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Writing Sample (Originally Submitted as a final paper for THEA763D at the Universtiy of Hawaii at Manoa, Spring 2010)

© Elisa Diehl 2010


Kabuki Stargazing: The Evolution and Endurance of Kabuki Fan Practices in Japan

Japan in the modern day is a land rich with dedicated fans of all sorts; baseball fans, “idol” fans, light fiction fans, enka fans, comic book fans, television drama fans, theatre fans and many others pursue their hobbies of fandom with enthusiasm and, over all, a quite high level of expertise.  It is not uncommon to overhear scholarly-sounding debates among Japanese high school students about the nuances of vocal qualities for their favorite voice actors in cartoons, complete with discussion of these actors’ training and performance backgrounds.  There are also a good many Japanese people able to quote the “three sizes” and blood types of their favorite female idol-stars from memory or, on a similar token, able to enthusiastically discourse on the statistics of their favorite baseball players or sumo wrestlers.  This is especially interesting because, whereas fandom in the United States is often looked upon by sociologists as a sort of pathology, in Japan fandom as an institution is significantly better respected: “in Japan, to be a fan is to be part of a culturally affirmed dyad of dependency (amae), constituted by one who seeks indulgence (amaeru) and complementarily one who provides that indulgence (amayakasu) (Lebra 54-55)” (Yano 336).  In a culture open to such enlightened enthusiasm for entertainment, one of the richest and longest-standing cultures of fans is the group that devotedly follows the art of kabuki.  Not only has kabuki fandom existed for four hundred years, but it has been remarkably well documented, and it has evolved as kabuki itself has evolved.  After all, the two are directly related.  Kabuki gave Japan its first dramatic-art superstars, and superstars can not exist without popular appeal and fans to support them.  Kabuki fandom’s long and rich development paints a vivid picture parallel to the development of kabuki itself, and systems and practices created by kabuki’s enthusiastic patrons set patterns for fan practices that are still followed throughout Japan even in the modern day.

The very earliest kabuki audiences were the novelty-seekers of early seventeenth-century Kyoto who “flocked to see” the cross-dressing and contemporary-society-reflecting antics of the earliest kabuki troupe, founded by a woman named Okuni (Kominz The 19).  Kabuki was, from its earliest beginnings, enormously popular with not only the common man, but with “wealthy and powerful patrons,” and even samurai wives were known to attend Okuni-era kabuki performances “that were thronged with common people, then enjoining their seamstresses to make for them the fashions modeled after the ones they saw onstage” (19-20).  This marked the advent of a social norm for kabuki fans, and for hundreds of years, long after women were banned from the kabuki stage and replaced by male onnagata, the fashions worn by the female kabuki characters set trends for the female fans watching.  Kikunojo I, an eighteenth century onnagata, even went so far as to say “in women fans, an onnagata should instill a desire to have… the same combs, hairpins, scarves, and sashes; women should like the styles he likes” (220), directly defining this actor-fan relationship of trend setting and trend following.  In his article “Eighteenth- Century Kabuki and its Patrons,” C. Andrew Gerstle claims that the influence of onnagata senses of style extended “from commoner homes through samurai residences all the way to the shogun’s castle” (98).  This influence not only remained a part of kabuki and kabuki fandom until the 1940s, but the practice strongly resembles fan fashion responses to the outfits worn by movie stars or even characters in other popular forms of entertainment (such as comic books and cartoons) in modern-day Japan.  Fashion has a long history of responding to the giants in the entertainment arenas of popular culture, and kabuki is one of Japan’s longest standing forms of popular mass-entertainment.

Another feature of kabuki fandom that originated at the very dawn of the art is its social-class-structure defying nature: “Okuni, who founded kabuki… had been the toast of all social classes.  She was free to perform where she wished, and it is recorded that she acted in the shogun’s castle in Edo and possibly before the imperial family in Kyoto” (Brandon V.4 27).  Subsequent generations of kabuki were not granted such freedom of mobility and were forbidden by law to visit the homes of high-ranking people, at least until the fall of the Tokugawa government in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Still, despite the Tokugawa government’s continual and numerous attempts to regulate kabuki attendance within the ranks of the samurai class (Shively 46), and even in light of the fact that within the class structure, kabuki actors were hinin (non-people) and therefore not supposed to be worthy of the respect of the highest classes, there was never a point at which kabuki did not have fans from every walk of city life, from prostitutes and peddlers to ladies in the service of the Shogun’s mother.

