Accepted paper:

Early Modern Theatre Teahouses and Theatre-Goers


Tove Bjoerk (Saitama University)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, the business strategies of early modern theatre teahouses will be analyzed based on diary records from the mid-Edo period. I will show not only that wealthy spectators were targeted by the teahouses, but also how they were fundamental to Kabuki's development as a stage art.

Paper long abstract:

During the Edo period, visitors to the Kabuki theatres reserved their seats not at the theatres themselves, but at affiliated teahouses, which also catered to every need of the spectators. This paper will analyze the function and business strategies of these establishments, and their influence on the development of Kabuki. The performing arts and the gastronomy business have long common historical roots in Japan. When the first permanent Kabuki theatres were erected along the Shijō road in Kyoto, it was no chance that this happened in an area in which there already existed many teahouses catering to the temple visitors at the Yasaka shrine. The theatre teahouses were first venues for the Kabuki actors' prostitution, but gradually started catering food and drink within the theatres too. In the 1680s, the teahousues organized themselves into guilds, and after the Ejima-Ikushima Scandal in 1714 (Shōtoku 4), which led to the imposition of strict rules on the teahouses, the catering side of the service was increasingly stressed. By the end of the 19th century, theatre-goers had to book box seats through the teahouses, and occationally they controlled all seats of the entire theatre. However, despite the teahouses' pivotal role in the economic network surrounding the kabuki theatres, very little is known about them. In this presentation, I will discuss the business strategies of Kabuki theatre teahouses on the basis of the diaries of kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō II (1688-1758), who was one of the most influential actors in the history of Kabuki, and the Kabuki lover feudal lord Yanagisawa Nobutoki (1724-1792). These diaries describe in detail how the theatre teahouses managed the contacts between the customers and the actors, and also how the theater teahouses canvassed for the support of wealthy customers. By analysing these historical records, I hope to clarify the role of the theatre teahouses, not only to the development of Kabuki itself, but how they helped establishing the social and economic significance of Kabuki in early modern Japanese society.

panel S4b_01
Kabuki and Its Spectators: The Theatrical Experience in Edo- and Meiji Period Japan