The Tokugawa shoguns had ruled for the entire Edo period (1603 to 1868) and in theory they ruled for the Emperor but in reality they held all the power. The Edo period been quite prosperous and this had seen a shift in society and a growth in the power of the merchant classes. People who had been near the bottom of the strict class structure now had money and influence – and they wanted more of it. Since the 1850s Japan had also been under increasing pressure from outside its borders to open up and trade with the West – particularly the United States and the European powers. This pressure eventually culminated in the Boshin War – effectively, the Japanese Civil War – between the old-guard Tokugawa shogunate and the new Imperial Court backed forces.
I cannot find much about this play but it no doubt tells the story of the Battle of Ueno, which was one of the most significant battles around Edo, the seat of the shogunate forces. The result of this battle was a win for the Imperial forces and soon after the war was won and 265 years of the Tokugawa shogunate was over.
The following extract has been taken from “Customs of the Meiji Period and Kabuki’s War Dramas” by Akira Kamiyama, Translated by Joseph Ryan. Comparative Theatre Review Vol.11 No.1 (English Issue) March 2012.
Takeshiba Kisui’s Satsuki bare Ueno no asakaze (The Morning Wind of Clear Ueno Sky) debuted in [May] Meiji 23 (1890), scheduled alongside the Third National Industrial Promotion Exposition, which was held in the very same Ueno locale as the Battle of Ueno. Its war scenes using actual fire and water drew considerable attention, and a scene at a goldish vendor involved drawing actual water at a well and releasing real goldish to swim in a pond. It all was enough to make Miki Takeji(69) say, “to simply plug my ears and watch the burning building with my eyes and smell the gunpowder with my nose… I was impressed almost to the point of tears at the work of these realists” (Miki 1896).
Of particular interest, however, is that the last act is set in the exhibition venue with the “electric light pole.” The play’s watari-zerifu(70) include one claiming “to inform our nation’s people of the improvement in our fortunes” and another stating that “the brick-house proclamation is a blindfold to hide the dirty town from view”; Chōkichi of Aizu,(71) a member of the Shōgitai(72) who had refused to cut his topknot, delivers a speech in which he decides to do it. Furthermore, the final curtain is lowered at the tinkle of a Western-style hand-bell in accord with the announcement of the play’s closing time. Although the scene was set in Ueno, site of the graves of the Tokugawa house, which normally resonated with the gongs of the large bells of Kan’ei Temple and Asakusa Temple, a bell was no longer used to announce the
hour. This exhibition scene, a veritable consummation of zangiri visual and auditory effects, also signified the demise of those functions that zangiri had borne. To say something of the changing milieu, contemporary to the Exposition (considerable enough itself to have been adopted as a location in Satsuki bare Ueno no asakaze was the Ueno panorama house, whose indelible impression can be understood by Kikugorō’s appropriation of it as a landmark in his autobiography in his recounting of his trek to see the Battle of Ueno in person. The realism and palpable force felt by contemporary viewers of panoramas garnered a great deal of popularity particularly during the age when they featured wartime themes. Additionally, as panoramas began to be replaced by the spread of photographs and, after the Russo-Japanese War, by the new entertainment of moving pictures, the people’s visual perception greatly changed. This naturally came to affect the eyes of theatregoers and the consciousness of actors.
(69) Representative theatre critic of the Meiji period. 1867-1908. Younger brother of Mori Ôgai, the famous novelist, critic, and translator of a modernizing Japan.
(70) Literally passed-on dialogue, in which the characters speak lines antiphonally.
(71) Province in northern Japan that ended up on the losing side of the 1868 revolution (modern Fukushima Prefecture).
(72) Name of the troops that supported the former Tokugawa regime during the 1868 revolution (Battle of Ueno).
Some other prints found online
|応需 香朝楼筆 ( [3代目] 歌川 国貞 )