A noteworthy example of kabuki’s ability to bridge even the widest of class gaps is that of Lord Yanagisawa Nobutoki, a retired daimyo (feudal lord) who logged “no fewer than one hundred and nineteen visits to the three Edo Kabuki theatres” in his diary in the late eighteenth century (Clark 28).   Also, though no dates are listed, the article “Kabuki Audiences, Past and Present” mentions the “mother of an ex-Daimyo, Viscount S, who always… saw Kabuki from the oikomi (the inexpensive seats at the back of the theatre).  ‘You learn many things sitting among them,’ she was wont to say” (Akimoto 101).  The article further states that at least until the twentieth century “the Kabuki audience represented the microcosm of society in which rich and poor mingled… with the common objective of enjoying Kabuki for the day” (101).

In light of these examples, it seems only natural that there was “tension between official disdain and popular adoration” for kabuki and actors (Gerstle “Flowers” 91), and these high-class fans and fans in general empowered kabuki actors and gave them a remarkable boost in influence.  The kabuki actor was “raised to a higher social position, in the popular mind, than that to which he had been assigned by the government” (Ernst 81), and this manifested itself not only in public relations, but in monetary gain.  Ichikawa Danjuro I, in his 1694-1695 season made “300 ryo (about $200,000)” (Kominz The 57), which was a superstar salary indeed, and paid to a man of the non-person class.  By the end of the Genroku era, the highest-ever actor salary was 2500 ryo in a year (“up to present-day film star standards”), and any popular star actor could “have an imposing residence and live in style” (Dunn 16).  Public ardor of kabuki’s greats not only figuratively “leveled the playing field” of the class system for the actors, but it raised them much higher in esteem and fame than nearly anyone of any class in Edo society.

By the Genroku era, which at least by kabuki custom is the period from 1688-1720 (6), all three major Japanese cities were host to their own “pantheon of star actors” (Kominz The 50).  This is not an inappropriate term, in that kabuki stars like Danjuro I were practically deified by their admirers.  Danjuro in particular played gods and god-possessed people onstage, and a contemporary publication referred to him as “the patron deity of the four [Edo] theatres and a famous product of Edo” (56).  Danjuro I was so popular among his fans that it is rumored even his “bathwater was sold to his admirers” (Keene 13).  Danjuro I’s contemporary, and a resident actor of the Kyoto “pantheon,” Sakata Tojuro I, had “multitudes of fans,” and “waves of amorous desire flowed from the ladies’ seats to the stage whenever Tojuro was at work” (Kominz The 108-109).  Not only did he attract women to the theatres in record numbers (as heart-throb actors attract women to movie theatres in droves in the modern day), but it is on record that one woman fan was so obsessed with him that after once meeting him, she “commissioned a sculptor to make a doll in his likeness, which she installed in the Buddhist altar of her home during the day and slept with every night for eight years” subsequently going “public with her obsession” after her idol’s death (109).

Yoshizawa Ayame, an onnagata contemporary of the above two, also had “many steadfast admirers,” and by 1713 he was “Japan’s most popular celebrity” (209).  He was so popular, in fact, that when he traveled to Edo for a one-year season contract, the welcoming crowd was so enormous that his producer decided it would be safest if he “disguised” himself as a man and snuck into the city unnoticed (209).  Throngs of his fans waited all night at the theatre before his opening performance, and the house was “jammed… beyond capacity for the duration” (210).  This is reminiscent of modern day fans’ tendencies to wait for many hours outside of concert halls before the concerts of popular J-rock groups or (though this is a more American habit of fandom) attending overnight Hairy Potter release parties that culminate in the book’s release at midnight.

