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Pascal Griolet
Translated by Karen Grimwade

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1Issues 20 and 21 of Cipango, published respectively in 2013 and 2014, both explored the subject of Japan’s performing arts.

2Issue 20 focused on the performing arts during the modern period, in particular the confrontation between traditions and modernity as Japan opened up to the outside world.

3Jean‑Jacques Tschudin continued his work examining how Japan’s performing arts—in this case kabuki—were introduced to European audiences via the tours conducted by Kawakami Otojirō, Hanako and, most particularly, Tsutsui Tokujirō. Just as ukiyo‑e influenced Western painting, Japan’s performing arts inspired a wave of Japonism that invigorated Western aesthetics.

4Yet this cultural influence was not unidirectional. Ian McArthur revealed the extraordinary skill with which one Westerner—the Englishman Henry Black—mastered the techniques of the rakugo public storytellers to introduce stories, enigmas and scenes from nineteenth‑century Western literature into Tokyo’s theatres, with resounding success.

5Suzuki Seiko critically explored the reflections, from the Meiji period onwards, on whether Japan’s traditional arts—in this case gagaku—were compatible with modernity, showing how Japanese tradition and Western aesthetic theories were combined with the highly political aim of endowing Japan with a national culture it could be proud of, but which also served the country’s expansionist policy.

6The process Suzuki describes exactly mirrors the one presented in Suh Johng Wan’s analysis of early performances of nō in Korea just prior to the country’s colonisation.

7By retracing the history of Takarazuka, Claude Michel‑Lesne revealed the challenges of creating a national popular theatre and questioned the official history of the troupe as an all-girl revue right from its creation.

8Issue 20 was rounded out with a quasi-ethnographic description, chosen and translated by Pascal Griolet, of life for a travelling troupe of actors performing taishū engeki—a genre of popular theatre—in contemporary Japan. Finally, Takemoto Yoshio translated a series of short texts on theatre by contemporary stage directors Higashi Yutaka and Yū Miri.

9In contrast to issue 20 with its focus on the history of Japan’s performing arts during the modern period, issue 21 attempted to draw links between the classical, or “traditional”, form of these arts and more contemporary practices.

10Jean‑Michel Butel traced the history of folk research on the performing arts and questioned the pertinence of the approach taken to traditions. His paper introduces the translation of an article by Hashimoto Hiroyuki showing how folk performances have been restructured, or even recreated, to become the core of a supposedly traditional regional culture. Butel suggests that researchers abandon their “obsession with the historical authenticity of ‘traditional’ arts and instead consider the strategies adopted by actors in order to permanently re-create folk performances”.

11This need to constantly adapt was perfectly described by Catherine Delpuech in her paper on Hayachine kagura. Delpuech carefully distinguishes between the views of scholars—who see this performing art as immutable, impervious to outside influence, perfect and linked to mythology and history—and those of the performers who are in close contact with the public and thus permanently fighting the erosion of time.

12Chloé Viatte described the difficulties encountered in 2012 by a troupe attempting to adapt an ancient piece of puppet theatre, the seventeenth-century play Amida no munewari. Viatte describes in detail the staging of the play and how it evolved, underlining the constant need to adapt and innovate technically.

13As for Éric Dumont and Vincent Manigot, their work explored an entirely different realm, namely striptease in post-war Japan, which was exposed to the same staging dilemmas. Dumont and Manigot underlined the transitory nature of each performance, in that it held the promise of being followed by another, potentially more desirable one. The authors argue that this transition from the static “states” of the early nude shows to the succession of “steps” associated with stripping marked the appearance of a dramatic tension and opened up a “world of expectations”.

14Finally, performance analysis becomes a genuine object of reflection in Laïli Dor’s paper on the art of public calligraphy. Dor questions what future performance calligraphy might have when its strength is predicated on its being innovative.

15Issues 20 and 21 of Cipango thus analysed the modern and contemporary construction of Japan’s performing arts at a time when the country was engaged in forging a national culture and identity.

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Electronic reference

Pascal Griolet, « Introduction », Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies [Online], 5 | 2016, Online since 20 June 2019, connection on 12 April 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Pascal Griolet

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Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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