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Kabuki's Forgotten War

Kabuki's Forgotten War: 1931–1945

James R. Brandon
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Kabuki's Forgotten War
    Book Description:

    According to a myth constructed after Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945, kabuki was a pure, classical art form with no real place in modern Japanese society. In Kabuki’s Forgotten War, senior theater scholar James R. Brandon calls this view into question and makes a compelling case that, up to the very end of the Pacific War, kabuki was a living theater and, as an institution, an active participant in contemporary events, rising and falling in consonance with Japan’s imperial adventures. Drawing extensively from Japanese sources—books, newspapers, magazines, war reports, speeches, scripts, and diaries—Brandon shows that kabuki played an important role in Japan’s Fifteen-Year Sacred War. He reveals, for example, that kabuki stars raised funds to buy fighter and bomber aircraft for the imperial forces and that pro-ducers arranged large-scale tours for kabuki troupes to entertain soldiers stationed in Manchuria, China, and Korea. Kabuki playwrights contributed no less than 160 new plays that dramatized frontline battles or rewrote history to propagate imperial ideology. Abridged by censors, molded by the Bureau of Information, and partially incorporated into the League of Touring Theaters, kabuki reached new audiences as it expanded along with the new Japanese empire. By the end of the war, however, it had fallen from government favor and in 1944–1946 it nearly expired when Japanese government decrees banished leading kabuki companies to minor urban theaters and the countryside. Kabuki’s Forgotten War includes more than a hundred illustrations, many of which have never been published in an English-language work. It is nothing less than a com-plete revision of kabuki’s recent history and as such goes beyond correcting a significant misconception. This new study remedies a historical absence that has distorted our understanding of Japan’s imperial enterprise and its aftermath.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6321-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    I did not plan to write this book. It forced its presence on me while I was doing research on the censorship that kabuki endured during the American Occupation that followed Japan’s defeat in World War II. As I read descriptions of kabuki that were written in the immediate postwar years, I was struck by the insistence of both Japanese and American writers that the kabuki plays being submitted to American Occupation censors between 1945 and 1949 were wholly classical works, having no connection to Japanese society of the mid-1940s. And yet as everyone knows, throughout the history of kabuki,...

  5. Part 1 Kabuki’s Foreign Adventure:: 1931–1939

    • CHAPTER ONE Prelude to War
      (pp. 3-36)

      Kabuki’s place in Japanese society between 1931 and 1945 closely followed the trajectory of the “Fifteen-Year War” being waged by the Greater Japanese Empire against China, Britain, Holland, Australia, and the United States. When the war on the mainland began in 1931, the entire kabuki world echoed the enthusiasm and sense of pride that accompanied Japan’s early military victories in Manchuria and China. Kabuki’s participation in the war encompassed a wide range of activities: creating new war plays, offering special programs for government guests, raising funds for the war effort, purifying the existing repertory, and touring morale performances to military...

    • CHAPTER TWO Kabuki and the Manchurian and Shanghai Incidents: 1931–1934
      (pp. 37-67)

      As we have seen, a number ofichiyazukeplays in kabuki dealt with contemporary social and political events in the decade leading up to 1931. And even further back, during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese conflicts, new war plays sprang up like grass after the rain. In 1931, kabuki’s fortunes were firmly tied to the national military adventure that was just beginning on the Chinese mainland. Japan’s Fifteen-Year War (1931–1945) began September 18, 1931, when extremist officers of the Kwantung Army deliberately blew up a small section of the South Manchurian Railway, blaming the action on “lawless Chinese soldiers.” On...

    • CHAPTER THREE Kabuki and the Marco Polo Bridge Incident: 1937–1938
      (pp. 68-93)

      The hiatus in producing new kabuki plays about the war in China ended in late summer 1937 when the Kwantung Army instigated the incident at Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao) and launched an all-out offensive against China designed to force the Nationalists to sue for peace. The government’s new aim was to incorporate all of China into the Japanese Empire—peacefully if possible, but if not, imperial forces were prepared to conquer China by their superior arms and valor. A new slogan expressed the government’s breathtaking and, in the end unattainable, ambition: “From ‘north China’ to ‘all China’!”¹ Officially Japan was...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Darkening Storm: 1939
      (pp. 94-110)

      During 1939 the government exhibited a paralyzing ambivalence in national policy. Stalemated in China with no good end in sight, the army was obsessed with a Northern Advance (hokushin) policy aimed at Soviet Russia, its most hated enemy. The navy argued for a Southern Advance (nanshin) to gain access to Southeast Asia’s oil, rubber, and tin, raw materials essential to a modern war. Diplomacy was unmoored as well. Should Japan maintain its traditional friendship with Britain and the United States? Or should Japan’s tentative negotiations with Germany be pushed through to achieve a formal alliance with Europe’s strongest military power?...

  6. Part 2 Fruits of Victory:: 1940–1942

    • CHAPTER FIVE Kabuki and 2,600 Years of Imperial Rule: 1940
      (pp. 113-155)

      The year 1940 marked a watershed for kabuki in wartime Japan. Throughout the year, the kabuki world joined the entire nation in celebrating a New Order in Japan and the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the imperial line. Across the ocean, Japan’s ally Germany stood astride all of Europe save Britain. There was good reason for the public to feel optimistic.