All three of these kabuki actors were superstars with superstar salaries and sell-out crowds, the likes of which would not have been possible without the support of ardent fans.  In the words of one sociologist, in Japan “fans make a person into a public, charismatic figure.  Likewise, fans themselves become identified as particularized followers through the object of their adulation. One only exists within the context of the other” (Yano 336).  A natural result of this fairly symbiotic relationship, aside from often obsessive attendance at plays, was that fans prided themselves on their knowledge of the actors with whom they identified themselves.  Fan interest of such people was (and to a slightly lesser extent still is) boundless.  It extended not only to admiration of their acting work, but to interest in the trials and scandals of their personal lives.  Even the relatively mundane details of the actors’ quirks were “grist for the rumor mills,” and Sakata Tojuro I especially was the talk of both Edo and the Kansai region for such relatively harmless idiosyncrasies as “spendthrift behavior” and his failure to reply to letters sent to him by a courtesan (Kominz The 160-161).

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the taste for such non-stage related details grew.  Not only did prints showing kabuki actors backstage and offstage sell quite well, but kabuki “celebrities’ broken marriages and family tragedies were just as fascinating to eighteenth-century Edoites as they are to today’s citizens of Tokyo” (Kominz “Ichikawa” 74).  It was also generally agreed that scandal could make an actor’s popularity increase if he handled the scandalous situation well (75).  Fans in the modern day continue this tradition of interest in the personal lives of stars (now usually from television, film, or music) and have a marked taste for scandal not only in Japan, but in many cultures around the world.

In response to fans’ desire to be knowledgeable in their field of fandom, kabuki hyobanki (actor evaluation books) first appeared in the 1660s and were published with regularity in all three major cities for hundreds of years.  Yakusha Kuchi Jamisen (The Actor’s Vocal Shamisen) in particular was published twice yearly from 1699 to 1886 (Raz 201).  These books not only developed a critical rating system that grew more subdivided and sophisticated as kabuki developed as an art, but they contained lurid descriptions of individual performances and took great interest in the personal goings-on in any given actor’s life (serving to perpetuate the above-mentioned “rumor mills”).  From a very early date, these hyobanki read something like the celebrity magazines of today.  One from 1688 declares Danjuro I to be “the number-one sexy lover-boy unparalleled in 3000 worlds.  He is the most handsome actor in Edo and looks fabulous when he comes swaggering on stage.  His voice moves all under heaven” (Kominz The 40), but many subsequent publications endeavored to be more professionally critical and witty, or barring that, writers of the hyobanki would assume the fictional alter-egos of women fans or fans from the provinces and discuss the actors from alternate points of view.  Hyobanki were also not above publishing the “brutal truth” about a great actor’s decline (173) or about a great actor’s failure in a play.  The critique book structure was so effective and well-known by 1811 that an important literary figure named Shikeitei Samba made a hyobanki evaluating members of kabuki audiences rather than actors, and such a thing fit neatly into the existing publishing market (Raz 199).  Kabuki fans, identifying with the people detailed in this book, were interested in reading a light hearted description of themselves within a context usually reserved for their actor heroes.

Hyobanki were definitely popular and an important part of the lives of fans, but they were far from the only written publications catering to fans of Edo era kabuki.  Some of the earliest kabuki fans as “readers encountered kabuki plays primarily in the form of brief, abundantly illustrated synopses (eiri kyogen bon) and a small number of handwritten copies produced outside the theatre for lending libraries” (Brandon V.1 7).  Later on, in the late eighteenth century, “bookstores began publishing famous speeches taken from current productions (omuseki, ‘parrot’s pebbles,’ or meizerifu, ‘famous speeches’)” (Brandon V.2 8), and publishers in Osaka in the late eighteenth century produced nehon, which were “the most complete” publicly available play texts that “contained detailed summaries and some of the dialogue” from popular plays along with illustrations (Gerstle “Osaka” 16).  The first of those two trends is important to note because even today “books of famous kabuki speeches continue to be published” (8), and there are still fans and non-kabuki orators interested in purchasing them.  In an entirely different vein of fan interest, the publication market produced illustrated guides to the workings of kabuki theatre, and in the nineteenth century a two volume work about the technical aspects of kabuki special effects was published for the edification fans who were curious about more than just the lives of their favorite actors (Leiter 93).  That same era produced kabuki guidebooks, and even instruction manuals for amateur kabuki performance (Kominz “Ichikawa” 67), and both of these (in significantly more recently written versions) can still be found in bookstores today both in Japan and abroad.

