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Japanese Plays and Playfellows

Japanese Plays and Playfellows
Title: Japanese Plays and Playfellows
Release Date: 2018-05-31
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 107
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Macrons are accurately represented (mainly ō and some ā and ū).

There is one song (page 160) presented in .mid format.

Some minor changes to the text are noted at the end of the book.


Benkei at Sea. (Nō).














[Pg vii]


I do not pretend to compete in the crowded field ofJapanese sociology with those who have lived morethan six months or less than six weeks in the country.My own stay was limited to half a year. I had, ofcourse, studied the language with native teachers anddevoured the records of foreign travellers. I concludedthat theatrical matters had been less fully describedthan any other: to them, accordingly, I devoted mostattention. But there were other themes on which Ihad been insufficiently informed. Impersonal essaysare, therefore, supplemented by personal reminiscences,for which I claim indulgence. If the first now seem tome too short, the second may seem to others too long.Yet I have tried only to select incidents and characteristicswhich differ strikingly from Western ways.

Austere critics will assuredly resent the excess ofincense burned in these pages in honour of the musumé.But, whether she and they like it or not, she continuesto summarise in her dainty little person much of hercountry’s magic: its picturesqueness, its kindness, itspoliteness. On certain symptoms of anti-foreign feelingI have dwelt at some length, because the obvious witcheryof Japan so often results in the suppression of unpleasant[viii]testimony by those whose own souvenirs are pleasantnessitself. There is certainly no reason why the Japaneseshould exhibit more altruism to other nations than is exhibitedin the reverse case. The apprehensions expressedby such an admirer of the race as Mr. A. B. Mitford,in a recent letter to the Times as to the expediency ofgiving them too free a hand in the solution of the Chineseproblem, however unwelcome to advocates of an Anglo-Japanesealliance, deserve to be well weighed. Neitherpro-Japanese tourist nor anti-Japanese resident can refuseadmiration to the courage and cleverness of thoseHappy Islanders, whose foreign policy is better left toimpartial pens for judgment. A partial spectator, Ican only render appreciative thanks for what I haveseen and loved.

I desire to acknowledge indebtedness to Mr. B. H.Chamberlain and Mr. G. W. Aston for much informationas to lore and literature; to the anonymousauthor of a pamphlet entitled “Notes on the Historyof the Yoshiwara of Yedo”; to Mr. Fenollosa, Mr.Fukuchi, Mr. Fukai, Mr. K. Hirata, and Mr. IsohYamagata for opportunities and courtesies; to theeditors of the Hansei Zasshi, The Sketch, and TheStudio for permission to make use of material contributedto their columns.



I.Behind the Scenes3
(Note to foregoing) Cassandra Justified32
II.Religious Plays39
III.Popular Plays61
IV.Geisha and Cherry-Blossom101
V.Vulgar Songs121
VI.Taking the Waters147
VII.Playing with Fire209
VIII.Afternoon Calls237
IX.The Scarlet Lady275


Benkei at SeaFrontispiece
Shintō Temple at Miyajima14
Shunkwan in Exile46
Kintaro fights the Earth-Spider56
Portrait of Mdme. Sada Yacco66
Portrait of Mr. Kawakami66
Mr. Danjuro as the Lady-in-waiting of Kasuga66
Mr. Danjuro as Jiraiya66
The Heroine of a Problem-play96
Jealousy exorcised from Aoi-no-Uye ()142
Personators of Jizō (Kiōgen)162
Dancers at the Feast of Lanterns180
Kintaikyō Bridge198
The Lion-Dance on New Year’s Day248
A Professional Story-teller260
The Taiyu waves her Saké-cup300


[Pg 3]


A foreign country for most travellers is very like atheatre. They arrive in holiday mood, resolving tobe pleased, since otherwise their judgment in choosingthat country rather than another, their faculty ofappreciating what so many have proclaimed delectable,might seem at fault. Should their choice havefallen on Japan, be sure that eulogistic notices fromthe pens of Sir Edwin Arnold and M. Pierre Lotihave prepared them to enjoy the daintiest of comediettas.They reach the enchanted shore. Theypass swiftly from one aspect of fairyland to another.Nothing happens to shake their preconceived convictionthat in the Land of the Rising Sun Nature beganand Art completed a yellow paradise. They do notheed the jeremiads of resident aliens, nor the bittercry of outcast professors, who gather thorns wherethe tourist is dazzled by cherry-blossom. The picturesqueunreality of common things abets illusion.Surely these dolls’ houses of wood and paper, thesecanopies of rosy bloom and curtains of purple wistaria,the gigantic cryptomeria, the tentacular pines, theazure inland sea and snow-streaked Fuji itself—surelyall these compose a superb mise en scène for poetic[4]comedy! And when “the crowd” enters, a smilingcrowd of straw-sandalled rickshaw-runners, of kneelingtea-house girls, and shaven babies, arrayed likebright-winged butterflies, churlish indeed were thespectator who should refuse to smile back and cheerwith the best. Then consider the privileges which hemay enjoy in that admirably arranged theatre. Werehe in his own country, the footlights divide him for afew hours at most from actors whose privacy, howevercoveted, he may seldom hope to invade. But onJapanese soil he may often obtain, by fee or favour,like the stage-struck noble of Molière’s and Shakespeare’stime, familiar acquaintance with performanceand performers. The latter are, on the stage, hispuppets; off the stage, his friends. Indeed, he confoundsthe two, and ends by treating them withaffectionate condescension. This attitude, which hehalf-involuntarily assumes from an ever-present consciousnessof superior civilisation (as he considers it),deceives only himself. The polite but thoughtfulpatriot, perceiving that his temples are regarded asbric-à-brac, his race as a race of ingenious marionettes,protests in vain against the unwelcome flattery ofsurprised admirers. “To this kind of people,”wrote Mr. Fukai, one of the ablest journalists inTōkyō, “our country is simply a play-ground forglobe-trotters, our people a band of cheerful, merryplayfellows. Painstaking inquiries are made aboutJapanese curios and objects of art—sometimes important,no doubt, but sometimes ridiculously trivial—whilethe investigation of such subjects as theethical life, the social and political institutions, arefar too much neglected. The history of the nation isignored, and our recent progress is supposed to be[5]wholly owing to a miraculous touch of Westerncivilisation.” But who is to remedy this unfortunatesusceptibility on the part of foreigners? The foreignemployé has his work to do—diplomatic, professional,or commercial; the native is in no particular hurry tocourt the esteem of outsiders, being quite contentedwith his own high estimate of himself. Must it alwaysbe an officer “on short leave,” or a journalist in ahurry, who undertakes to record superficial impressionsof a passing spectacle? At least, it is no usereporting from the stalls what the casual playgoerimagines he has seen, unless his report be confirmedand controlled by those who move in the mysteriousworld “behind the scenes,” where the drama ofpopular existence is more adequately observed andto a great extent directed. Happily, the judiciousinquirer has only to choose between competent guides,whose eyes are no longer confused by the glimmer ofdancing lanterns. Let us pass behind the scenes, anddiscover, if we can, what sort of piece is being rehearsed—whatmode of action the performers affect.If we lose some illusions, we may gain a profitableglimpse of decorously veiled truths.

