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“Shoyo echoed among the trees” – Small evening gathering of appreciation at the birthplace of Shoyo Tsubouchi

Kuniko Hamaguchi
Visiting scholar, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Every autumn, a small concert is held at Minokamo City Museum in Minokamo Bunka-no Mori, located on top of a small hill in Minokamo City, Gifu Prefecture, where Shoyo Tsubouchi was born. The concert begins around the time when the sun sets behind the brow of hills. The entrance hall of the Museum is spacious and open, and beyond the glass wall, there is a thick forest. With a background of woods dimly lit up, the works of Tsubouchi is performed with traditional Japanese instruments. The concerts began three years ago.

On this occasion, I would like to review the past four concerts.

The first concert, subtitled “the World of Shakespeare”, was held on October 2, 2010. The main performance was “To be, or not to be” (composed by Toru Fukuhara) based on “Hamlet” translated by Shoyo Tsubouchi. It was our commissioned work, named after the famous line in Hamlet. In fact, although it is rare for creative traditional Japanese music, this work had been performed already four times by that time.

The first performance was at the 72nd Shoyo Festival (Ono Memorial Hall, Waseda University) on June 25, 2009 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Shoyo Tsubouchi. It was a collaboration of flute (by Toru Fukuhara) and Noh (by Osamu Kobayakawa). “Hamlet” is one of the four tragedies of Shakespeare and has a lot of dialogue. It seemed to be a challenging performance to be played by one instrument and one actor. However, it was spectacularly performed based on the universality that underlies Shakespeare’s works and the strength of classical performing arts/traditional Japanese instruments, combined with the efforts of Mr. Fukuhara, who was in charge of production and composition, and Mr. Kobayakawa, who played various roles alone. Furthermore, Shoyo’s antique, elegant and precise translation was very appropriate for the classical performing art. I was deeply moved after I heard the last line of “Hamlet”, “Yo wa Kujaku”, a Japanese translation of “The rest is silence”. I also well remember someone cried “Bravo!” at that moment.

A person from the Cultural Affairs Division saw this play and proposed to perform it during the All Waseda Cultural Week (current Waseda Culture and Arts Week) of that year. Everything went smoothly, and it was performed on November 2, titled “Encounter of Shoyo and Shakespeare - an Attempt of Reviving Hamlet with Flute, Utai, and Futozao Shamisen.” We asked Ms. Tsugaju Tsuruzawa, who is a Waseda alumna and currently actively working as a Gidayu Shamisen player to join the performance. The sound of the Futozao added dignity to the story and it was delightful.

Thereafter, the play was performed again in Hamamatsu City, and then finally performed at the birthplace of Shoyo. At that time, the Futozao Shamisen was replaced by the Kinkoryu Shakuhachi (by Keisuke Zenyoji). The “Hamlet” played by three male performers who studied at Tokyo University of the Arts was masculine, yet they created a splendid harmony of the wind instruments’ sensitive vibrant sound. Furthermore, Mr. Bincho Tanaka, who lives there, is a flute maker and once made a flute for Mr. Fukuhara, appeared on stage and told stories about flutes. It received favorable comments from the local audience.

As I received good responses after the first concert, I began making a plan for the second one. Although Shoyo left many great original as well as translation works including Shakespeare, some have not been known to the public yet. If I had just presented them to the public, they might not stay in people’s memory. However, if his works were presented through the classical performing arts, it would become meaningful to the audience, because integration of Shoyo’s work with the classical performing arts, which are valuable communication tools in themselves, would create novel emotions. Fortunately, through work, I have come to know several friends and acquaintances in the field of traditional Japanese music and traditional Japanese dance. So I came up with an idea of asking them to produce and perform the works of Shoyo and, simultaneously, to introduce, explain and play their instruments. It was actually another desire of mine to broaden the audience base of classical performing arts, as well as increasing awareness on the works of Shoyo. I immediately began selecting the play for the second concert.

