Table Speech

Expectation for the New Kabuki-za (Theater)

November 14, 2012

Danjuro Ichikawa XII
Tokyo Ginza New RC

 Being myself a member of Tokyo Ginza New RC, I share with you some difficulties we experience in undertaking different duties. My speech today will be on the new Kabuki-za.

 The fourth Kabuki-za was closed and demolished in 2010 for reconstruction. Currently, the new Kabuki-za is being built, scheduled to re-open in April 2013.

 The original Kabuki-za was built in 1889 at Kobikicho, Tokyo, aiming at developing a new theater movement in Japan with an impressive facility equal to other countries. Back then, Mr. Gen’ichiro Fukuchi strove to develop a modern town in the area from Akashicho to Ginza, under the slogan of constructing “streets like in London and buildings like in Paris.” The first Kabuki-za was constructed as a part of such plan. The building underwent several damages, including a fire, the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake as well as the air-raid during World War II. The fourth theater re-opened in 1950. I made my debut with my father Ichikawa Danjuro XI in 1953. So my career path overlaps with the development of the fourth Kabuki-za. I am delighted to learn that the main entrance and the gable of the new building will maintain the previous design while many decorative parts will be reused. The new Kabuki-za might attract your attention with the tall building behind, yet you will find the familiar theater in front of it. I hope you will come and visit them.

 When the demolition of Kabuki-za was announced, there was no voice of objection, contrary to my expectation. Suppose the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris is to be reconstructed, I am sure it will cause a huge debate. I was a little disappointed to see such a quiet reaction in Japan. I tried to convince myself that the reconstruction was necessary as the building was made of old materials, getting older over years and it needed anti-disaster installation.

 I am convinced the fifth theater will be an excellent facility that will last over a century, as various opinions were taken into account from its designing phase, including those of the audiences, Kabuki actors, back-stage staff and theater employees. Good acoustic facility is essential in any theater. The fourth Kabuki-za had one of the world’s best facilities after undergoing several improvements. I do expect we can also enjoy the excellent acoustic effect in the new theater. Engaged in the traditional performing art, we the Kabuki actors are searching for our approach towards the new Kabuki-za.

 Looking back at history, Japan has developed on the basis of “wealth and military strength” and “encouragement of new industry” since the Meiji Restoration, while we seem to have overlooked the importance of cultural development.

 Economy and culture are both essential elements of society. I personally believe culture is a prerequisite for sound economic development. Time has come for us Japanese to change the focus from total commitment to the economy towards reaffirming the importance of culture. According to the distinguished Japanese dictionary Koujien, culture is defined as “to empower people by academic virtue.” I believe culture is an “art to lead a humane life” once we are fed, clothed and housed.
  Each vocation has its own culture, including the food, apparel, music industries and others. Such cultural activities form the basis of our economy. Japan has four distinct seasons. We have long cherished various festivals and local entertainments that highlight each season. Kabuki is one of such arts that have developed over so many years. Our senior actors took full advantage of their superior insight and outsight in establishing a unique performing style. Kabuki represents the Edo culture and we wish to disseminate, once again, the Japanese culture of food, clothing and housing that has made us what we are today. We have made performances on stages around the world to introduce the Japanese culture, including the New York Metropolitan Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, Palais Garnier in Paris as well as in Monaco.

 Let me briefly tell you the history of the Ichikawa family. The originator, Danjuro Ichikawa I was born in 1660 and made his debut at the Nakamura-za in 1673. He created and pioneered the aragoto (or rough) style kabuki, which is a morality play that rewards the good and punishes the evil. It might sound simple but I think you must be brave to side with the weak and crush the strong. I must question whether we Japanese follow this moral code today as we seem to yield to the evil and despise the weak.

 I am determined to keep personifying the spirit of aragoto and hand down our traditional Japanese performing art through Kabuki stages. I am looking forward to the opening of the new Kabuki-za, an ideal venue for the young actors to cultivate their skills under the guidance of experienced actors. Let me close my speech by asking for your cooperation in disseminating our traditional art and culture, and the mentality of us Japanese.