Challenges of theatre performed in foreign nations

Kawakami’s experiences in Japan and in foreign nations reveal the pervasive difficulties of making theatre anywhere. As the Kawakami troupe performed only in the Japanese language, they met that nineteenth-century practice (or challenge) of foreign actors successfully playing in their native language before American audiences. His somewhat more authentic plays about Japan that he performed [...]

Range of Kawakami’s accomplishments

The range of Kawakami’s accomplishments included reforming Japanese theatre business practices, introducing productions tailored for child audiences, establishing a professional acting school, raising the social standing of actors and theatre in Japan, exploring innovations in lighting and scenography, building the nation’s first “modern” theatre, and achieving recognition of Japan as a global equal in theatre. [...]

Kawakami plays took many forms

In his early twenties, Kawakami first created plays as overt propaganda vehicles (early agit-prop) for reformist political activity that followed the Meiji Restoration of 1868. His 1889 song “Oppekepei bushi,” a rap-like critique of politicians and high society, made him famous as a political commentator and his frequent performances of this song contributed to development [...]

Kawakami was an originator of shimpa

Kawakami was one of the young originators of shimpa, the drama revolution that from 1890 altered the content, form, and outlook of Japanese popular theatre. Initially derived from kabuki, shimpa (meaning “new school”) succeeded in producing what antiquity-bound kabuki (the old school) could not. He and other shimpa pioneers preceded the more familiar shingeki (“new [...]

Kawakami Otojirō’s epoch-changing achievements in Japanese theatre

Kawakami Otojirō’s epoch-changing achievements in Japanese theatre were as important as those of Tsubouchi Shōyō who properly remains the recognized major force in the creation of modern Japanese drama. Over a century, opinion among experts has slowly shifted to a disputed consensus that if there had been no Kawakami, Tsubouchi’s revolutionary shingeki (new drama) would [...]

Kawakami’s shows coincided with shift to emphasis on visual, physical performance

Kawakami’s shows in Europe coincided with shifts among the theatrical avant-garde to emphases on visual, physical performance. They elicited creative responses from world renown theatre innovators including Vsevolod Meyerhold, Edward Gordon Craig, Aurélien Lugné-Poë, André Antione, and Georg Fuchs. David Belasco borrowed from Kawakami for his Japan-centered plays of Madame Butterfly and The Darling of [...]

Kawakami was a pioneer of early intercultural theatre

More than one hundred years ago, Kawakami was among the first in the world to seek means and ideas in distant foreign cultures to integrate with their own productions. Theatre practioners in the West today seek inspiration in Japanese tradition even as contemporary Japanese artists are borrowing from Western theatre. During his unprecedented 1899–1900 tour [...]