A Day in a Japanese Theatre

HE who would gain a just idea of the various qualities of a Japanese theatre — its conspicuous merits and its flagrant faults, its contrasts of rude simplicity and lavish splendor, its swift successions of dexterous illusion and awkward disenchantment, and its alternating incongruities of genuine dramatic taste and skill, and reckless defiance of æsthetic and human proprieties— must give at least one uninterrupted day to its study ; going early, and leaving only when all is finished. Repeated visits of shorter duration will hardly serve, for one will be almost sure to miss some element, not only of entertainment, but also of importance in estimating the general value of theatrical art among the Japanese. In the performances of one day one will probably find fair examples of nearly all that they attempt to accomplish. Unlike the Chinese, who are content to follow the course of a tortuous tragedy or complicated comedy through days and weeks of mazy evolution, the Japanese must have variety, as well as abundance, in their mimic sports. Their more active nature requires the stimulant of continual novelty, and, for the price of a single day’s amusement, they expect, and usually receive, a complete Polonius’s list of representations, with additional details of the kind referred to by Hamlet as more appropriate to the Polonial humor.1 One visit, then, will doubtless enable the foreign spectator to satisfy himself as to the standard of the Nippon drama, and to determine its rank among like exhibitions in other lands. If it recommend itself to his gentle senses, there is nothing to prevent him from repeating the experiment as often as he may choose ; if it weary him, there is nothing to prevent him from staying away as freely as in any country where the form of government is supposed to be more liberal than in these islands of the Origin of the Sun.

Put yourself, I pray, under my guidance for a day, and come with me to Asakusa, at once the busiest and the merriest quarter of Yedo. Here, amid the incessant bustle of trade, are congregated the best of the public amusements which the great city possesses ; most of them under the shadow of the majestic temple of Kuan-non, which, unlike the majority of temples, is kept constantly open and in operation, perhaps as an antidote to the poisonous influences of concentrated commerce. Here are gardens with quaint devices of dwarf forests, streams, and mountains, to tempt the curious. Here are archery-grounds, with nimble-fingered Oriental Dianas to fit the fidgety arrow to the evasive cord. Here are menageries with nothing more ferocious about them than languid snakes and spiteful apes. Here are wax-works of truly marvellous fidelity, compared with which even Madame Tussaud’s are commonplace caricatures. Here, also, are the theatres ; three of them, keeping each other close company, as that famous row on the Boulevard du Temple once did. Of these we can take our choice. They are all alike, externally, and are all sufficiently attractive to the eye, with gay flags protruding and enormous lanterns depending from their balconies, and their walls covered, like those of many play-houses at home, with transparencies representing the most impressive scenes in the favorite dramas of the day. It matters little which we enter. We pass the first, learning that it is already compactly full, and the second, because, although it is but a little past eight o'clock, the performance has already begun. At the door of the third, the proprietor or his assistant waits, bowing and smiling, to receive us; and, ascertaining which part of the house we wish to be placed in, precedes us to our destination, clearing the way, and making all comfortable before us, as an amiable usher would naturally do in any wellconducted American establishment. But as regards payment, no word is spoken at this early period. That ungracious formality is left for a later stage. At present the attendant’s thoughts are occupied solely by his desire to bestow us comfortably in our box, with sundry cushions to mitigate the asperities of rough and angular boards, and with pots of fragrant tea to soothe the impatience of the interval before the opening of the day’s dramatic budget. We might have chairs, European chairs, if we desired, but of course we reject them, as, on such an occasion, we would reject anything unnecessarily foreign, and, folding ourselves together upon the matted floor, we commence our personal proceedings by an inspection of the house and the assemblage.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1872, by JAMES R. OSGOOD & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

It is certainly a plain and primitive edifice ; thoroughly substantial, and neat enough, but totally destitute of anything approaching to luxury ; covering a space about equal to that occupied by Niblo’s Garden, in New York, though not equal to Niblo’s in height; four solid walls bound together at the top by massive beams and sheltered by a roof, the numerous apertures in which are so arranged, with broad shutters, as to produce specific scenic effects of light and shade. There is no ceiling, and, of course, no plastering or paint upon the woodwork in any part. The auditorial arrangements are not unlike those of the smaller French theatres. The centre of the floor is filled with stalls or boxes, — the former name seems more appropriate here than it is with us, —square spaces separated from one another by partitions about ten inches high, each calculated comfortably to accommodate four, or possibly six, persons. The aspect of the whole is suggestive of a magnified waffle-iron. Two aisles lead from the back of the house to the stage, which latter is not divided by any practical boundary from the body of the parquet, both being upon the same level. Indeed, these aisles appear to be intended rather for occasional exits and entrances of the actors than for the accommodation of visitors, the partitions between the boxes being sufficiently bulky to afford an easy passage to the sure-footed Japanese. Along the outer side of each of the aisles a row of boxes, like the French “loges,” extends, constructed to hold four occupants apiece. The gallery — there is only one — chiefly consists of similar “ loges,” the space in the extreme rear corresponding to the least select part of our playhouses. Altogether there is ample room for some twelve hundred persons, and with a little of the pressure which American ushers are accustomed to exert, two thousand might be introduced without serious difficulty. Mats and cushions are liberally supplied, but no other conveniences are provided, or, indeed, looked for. The only decorations are a few colored hanging curtains, stretching from side to side like our stage “ borders ” : rows of paper lanterns hung about the edges of the gallery in the same manner as our gaseliers, and, like them, intended rather for ornament than use, and long strips of cloth thrown over the fronts of the conspicuous boxes above and below, emblazoned with the names of popular actors, the crests of tutelary deities, and the titles of certain plays that have proved especially attractive. The curtain occupies the same position as with us, but there is no proscenium, and nothing to prevent the curious spectator from penetrating behind the scenes at pleasure, excepting his own sense of propriety. It is difficult to discover exactly what restrictions do exist in this respect, for even now, while the mysterious noise of preparation resounds, occupants of the front parquet stalls occasionally lift the curtain before them, dart beneath it, and appear at the sides, having evidently chosen this speedier method of getting out to a promenade along the somewhat narrow partition-tops ; and little children, eager to explore the yet undivulged mysteries, leave their places, and, running down the aisles, peer curiously into the dim arena, unmolested and without rebuke.

