A Brief History of Kyōgen Translation into English
Eighty-ﬁve kyōgen plays, nearly one-third of the current repertory, have been published in English translation by individuals in a wide range of ﬁelds. British Japanologist Basil Hall Chamberlain's 1879 rendition of Hone Kawa, titled Ribs and Skin, marked the beginning of the ﬁrst wave of attempts to render the short comedies into English. Between 1879 and 1907, twenty-three English translations—nineteen different kyōgen plays—were published. More than half were by the hand of poet Noguchi Yone [jirō], friend of W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, who published the ﬁrst collection of kyōgen, Ten Kiogen Plays in English1 in 1907. Such bilingual publications seem to have been the preference of Japanese translators at the time. In 1905–1906, the Japanese journal Nōgaku (Nō and Kyōgen), published four plays bilingually (Furukawa 1976: 74–77); and Tsuda Umeko (1864–1929), pioneer in women's education in Japan and founder of Tsuda College, did the same with Shimizu (Spring Water) in her Leaves from Japanese Literature in 1906.
During the Taisho (1912–1925) period, Itow [sic] Michio (1892–1961), a modern dancer who performed the role of the Hawk in W.B. Yeats' nō-inﬂuenced At the Hawk's Well in 1916, translated three plays with poet Louis V. Ledoux (1880–1948). Active and inﬂuential during his long residence in the United States (1914–1941), Itow [Ito] performed at least two of these jointly translated plays: She Who was Fished (Tsuribari) and The Fox's Grave (Kitsune zuka) in the late 1920s, [End Page 211] ﬁrst in New York and later in California (Caldwell 1977: 77, 85). These are certainly some of the earliest English-language kyōgen performances in the U.S.
The next wave of translations in the 1930s saw the publication of Japanologist A. L. Sadler's Japanese Plays: No—Kyogen—Kabuki in 1934, and Library of Congress Japanese Collection librarian Sakanishi Shio's Kyōgen: Comic Interludes of Japan in 1938. Of the forty-ﬁve plays contained in these two collections, twenty-ﬁve were appearing in English for the ﬁrst time, greatly expanding the number of kyōgen plays available to the English-speaking world. The growing tensions of the Paciﬁc War seem to have interrupted the ﬂow of English translations, if not interest in kyōgen, and no new ones appeared for more than two decades after the end of World War II. In 1960, Tuttle republished Sakanishi's translations under the new title Japanese Folk Plays: The Ink-Smeared Lady and Other Kyogen, noting in the preface to the new edition that while kyōgen had "become more widely known to Westerners," it remained "one of the lesser known of the Japanese dramatic art forms," an unenviable status it arguably retains to this day.
In the 1960s, Richard N. McKinnon, then a professor at Washington University, was instrumental in raising awareness of the art form by bringing kyōgen actors to teach in and later tour the United States, organizing the ﬁrst all-kyōgen tour of the United States in 1968, featuring members of the Nomura Manzō family. As a companion volume, he published translations of the nine plays included in the tour's three programs in Selected Plays of Kyōgen, including ﬁve not previously published in English. This overseas kyōgen tour came on the heels of the ﬂourishing "kyōgen boom" in Japan (see Kobayashi's article in this issue) and marked the advent of English-language kyōgen performances by both amateur and professional actors in the United States (see the Tsubaki, Doi, and Kominz articles in this issue). In Japan, American Don Kenny, longtime student of Nomura Mansaku, formed the Kenny and Ogawa Kyōgen Players and began performing English-language kyōgen in 1976 (Kenny 1986: 59). Kenny's The Kyogen Book: An Anthology of Japanese...