Kikugorō [VI’s] acting or dancing. Rather than being impressed I usually get angry. I absolutely cannot agree with those many educated Japanese who call him a ‘god of acting’ [gei no kamisama].”¹

    These vitriolic words were written by the late actor-director Senda Koreya (1904–1994), a great modern theatre (shingeki) actor and director who criticizedkabukimercilessly for many years. He also wrote:

    I no longer believe thatkabukiprovides any creative inspiration to modern people. . . . It lacks the power to stir up an artist’s creative juices. It is not...

  11. Chapter 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 115-128)

    All arts have an unhappy relationship with politics. Literature has been the most persecuted of all. As can be seen from the postwar debate between literature and politics, especially that concerning the proletarian art movement, politics holds ascendancy over art. Politics wants art to be its hand-maiden. Not only literature, but painting, music, sculpture, and theatre have a history of being oppressed.

    Occupation censorship exposed the strained relationship between politics and art. It was strict and thorough. According to Robert M. Spaulding, the monthly total of material coming in to the Press, Pictorial, and Broadcast section of the Civil Censorship...

  12. Epilogue Letter from Kawatake Shigetoshi to Faubion Bowers
    (pp. 129-130)

    Having learned that you are shortly leaving Japan, we recall with renewed appreciation the valuable services you have rendered to the cause of art in this country.

    For three years since the termination of the Pacific War Japan has been, as it were, in a state of atrophy, with her art and culture as well as the people’s daily life extremely unsettled and insecure. And the traditional theatrical arts of Japan, Kabuki, Bunraku, Noh plays and Bugaku, have been threatened with the danger of extinction because they are a heritage of ancient Japan.

    It was indeed a great delight to...

  13. Appendix A Kabuki Chronology, 1940–1948
    (pp. 131-154)
    Samuel L. Leíter
  14. Appendix B Kabuki Plot Summaries
    (pp. 155-180)
    Samuel L. Leíter
  15. Notes
    (pp. 181-192)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 193-196)
  17. Index
    (pp. 197-210)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-211)