Half past eight o’clock, an unusually late hour, and the house is two thirds full, but the performance does not begin. We have yet time to take observations of the audience, which, gayly gossiping, seems to care very little for the delay. Most of those present have come prepared to make a day of it, and a half-hour, more or less, is of little moment to them. The élite appear to be in the upper boxes, nearest the stage, although many fine dresses and aristocratic tournures are visible both in the lower boxes and the central stalls. On one side, far in front, there happen to be grouped this morning nearly a hundred children, mostly girls, inexpressibly bewitching in their pretty, gentle, innocent glee. I am never tired of paying tribute to the loveliness of the better class of Japanese children. As they sit there just beneath us in their bright holiday attire, they form a picture which many a painter that I know of would give all his old pallets to get sight of, yet will not take a paltry month’s voyage to find. For a contrast, we may turn to the rear upper boxes, which are in possession of a body of pleasure-seeking soldiers whose appearance is not at all picturesque. The Japanese sawarai, in his transition state from nobleman’s retainer-at-large to national guardsman, is as far as possible from an object of beauty. On entering his new military career he is expected to throw off his former graceful, but cumbrous robes, and adopt the garb of European armies ; and he does this not unwillingly, but awkwardly and by slow gradations. Instead of dashing boldly across the Rubicon of dress-reform, he trifles on the brink, or plashes timidly and shallowly about, as if afraid of venturing too suddenly beyond his depth. The result is a series of the most extraordinary combinations that can be imagined ; fantastic hair-dressings, which refuse to accommodate themselves to the regulation cap ; striped trousers rolled up to the thighs, to relieve the legs from an unaccustomed and oppressive warmth ; misalliances of the long-sleeved, flowing Japanese sack with tight-fitting breeches, — sometimes with nothing more than woollen drawers, — and, vice versa, of the broad-legged hakami with close jackets; and, in numerous cases, when all other obstacles have been overcome, a resolute adherence to the Japanese sandals and high pattens, which alone are sufficiently destructive to every pretension of military bearing, as we understand it. Valor, however, is not dependent upon accidents of apparel, and if there is one quality which the sawarai is known to possess in a higher degree than any other, it is that of indomitable physical courage. Behind the cluster of soldiers is a small gathering of neat-looking servants, apparently in waiting upon certain lofty yaconins, who occupy some of the best places in the house, and who are, in turn, attendants of a very distinguished officer who sits with a small party in a half-hidden recess, closely resembling one of those which, in old-fashioned French theatres, are situated upon the stage, behind the curtain. It is satisfactory to know that a recognized representative of Japanese dignity and mystery is near us ; but the real interest of the scene, at present, lies in the body of the house, among the stalls, which are more heterogeneously filled, and spiced with more variety. How polite, good-humored and sociable they all are ! There are obvious distinctions of rank in dress, but there are none after the opening salutations of a conversation in intercourse. Though probably all strangers, they smile and jest, and puff one another’s health in pinches of tobacco, and interchange candies and fruits like lifelong acquaintances. Candies and fruits ! There is abundance of these, for no London pit ever resounded more freely with cries of venders of every known species of superfluous refreshment, and the trade they carry on is incessant, especially among the young folks, some of whom seem disposed to preclude all possibility of nourishing food, for that day at least, by surfeiting themselves with sweets at the outset. While we are amusing ourselves with the elaborate gravity with which these juvenile bargains are conducted, our friendly coproprietor, or manager’s assistant, or whatever he may be, comes to us with information that the real business is on the point of commencing, and hands us a package of programmes to prepare our minds properly for the delights in store ; to break, one might say, the artistic shock to us. Ah, these are indeed programmes ! For amplitude of description and copiousness of illustration, the new worlds of Europe and America know nothing to compare with them. They are not slips or sheets of paper, but little books, neatly bound, and worth preserving as ornaments after their immediate purpose has been served. They present a list of the day’s proposed entertainments, with names of the actors and portraits of some of the most distinguished among them, followed by very full analyses of the various plots, with colored illustrations of the principal scenes. Apart from their usefulness in the theatre, they are said to be amusing little volumes for all occasions. It is true that a price is put upon them, but it is very small, not more than a cent for each. As we pay for them, we learn also the price of our admission. This varies according to the hour when the visitor arrives, and, as we are among the earliest, no charge can be higher than ours. It is a little less than two “ bu,” about half a dollar, apiece ; and if anybody can tell me where else upon earth you can go through so much by paying so little, I should like to have him deliver his information forthwith.