Kabuki’s fan base was such an important market for the publishing industry during the rein of the Tokugawa shoguns that for at least a century stories about kabuki actors or characters, or barring that, stories that took place in the setting of a kabuki theatre, dominated even the realm of popular fiction:

“Gesaku writers borrowed content and styles from kabuki… (they) seem to have kept their eyes on theatre.  (Shikitei) Sanba wrote guidebooks on kabuki and used the kabuki audience as fictional settings for his works… His Kejo Suigen Maku no Soto (Theatre on the other side of the curtain, 1806) shows the audience to be lively and riotous… Popular fiction was part of the theatrical world.” (Gerstle “Flowers” 103)

 Moreover, even published poetry of the time “often referred to kabuki actors and kabuki events and plays” (Kominz “Ichikawa” 66).  It is clear that townsmen of the major cities in Japan not only had the money to attend kabuki plays, but to support a publishing industry populated by writers who also made it a point to attend those plays.  Judging by the enthusiasm writers had for the topic, it would seem that most of the publications were not only written for fans, but by fans.

A different publishing industry also thrived through the patronage of kabuki’s ardent and populous fan base: that of ukiyo-e wood block actor prints, which comprised possibly a full “one half of all prints published during the Edo period” (Clark 12), and which were remarkably dynamic items in fan circles.  As one writer describes their function, “they created memories of past performances, depicted transitional moments, fostered the rise of new stars, enflamed rivalries, and imagined future ‘dream’ performances” (Gerstle “Osaka” 22), and they also sold like figurative hotcakes in the streets of Edo.  They were produced in large numbers, and they were relatively cheap and easy to acquire.  “Kabuki lovers could buy for a few pennies colorful ukiyo-e prints of star actors, filling the same public need that photographs in fan magazines accomplish for Hollywood films and television today” (Brandon v.2, 7-8).  Not only did these prints fill the same need as photographs in magazines, but also “posters or inexpensive souvenirs” of performances (Clark 12).  In their capacity as posters, the prints would advertise new shows and inform prospective audience members which actor was playing what role, and in their capacity as souvenirs, they would give a fan a memory-stimulating picture of a scene he or she had seen on stage.  Some scholars theorize that some souvenir prints were commissioned specially by teahouses attached to the theatres to give as presents to patrons (Clark 45), as so many eating and drinking establishments give promotional gifts in Japan today.  Whatever role the prints played in the lives of businesses and patrons, there is no denying that they were immensely popular and important enough to fans that they were often saved as collections.

Prints could also serve a more personal function, because printmaking, in addition to print buying, was sometimes an occupation of fans.  In Osaka especially, actor prints were almost always produced by amateur artists who were ardent fans and patrons of kabuki, and the “prints represent the fans’ infatuation with the actors and promoted the actors’ careers” (Gerstle “Osaka” 16).  These amateur print makers in Osaka often took a great deal more creative liberty with their work than did their professional counterparts in Edo, and it was not uncommon for one of them to produce a print depicting a “dream choice” of two actors who had not actually performed together in the roles portrayed (21), which is the sort of thing modern day sports fans might do playing games like “fantasy football” or modern day pop-culture fans might produce as “fan art,” the second of which is an extremely popular fan pastime in modern Japan.  Another interesting thing these Osaka printmakers were not unknown to do was to raise theatre idols (social non-people) to the level of aristocrats or gods in their portrayals, as when a print maker named “Hokushu… portrays Utaemon within a votive offering, playing the character Sugiwara no Michizane, or Kan Shojo, who was deified as Tenjin after his unfair exile from Kyoto in 901” (21-22).  Osaka actor prints were an expression of devoted fandom and idolization, by fans and for fans.

