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The History of Kabuki (5) / The Saruwaka-cho Kabuki

1842 - 1868: The Saruwaka-cho Kabuki

Male actors played both female and male characters. The theatre was as popular as ever, and remained the entity of the urban lifestyle even until modern times.
Although kabuki was performed all over ukiyo and other portions for the country, three kabuki theatres set themselves apart from the rest and became the top theatres in ukiyo.
The Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatres are where some of the most successful kabuki performances were and still are held.
http://taito-culture.jp/customs/shitamachi/shitamachi_images/page_02_0.jpg
(Monument of "The Saruwaka-cho Kabuki" in Asakusa Tokyo)

Fires started terrorizing Edo in the 1840s during dry spells.
Kabuki theatres, traditionally made of wood, would constantly burn down and be forced to relocate with in the ukiyo. The area that housed the Nakamura-za was completely destroyed in 1841. The shogun refused to allow the theatre to rebuild saying it was against fire code. This sort of censorship happened was forced onto all of the theatre houses, making abiding by the shogun laws extremely difficult. This added to the underground life and mobility of the actors in Edo, since the government tremendously regulated them.

The shogunate did not welcome town merchants mixing and trading with actors, artists, and prostitutes. The shogunate took full advantage of the fire crisis and in 1842, forced the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za, the three main kabuki theatres out of the city limits and into Asakusa (a northern suburb of Edo).
The shogun also relocated the puppet theatre alongside kabuki. This exile was desired almost from the start of kabuki. Along with the theatres, all other theatrical attributes were forced out as well, including the actors, stagehands, and all others associated with the performances.
The areas and life styles around the theaters migrated as well, but due to the inconvenience of the new location, attendance was low.[3] The new location for the theatre was called Saruwaka-chō, or Saruwaka-machi. The last thirty years of the Tokugawa shogunate’s rule, when kabuki was located in the Saruwaka-machi and banned from Edo, is referred to as the Saruwaka-machi period. This period produced some of the gaudiest kabuki in Japanese history.

http://www.japaneseprints-london.com/images/HPIM1208.jpg
(The Saruwaka-cho / Asakusa, Tokyo / Image by Ukiyoe)

The Saruwaka-machi became the new theatre district for the Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za and Kawarazaki-za theatre houses. The district was located on the main street of Asakusa, which ran through the middle of the small city.
The street was renamed after Saruwaka Kanzaburo, who initiated Edo kabuki in the Nakamura Theatre in 1624. The kabuki theatre district was now located on the new Saruwaka street in the Saruwaka-machi. Other things were happening around Edo at the time.

European artists began noticing Japanese theatrical performances and artwork. Artists like Claude Monet were greatly inspired by Japanese wood block prints. The western interest prompted Japanese artists to create prints of everyday life depicting theatres, brothels, main streets and so on. One artist in particular, Utagawa Hiroshige, did a series of prints based on Saruwaka from the Saruwaka-machi period in Asakusa. Saruwaka-machi had truly become the new theatre district, and was even getting recognized as so by artists outside the world of kabuki.

http://www.japaneseprints-london.com/images/90-015.jpg
(Kabukiza Image in Edo Era)

The mentality of kabuki had been almost destroyed by this relocation, removing the play’s most abundant inspiration for costuming, make-up, and story line, but kabuki still worked with what it had in the Saruwaka-machi. Ichikawa Kodanji fourth was one of the most active and successful actors during the Saruwaka-machi period. Deemed unattractive, he mainly performed buyo, or dancing.
He performed in dramas written by Kawatake Mokuami, who also wrote during the Meiji period to follow. Kawatake Mokuami commonly wrote plays that depicted the common lives of the people of Edo. He used new techniques for kabuki, integrating shichigo-cho (seven-and-five syllable meter) dialogue and music such as kiyomoto.

His kabuki performances became quite popular once the Saruwaka-machi period ended and theatre returned to Edo, many of his works are still performed today. The Saruwaka-machi period only lasted thirty years. In 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate fell apart. Emperor Meiji was restored to power and moved from Kyoto to the new capital of Edo, or Tokyo, thus starting the Meiji period. Kabuki was reinstated to its birthplace in the ukiyo of Edo. Kabuki became more radical in the Meiji period. New playwrights took kabuki under siege and created new genres and twists on traditional stories. Modern styles started in the Meiji period.

By T.S. on May 30, 2010
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