The attention of the audience is presently arrested by a series of sharp sounds behind the curtain, caused by rapping two hard and solid blocks of wood together, a very common form of notification everywhere in Japan, and one which, again, suggests the French theatrical method of warning. After a dozen or more of these raps, three blows upon a drum are heard, and the curtain is rapidly drawn aside from the left of the stage to the right, revealing in the centre a neat and tasteful garden scene, than which nothing need be more complete or more correctly designed. Less effective views and less accurate “sets” are often seen in more than one New York and London, not to say Paris theatre of pretension. The space occupied is small, only about two thirds the width of that disclosed by the withdrawal of the curtain, and extending to what might correspond to the third entrance in one of our average-sized houses, but it is well filled. Whatever other contradictions to literal fidelity we may observe, there is certainly none of that barbarous indifference which in Chinese theatres allows the orchestra to be seen in full and noisy operation behind the actors, and demands no further concession to stage illusions than a portable bush to represent a forest, or a paper gate to stand for a walled city. The scenic appointments of the Japanese are quite well enough in their way ; imperfect of course, considered from our point, but excellent as far as they go. The disposition of their musicians, however, is open to severer criticism, of which, by the by, they are unsparing themselves, but seem reluctant to overthrow the old traditions, even while acknowledging their absurdity. From what would be their proscenium, if they had a proscenium, to what would be the edges of their first wings if they had those, stretch two little galleries, or platforms about five feet above the stage, in which the orchestras and choruses are stationed. There are generally three samisen or guitar players, and three singers, on each side, and it should be mentioned that one of the justifications of their presence in so conspicuous a position is that the assistance of the choruses is supposed to be frequently required to explain the progress of the drama. Their tuneful commentaries do indeed elucidate a great deal that might otherwise be obscure, and obviate the necessity of much dialogue and many soliloquies which, without some such substitute, would be indispensable. It is easy to say that the whole system is ridiculous, yet who shall determine where the line of musical illustration is to be drawn. In many of our own melodramas at least one half of the action is sustained by orchestral accompaniments, and nobody disputes the value of such effects ; and, if we attempt to apply logical tests, which is more unreasonable,— for a chorus to tell us what is secretly passing in the mind of a particular character, or for that character to proclaim it himself in an outspoken soliloquy ? And what mighty difference is there between being informed by three or four respectable middle-aged gentlemen, in melodious unison, that “an interval of two months is supposed, etc., etc.,” and reading the same upon a play-bill ? The truth is, that there is no defence for either chorus or soliloquy, and not much for the impertinent and superfluous suggestions of play-bills, so we can afford to pass these questions unanswered. They need not, indeed, present themselves at all, in this opening scene of the Yedo theatre, for we presently discover that, before beginning the dramatic feast, a species of pantomimic prelude is offered, intended, perhaps, to simulate a propitiatory appeal to supernatural powers, or perhaps only to introduce the more diversified proceedings of the day by an act of formal greeting to the assemblage. The regular musicians, all dressed in rich but plain-colored robes of state, having taken their accustomed places, the doors of a pavilion in the mimic garden are opened, and a dozen more imposing figures enter therefrom, bearing instruments which are not employed in the orchestras, though familiar enough to the Japanese, namely, flutes, kotos,2 and little drums of curious construction and various in tone, some broad and shallow like tambourines, some long and slender, and some contracted like hour-glasses. These gravely seat themselves in a row, as a line of chairless negro-minstrels might do, and without much delay, open a lively tournament of cacophonous rivalry with their neighbors overhead. The entries in the lists, however, are very gradual, and some five minutes pass before the whole force of twenty-four is in united operation. An hour-glass drum, perched lengthwise upon the player’s right shoulder, and smartly tapped with the fingers of the left hand, is first sounded, the performer’s voice following it in a monotonous recitative. Samisens in the galleries next emerge from silence, at first softly and timidly, as if afraid of intruding, but presently, gathering boldness, with a rising energy that threatens to extinguish the solitary drum and calls for reinforcement below, which is hastily thrown in by the wry-necked fife. A sonorous platform chorister soon mingles in the emulous fray, provoking a vigorous rejoinder from the entire body of vocalists upon the floor. The twelve above reply with a flowing phrase. The twelve below retort with a shrill stanza. Then all the drums are heard in a fine frenzy rolling, the samisens twitter, the kotos twang, and twenty-two pairs of lungs pour forth their utmost volume. Two flute-players alone, having their mouths as well as their hands full, and being unacquainted with the American art of singing through the nose, are forced to abstain from swelling the choral strain. But the tumult is sufficient with only their partial co-operation, and so, lustily and vigorously, for some sixty seconds, without interruption, the acoustic anguish is prolonged.