The longstanding history of Edo era fan buying habits with relation to kabuki art and publications are probably better-known worldwide, but it seems more remarkable that fans let kabuki plays and kabuki idols influence nearly all of their other buying habits as well.  Long before most of the West discovered the effectiveness of such methods, kabuki artists made use of a system of star product endorsement.  Popular onnagata by the late eighteenth century did not only passively expect their public to emulate their stylistic tastes (like Kikunojo I, cited in this paper’s second paragraph), but they actively endorsed beauty and fashion products, because “if a certain brand of makeup could help make even a paunchy, middle-aged man look like a charming young maiden, women consumers had every right to expect splendid results when they used the same brand (Kominz “Ichikawa” 66).  Remarkably, through this and similar product-backing practices, not only did actors endorse products, but products endorsed actors, and “because famous actors’ names were used to advertise products, their fame extended into nearly every Edo home on kimono patterns, hairstyles, candy, and cakes” (Gerstle “Flowers” 89).

Similarly, kabuki developed a sort of product-placement system, showing the names of real shops or real products onstage.  This makes especially good sense, because from quite early-on, vendors were popular people to portray onstage, and as early as 1709, the great Danjuro “noted in his diary that he had received acclaim as a moxa seller and that all sorts of vendors could be found hawking their wares on the stage: sellers of sweet wine, ice water, fans, crockery, flints, sushi, souvenirs, and many other items” (Brandon V.1 96).  When kabuki endorsed specific shops or shrines, it often did so through setting scenes there, and the names of real places of business are very often present not only in play texts, but in the design for the play’s set.  One of Edo’s Yoshiwara pleasure district’s most famous brothels’ fronts, for instance, is present in the set of Gorozo the Gallant, and the Aburaya brothel and Ise Shrine in Ise Dances are both real places that could not have suffered in patronage for the endorsement onstage.  Similarly, in far more recent years I have seen Starbucks signs displayed clearly in three different Japanese cartoons, and though the animation companies might not have gotten the idea from kabuki, kabuki may have started the practice.

In the three major cities of Japan, kabuki was not only central to economic life, it was central to cultural life: plays were frequent and well attended and discussed, and perhaps more culturally important, imitation and emulation came to be extremely important parts of kabuki fan activities (Gerstle “Osaka” 17-18).  Fans of kabuki in Edo era Japan were interested in reproducing what they saw and heard onstage, and in Edo “their daily practice filled the streets of the commoner neighborhoods with music, and their amateur recitals enlivened the restaurant districts of the city… Devotees of kabuki assembled to imitate kabuki dialogues in a hobby known as kowairo, and others studied and presented kabuki dance, or performed chaban, improvisational skits parodying kabuki, at parties, or larger scale plays at home (Kominz “Ichikawa” 67).  One document even suggests that there were people in nineteenth century Edo who imitated “stage dress and actions all the time, even outside the theatre” (Gerstle “Flowers” 103).  This is, perhaps, a somewhat extreme example, but it shows the depth to which kabuki emulation permeated Edo society

Just as they contrived to participate in so many other manifestations of fandom, even the samurai elite showed a marked enthusiasm for learning the shamisen or Nihonbuyo (a form of primarily kabuki derived dance) as well.  Some lords and samurai, including Yanagisawa Nobutoki, noted earlier for his frequent attendance at Edo kabuki theatres, created amateur kabuki productions in their homes. One government official disparagingly remarked in his memoirs that even some samurai would themselves act out “kabuki music and kabuki plays… High hamamoto officials mimicking riverbed beggars, aping female impersonators and stage heroes!” (Kominz “Ichikawa” 67).  Serving townsmen and samurai alike, specialty shops appeared in Edo providing stage props and makeup to serve this hobbyist market (Gerstle “Flowers” 105).  Amazingly, there are even situations in which accomplished amateur musicians could (and still can) pay for the opportunity to play and sing on a kabuki stage.  Specifically, since the late eighteenth century, musicians of the katobushi style of music “pay for the honor of accompanying Danjuro’s entrance” when the famous play Sukeroku is performed (Iezzi 46).  The staying power of many of these kabuki-imitating hobbies is extraordinary, and there are still numerous professional schools of kabuki-style music and kabuki-style dance that formed in the eighteenth century and are still in existence today (Gerstle “Flowers” 105).  Thus, when such opportunities arise, patron-musicians are ready for the opportunity to perform with their idols.