      In 1940, the second cabinet of Prince Konoe Fumimaro took important steps to further militarize society and the economy. In the summer and autumn, Konoe promoted a New Order (Shintaisei) of domestic politics, largely devised by intellectuals in...

    • CHAPTER SIX Confrontation with America and Britain: 1941
      (pp. 156-187)

      Many months before the war with the Anglo-American enemy began on December 8, 1941, imperial subjects were regaled with the well-worn admonition “Luxury Is the Enemy” and a newer, more ominous warning, “No Personal Desires until Victory.” These slogans, propagated by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association and the Bureau of Information, foreshadowed more stringent times to come. In the previous year, the cabinet of Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro had established a Citizen’s Republic of China under puppet president Ō Seiei (Wang Jingwei). In June 1941, the government stage-managed a state visit by the complaisant puppet president to Tokyo, with the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Japan and Kabuki at the Zenith: 1942
      (pp. 188-232)

      In early 1942 Japan was poised to become the master of Asia. Seemingly without pause the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy were moving from victory to astonishing victory. The Pearl Harbor bombing was said to have obliterated America’s Pacific navy (Fig. 7.1). Within days Hong Kong fell. Britain’s “impregnable” fortress of Singapore, protected by 90,000 British and Commonwealth troops, was captured in nine weeks. Daring Japanese military strategy and enthusiastic soldiering forced the humiliating surrender of a British army larger and better equipped than the attackers.Engei gahōheadlined its March issue “Commemorate the Fall of Singapore!”¹ TheJapan Times...

  7. Part 3 Defeat and Survival:: 1943–1945

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Kabuki and Japan’s “Decisive Battle”: 1943
      (pp. 235-261)

      As a 1943 New Year’s greeting, kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII shared a sober poem with his fans: “All the more shall my birth and life be worthwhile, if I die under His Majesty the Emperor’s sacred flag.”¹

      In late January, Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki cautioned members of the Imperial Diet that the War of Greater East Asia was entering a critical stage. Looked at in the proper light, the national crisis presented an opportunity to be seized. Therefore, his administration “welcomed this time when a ‘decisive battle’ will yield total victory.”² The decisive battle (kessen) was a strategic concept...

    • CHAPTER NINE Kabuki Is a Luxury: 1944
      (pp. 262-295)

      New Year 1944 presented a discordant double image of theater in Japan. When stores and offices reopened in early January, holiday celebrants flooded into entertainment districts in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. On the surface, theater had recovered from the Depression years. Citizens craved entertainment. It was wartime and many had extra money to spend. Some seventy-five urban theaters were jam-packed, up to 130 percent capacity regardless of fire laws. Most theaters ran programs daily. In Tokyo, seventeen large theaters in downtown Ginza, Shinbashi, and Nihonbashi offered matinee and evening programs of three or four plays each. In the Asakusa entertainment...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Agony Ends: 1945
      (pp. 296-319)

      The wholesale decline of kabuki theater in the first six months of 1945 was inescapably tied to the shuddering collapse of the Japanese Empire. The individual actor was like a drowning sailor caught in the powerful wake of his sinking ship. Fate would determine if he went under or survived. American soldiers and marines were capturing the last islands in Japan’s defense perimeter in preparation for invading Japan itself. The art of kabuki was of small concern to most of the emperor’s subjects at this perilous time, and kabuki mattered not at all to the approaching Americans. In January, critic...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN War Plays in Kabuki — a Retrospection: August 1945
      (pp. 320-342)

      Kabuki’s role during Japan’s fifteen-year Sacred War is essentially unknown in the West, and in Japan it is either forgotten or ignored. That era of military horrors is so embarrassing or painful, even after some seventy years, that most Japanese do not wish to confront it. But I believe more important than that, the era contradicts Western illusions of what kabuki was and Japanese desires for what kabuki should be.

      I have not raised kabuki’s participation in the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident, and the War of Greater East Asia in order to criticize that participation. During the war, kabuki...

  8. Part 4 Kabuki Outlasts the Occupation:: 1945–1947

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Inventing Classic Kabuki: 1945–1947
      (pp. 345-356)

      When Emperor Hirohito surrendered unconditionally on August 15, 1945, the military struggle between the Japanese Empire and the Allied Powers came to an abrupt end. Japan had “lost” the war, but hostility toward American cultural values continued in many areas of Japanese society, certainly in professional kabuki. A provision of the Potsdam Declaration, which the emperor accepted, brought half a million Allied troops onto the sacred soil of Japan. Postwar planners in Washington specified that the military occupation of Japan should achieve two primary and related sociopolitical goals: (1) to eliminate militarism, ultranationalism, and feudalism from Japanese society; and (2)...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 357-416)
    (pp. 417-438)
    (pp. 439-448)
    (pp. 449-452)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 453-465)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 466-466)