Suddenly, without premonition, and with no apparent cause to inexperienced eyes, the commotion is multiplied by loud cries from the audience. Nothing has happened upon the stage to occasion such an outburst, but, following the gaze of the multitude, we perceive that two figures have entered from the rear of the parquet, and are now proceeding slowly down the aisles. The uproar of the populace is simply a demonstration of welcome. The actors are evidently familiar favorites, for, in addition to the usual welcome of cheers and clapping of hands, their names are shouted again and again by the more eager of their admirers, a proof of extreme popularity. Unmoved by the applause, they glide majestically to the middle of the aisles, where they pause, salute each other and the audience, and then, in a series of easy undulations, their feet seeming never to leave the floor, move onward again toward the stage, having at last reached the centre of which, they stand motionless for a few seconds in attitudes of singular freedom and grace. By this time the general agitation is subdued, and tranquillity reigns again. During the next ten minutes no sound is heard excepting the most gentle touches of the samisens and kotos, and an occasional cry of “ Kimi-tayu ” or “ Ina-hachi,” the names of the performers, from some irrepressible enthusiast in the body of the house. Now is our opportunity for minute inspection. The characters represented are feminine, but the impersonators are men, as is always the case in Japan. As far as appearance goes, the disguise presents few difficulties, for it is the custom of all women of position to powder their faces and necks in such profusion as to make the imitation of the artificial complexion an extremely easy matter. Certain prescribed touches of pink paint still further facilitate the masking of the countenance, and the hair, of course, is counterfeited without trouble. It is in the movement of the body and the management of the dress that the cleverness of the actor is shown; and in these details, the couple before us are undoubtedly accomplished experts. Excepting their tallness, — and even this is not excessive,— there is nothing about them to betray their real sex to the most penetrating observation. Every trace of masculine angularity and stiffness has been banished from their frames. But these characteristics, which are afterward more curiously studied, do not at first strike us with so much surprise as the splendor of their apparel. Dresses more costly may sometimes be seen in Western theatres, but none at once so rich in material, so vivid in color, and so perfectly tasteful and harmonious in their extraordinary brilliancy. The chief materials are silk and velvet of the finest Japanese quality, which means the finest quality in the world, overwrought with fanciful embroidery and glittering with crystals and polished metals. The two costumes are at first precisely alike in form, but so contrived in color that one seems a blaze of gold, the other a glare of silver. The head of each actor is covered with a tall shining hat, from which a fringe of bullion falls, entirely concealing the hair. The throat and shoulders are swathed with glittering scarfs. A long robe, with sleeves of inordinate length, is lightly bound around the figure, closing in at the ankles, and suddenly expanding about the feet, like an inverted lotos-leaf. The waist is encircled by the broad Japanese cestus, or obi, heavily knotted at the back, in which are sheathed innocuous weapons and ornaments of various design. The combinations of color, and the effects produced by them, it is useless to attempt to describe; there is no proximate standard of previous recollection to measure them by. It is sufficient to say that past visions of “ Black Crook ” costumes, — I believe some of the characters wore clothes in that famous spectacle, — and those of similar displays, become dull and rusty in comparison. Moreover, one dress alone is not held sufficient for the occasion. A few stately gestures, and the hats and outer garments are thrown aside, disclosing a second and totally different attire, in no respect less striking than the first. And, presently, after a haughty sweep around the stage, a third is unveiled, the most superb of all. The bodies of the two comedians are now cleared for action, and a dignified dance begins. I say a dance, although it exhibits little of the activity which the word implies with us. In the feminine choregraphy of Japan there is no saltatory motion. The men are marvels of vivacity, but the women are always comparatively calm and subdued. Their feet do not appear to be lifted from the ground. They glide from spot to spot, with bodies rhythmically vibrating and arms seductively swaying, pausing now and again in postures of approved Oriental coquetry, to beckon with a fan-flirt or lure with a smile. But of animated action there is very little, and here, this morning, less than usual, since the purpose of the performance is grave and austere, rather than jubilant and mirth-inspiring. Nevertheless, it is full of grace, and is impressive from the elaborate precision with which the movements of the two dancers are blended ; and we willingly join in the acclamations which ring through the house as, after a final swoop and flourish of prodigious expanse, they dart beneath the hanging curtains of the pavilion, and vanish from public sight.

Now, amid the bustle which ensues, hum of conversation, cries of refreshment-sellers and rattle of machinery upon the stage, we look to our programmes for what is to follow. “ Bumbuku Chagama ” is announced. “ Bumbuku Chagama" is a typical dramatic subject in Japan, and shall therefore be explained. The literature of the country is full of fanciful legends and fables, some apparently derived from foreign sources, and arbitrarily adapted to Japanese traditions, some exclusively national and illustrative of such crude mythology as here exists. In the latter the grotesque ideals of the fox, the badger, or some other mysteriously endowed animal frequently figure. They are very old, generally very brief, and always extremely popular. Every child is familiar with hundreds of them, since they are circulated profusely in neat little pamphlets, drolly illustrated, at the cheap rate of about a dozen for a cent. Theatrical versions of these tales form about half the stock in trade of the Yedo playhouses. As we shall by and by discover, the dramatizations do not strictly follow the course of the original fables, but divergences of this sort have always been the inalienable privilege of playwriters, from Shakespeare down to the lowest. Among them all, “ Bumbuku Chagama ” is one of the best known and most frequently represented. Why this is so nobody can satisfactorily explain, for it is only of average merit, and as a mere narrative has very little romantic, or even human, interest about it. But, since it possesses a certain prominence, both as a favorite nursery fiction and an accepted theatrical theme, a double purpose may be served by offering first a literal translation, and afterward showing in what manner it has been thought judicious to rearrange it for dramatic treatment.

BUMBUKU CHAGAMA ; OR, THE BUBBLING TEAPOT.3

Once upon a time, it is said, there lived a very old badger in the temple known as Morin-ji, where there was also an iron teapot, called Bumbuku Chagama, which was a precious thing in that sacred place. One day, when the chief priest, who was fond of tea, and who kept the pot always hanging in his own sitting-room, was about taking jt as usual to make tea for drinking, a tail came out of it. He was startled, and called together all the little bonzes, his pupils, that they might behold the apparition. Supposing it to be the mischievous work of a fox or badger, and being resolved to ascertain its real character, they made due preparations ; some of them tied handkerchiefs about their heads, and some stripped their coats off the shoulders, 4 and armed themselves with sticks and bits of fire-wood. But when they were about to beat the vessel down, wings came out of it, and as it flew about from one side to another, like a dragon-fly, while they pursued it, they could neither strike nor secure it. Finally, however, having closed all the windows and sliding-doors, after hunting it vigorously from one corner to another, they succeeded in confining it within a small space, and presently in capturing it.

While they were variously consulting what they should do with it, a low merchant, whose business it was to collect and sell waste-paper, entered opportunely, and they showed him the teapot, with the view of disposing of it to him, if possible. He, observing their eagerness, offered for it a much lower price than it was worth ; but, as it was now considered a monstrous thing in the temple, they allowed him to have it, even at the unfair valuation. Greatly rejoiced, he took it and hastily carried it away, and reached his home well satisfied with his bargain, looking forward to a handsome profit the next day, when he hoped to sell it to some lover of tea-drinking.

Night came on, and he laid himself down upon his cushions to rest, and, covering himself with blankets, slept soundly.

But at a later hour, toward the middle of the night, the teapot once more changed itself into the form of a badger, and came out from the wastepaper basket in which it had been placed. The merchant was aroused by the noise, and caught the teapot while it was in flight; and, by treating it kindly, gained its confidence and affection. In the course of time, moreover, it became so docile that he was able to teach it rope-dancing and various other accomplishments.