Finally, it is almost impossible to talk about serious fandom in Japan without talking about fan clubs.  Kabuki fan clubs started as “teuchi-renchu” (clapping groups), which probably started in the late seventeenth century (Matsudaira 113) and are known to have thrived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Kyoto and Osaka under the name hiiki-renchu.  It is unclear as to whether any sort of hiiki-renchu had their day in Edo (though some suspect that organized clapping originated there, and it is certain that at least theatre employees would “clap with raised hands” to mark auspicious occasions (Clark 27)), but a publication in 1853 declared that hiiki-renchu were “extraordinary institutions only to be found in Osaka and Kyoto, and such a thing does not exist in Edo” (Matsudaira 114), so if they ever existed there, they must not have lasted long.  In any case, these fan clubs put forth extraordinary effort, passion, and funds into supporting their favored actors, and they functioned within kabuki audiences in a similar capacity to amateur cheer-leading groups for some sports in the modern day (especially Japanese baseball).  They wore uniforms that advertised their loyalties through club crests and sat in the front rows of the theatre, and at kaomise productions, which existed primarily to introduce and showcase the kabuki actors that had been hired for a theatre’s new season.  They would enact elaborate rituals of actor-support that included everything from quick costume changes, to elaborate rhythmic clapping (sometimes in accompaniment to shamisen music and self-written songs of actor praise), to presentations of gifts with a list of the gifts read aloud from the hanamichi by club members (114-116).

These clubs took their loyalties very seriously, and they followed very strict rules of their own devising: a contemporary writer wrote that candidates wishing to join one of these clubs “must swear an oath to those who are already members to obey the rules of the club even if disowned by their fathers” (114).  To be specific about at least one rule the clubs had in common, “it was thought to be against the rules to support two actors at the same time,” and it was considered a terrible, double-crossing offense for a member of one actor’s fan organization to visit another actor’s dressing room (118).  Breaking the rules of one’s club was inviting scandal, and there was even a system of “derivative taboos” that mostly had to do with symbolic items associated with a rival actors’ crests, the accidental breaking of which could be considered an insult to one’s idol loyalties (119).  In Kyoto or Osaka, being a fan was a complicated game to play.

Though hiiki-renchu are no longer an active part of kabuki fandom (especially under that name), they have been replaced by koen kai, “fan clubs, similar to those of any Western star” (Cavaye Kabuki 104), which are still strongly supporting favored kabuki actors in often similar capacities.  Also, though fans and fan clubs no longer stand up during performances to deliver songs, speeches, and clapping patterns in praise of their favorite actors, a descendant of these habits survives in modern kabuki theatres in the form of kakegoe:

“Kakegoe (literally “calling voice”) has its roots in the home kotoba, or words of praise, in which a fan of earlier times would stand at some point during the play and deliver a speech in praise of his favorite actor.  This practice probably died out some hundred and fifty years ago, but there remained a tradition of the plebeian audience shouting out the names of favorite actors during the play… Any knowledgeable member of the audience may call out, but there are groups of so-called professionals who, despite the name, are not paid but have a pass to the theatre in order to perform this service for actors and create atmosphere for the audience.  These men are called o-muko-san because they call from … (the) rear, cheap seats of the theatre.”  (125-126)

In his book on acting in kabuki, kabuki actor Matazo Nakamura further explains that these omoku are “organized into clubs” (Nakamura 117) of kakegoe specialists, which strengthens their link to their hiiki-renchu predecessors.

