enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Shinpa” (新派; new school) refers to a form of theatre that emerged during the Meiji period (1868–1912) in opposition to the more traditional “kabuki”, which it dubbed “kyuha” (旧派; old school) or “kyugeki” (旧劇; old theatre). The roots of “shinpa” are contentious, but they are often traced back to the radical agitprop-like plays called “soshi shibai” (壮士芝居), which were promoted by Sudo Sadanori and Kawakami Otojiro.

Whereas political subversion was the dominant element in Sudo and Kawakami’s “shinengeki” (新演劇; new theatre), the plays of another dramatist, Ii Yoho, were more art oriented and less political. In 1891, Ii founded a troupe called Danjo Godo Kairyo Engeki Seibikan (男女合同改良演劇済美館) in Azumaza (a theatre in Asakusa, Tokyo). “Shinpa” reached its heyday around the turn of the century. During this time, actors like Takada Minoru, Kitamura Rokuro, and Kawai Takeo were examining new theatrical possibilities, such as dramatising serial novels published in newspapers, staging Chikamatsu “ningyo joruri” plays, and establishing artistic styles that deviated from “kabuki”. These efforts led to the debut performances of several outstanding plays, including “Konjiki Yasha” (金色夜叉) and “Hototogisu” (不如帰). During the Taisho period (1912–1926), Ii, Kawai, and Kitamura collaborated and became known as the ‘three giants of “shinpa”’. Then, in 1931, the play “Futasuji Michi” (二筋道) became a hit. In 1938, Hanayagi Shotaro formed a new troupe called Shinsei Shinpa (新生新派), in which Kawaguchi Matsutaro acted as manager. The “shinpa” movement then fragmented into different factions; there was the original troupe (led by Kitamura, among others), Inoue Masao’s Inoue Engeki Dojo (井上演劇道場), and Mizutani Yaeko’s Geijutsuza (芸術座). Following the Second World War, these factions merged into Gekidan Shinpa (劇団新派) and the troupe continues to this day.

Falling somewhere in between traditional “kabuki” and the more modern “shingeki”, “shinpa” took its materials and subject matter from popular customs, sentiments, and social conditions. Consequently, it vividly reflected the historic currents of the Meiji and Taisho periods, including the conflict between the morals of the past and the morals of the new age, the shift in people’s values, and the emotional reactions of those who felt threatened by such changes. One notable element of “shinpa” is that it featured female characters played by men, which reflected the influence of the “onnagata” in “kabuki”; the difference, however, was that “shinpa” sought to portray the female characters more realistically. In this way, “shinpa” became instrumental in the rise of women actors in Japanese film and contemporary theatre.

Note: On the panels, as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.