The report soon spread that Bumbuku Chagama had learned to dance, and the merchant was invited to various great and small provinces, where, also, he was summoned to exhibit the marvel before the daimios, who bestowed upon him large gifts of gold and silver. In course of time he reflected that it was only through the teapot, which he had bought so cheap, that he had become prosperous, and felt it to be his duty to return it again, with some compensation, to the temple. He therefore carried it thither, and, telling the chief priest the story of all his good fortune, offered to restore it, together with one half of the money he had gained.

The priest, well pleased with his gratitude and generosity, consented to receive the gifts. The badger was made the tutelary spirit of the temple, and the name of Bumbuku Chagama has remained famous in Morin-ji to the present day, and will be held in remembrance until the latest ages as a legend of ancient times.

That is the whole story as it stands in popular literature. How it has been amplified and adorned for the stage, we shall now see.

As the curtain is drawn aside, we faintly discern the interior of a priest’s apartment in the temple. The existence of an outer wall, toward the spectators, is of course left to the imagination, but a door is outlined, by which the room communicates with a garden, the shrubbery in which is thickly laden with snow. It is a stormy night, and the effect of gloom is augmented by the closing of most of the large windows in the roof of the theatre. The wind moans, and the branches of the withered trees rustle uneasily. Upon the mats within, the chief priest sits or kneels beside his hibachi (fire-bowl), reading by the dim light of a large paper lantern. The iron teapot hangs upon the inner wall. The warmth and repose of this interior contrasts keenly with the restless discomfort of the scene outside.

Entering by one of the aisles, a huntsman advances, clothed in furs, carrying his match-lock on his shoulder and his game-bag on his thigh. In pantomime he bewails the hard fortune of the day. The falling snow has extinguished his fuse when he most needed it. His fingers, cramped by frost, have failed him at the moment of firing. He has lost his usual steadiness upon the slippery ground, and missed his aim repeatedly. He is weary, cold, and hungry. All this is admirably told in silent action. Suddenly he discovers the light in the temple. He runs and asks admission. The old priest receives him hospitably, listens with interest to the tale of his misadventures, brings him cushions from behind a screen, and goes out in search of food, leaving directions for the huntsman to prepare hot water in the teapot.

The gratified guest takes the huge vessel from its hook, and hangs it over the hibachi. A terrible shock awaits him. No sooner is the influence of the fire felt upon it than it opens in front, and a grinning badger’s head protrudes. He recoils, awe-stricken and speechless, and, while he glares upon the apparition, it changes to a human countenance, — that of a young and comely woman. He springs toward it, but at that instant the priest returns, and the teapot resumes its ordinary shape.

Trembling with excitement, the huntsman hurriedly tells the marvellous story of what has happened. The priest attempts to pacify him, intimating that his brain is disturbed by hunger and exhaustion. The huntsman protests, but the priest is unconvinced. His scepticism, however, is speedily overthrown. He approaches the teapot to throw in the fragrant herb, when lo ! it vanishes, and in its place stands a blooming mus'me, all agitation and timidity, shrinking with sensitiveness and cowering with confusion. The priest and huntsman, though greatly perplexed, are dazzled by her charms, and endeavor to reassure her ; and she, coy and reluctant for a while, consents at last to be comforted. We observe that she resolutely keeps her face toward her entertainers ; but when she turns her back in our direction, we, the audience, discover that the beautiful young lady has a bushy tail. This piece of caudal confidence is intended to let us into the secret that, in spite of seductive appearances, the fair visitor is in reality an imp of mischief and still a badger at bottom. But the two victims are completely deluded.5 The priest again retires, to fetch other refreshment especially suited to the delicate taste of his new guest. The huntsman and the beauty being left alone, flirtation ensues. From flirtation, the transition is rapid to ulterior consequences, and a succession of scenes is enacted, almost as indescribable as some of those in Offenbach’s “Gerolstein” or “Genevieve.” The priest, returning, flutters, rages, writhes with jealousy. He is guilty of a meanness alike unbecoming to his character as a host and as a disciple of Buddh. He peeps through a crevice in the screen. What he discovers, or thinks he discovers, may be imagined from the fact that, on the reappearance of the mysterious stranger, he essays the military manæuvre of flanking her and cutting off her rear. She is adroit and agile, but the priest, though aged, is animated by a triple energy. He is consumed by curiosity, his moral senses are shocked, and the fiend of jealousy urges him on. Moreover, the lady is so eagerly faced by the huntsman that she has little opportunity for afterthought. The priest at length finds his opportunity, and seizes it. He seizes also, the betraying member, — the tell-tail. Then his eyes are fully opened. The disguise falls, and we behold no longer a woman, but a badger unadorned, an unpalliated groundhog, an ursus meles, unmitigated and undissembled. With the huntsman, however, the illusion is prolonged. He has still faith in the feminine fraud ; and while the priest is now chasing a four-footed fact with a bushy tail, he is pursuing a frolicsome phantom of his own species, with bright eyes, soft lips, and a dainty artificial complexion. The ardor of the priest at length prevails. The badger, incapable of longer maintaining its double identity, leaps once more into the teapot, which is grasped by the priest and hurled from the window. The huntsman, with a wail of despair, flings himself after it, and the benevolent Buddhist, resolved to prosecute his good work to the end, also clambers laboriously forth, uttering cries of remonstrance and warning.

