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A Beggar's Art

Scripting Modernity in Japanese Drama, 1900-1930

M. Cody Poulton, trans.

Publication Year: 2010

In the opening decades of the twentieth century in Japan, practically every major author wrote plays that were published and performed. The plays were seen not simply as the emergence of a new literary form but as a manifestation of modernity itself, transforming the stage into a site for the exploration of new ideas and ways of being. A Beggar’s Art is the first book in English to examine the full range of early twentieth-century Japanese drama. Accompanying his study, M. Cody Poulton provides his translations of representative one-act plays. Poulton looks at the emergence of drama as a modern literary and artistic form and chronicles the creation of modern Japanese drama as a reaction to both traditional (particularly kabuki) dramaturgy and European drama. Translations and productions of the latter became the model for the so-called New Theater (shingeki), where the question of how to be both modern and Japanese at the same time was hotly contested. Following introductory essays on the development of Japanese drama from the 1880s to the early 1930s, are translations of nine seminal one-act plays by nine dramatists, including two women, Okada Yachiyo and Hasegawa Shigure. The subject matter of these plays is that of modern drama everywhere: discord between men and women, between parents and children, and the resulting disintegration of marriages and families. Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat make their appearances; modern pretensions are lampooned and modern predicaments lamented in equal measure. Realism (as evidenced in the plays of Kikuchi Kan and Tanaka Chikao) prevails as the mode of modernity, but other styles are presented: the symbolism of Izumi Kyoka, Suzuki Senzaburo’s brittle melodrama, Kubota Mantaro’s minimalistic lyricism, Akita Ujaku’s politically incisive expressionism, and even a proto-absurdist work by Japan’s master of prewar drama, Kishida Kunio. With its combination of new translations and informative and theoretically engaging essays, A Beggar’s Art will prove invaluable for students and researchers in world theater and Japanese studies, particularly those with an interest in modern Japanese literature and culture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-xv

For a couple of decades in the early twentieth century, straddling the Taishō era (1912–1926), drama enjoyed something of a heyday in Japanese literature. Almost every writer of the day at least dabbled in this form, and many— including Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Yamamoto Yūzō, Kikuchi Kan, Kume Masao, Arishima Takeo, Mushanokōji Saneatsu, Nogami Yaeko, and Ueda (Enchi) Fumiko, to name just a few—established themselves as playwrights ...

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Chapter 1 Meiji Drama Theory before Isben

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pp. 1-25

As with so many other aspects of life in Meiji Japan, theatre also went through the convulsions of modernization, and theatre “reform” (as it was called) was part and parcel of a public effort to create a modern, “civilized” nation. These were, in the first place, top-down efforts by the government to clean up kabuki’s unsavory reputation as a vulgar entertainment for the masses and make it presentable ...

Part I

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pp. 27

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Chapter 2 The Rise of Modern Drama, 1909-1924

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pp. 29-45

“The opening of the Free Theatre is nothing other than the expression of our desire to live,” proclaimed Osanai Kaoru at the premiere of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman on November 27, 1909. Novelist and playwright Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886–1965) was at the premiere and recalled of Osanai that “such glory comes perhaps but once in a lifetime for a man.”1 It was not only a defining moment in Osanai’s career ...

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The Boxwood Comb, by Okada Yachiyo

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pp. 47-66

As we have seen, the Japanese premiere of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House by Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Literary Theatre in 1911 had an electric effect on Japan’s intelligentsia. Nora’s character sparked intense debate, not least in the pages of The Blue Stocking (Seitō), the feminist magazine established by Hiratsuka Raichō. ...

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The Ruby, by Izumi Kyōka

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pp. 67-84

By the beginning of the Taishō era, Izumi Kyōka was already a well-established novelist. He had made a name for himself in the 1890s, while still in his early twenties, as a writer of sensational stories noted for their action, ornate language, and biting social criticism. The rising shinpa star Kawakami Otojirō staged a bowdlerized version of one of Kyōka’s first successful novels ...

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Father Returns, Kikuchi Kan

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pp. 85-98

A 1920 production of Father Returns by kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke II’s company Shunjū-za at the Shintomi-za created a sensation. The playwright himself recalled the event some years later ...

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The Valley Deep, by Suzuki Senzaburō

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pp. 99-118

Aside from Koheiji Lives (Ikiteiru Koheiji, 1924), which Ōyama Isao consideredone of the most important Japanese plays of the twentieth century, not much is known about Suzuki Senzaburō (1893–1924) and the almost two dozen plays he wrote during his short life. Few of his plays have been republished since they first appeared, mostly in the early 1920s, and the fame of Koheiji Lives, which continues to be staged regularly ...

Part II

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pp. 119

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Chapter 3 After the Quake

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pp. 121-133

Shortly before noon on September 1, 1923, a major earthquake struck the Tokyo region. Cooking fires, wooden houses, and broken gas lines caused a conflagration that would not die down for days. Severed water mains prevented firemen from putting out the fires. Estimates vary, but almost 700,000 houses were either partially or totally destroyed.1 Approximately 140,000 people perished ...

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The Skeleton's Dance, by Akita Ujaku

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pp. 134-152

At the time of the Great Kantō Earthquake, Akita Ujaku was on a lecture tour of his native Tōhoku (northeast) region, meeting fellow Esperantists.1 He returned briefly to his hometown, Kuroishi in Aomori, leaving on September 4 for Tokyo. An army officer’s remark on the train outside Tokyo about the rumor that Koreans had been lighting fires after the earthquake had made the other passengers laugh. ...

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Brief Night, by Kubota Mantarō

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pp. 153-171

Over the course of his long career as a playwright, Kubota Mantarō produced over sixty plays (not including children’s and radio drama) in the turbulent years between the tail end of the Meiji era and Japan’s postwar reconstruction. An accomplished poet and novelist, he was also a brilliant director and dramaturge whose shinpa adaptations of fiction by Higuchi Ichiyō, Izumi Kyōka, and TanizakiJun’ichirō are still periodically staged. ...

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Two Men at Play with Life, by Kishida Kunio

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pp. 172-190

More has been written in English on Kishida Kunio than on any other figure in modern Japanese theatre, and more of his works have been translated than those of any other prewar Japanese playwright. English criticism on Kishida nonetheless reflects the fierce debate his name stirs up in Japanese letters. For Thomas Rimer, author of a seminal study of Kishida and the shingeki movement, Kishida was “the first dramatist to succeed in putting into dramatic form the contemporary Japanese spirit.”1 David Goodman ...

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Rain of Ice, by Hasegawa Shigure

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pp. 191-205

Only seven years younger than Higuchi Ichiyō, Hasegawa Shigure (1879– 1941) was Japan’s first woman playwright and an indefatigable supporter of women writers. As editor of the magazines Women’s Art (1923) and its successor, Shine (Kagayaku, 1934), she helped launch the careers of Okamoto Kanoko ...

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Mama, by Tanaka Chikao

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pp. 206-235

Known best for his postwar dramas, Tanaka Chikao’s (1905–1995) debut play, Mama, is a remarkably accomplished work.1 The playwright Tsujimura Sumiko—she would marry Tanaka in 1934—saw the premiere and recalled: “What impressed me was how the Japanese language could be conveyed so vividly. ..."


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pp. 237-258


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pp. 259-272


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pp. 273-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833411

Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Japanese drama -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • One-act plays, Japanese -- Translations into English.
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