Engeki Kairyō Kai By Zheng, Guohe
Engeki Kairyō Kai [Theater Reform Society] was a quasi-government agency and a forerunner of the modernist movement in Japanese theater. From its early days, the Meiji government adopted an ambivalent and self-contradictory policy toward theater. On the one hand, it continued the Tokugawa period censorship which deemed theater to be subversive or otherwise “injurious to public morals”; on the other hand, it wanted theatre to help to promote its nation-building programs to make Japan an equal of the Western powers. The latter aspect of the policy was prompted in part by the surprising discovery of Meiji leaders during their tour of the West that theater was part of the high culture in the West and was suitable entertainment for the upper classes and visiting foreign dignitaries. Kabuki caught the attention of Meiji leaders as a potential Japanese counterpart to Western drama. The desire of Meiji leaders coincided with the indigenous modernist efforts to reform this traditional performing art to suit the needs of the times, particularly those of Morita Kan’ya XII (1846–1897), actor and manager of an important kabuki family line who had connections with government officials. It is this coincidence that led to the creation of Engeki Kairyō Kai, launched in August 1886 following the proposal of Suematsu Norizumi (1855–1920), journalist-turned-politician and son-in-law of Itō Hirobumi, Japan’s first prime minister, who offered his own endorsement. Its founders included Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru, Education Minister Mori Arinori, business leader Shibusawa Eiichi, and the influential scholars Yoda Gakkai and Fukuchi Ōchi.