Asakusa Opera By Fukushima, Yoshiko
Asakusa Opera is a form of modern Japanese popular entertainment which combines elements of musical theater, namely opera, operetta, US musicals, and sketch comedy such as variety shows and vaudeville. It achieved popularity in Asakusa, the major entertainment district of Tokyo during the Taisho period (1912–1926). The Japanese theater critic Ōzasa Yoshio regards the advent Asakusa Opera as the first sign that Japanese theater was being Americanized (1986: 98).
Takagi Tokuko’s successful performances in 1916, featuring songs and dances inspired by US American variety shows marked the birth of Asakusa Opera. Takagi had studied dance in New York City and performed in US and European cabarets before returning to Japan. Takagi played the role of a French officer in Female Troops Go to the Frontline (1917), a US-style musical comedy written and directed by Iba Takashi at Tokiwaza for Negishi Productions. The term “opera” was used by the Japan Opera Society for the first time when a “mixed-gender” girls’ opera was produced by Nishimoto Asaharu, choreographer of Evening in Venice (1916) at Takarazuka Girls Opera, and Suzuki Yasuyoshi, orchestra master in Takagi’s troupe. Meanwhile, Sassa Koka, the Nipponophone Company’s music producer formed the Tokyo Opera Theater and staged A Night at a Café (1917), an operetta he wrote at Nipponkan, the first opera theater in Asakusa. The play produced the hit “The Song of Croquette,” originally composed by Masuda Tarōkaja for his comic opera Which Way? which van at the Imperial Theater in 1917.