enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


The History of the Children’s Theatre in Museum Pieces: The Birth and Development of ‘Otogi Shibai’ in the first half of the 20th Century

  Children’s theatre in Japan (dramatic works created and performed by professionals/adults for an audience of children) was at its inception influenced by the concept of the ‘child’ that was created by modern thought, juvenile literature, and children’s theatre that was prevalent in Europe. Specifically, Ukare-kokyu (‘The Floating Bow’) and Kitsune-no-saiban (‘The Trial of the Fox’), which were performed to great acclaim by Otojiro Kawakami and his troupe at the Hongoza Theatre in October 1903, were the start of children’s theatre. Thereafter, Otogi Shibai, as children’s theatre was known in Japan at the time, spread to society at large through the founding in 1906 of the Otogi Gekidan, which was the first theatre company in Japan that specialised in productions for children, as well as performances of children’s dramas at Yuraku-za Kodomo-no-Hi (‘Children’s Day at the Yuraku-za Theatre’: 1909–1920) and the Katei-Goraku-Kai (‘Family Amusement Association’) at the Imperial Theatre (1916–1928) and performances of children’s dramas by the Takarazuka Women’s Review (the predecessor of the present-day Takarazuka Review) between 1914 and 1930.
  In the 1920s, Otogi Shibai came to be referred to as Dowa-Geki (‘Fairy Tale Theatre’) as a result of the influence of an idea known as doshin-shugi (‘the theory of the heart of a child’), which was derived from the children’s magazine Akai Tori (‘Red Bird’: in publication 1918–1936). These plays marked a shift from the morality plays of feudal times to drama that was based on civil society. The theatrical production by Minshu-za (Public Theatre) in 1920 under the name ‘A Fairy Tale Play’ of L'Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird) written by Maurice Maeterlinck is an example of this. During this period, Kaoru Osanai, a playwright and performer who had been influenced by the theatre in Europe, actively began to create and perform children’s plays at the Kosuzume-za and Tsukiji Shogeki-jo theatres.
  In the 1930s, a number of widely varied children’s theatre companies emerged. First among these was the Gekidan Todo. Others included the Asano Children’s Theatre School, Teatro Piccolo, and the Wakaba Children’s Theatre Company. During this period, Japanese society was experiencing a serious economic crisis and social unrest. As a result, those involved in the creation of children’s dramas focused more on the importance of presenting ‘truth’ than they did on ‘dreams’ and ‘beauty’. This signified their preference when creating their plays for a realism that emphasised actual circumstances, which led in turn to the idea of a children’s theatre characterised by realism. On the basis of this idea, children were cast in children’s roles and adults in adult roles, and children and adults performed on the same stage.
  As Japan entered the 1940s, the influence of World War II led to a shift toward increased regulation of children’s literature and toward the goal of promoting active cooperation in the war effort. This shift is exemplified by the establishment in 1941 of the Nihon Shokokumin Bunka Kyokai (‘Japan Association of Children’s Culture’) and the Shokokumin Engeki Kyoshitsu (‘Children’s Theatre School’).