Another thing that modern kabuki fan club members share with the fan club members of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is remuneration for their support and patronage in the form of special privileges and exclusive gifts.  It is still possible for devoted patrons and distinguished fan club members to arrange to visit an actor in his dressing room, or more commonly to spend time with their kabuki idols at New Year fan club parties.  Further, now, as then, devoted fan club members can still accompany the actors they are loyal to on trips or vacations.  In the eighteen hundreds, a fan club member “invited Shikan I from Edo to spend a week with him at Mount Minobu” (Matsudaira 121).  Similarly, today, according to one Q&A forum, members of the Narita-ya (the Ichikawa Danjuro line of actors) fan club could book a special tour through the website to follow Ichikawa Ebizo when he traveled to perform kabuki in Paris in 2004, and such a fan could have lunch with Ebizo as part of the bargain (Oshiete!).

The modern system is somewhat less personal than the older example, but in the nineteenth century, too, a fan club member might go “chasing after an actor as he went on his journeys” (Matsudaira 121) without even the benefit of a tour group, and this was an accepted fan practice.  With regards to exclusive and personal gifts for patrons in the days of hiiki-renchu “fans often collected things associated with actors” (Matsudaira 120) and this is still the case for the modern day patrons who are members of an actor’s fan club.  In days past, fans might receive items like costumes worn by or poems hand-written by their idol-actor in thanks for their support (120).  Starting in the late nineteenth century, fans started collecting oshiguma, face pressings on silk of kumadori makeup (Cavaye “Oshiguma” 11) which are records and mementoes of the makeup worn by a given actor for a given show on a given date in a run and are therefore one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable.  As with the hand-written poems on handkerchiefs that were given to hiiki-renchu members long ago, “a few lines about the role or a haiku poem may also be added (by the actor), artistically integrated into the picture” of an oshiguma (13).  In the modern day these face-pressings are still most often given to the actor’s patron-supporters in thanks for their support, and I have been told by friends that a fan club member may also receive exclusive gift-photographs (that fan club members may be able to get signed at fan club events the actor attends), subscriptions to exclusive club magazines and mailing lists, or memorabilia (i.e. handkerchiefs) decorated with an actor’s distinctive family crest.

It is perhaps important to reiterate that while kabuki fan clubs’ original function as “clapping groups” has not survived in its original kabuki setting, the practice of elaborate and organized clapping is now being perpetuated by Japanese sports fans.  At a Japanese baseball game, fans sitting in the designated cheering section wield plastic clappers so that they can perform elaborate clapping rhythms to encourage their sporting idols or to celebrate small victories like home-runs, or a long series of strike-outs, or the winning of a game.  They sing songs to their clapped rhythms or chant chants in practiced synchronization, and they give a strong visual impression that they are a unit because they wear their team’s uniform colors.  No other culture of baseball fandom in the world is nearly so organized in its clapping and cheering, and it seems probable that there is a relationship between this modern Japanese practice to its historical doppelganger in hiiki-renchu.  It makes sense that Japanese kabuki fans invented a unified way of showing appreciation and devotion and that Japanese baseball fans perpetuate it because it is effective in the noisy environment of a baseball game in the way it was once effective in the noisy environment of a seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth century kabuki theatre house.  In any case, the practice is still being used to honor popular cultural heroes, and it is still a practice of fandom.

In the present, though kabuki has become a very classic and traditional form of theatre that features plays that only very occasionally reflects the modern world, kabuki fandom has totally modernized to suit our modern times.  All the major kabuki actors have fan club websites, where a person can follow that actor’s performance schedule or read about the history of his acting family.  There is a kabukikai rewards visa card (rather like a Hilton or Disney rewards visa, but for kabuki).  Many kabuki fans vigorously blog about their fan activities, posting pictures of fan events and waxing poetic about such golden moments as the time they were permitted to shake their idol’s hand.  Japanese book stores sell kabuki magazines with bright and glossy photographs of actors, and kabuki actors appear in television dramas and movies, where they not only attract the attention of kabuki fans to movie and television events, but attract the attention of movie and television fans to kabuki events.  Ichikawa Danjuro is still a household name, though that might have more to do with Danjuro XII’s appearance in a television drama about Danjuro I than it does with his work on the actual kabuki stage.  He has hundreds of members in his fan club who pay Y20000 in their entry year and Y10000 in their subsequent member years for the privilege (Naritaya).  Moreover, in today’s globalized world, there are kabuki fans outside of Japan, and there are guidebooks available in non-Japanese languages to serve this emerging fan market.  The world of kabuki fandom is still incredibly vital and active, but it is in many ways forever changed by modern technology and the influence of more modern fan systems.