The scene slowly changes to a cemetery. Dusky gravestones are rimed with frost, and ignes fatui are flitting from mound to mound. The teapot lies upon the ground, as empty and desolate as the rest of the picture. It is evident that the badger has escaped. The huntsman runs in, looking from side to side, peering behind monuments and listening acutely for his lost treasure. He espies it. It is there, half hidden behind a bush. As it moves swiftly away, he follows it. The priest appears, catches sight of the retreating forms, and starts again in pursuit. We may judge that he intercepts the fugitives, for he soon returns, driving the badger before him, and belaboring it with his lantern-stick. The chase is long-continued, the sprite always showing itself in human form when the huntsman is near, and resuming its natural shape when approached by the priest. Before long other badgers join the fray, and for a while we have a wild hunt of the “ Freischütz ” order,—a sort of Oriental Walpurgis witch-dance. But nothing can elude the persistence of the priest. Harassed and worn-out, the original badger once more seeks refuge in the teapot. The priest, with the fragment of a tombstone, shatters the receptacle to atoms. As it breaks, some mysterious spell seems to be broken with it. The obnoxious animals retire, howling. The gravestones fall, and reveal flowers and pleasant architectural images. The churchyard is transformed into a smiling garden, and in the midst stands lovely woman, this time without a tail, as we are permitted to perceive, released from her enchantment, and ready to reward her adorer. He capers with glee, the priest beams benignantly upon them, and all ends as it should end, — abruptly, but happily.

* This trick of badgers and foxes turning themselves into women to mislead weak mortals is frequent in Japanese fable.

This may serve as a fair description of the average Japanese drama. Of course the supernatural element does not prevail in all, but it is very frequently employed and is always heartily welcomed. We find as the morning goes on, that lively comedies and plays of the class which we call “ domestic ” are common ; and historic episodes of political intrigue and warlike achievement are particularly favored,—almost as much so as the fables. One of the most agreeable to us — perhaps from the fact that we recognize in it an old acquaintance — is a pure fairy romance called “ Momotaro,” the story of which is a simple modification of our “ Fair One with the Golden Locks”; the three friendly animals being in this case a pheasant, a monkey, and a dog. In all of them there is much to enjoy, something to admire, and a little to laugh at. The acting has more merit and fewer faults than we could have expected. In the portrayal of violent emotions, of pride, terror, or rage, these players could not be anywhere surpassed. Their truthfulness never wavers, and as a trifling commentary, it may be mentioned that, during a certain ghost-scene, a party of children in the audience are so infected with the assumed fright of one of the actors that they jump from their seats and scamper out of the house in dismay. What is more, the actor in this scene, having fallen to the ground in an agony of alarm, and being obliged to make his exit at the moment, literally writhes himself along the aisle and out of sight in a series of convulsive throes, without once disturbing the illusion. He is upon the dangerous line of the ridiculous all the way, but he never oversteps it. In the gentler passions, however, they are less successful ; and we, of course, are not to be deceived by any serious love-making, when we know that both the parties to it are of the stouter sex. We scoff at sentiment when we spy a beard under the muffler. But in lighter comedy, or farce, this is a matter of less importance. And, truly, the fellows are astonishingly clever in their feminine airs and graces. As we saw before, the mimicry of personal appearance is perfect enough ; but an insurmountable difficulty lies in the voice. The Japanese actors do not attempt, like the Chinese, to speak in a strained falsetto, but maintain their natural tones ; and in this they are judicious, for, although they may not reproduce the real softness of womanly utterance, they at least avoid downright absurdity, which the Chinese never do. I am prepared to say that, taken as a whole, the Japanese comedians, as illustrators of the manners and feelings of their countrymen are on a level with those of any Western nation. There is proof of close study and of genuine culture in all their performances, and their most obvious error is not strictly a defect of art, but a defiance of nature. They complain, themselves, of the absence of women-players, and aver that they have often tried them, but have never found them sufficiently apt scholars. Perhaps they have not tried them with a due determination to make them succeed. Otherwise, they satisfy every reasonable requirement, and this, I am sure, would be the judgment of all who, while examining their acting as critically as need be, would dissociate it from its embarrassing accessories. What makes it often appear irregular or grotesque are its illogical surroundings, and these are all really so extraneous and unnecessary that they might be swept away at once, without disturbing in any degree the integrity of the representations. Put a company of firstclass Japanese comedians upon one of our stages, and they might compete with the world, up to their limit of dramatic interpretation. Here, although they do not know it, they are needlessly hampered in a variety of ways. It is no excuse for anomalies like the perpetual jingle of orchestra and clamor of chorus to say that others, just as bad, exist in other theatrical systems ; and so long as the Japanese actor has to contend against samisens and songsingers, he will always be at a disadvantage. The stage arrangements, too, are ludicrously disregardful of the ars celare. The prompter usually stands in full view, and for the removal or introduction of furniture or other properties there is a battalion of lads-in-waiting, gnome-like creatures in black, with crape veils over their faces, who run about the stage picking up a discarded dress or supplying a sword whenever occasion demands. If a warrior falls dead upon the stage, after a combat quite as irrational as the “ three-up and three-down ” broadsword fights of our minor theatres, two of these attendants come forward and stretch a shawl before him, under cover of which he rises and walks off the stage. Just picture the incongruities. After a passionate quarrel, in which the rising wrath of each participant is depicted with masterly expression, a mock passage-at-arms ensues, which would not impose upon an infant. Receiving a death - wound, one of the duellists dies slowly, and with a literalness of increasing torture which shows that he is following no imaginary model, but has made himself perfect in the process by watchful observation, and immediately afterward jumps up and takes himself off behind a scarf which hides nothing. As to the scenic appliances, they are in most respects good, — more than merely good. There is no chance for broad effects, but the views are always prettily and elegantly painted. The method of sceneshifting is cumbersome and wasteful of space, yet is not without a certain ingenuity of its own. The practicable stage is one large circle which is bisected by the “flat,” and which, being turned half around by hidden machinery, carries with it all that was in sight, and discloses an entirely fresh “ set.” The back of the old scene becomes the face of the new one. Sometimes groups of characters are thus made to disappear while their dialogue continues, and another body comes into view, laughing and chatting, more directly in medias res than is possible with us. Seen for the first time, this kind of change has a peculiar force. For other mechanical effects the stage has plenty of traps, which are used for the ascent of spectres and spirits, for hiding-places in plays of intrigue, for secret passages in hostile surprises, and similar purposes.

