How did the Japanese common people come to terms with the changes engendered by modernity? This article examines this question through the lens of kagura, a folk performing art that has been passed down within village communities since the late medieval period and which was performed at matsuri (village festivals), one of the few outlets that people had from their lives of toil. Specifically, I examine the case of Iwami kagura, a form that has been preserved in the western part of Shimane prefecture.
Ichikawa Danjūrō IX1 was a renowned kabuki actor who was a central figure in attempts to reform kabuki during the early Meiji period. For instance, Danjūrō promoted a new genre that employed historical investigation and an acting method based upon realism in order to revise existing historical plays. But eventually Danjūrō became more conservative and responded skeptically to untested new plays, committing himself to restaging old masterpieces. It is a common belief that the emergence of shimpa plays, which captivated audiences by concentrating upon spectacular battle scenes instead of plots and acting, aggravated Danjūrō's sense that kabuki was in crisis. Indeed, it has been argued that Danjūrō then shifted his stance to pursue the promotion of kabuki as a lofty tradition. However, there was also another core impetus behind Danjūrō's conversion.
In this paper, I examine pieces of evidence showing that Danjūrō began to endeavor to canonize the traditional form of kabuki around the time when kabuki plays were staged for the Emperor Meiji for the first time in 1887. I contend that this unprecedented event, tenran kabuki, convinced Danjūrō to abandon his stance on the reformation of kabuki. In particular, after this time he started to deploy the power of Kanjinchō (The Subscription List), one of the plays in the setlist of tenran kabuki and mainly performed plays adapted from canonical nohgaku or Chikamatsu jōruri. The process of canonization carried out by Danjūrō seriously affected the direction of the entire kabuki industry and lent momentum to the trend in which kabuki actors preferred traditional plays in order to distinguish kabuki from contemporary performances. By illuminating Danjūrō IX's efforts to canonize kabuki, I clarify the initial steps in establishing modern kabuki as a traditional performing art.