Sawamura Hyakunosuke, Nakamura Sōjūrō, Iwai Hanshirō VIII and Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (in A Strange Tale of Castaways: A Western Kabuki)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Sawamura Hyakunosuke, Nakamura Sōjūrō, Iwai Hanshirō VIII and Ichikawa Danjūrō IX

(in A Strange Tale of Castaways: A Western Kabuki)

by Toyohara Kunichika, 1879

IHL Cat. #470

About This Print

Kunichika portrays a scene from the "cropped-hair" play A Strange Tale of Castaways: A Western Kabuki.  Written by the renowned playwright Kawatake Shinshichi II (1816-1893), it tells the tale of a "fisherman [Shimizu no Mihozō] who is separated from his father when their boat wrecks.  Rescued and brought to San Francisco by a steamship, he embarks on a journey to Washington... While crossing the desert plains, his train is attacked by Indians, and he is kidnapped by the chief. One adventure leads to another -- and to Europe, where Mihozō reunites with his father, Gozaemon, at an opera in Paris. The curtain closes with the two men agreeing that 'Nothing is as deep as the kindness of people in other countries.'"1

Morita Kan'ya XII (1846-1897), owner of the Shintomi-za theater, staged this play in September 1879, using actors and actresses in a touring English troupe to perform in several scenes along with Japanese actors (see "The Actors Pictured" below.)  Several Italian-style operettas were inserted into the play.  Kan'ya's radical staging was not welcomed by the audience and comments such as "What the Westerners were saying did not make sense at all" and "The voice of a British actress sounded just like the barking of a Western dog" were reported.2  In commenting on the female character Wakaba with her Western dress, played by the onnagata Sawamura Hyakunosuke, an actors' critique stated "When he [Sawamura] sits down in a chair, however, we notice the long torso of his male body and unsightly behind.  He later fixes this, thus hiding his behind, which was an improvement."The play's failure resulted in a loss of over 20,000 yen to Kan'ya, which he never recovered from.4

Cropped-Hair Plays (zangiri mono)
Source: Kabuki Plays on Stage Restoration and Reform, 1872-1905, vol. 4, ed. James Brandon and Samuel Leiter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2003, p. 18.
"The term 'cropped-hair play' came into use to identify plays about contemporary life because, in 1871, a government regulation had advised citizens to cut their hair short in the Western manner, wear uniforms or informal clothing, and abandon wearing swords.  The Meiji emperor cut off his topknot in 1873, thereby setting a seal of approval on the new hairstyle."

1 William Wetherall's website
2 National Diet Library website article "Theatrical Performances and Theaters in the Meiji Period (1): Shintomiza - Morita Kanya's Western Influence"
3 "Customs of the Meiji Period and Kabuki's War Dramas" by Akira Kamiyama as translated by Joseph Ryan, appearing in Comparative Theatre Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 (English Issue), March 2012, p. 11.
4 A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance, Samuel L. Leiter, ed., M.E. Sharpe, 2002, p. 149.

The Actors Pictured

Left Panel: Ichikawa Danjōrō IX <9>市川 団十郎 in the role of 船頭 清水三保蔵 (the boatman Shimizu no Mihozō)
Center Panel: Iwai Hanshirō VIII <8>岩井 半四郎  in the role of 秋津の内室敷島 (the wife of rich and influential Akizu Takeshi)
Right Panel (standing): Nakamura Sōjūrō <1>中村 宗十郎  in the role of 郵船会社 ハシヤウセイ (cargo ship company employee Hashiya Usei)
Right Panel (sitting): Sawamura Hyakunosuke <0>沢村 百之助 in the role of 清見娘若葉 (Kiyome's daughter Wakaba)

For information on the actors see the article The Kabuki Actor on this site.

The Playbill

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #470
 Title (Description) Sawamura Hyakunosuke, Nakamura Sōjūrō, Iwai Hanshirō VIII and Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (in A Strange Tale of Castaways: A Western Kabuki)

A Strange Tale of Castaways: A Western Kabuki (Hyōryō Kidan Seiyō Kabuki 漂流奇談西洋劇) note: sometimes translated as The Wanderer’s Strange Story: A Western Kabuki; the National Diet Library titles the play Genpei Nunobiki no Taki Hyoryu Kidan Seiyo Geki.
 Artist  Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900)
 Signature Toyohara Kunichika hitsu
 Seal  red Toshidama seal beneath signature
 Publication Date September 1879
松下 平兵衛 Matsushita Heibei (or Heibee) in left column of left vertical cartouche [Marks: seal not shown; pub. ref. 320]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good- trimmed to image; separate sheets; not backed
 Genre ukiyo-e; nigao-e; yakusha-e
 Format vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 13 7/8 x 9 3/8 in. (35.2 x 23.8 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print
 Tokyo Metropolitan Library M348-014