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The Man Who Saved Kabuki

Faubion Bowers and Theatre Censorship in Occupied Japan

Okamoto Shiro

Publication Year: 2001

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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Translator’s Introduction

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pp. vii-xiv

Not long after World War II ended, the American Occupation, led by Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) Gen. Douglas MacArthur 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 ...

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Author’s Introduction

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pp. xv-xviii

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-...

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1. Faubion Bowers and Japan, 1940–1945

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pp. 1-16

n 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. ...

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2. Wartime Kabuki: Censorship on the Home Front

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pp. 17-29

“Well, to speak frankly, kabuki is used to being suppressed. I think that the kabuki world 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.”...

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3. The Occupation Commences and the Actors Return

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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-54 Bataan. 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 ...

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4. Kabuki Censorship Begins: The "Terakoya" Incident

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pp. 43-65

In Reminiscences, 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 ...

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5. How Faubion Bowers “Saved” Kabuki

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pp. 66-102

As noted in Chapter 4, the examination of kabuki plays by GHQ’s Civil Information and Education Section (CI&E)—known before September 22 as the Information Dissemination Section—and Shochiku 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...

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6. Kabuki’s Suffering Ends

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pp. 103-114

“I have not once been impressed by Kikugoro [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 nokamisama].”1...

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7. Conclusion

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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 handmaiden. Not only literature, but painting, music, sculpture, and theatre have ...

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pp. 129-130

The following is a letter dated May 14, 1948, and addressed to Faubion Bowers, Chief of Theatrical Sect., PPB, CCD, SCAP, from Professor Kawatake Shigetoshi of Waseda University. It was composed in English and typed. The letter is given exactly as Professor Shigetoshi (or a translator) wrote it. ...

Appendix A: A Kabuki Chronology, 1940–1948

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pp. 131-154

Appendix B: Kabuki Plot Summaries

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pp. 155-180


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pp. 181-192

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 193-196


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pp. 197-210

About the Author and Translator

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p. 211-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864842
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824419

Publication Year: 2001