The second concert was held on October 10, 2011. In Minokamo City, the Modern Theater (a theatrical group which played Shakespeare translated by Shoyo) used to play Shakespeare every year. Because they never played “Romeo and Juliet”, I chose it, in combination with Gidayu, for the second concert. As is well known, Romeo and Juliet is a story of tragedy caused by the conflict between two families, intertwined with romance. It is a masterpiece that later gave an impact on the “West Side Story”. I wanted to express the double structure of romance of two young people by the pessimism created by the Gidayu-specific deep bass and strong sound (by Asateru Takemoto) and the Futozao Shamisen (by Tsugajyu Tsuruzawa) as well as the sensitive and elegant sound of flute (by Toru Fukuhara). In order for the audience to enjoy Gidayu, a part of “Tsubosaka Reigenki” was also played. We also created a space where explanation of Gidayu-busi was provided to the visitors and they could also put on a Kataginu, special clothing for Gidayu. The Gidayu version of “Romeo and Juliet” translated by Shoyo may have been a little bit difficult to the audience; however because it was a widely known story, it seemed that the audience was watching the performance with keen interest.

For the third concert on October 21, 2012, I decided to slightly modify the direction of the program, because I felt that it would be meaningful to perform classical works of Shoyo at his birthplace, even though presenting creative traditional Japanese music had been great. The results of the exit-surveys in the past also made me realize that the audience would be able to enjoy the performance not only through ears but also with their eyes, if it were played by Nagauta, the basics of the traditional Japanese music. The most popular dance drama of Shoyo is Nagauta “Shinkyoku Urashima”. Although it is a work of massive scale that was originally written as a sample for the dance drama theory called “Shin Gakugeki Ron”, currently only a part of the prologue is played. Unlike conventional dance music that is very colorful, this piece depicts ocean scenery with words and is known as a masterpiece. I thought it was the best work to let people know a part of Syoho’s approach to dance drama. I asked the great Nagauta performers, who were alumni of Waseda Nagauta Study Group (Susumu Fukunishi, Keiji Hashimoto, Ayako Kato and Hisako Udo), to perform Nagauta. For the dance performance, I asked Ms. Shoho Wakayagi, who had a long career of performing Shoyo’s works. It was a wonderful play that combined the sounds and acts that express the scene of the magnificent ocean.

The theme of the performance on October 5, 2013 was “Drama for Children”. Shoyo promoted drama played by children using familiar things around them. He produced many dramas for that. They contain some exempla elements, but the stories are usually very sweet and friendly. At first, I thought it was a pity that such drama was not widely known, so tried to rearrange one of them to Sakumono (light and funny style) of Jiuta (a genre of shamisen music). However, Jiuta is low pitch and has a slightly heavy image. Therefore, instead of Jiuta, I thought it might be interesting to play children’s drama with Shinnaibushi, a smart and urbane Joruri filled with Edo period atmosphere. So I asked my acquaintance, Mr. Tsuyoshi Shinnai, to rearrange one of Shoyo’s dramas with the Shinnaibushi style. He chose the “Fly and Spider” from Shoyo’s “Dramas for Children at Home”. It was a very interesting choice and viewpoint, as it had not been performed much. The performance was a great success. Uwajoshi (sound of the shamisen) (by Nakanosuke Shinnai) added color to light melody, and a new urbane traditional Japanese style drama that adults can also enjoy was born. The “Shinnai nagashi”, one of the characteristics of Shinnaibushi was also presented, and the audience enjoyed the performance of the player walking through the audience seats. The concert ended around 9:00 pm. By then, the top of the hill was already dark. The audience was buzzing and going home in the darkness. I am always filled with the sense of deep appreciation while I watch them walk off.

Waseda University and Minokamo city have an agreement for a cultural interchange project. They were connected through Shoyo Tsubouchi. From this year, the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum also supports this project. I will do my best to appreciate his work at his birthplace and integrate classical performing arts that he loved with his works.

2010 “Shoyo echoed among trees”

2011 “Shoyo echoed among trees”

2012 “Shoyo echoed among trees”

2013 “Shoyo echoed among trees”

Kuniko Hamaguchi
Visiting scholar, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Completed Master’s program at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. Specialized in Japanese dance performance. She was the Director of Shoyo Society until last year. Currently she is a visiting scholar at the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum and is adjunct professor at the College of Intercultural Communication, Rikkyo University.