Asian Theatre Journal 17.2 (2000) iii-v
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From the Editor
Many readers of ATJ will be saddened to know that Faubion Bowers, eighty-two, died of a heart attack in his New York apartment on November 16, 1999. He had lived long enough to help me complete my translation and adaptation of a 1998 Japanese book by Okamoto Shiro, the English title of which will be The Man Who Saved Kabuki: Faubion Bowers and Theatrical Censorship in Occupied Japan. The first draft was completed three days before his passing. It contains the most complete account of what Bowers accomplished during the early Occupation, when he became the savior of Japan's 350-year-old classical theatre, kabuki. Bowers, who was fluent in many languages, including Chinese and Japanese, went on to write many memorable books about theatre and music (including a definitive biography of Alexander Scriabin). Asian theatre specialists are greatly in debt to his Japanese Theatre (1952), Dance in India (1953), and the strikingly comprehensive Theatre in the East: A Survey of Asian Dance and Drama (1956). Faubion eventually made his way into ATJ, providing our recent kabuki issue with a modern play translation, a brief essay on Bando Tamasaburo V's performance as Queen Elizabeth, and several wonderful watercolors of backstage life by a little-known kabuki actor. And, of course, anyone who listened to a simultaneous translation during a touring kabuki performance to America over the past four decades is likely to have heard the modulated tones of Bowers doing the narration, which became a model for those ultimately used at Tokyo's theatres. But most readers will agree that his greatest professional accomplishment was in rescuing kabuki from imminent destruction by the censorship of the American Occupation of Japan, in which he served from 1945 to 1948.
When the twenty-eight-year-old Maj. Faubion Bowers, serving as interpreter for Col. Charles Tench, stepped out of his airplane at Atsugi Airfield on August 28, 1945, he shared with his superior the honor of being one of the first conquering soldiers ever to set foot on Japanese [End Page iii] soil. Each side, the American and Japanese, was tense with fear because neither knew what to expect in this first postwar diplomatic confrontation between victor and defeated. During the first few nerve-wracking moments, Bowers sauntered over to a clutch of journalists and managed to smash the ice instantly by asking, "Is Uzaemon still alive?" Thus the first question asked of the astonished Japanese by an American soldier was about the most beloved kabuki star of the day--who, it turned out, had died only recently and was still on people's minds. Maybe, the question suggested, the feared barbarians were not so savage after all. Bowers' query remains a remarkable instance of the power of art to serve as a bridge between alien cultures.
Bowers had become familiar with kabuki during the year he spent in Japan from March 1940 to March 1941, having stopped there on his way to study gamelan music in the Dutch East Indies. Before reembarking, he visited Tokyo, fell in love with kabuki, and decided to stay. By the time he left a year later--under suspicion as a foreign spy--he was more knowledgeable about this theatre form than most Japanese.
During the war he polished the Japanese he had learned and served as an interpreter and translator in the South Pacific. Soon after returning to Japan in this capacity with the U.S. Army, Bowers became Gen. Douglas MacArthur's personal aide-de-camp, a position that invested him with considerable authority and prestige. Despite his proclamations on behalf of a free press being essential to a democracy, MacArthur's Occupation instituted a remarkably powerful censorship system to control the Japanese communications and entertainment industries--designed, ironically, to protect and serve the goals of democratization. One obvious target of censorship was kabuki, which the Americans feared because they believed its themes of feudal loyalty, sacrifice, and vengeance were not conducive to Japan's democratization. At the time, none of the American censors--including...