In the face of an increasingly communist Asia, the Japanese government worked in 1954 with American kabuki aficionados and the Azuma Nihon Buyo Company to market kabuki to the United States as an aggressively capitalistic, inherently democratic, brilliantly theatrical form. In doing so, they were not only selling kabuki, but also selling Japan, a former enemy, as a political and military ally. Several strategies were employed to do so: the endorsement of literary and dramatic celebrities, emphasis on exoticizing and feminizing the onnagata role while simultaneously downplaying the homoeroticism, and focus on kabuki as business. Therefore the first “kabuki” brought to the United States was the Azuma Company, which presented a mixture of buyo and kabuki. The group was led by a female dancer and deemphasized the more challenging aspects of traditional kabuki. The Americans promoting the tour also had an ulterior motivation: to offer a new model to an American theatre grown stale on naturalism in the postwar period.
Kevin J. Wetmore Jr. (PhD, University of Pittsburgh) is an associate professor of theatre at Loyola Marymount University. He is the editor of Revenge Drama in European Renaissance and Japanese Theatre (New York: Palgrave, 2008), the coeditor of Modern Japanese Theatre and Performance (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2006), and the author of other books and many articles on Asian, African, and cross-cultural theatre.