Kawatake Mokuami (河竹黙阿弥)

Mokuami KAWATAKE (March 1, 1816 - January 22, 1893) was a Kabuki kyogen-sakusha (playwright of Kabuki kyogen) who was popular in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate (the end of the Edo period) through the Meiji period. His real name was Yoshisaburo YOSHIMURA. Kisui was his 'Haimyo (also known as Haimei)' (the term originally refers to a pen name as a haiku poet, but it also refers to a kabuki actor's offstage name which can be used officially and privately). He was also called Mokuami FURUKAWA.
He was born in Edo Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward, Tokyo.)


When he was 14 years old, he was repudiated by his parents due to wild debauchery, thereafter becoming a tedai (clerk) at a kashihon-ya (book-lending shop) and flourishing in the fields of kyoka (comic and satirical tanka), chaban (a farcical form of drama) and haiku. In 1835 he became a disciple of Nanboku TSURUYA, thereafter calling himself Genzo KATSU. With an outstanding memory, Genzo (the future Mokuami) perfectly memorized the lines of "Kanjincho"(The Subscription List) so as to act as a koken (prompter) on the stage, thus being recognized by Danjuro ICHIKAWA VII (the 7th). In 1841, he succeeded to a stage name of Shinsuke SHIBA (where the last name Shiba was written as both 芝 and 斯波 in kanji) and to Shinshichi KAWATAKE II (the Second) in 1843, thus becoming a Tatesakusha (the head of the playwrights' room in a Kabuki theater during the Edo period or the Meiji period).

Shinshichi KAWATAKE II (the future Mokuami) as the newly appointed Tatesakusha had not made a smash hit for a while, but the year 1853 marked a major turning point in his career in that a play "Miyakodori Nagare no Shiranami" (commonly called Shinobu no Soda/Sota) which he wrote for Kodanji ICHIKAWA IV (the 4th) became his breakthrough work, thereafter successively exhibiting masterpieces produced in collaboration with Kodanji in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, including "{Sannin Kichisa Kuruwa no Hatsugai}" (commonly called Sannin Kichisa, meaning the Three Thieves Named Kichisa), and "Kosode Soga Azami no Ironui" (commonly called Izayoi Seishin, meaning the Love of Izayoi the prostitute and Seishin the monk) and others. Further, he wrote "Musumegonomi Ukina no Yokogushi" (commonly called Kirare Otomi, literally meaning the scar-faced Otomi) for Tanosuke SAWAMURA III (the 3rd) and "Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishikie" (The Story of Aoto and the Gorgeous Woodblock Print) (commonly called Shiranami Gonin Otoko, meaning a group of five dandy thieves) and "Subodai Godo no Nozarashi" (Nozarashi Gosuke, literally meaning Gosuke the weather-exposed) for Uzaemon ICHIMURA XIII (the thirteenth) (the future Kikugoro ONOE V [the 5th]).

Even after the death of Kodanji in 1866, his creativity did not wane until well into the Meiji period, and he played an active part as a pillar in Kabuki circles in which the three top-billed actors collectively called "Dan Giku Sa" (consisting of Danjuro ICHIKAWA IX, Kikugoro ONOE V and Sadanji ICHIKAWA I) flourished. His representative works from that period of "Dan Giku Sa" included "Kumo ni Magou Ueno no Hatsuhana" (The First Flowers of Ueno) (commonly called Kochiyama, referring to the name of a gang boss called Kochiyama in the disguise of a priest), "Ibaraki" (referring to the 'oni' demon which was called Ibaraki Doji) and "Shin Sarayashiki Tsuki no Amagasa" (commonly called Sakanaya Sogoro, meaning the Fishmonger Sogoro) which were written for Kikugoro ONOE V (the fifth). He wrote "Kusunoki-ryu Hanami no Makubari" (commonly called Keian Taiheiki, referring to the Keian Incident of the 17th century, or Chuya MARUBASHI, referring to a main culprit of the Keian Incident) for Sadanji ICHIKAWA I (the first). In addition, he also wrote plays for Danjuro ICHIKAWA IX (the ninth) who was called a gekisei (accomplished actor), which included "Hojo Kudai Meika no Isaoshi" (Exploits of the Ninth Hojo Shogun's Illustrious Family) (commonly called Takatoki, referring to the ninth family head of the Hojo clan), "Momijigari" (Viewing the Autumn Foliage), and "Kiwametsuki Banzui Chobei" (The Renowned Banzui Chobei) (commonly called Yudono no Chobei, literally meaning Chobei in the bathroom). He published more than three hundred works in his life. Shoyo TSUBOUCHI highly estimated Mokuami by calling him "Edo Engeki no Odon-ya"(literally, the great warehouse of Edo drama), "Meiji no Chikamatsu Monzaemon" (literally, the Meiji counterpart of Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU) and "Wagakuni no Shakespeare" (literally, Shakespeare of our country [Japan]). Feeling that he had reached the limit during drastic modernization of drama, he decided to retire in 1881 when he published a great masterpiece of Zangirimono (the cropped hair plays) which was called "Shimachidori Tsuki no Shiranami" (commonly called Shimachidori, meaning Plovers of the Island) as his once-in-a-life-time work for his retirement ('isse ichidai' in Japanese), thereafter officially 'retiring' and renaming himself Mokuami. Although he had announced his retirement, yet he remained in high demand in the absence of other excellent kyogen-sakusha (kabuki playwrights), thus continuing writing to the last breath.

