You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Edo Kabuki in Transition

Edo Kabuki in Transition: From the Worlds of the Samurai to the Vengeful Female Ghost

Satoko Shimazaki
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 392
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Edo Kabuki in Transition
    Book Description:

    Satoko Shimazaki revisits three centuries of kabuki theater and its dynamic representations of medieval Japanese tales and tradition, boldly reframing Edo kabuki as a key player in the formation of an early modern urban identity. Challenging the common understanding of kabuki as a subversive entertainment and a threat to shogunal authority, Shimazaki argues that kabuki actually instilled a sense of shared history in Edo's inhabitants, regardless of their class. It did this, she shows, by constantly invoking "worlds," orsekai, largely derived from medieval military chronicles, and overlaying them onto the present.

    Shimazaki explores the process by which, as the early modern period drew to a close, nineteenth-century playwrights began dismantling the Edo tradition of "presenting the past" by abandoning their long-standing reliance on thesekai. She then reveals how, in the 1920s, a new generation of kabuki playwrights, critics, and scholars reinvented the form yet again, "textualizing" kabuki so that it could be pressed into service as a guarantor of national identity, in keeping with the role that the West assigned to theater.

    Shimazaki's vivid and engaging reinterpretation of kabuki history centers on the popular and widely celebrated ghost playTokaido Yotsuya kaidan(Ghost Stories at Yotsuya, 1825) by Tsuruya Nanboku. Along the way, she sheds fresh light on the emergence and development of the ubiquitous trope of the vengeful female ghost, linking it to the need to explore new themes at a time when the old samurai worlds were rapidly losing their relevance.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-54052-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Performing Arts, History
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. V-VI)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-36)

    At the end of the seventh month of 1825, the famous Nakamura Theater (Nakamura-za) in the heart of Edo (present-day Tokyo) staged the first performance of what is now known as the quintessential kabuki ghost play and, indeed, as one of the most popular works in the entire kabuki repertoire: Tsuruya Nanboku IV’s (1755–1829)Tōkaidō Yotsuya kaidan(The Eastern Seaboard Highway Ghost Stories at Yotsuya). The production was an immediate sensation, and continued to thrill audiences for nearly two months with its gruesome violence, its spectacular special effects, and, above all, the phenomenal acting of Onoe Kikugorō III (1784–...

  6. PART I The Birth of Edo Kabuki
    • [ 1 ] PRESENTING THE PAST: Edo Kabuki and the Creation of Community (pp. 39-94)

      If one had to name the kabuki character who best represents the city of Edo, the title would probably go to a gallant, good-looking townsman named Sukeroku. Dashing, popular, and extremely bold, Sukeroku habitually tosses off lines like “Write my name three times on your palm and lick it! You’ll never be dumped by a courtesan.”¹ In one particularly famous scene that was incorporated into any number of plays throughout the early modern period, the commoner hero makes an ostentatious display of scorn for his rival, an important samurai named Ikyū, by offering to share a pipe lit by Agemaki—...

  7. PART II The Beginning of the End of Edo Kabuki:: Yotsuya kaidan in 1825
    • [ 2 ] OVERTURNING THE WORLD: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers and Yotsuya kaidan (pp. 97-149)

      Tsuruya Nanboku IV began his celebrated career as a playwright during a time when Edo’s kabuki theaters were in the midst of a radical transformation. In chapter 1, I traced the rise and development of Edo kabuki as a cultural form particular to that city, from its emergence near the end of the seventeenth century to its crystallization in the eighteenth century, and showed how it came to serve as a powerful vehicle for promoting a sense of community. By the time Nanboku started creating his plays, many of the characteristics that figured in this discussion—the theater-affiliation system, with...

    • [ 3 ] SHADES OF JEALOUSY: The Body of the Female Ghost (pp. 150-193)

      In the double staging ofThe Treasury of Loyal RetainersandYotsuya kaidanin 1825,Yotsuya kaidanpresented a chaotic revenge by a female ghost who completely disregards the ethics of the society to which she belongs: the basic human relationships defined in Confucian teachings, including filial piety and loyalty, that helped ensure the perpetuation of the household and formed the basis of the dramatic tension inThe Treasury of Loyal Retainers. Premodern literature and theater often depicted the resentful spirits of figures such as Sugawara no Michizane and Emperor Sutoku, men who, having suffered disastrous political defeats during their...

    • [ 4 ] THE END OF THE WORLD: Figures of the Ubume and the Breakdown of Theater Tradition (pp. 194-228)

      In the first production of Tsuruya Nanboku IV’sYotsuya kaidan, the ghost of Oiwa, played by Onoe Kikugorō III, appeared in act 5 by emerging from a consecration cloth with an infant cradled in her arms. Oiwa was thus figured as anubume(literally, “a woman giving birth”), a particular type of ghost associated with pregnancy and childbirth that would have had deep psychological resonances for the audience of Nanboku’s day. Nanboku had employed theubumein a number of earlier productions, and it appears in almost all his major ghost plays.Ubumewere ubiquitous in the theater and literature...

  8. PART III The Modern Rebirth of Kabuki
    • [ 5 ] ANOTHER HISTORY: Yotsuya kaidan on Stage and Page (pp. 231-276)

      In the decades after Edo was renamed Tokyo in 1868, the city experienced demographic shifts on a vast scale as new residents, including many elites—from the emperor himself to aspiring young intellectuals—streamed in from all across the country. The changes in the face of the city and the nation as a whole transformed theater culture, and kabuki, which had already undergone a revolution of sorts during the first half of the nineteenth century, found itself in another period of sudden, dramatic transition.

      This book began with an exploration of Edo kabuki as it developed through an intricate, constantly...

  9. NOTES (pp. 277-324)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 325-348)
  11. INDEX (pp. 349-372)