The curtain having closed upon a particularly thrilling climax of bloodless carnage and animated death, our good - natured assistant - manager, or something, who has hovered protectingly about us all day, comes again to the door of our box, and tells us, in a whisper, that the interval before the next performance will be long, and that, if we like, we may accompany him upon a short visit behind the scenes. This is indeed a privilege. We follow with alacrity, and soon find ourselves in the midst of that familiar confusion and disorder which, I suppose, must always be the same wherever the theatre flourishes. One touch of the coulisses makes the whole world kin. Carpenters are rushing about, balancing heavy “flats” against the air, property men are gathering together and redistributing their stores, and the stage-director is dancing diabolically around, execrating everything and generally deporting himself with the fury and ferocity which, as is well known, are necessary to keep the drama from going to the dogs. Are we really in Japan ? Why, this might be an entr'acle in any metropolitan theatre where pure English is supposed to he spoken. There is a degree of politeness here, amid all the hurry, which might elsewhere be thought to conflict with high art ; hut in all other respects, we, who have penetrated these mysteries in many climes, are entirely at home. Our conductor insists upon leading us up stairs, down stairs, and in the actors’ chambers, assuring us that we shall not intrude, but, as strangers, will be perfectly welcome. We are shown the windlass by which the stage is turned, the contrivances for wind whistling and rain pattering, the paint and property rooms, and are finally introduced to the presence of the principal players, all of whom, assisted by their dressers, are arraying themselves for the coming representations. They receive us very pleasantly, but are too busy to talk, as we well understand, and so, after a formal salutation, we speedily leave them. One gentleman, however, gorgeously clad in nothing but paint, whose preparations are quite completed, constitutes himself our companion from this point, and directs our attention to a number of interesting details. We remark that we have not yet witnessed any of his acting, but that, in compensation, we shall see a great deal of him when he does appear, referring, mildly, to his nakedness. He is pleased to catch the subtle humor of our jest, and he explains that he is to personate a beto, or groom, one of a class which is distinguished all over Japan by profuse and elaborate tattooing ; and that he has been all day in the hands of a painter who, as we see, has cleverly imitated the permanent decorations of the ostler tribe. In order properly to qualify himself as a beto, he has relinquished some of his best parts to other players. Is not this real devotion ? Could the enthusiasm of that tragedian, who, in Othello, blacked himself all over, be carried to a higher pitch ?

The sounds of the samisen warn us away, and we return to our box to find the stage cleared for a species of ballet. Numerous dances follow one another, some very merry, some more subdued, but none so rigidly grave as that which opened the events of the day. Pantomime enters freely into this performance. There is a fan-dance, in which the omnipresent toy is put to more coquettish uses than ever a Rosina dreamed of. There is a shuttlecock dance, the implements of which, like Macbeth’s dagger, are but of the mind, but are capitally suggested by appropriate gesticulation. A favorite game with an elastic ball is worked into a dance, and it is delightful to see with what mock energy the supposed ladies compete for the possession of the plaything,— which does not exist, — and, having obtained the airy nothing, how such one in a stooping posture chases it about, withholding it to the last possible moment from other claimants. There are plenty of dances by men as well, and they amply supply all that the women lack in activity. They have their own shuttlecock game ; and the violent struggles they depict, the collisions and overthrows, the mortification at missing a stroke and the elation when especially successful are irresistibly ludicrous, particularly as there are no shuttlecock and battledore all the while. In the same way, they go through the movements of the butterfly trick, of a certain dexterous feat with a looped handkerchief, and of vaulting exercises ; the material fabrics being equally baseless in every case. Toward the end of this divertisement an “ umbrella dance ” is introduced, full of ingenious developments and strange surprises. The umbrella dances which we have seen at home are stupid bores. Here the instrument is so contrived, that, although when shut, it is quite ordinary and insignificant in appearance, “ with no points that any other umbrella might not have,” when opened, it assumes, at the will of the holder, a dozen different shapes, colors, and dimensions. The various combinations are thus made to resemble a brilliant pyrotechnic display. And the variety of uses to which they are put ! Half closed, they are worn as high-peaked hats. With the handles bent, they are disposed upon the stage to imitate beds of flowers, among which the dancers promenade. Rolled edgewise over the ground, they become the wheels of a Harlequin coach, in which the queen of the ballet seems to ride. We really have seen nothing like it on any of the continents. The closing dance is not so entirely foreign in character. The women still retain their gentle stateliness, but on the part of the men it is a kind of raging cancan, worthy of the habi-tués of the Mabille, or even their coarser caricaturists, those blonde Bedouins of the stage, who, unsexed from the crown to the toe, figure in New York burlesques.

