During World War II, it is known that a lot of Nogaku works were newly written in order to encourage the wartime spirit. Among them, Churei (1941) and Miikusabune (1943) have distinctive features in terms of their large-scale performances and social impact. Churei had more than 100 performances after its premiere, touring nationwide from northern Hokkaido to southern Kyushu. Significantly, in 1942 it was presented at Korakuen baseball stadium in front of over 30000 people. In addition, Churei and Miikusabune were widely spread by record, radio, and news documentaries. This seems to be an exceptional case in Nogaku which has historically had a closed form of performance.
Why could Churei and Miikusabune become propaganda for the War? Originally Nogaku was supported by a small number of wealthy patrons, so there was no need to assume an unspecified number of spectators. But at the end of the Meiji era, the middle classes such as business people and intellectuals enjoyed as a hobby practicing utai (the chant of Nogaku). Moreover, in the Taisho era there was a “popularization controversy” concernig whether Nogaku should be liberated from specific classes. Furthermore, after the reconstruction from the Grand Kanto Earthquake (1923), the approach of theatre commercialism came to be recognized as necessary for survival.
This paper discusses the “commercialization of Nogaku” that already had been in progress during the Wartime through the investigation of those two works.
More than 100 new “overnight pickle” (ichiyazuke) war plays were staged on kabuki programs between 1931 and 1945. The themes of these plays invariably supported government war aims and policies. Further, the plays refute the usual description of the kabuki repertory as wholly classical: contemporary events were regularly dramatized on kabuki stages down until 1944-1945. In support of the war, kabuki producers entertained elite government guests, raised war funds to purchase armaments, purged “immoral” plays, gave “morale” (ian or imon) performances to military and industrial audiences. And, most important, they staged newly composed war plays (sensôgeki). Three plays written late in the war are examined here. In Gôda Toku's Honolulu City (Honoruru-shi, 1942), issei and nisei living in Hawaii demonstrate their loyalty to the Japanese Empire by wildly cheering as Pearl Harbor is bombed. A mother in If to the Sea (Umi yukaba, 1943), by Kikuchi Kan, stoically accepts news that her eldest son has died in a naval battle in the Pacific. Ten Thousand Cheers for the South Seas (Nanyô banzai, 1944), a dance play, was written by Kimura Tomiko to propagandize for the government's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitoa Kyoei Ken) policy.