Still, as this paper has striven to detail, some fan practices remain even after hundreds of years, if in somewhat changed forms, and other aspects of kabuki fandom may never change.  One such aspect of the kabuki star/fan relationship is the kabuki actor’s acute knowledge of his dependence on his fans.  On the same token, the fans know that they are appreciated, because kabuki actors regularly tell them so from the stage and beg their indulgence and support.  For every name-taking ceremony or important actor anniversary or actor memorial, kabuki actors have a long-standing tradition of directly addressing the audience in supplicant, bowing respect and thanks.  New actors or newly named actors are formally introduced to audiences by senior actors, and “the newly named actor, in language of great formality, asks the audience for its support and patronage and promises to do his best” (Cavaye Kabuki 121).  Alternately, for the child of a ranking actor making his debut, the actors may stop the action of an actual play to introduce the child and “ask for the continuation of the audience’s patronage” (121).  Thus, fans are reminded that they are important, even in kabuki’s realm of superstar giants.  If there is one thing that kabuki’s actor/fan practices have reflected continually over the years, it is the high level of value and esteem at which actors and fans hold one another, and because this relationship truly works, it is likely to endure for far longer than its current tally of over four-hundred years.  Kabuki fandom today is what it always has been: an intimate and mutually beneficial relationship with the stars of the kabuki world.



 Works Cited

Akimoto, Shunkichi.  “Kabuki Audiences Past and Present.”  Japan Quarterly, 1956.

Brandon, James R. and Samuel L. Leiter.  Kabuki Plays on Stage, volumes 1-4. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2002

Cavaye, Ronald. Kabuki a Pocket Guide.  Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1993.

——-“Oshiguma—Kabuki Masks of Time.”  Kabuki.  Summer quarter. Tokyo: International Friends of Kabuki, 1983.

Clark, Timothy T. et. al.  The Actor’s Image: Print Makers of the Katsukawa School.  Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994.

Dunn, Charles J. and Bunzo Torigoe.  “Introduction.”  Actor’s Analects. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Ernst, Earle.  The Kabuki Theatre.  Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1974.

Gerstle, C. Andrew.  “Osaka Kabuki Actor Prints.”  Masterful Illusions. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

——- “Flowers of Edo: Eighteenth-Century Kabuki and its Patrons.”  A Kabuki Reader.  New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc.  2002.

Iezzi, Julie A.  “Sounding Out Kabuki: Music Behind the Scenes.”  101 Years of Kabuki in Hawai’i.  Honolulu: UHM Department of Theatre and Dance, 1995.

Keene, Donald.  “Kabuki.”  Masterful Illusions.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

Kominz, Laurence.  “Ichikawa Danjuro V and Kabuki’s Golden Age.” The Floating World Revisited. Portland: Portland Art Museum, 1993.

——— The Stars Who Created Kabuki; their Lives, Loves, and Legacy. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1997.

Lebra, Takie Sugiyama.  Japanese Patterns of Behavior. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1976.

Leiter, Samuel L.  Frozen Moments.  New York: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Matsudara, S.  “Hiiki Renchu (Theatre Fan Clubs) in Osaka in the Early Ninteenth Century.”  Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 18, No 4.  Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Nakamura, Matazo.  Kabuki Backstage, Onstage.  Trans. Mark Oshima.  New York: Kodansha International, 1990.

Raz, Jacob.  “The Audience Evaluated.”  Momumenta Nipponica Vol. 35 No. 2, Summer 1980.

Shively, Donald H.  “Bakufu vs. Kabuki.”  A Kabuki Reader.  New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc.  2002.

Yano, Christine.  “Charisma’s Realm: Fandom in Japan.”  Ethnology, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997).  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1997.

In Japanese (cited as Naritaya and Oshiete! respectively):

成田屋. “後援会のご案内” accessed 5/9/10

“教えて!旅のQ&A掲示板,”  Posted 6/9/09 and accessed 5/9/10

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