It is now long past noon, and the exertion of long-continued applause, together with much laughter, has given us an appetite. We are informed that there are excellent tea-houses over the way, and, repairing to one of these, we find all that is needed for a satisfactory luncheon. This accomplished, we return to the theatre, taking with us sundry packages of choice Yedo confectionery, which we do not want, but which were urged upon us so cannily by a pretty waitress, that we found our command of the Japanese language insufficient to refuse them. There is yet a considerable time to wait before the renewal of the revels. A great deal of lively conversation is going on down stairs. The two-sworded jeunesse daré are wandering about from box to box, shedding compliments and collecting smiles. A little piece of business just beneath us seems to mean mischief. A young liberty-taker has made a loop in a long paper string, and thrown it, lasso-like, over one of the projecting hair-pins of a tidy-looking damsel in front of him, obviously intending thus to establish a cord of sympathy between himself and her. Nevertheless, though he pulls as firmly as he dares, she is not perceptibly drawn toward him. The surrounding spectators are greatly amused. We plainly see that the restraints of Western theatres are not recognized here, and since larks are permitted, and even encouraged, why should we not have one of our own ? By all means, an original, ingenious, spirited, and luminous lark ; dazzlingly brilliant, but strictly innocent. We will lure from their nests below all the children that our own box and the two adjoining, which are empty, can contain. Unwinding the strings from our bundles of candy, we bait them with sugar-plums and cautiously drop them over the sides, not within the reach of those below,— we are too clever for that, — but just outside of it. The children laugh and clutch hysterically. Their guardians are convulsed, and, in fact, the entire audience thinks it about the best thing it has ever seen in its life. It is a magnificent popular success. We are only afraid that our friends behind the curtain may become envious. We beckon, but the children shake their heads doubtingly. They are not a bit afraid, but some of them think they are, and others like to pretend to be. They consult first together, then with their parents. The candy tempts them strongly, and so does the prospect of adventure. At last one little girl, a Winkelried in her way, runs up the aisle, climbs the staircase, and springs boldly in between us. Rien ne coûe après le premier pas. We are surrounded, stormed, and despoiled before we can count ten in correct Japanese. It is more than a success ; it is a triumph. We feel that a more flattering début can seldom have been made in this establishment. We are approved by the multitude, esteemed by a select circle of mothers, and adored by the infants, most of whom remain with us during the rest of the day, highly confidential and contented, and behaving as, I think, only Japanese children know how to behave.

The afternoon programme presents very little that is new. We have another historical sketch ; a ghost-story, in which a dreadful cat first as a magician destroys, and afterwards as an animal devours, an entire family ; a comedy, not long, but extremely broad ; and a second ballet. As twilight approaches, and we are preparing to leave, we are exhorted to wait yet a little, and witness what the French call a solennité, a first representation and by candle-light, which latter condition is most unusual. Of course we consent to remain. Just before the termination of the ballet, a device well known in our theatres is practised. An actor, dressed simply as a citizen, rises from among the audience, and, attracting attention by cries and eccentric gestures, makes his way to the stage, having reached which, he changes his tone, and announces that his purpose was only to gain the public ear, and give information of the novelty in store, which is not set down in the bills. Everybody had risen to depart, but now everybody sits down again, and immediately after we see, through the increasing darkness, an immense number of people pouring in from the street, who rapidly fill every corner of the house. It appears that on the occasion of a first performance, which always takes place at the close of a day, the theatre is thrown open, and any person may enter gratuitously. This is undoubtedly intended to accomplish what at home is done by the newspapers. If a piece is well received the favorable report of a thousand individuals is a good advertisement, and, indeed, is almost the only kind of public announcement possible in this place. As we have sometimes remarked in other communities, these free-comers are the most exigent of all auditors. While others are patient and calm, they immediately begin a series of clappings, poundings, and cat-calls that carry us back in imagination to Drury Lane on Boxing Night, or the Bowery in a bad temper. Before the stage arrangements are ready, twilight has deepened into dusk ; and to dispel all doubt about the growing darkness, a number of attendants proceed to render it visible by planting six dim candles along the line which with us is occupied by footlights. It is a fine specimen of what the emendator of“ Paradise Lost” calls “ transpicuous gloom.” When the curtain is drawn, it is wholly impossible to distinguish any object, and it becomes a question whether we shall not have to content ourselves with colloquy, and imagine the action. But we have not yet fathomed the resources of the establishment. As the two actors who first take part in the new piece approach by the aisle, we see hovering before them a couple of will-o’-the-wisp-like lights, fastened to the ends of long rods, and carried by a pair of the dark attendants before mentioned. Whenever a new performer appears upon the scene, he is preceded and made partially distinguishable by one of these, and when half a dozen are grouped together, the picture becomes weird and grotesque beyond description. This is so far outside the limits of possible illusion that we cease to regard the representation as anything but a curious experiment, and, even thus considered, it soon fails to be amusing. The mass of the spectators, however, enjoy it amazingly, and are quite indifferent to the abnormal and incomplete method of illumination. They follow the play —a short farce — with keen intentness, shake the edifice with laughter over its comic incidents, and break out in a frenzy or applause at the close, which gives the actors ample assurance of a new success. The long theatrical day is at an end. Lights are extinguished, and, with two thousand others, we blindly grope our way through intricate corridors and down precipitous staircases, and emerge with a sense of sudden relief into the lively and well-lighted street. The last half-hour, certainly, has been a little oppressive ; for the rest, — I have my own conviction, as you may suppose, but one opinion, however sincere, does not make a verdict. May I have yours ? And, knowing mine, do you think you can agree with me ?

E. H. House.

  1. “He’s for a jig,” etc.
  2. The koto is an instrument resembling a magnified ,Æolian harp, the strings of which are sometimes stretched upon a hollow box, but generally upon a large block of solid wood. Its tone is soft and melodious, much more so than that of the samisen, which differs little from our banjo.
  3. It is extremely diverting to find the literati of Japan at loggerheads about the etymology of this title, and to learn that the result of their inquiries is very much like that which followed the investigations of the discoverer of “ Bill Stumps his Mark.” The scholars have held that Bumbuku is a compound, the first syllable of which, Bun (here softened into Bum), signifies learning, and the second, Fuku (or Buku), wealth. There is no question about Chagama, which means teapot. Antiquaries desire that the name should thus be equivalent to “ The Accomplished and Prosperity-bestowing Teapot,” and the Chinese characters which they apply to it have this interpretation. But it appears that in the province of Sendai, where Morin-ji and the wonderful pot still exist, the word " Bumbuku ” is currently used in simple imitation of a bubbling or gurgling sound, and may be indifferently applied to boiling water, running streams, or the mental processes of over-fanciful philologists. Thus rudely are the glims of science doused.
  4. Customary preparations of laboring-men for any arduous toil.