Kawatake Mokuami (1816–1893) By Wetmore, Kevin
A playwright at the end of the Edo period and throughout much of the Meiji period, Kawatake Mokuami wrote over 360 plays during his fifty-year career which saw the advent of modernized kabuki and new dramaturgies to reflect changing Japanese culture at the end of the 19th century.
Born Yoshimura Shinshichi, Mokuami (as he was commonly called after his retirement in the 1880s) was kicked out of the family home for associating with geishas. He began to study dance, which led him to kabuki. He became a student of the Edo era playwright Tsuruya Nanboku V and rapidly began writing shiranami mono [robber plays] that were popular in the mid-19th century.
Following the Meiji Restoration, Mokuami began to innovate and develop new techniques in kabuki dramaturgy, finding source material in contemporary novels, newspapers, and Western literature in translation. Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838–1903) announced in 1872 at the opening of the Shintomi-za that he would “clean away the decay” that had infected kabuki, and reform and modernize it. He subsequently asked Mokuami to develop dramas that would reflect the new modern Japan to be performed by the kabuki. Mokuami began to write katsureki mono , “living history” plays. One of the first was Kōmon-ki osana kōshaku [The Story of Komon, a Lecture for Youth] (1877), which caused a scandal because of accusations of libel.