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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

SOAS author’s book chosen among the 100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan

Kabuki Heroes Book Cover

18 September 2008

Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage: 1780-1830 (British Museum Press/U. of Hawaii Press, 2005) by Prof Andrew Gerstle (co-author with T. Clark and A. Yano) was chosen by the Nippon Foundation in Japan to promote understanding of contemporary Japan. The comment on the book states:

‘Kabuki was, and remains, an actors’ theatre. The audience comes to see someone in a play more often than it comes to see the play itself. The phenomenon is familiar to us in our age of movie stars and pop-idols but it is not always remembered that Japan has long entertained a superstar concept. Kabuki actors have, from the inception of the drama, been a stimulus for actor-prints, for lavish albums, for single-sheet illustrations, all displaying the different ways in which actors and their performances were interpreted.

Such was the intention of the 2005 British Museum exhibition of which this volume is a reproduction of the catalogue. Most of the exhibits are here reproduced, along with authoritative texts, focusing on Kabuki culture in Osaka and Kyoto during the liveliest period of the adulation of the actors from around 1780 until the 1830s.

The creation of celebrity and fame is actually a statement about collective participation required by urban culture. In traditional Japan this included the stage, the art studio, the poetry salon and the fan club. We here recognize (some 300 woodblock print reproductions are included) our own obsession with celebrity and may realize that this is not merely a modern phenomenon.’

Japanese Imperialism: 1894-1945 (Clarendon Press, 1987) by William G. Beasley (1919-2006), who spent his career at SOAS as the first Professor of East Asian History, was also chosen among the 100 books.