The foreign resident is rarely cast for an importantpart, never for a permanent one. It is notorious thathe lacks æsthetic charm. His wife and children, hisclub and counting-house, his racecourse and cricket-field,are standing tokens of unassimilative exile. InEngland he would be a good citizen and an excellentfellow, sure of his seat on the School Board or CountyCouncil, if not in Parliament, supposing that his ambitionsincluded that of service to the community.But in Kōbe or Yokohama he lives as isolated fromthe fascinating “native-born” as any Jew in a[6]mediæval ghetto. And he does not feel the spellwhich takes the bookmaker captive. It will not do todismiss him as a Philistine, a coarse barbarian, whoseonly aim is to exploit the country for his own benefit,since, on closer acquaintance, you find him, moreoften than not, cultured, kindly, and just. What, then,can be the cause of his extraordinary antipathy to theland, ideally perfect as it appears to us, in which hislines are cast? For every blessing you pronouncehe replies with a malediction, and, since his life behindthe scenes is at least nearer actuality than your own,you borrow his eyes, with which the better to contemplatea Japanese Janus, Whose smiling visage fills youwith delight, though at him is levelled a forbiddingfrown.

The root of his discomfort and your enchantment isa profoundly narrow patriotism. Viewed from without,this brave and alert nation, courteous to strangersand glad to excite admiration, retaining so much thatis picturesque and unique, yet capable of appropriatingthe external panoply of Western civilisation, mightseem more companionable than any other; viewedfrom within, it is evidently a close corporation, intolerantof rivalry, diligent to protect itself, and determinedto restrict at all costs “Japan to the Japanese.”It is futile to blame this trait, which springs inevitablyfrom the forced seclusion of two centuries, duringwhich period the barbarian was rigorously excludeduntil he obtained readmission at the cannon’s mouth.Nor is such hostile feeling confined to the ignorant.On the contrary, the farther you go from the greatcentres, where the mixture of races might be expectedto produce a better mutual understanding, the moreamiable is your reception. The mercantile classes[7]dread and dislike the invading trader, while imitatinghis methods, so far as they can grasp them, with theintention of ousting him as much as possible fromtheir markets. Even the intellectual classes, quick toappreciate the value of Western science, arms, andgovernment, are none the nearer spiritually throughtheir acquisition. Mr. Lafcadio Hearn, whose passionatedevotion to his adopted country has inspiredmany pæans of tender praise, yet writes: “Betweenthe most elevated class of thoroughly modernisedJapanese and the Western thinker anything akin tointellectual sympathy is non-existent: it is replacedon the native side by a cold and faultless politeness.”Finally, a Tōkyō critic, whose language is as vigorousas his disillusion is genuine, complains thus bitterlyin The Orient (April 1899) of “The Rest of theWorld”:

“From first to last our foreign records have shownalmost insatiable greed on the part of our treaty-allies.We have, it is true, asked for no favours; and it isequally certain that we have not received any. Therenever has been any real feeling of fraternal amitybetween us and our allies; and this not because wewere not willing, indeed eager, to take the initiative,but because our treaty-allies have held superciliouslyaloof and grudged us an entrance into the comity ofnations. All things considered, we do not find thedebt of gratitude we owe to foreign lands beyondpower of bearing. Civilisation? We had that beforeever Commodore Perry came to Uraga and MississippiBay. Schools? Well, text-books are to be boughtin the open market, and our students have alwayspaid their way at Western universities. Railways?Yes, but look at the absurd price we had to pay for[8]the first line between Tōkyō and Yokohama! Andso on with the whole list. We have paid the highestmarket price for our experience, with a thumping bigcommission for the privilege of buying it even at thatrate. Yes, we have profited, but largely lost our ownself-respect in the profiting.”

Innocently unaware of storms in the beautifulSatsuma tea-pot, the globe-trotter goes his way,

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