Mokuami's kabuki is characterized by luxuriant dialogues in the so-called 'Mokuami-cho' tone. Dialogues in the Mokuami-cho tone are called 'Yaku-harai' (a 7-5 arrangement of syllables set to music in a special lilting rhythm) in the kabuki terminology, which are spoken in the rhythmical seven-five syllable meter, exploiting rhetorical devices for waka poetry such as Kakekotoba (a type of pun that uses a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings) and Engo (a related or associated word), and a monologue or a dialogue among a plurality of actors spoken in the Mokuami-cho tone can produce a similar effect to that of an aria or duet in an opera. Mokuami showed himself at his best in Sewamono (plays relating to everyday life in the Edo period). In more detail he was very good at writing Shiranamimono (play featuring sympathetic or tragic rogues and thieve as protagonist), and bandits described by him are rather timid and the disadvantaged who are tossed about by ill luck. He has been often compared to Nanboku TSURUYA IV (the 4th), but a big difference from his is that Nanboku's kabuki features impudent rascals. While depicting ordinary people at the bottom of the social ladder in a finely detailed realism, Mokuami's style of writing remained highly lyrical by exploiting Geza-ongaku (music and sound effect playing in the corner at stage right, which is also called Kuromisu-ongaku [black bamboo curtain music] or Misu-uchi-ongaku [music played inside the black bamboo curtain]) and Joruri (literally meaning 'pure crystal,' which refers to the narrative which accompanies a Bunraku puppet show). After the Meiji period, he worked on writing the lyrics for Matsubamemono (Noh-based kabuki dance dramas on the pine board set) which was a new style of dance adopting the Nogaku (the art of Noh) style, major works of which included "Funa Benkei" (Benkei Aboard Ship) and "Momijigari" (Viewing the Autumn Foliage). In his later years, he published his own complete works "Kyogen Hyakushu" (Collection of One Hundred Kabuki Plays) which included scripts he had written himself, thus endeavoring to popularize kabuki.

His disciples included Shinshichi KAWATAKE III (the 3rd), Kisui TAKESHIBA and Noshin KATSU.

His daughter Ito took a husband as an adopted heir of the Kawatake family, who was Shigetoshi KAWATAKE, known as a professor emeritus of Waseda University and a researcher of drama. Ito and Shigetoshi's son and a great grandson-in-law to Mokuami is Toshio KAWATAKE who was, like his father, a professor emeritus of Waseda University and a researcher of drama.

Controversy between 'Mokuami KAWATAKE' and 'Mokuami FURUKAWA':
Incidentally, the name 'Mokuami KAWATAKE' has traditionally been used more often than 'Mokuami FURUKAWA,' but a kabuki researcher Yoshimi AKIBA pointed out an erroneous use of the name. The truth is that after renaming himself from Shinshichi KAWATAKE II (the Second) to Mokuami in 1881, the name Mokuami alone was recorded in official documents such as banzuke (literally, ranking lists, which referred to kabuki playbills), and he did not call himself KAWATAKE. Furthemore, since 1884 when he had Kinsaku TAKESHIBA succeed to Shinshichi KAWATAKE III (the Third) and changed the name of Noshin KATSU to Noshin KAWATAKE, as a kyogen-sakusha (kabuki playwright), he had used until his death a signature of Mokuami FURUKAWA in every official document such as banzuke (playbill), shohon (promptbook) and daicho (kabuki scripts), thus leaving no evidence of using a signature of 'Mokuami KAWATAKE' by himself. It is said that his kojin (successors) started to call him 'Mokuami KAWATAKE' instead of 'Mokuami FURUKAWA,' after his death, and Mokuami was not responsible for it.

Major Works:

{Sannin Kichisa Kuruwa no Hatsugai} (Sannin Kichisa Tomoe no Shiranami) (1860), which is commonly called Sannin Kichisa (Three Thieves Named Kichisa).

Kanzen Choaku Nozoki Karakuri (literally, encouraging good and chastising evil peep-show box) (1862), which is commonly called MURAI Choan (referring to an evil doctor Choan MURAI).

Aoto Zoshi Hana no Nishikie (The Story of Aoto and the Gorgeous Woodblock Print) (1862), which is commonly called either Shiranami Gonin Otoko (a group of Five Dandy Thieves) or Benten Kozo (Benten the Thief).

Kosode Soga Azami no Ironui (1864), which is commonly called Izayoi Seishin, meaning the Love of Izayoi the prostitute and Seishin the monk.

Tsuyu Kosode Mukashi Hachijo (1873), which is commonly called Kamiyui Shinza (Shinza the Barber).

Kiwametsuki Banzui Chobe (The Renowned Banzui Chobe) (1881), which is commonly called either Banzui Chobe (referring to a gang boss Chobe BANZUI) or Yudono no Chobe, literally meaning Chobe in the bathroom.

Kumo ni Magou Ueno no Hatsuhana (The First Flowers of Ueno) (1881), which is commonly called Kochiyama, referring to the name of a gang boss called Kochiyama in the disguise of a priest, or Naozamurai (the Faithful Samurai).

Shin Sarayashiki Tsuki no Amagasa (New Dish Mansion) (1883), which is commonly called Sakanaya Sogoro, meaning the Fishmonger Sogoro.

Mekura Nagaya Ume ga Kagatobi (1884), which is commonly called Kagatobi (Private Firefighters for Lord Maeda of Kaga).

Ningen Banji Kane no Yononaka (Money Is Everything in This World) (1879).

Medashi Yanagi Midori no Matsumae (1888), which is commonly called Isshin Tasuke (Tasuke of the Cloudless Heart).

[Original Japanese]