Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 1 March 2008

Fujiko (1883-1912),
Anglo-Japanese actress and dancer



(photo: Dover Street Studios, London, 1905)

'Mme. Fuji-ko, who has already met with considerable success in America, is to make her first professional appearance in this country in the autumn, presenting a "pictorial monologue" - a Japanese playlet in English. Mr. Yoshio Markino, the Japanese artist who assisted Mr. Tree in the production of The Darling of the Gods, is painting special scenery and preparing special effects for her.'
(The Sketch, London, Wednesday, 23 August 1905, p.211)

'Fuji-ko, the well-known Japanese actress, has written, and will shortly perform, a one-act "dreamplay," the main feature of which is an extraordinary series of illusions or visions.
'The theme of the play is the doctrine of "nirvana," believed in by Buddhists. According to this doctrine the soul, after death, and after passing through a variety of phases, finally becomes "nirvana," or a "drop in the ocean," that is, it loses all individuality and becomes a part of the universal soul.
'Fuji-Ko, whose name literally translated signifies "The Lady of the Wisterias," says of the play:
'"It is called The Love of a Geisha. The scene represents a Japanese 'sohji,' or little house. The geisha comes in an her thoughts wonder away to the events of her past life. She sleeps, and before her rise the dream visions.
'"I cannot describe the visions, but they will be absolutely different from anything ever seen before in the western world. The Japanese artist, Yoshio Markino, has arranged them.
'"The beautiful eastern belief that the bodies of soldiers who are killed on the field of battle arise again will be the basis of vision [sic]. A battlefield on which the bodies of dead soldiers are lying, is seen. Suddenly a silver bugle sounds, and from the still forms spirits arise and follow the call of the bugle."
'Fuji-Ko speaks English perfectly. She has spent nine years of her life in America, and graduated from an American college.'
(Des Moines Daily News, Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday, 3 June 1906, p.11c)

'Japanese Actress Here [in New York].
'Fuji-ko, the Japanese actress, arrived in new York last week on the steamer Minnehaha. according to her manager, she left London literally at an hour's notice. She was rehearsing at the Empire in London, preparatory to her appearance there, when she learned of the serious illness of a friend in New York. She had just time to dispatch a dozen telegrams and reach the boat. Fuji-ko will remain here until the Fall now, and before her return to Europe will be seen in her one-act play, The Love of a Geisha, which is said to be an embodied idea of the doctrine of Nirvana, an idea never before dramatically illustrated in the Western world.'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 4 August 1906, p.9d)

'FUJI-KO, the little "Lady of the Wistarias," is winning her way into New York society and is now much in demand as an entertainer. She has also played professional engagements both here and in England. But Fuji-Ko says it has been hard, up-hill work, this fight to make Western civilization appreciate Eastern dramatic art. At times she almost wishes she had never left Japan to learn the ways of the Occident, and ever, when the sky seems darkest and her heart wavers, she longs with a homesick longing for the quaint and beautiful land of chrysanthemums. Next Summer for the first time since FukiKo set sail fro the far Western lands she will make a trip to the country of plum and cherry blossoms.
'"I must go home once more," says FujiKo. "I feel that I must go back to Japan for fresh inspiration."
'In spite of more than a decade spent in Europe and America FujiKo cannot draw inspiration from art and civilization of the West.
'"There is a big, big difference," says FujiKo. "It will be many, many years before the people of the West and the people of the East see things alike - and feel things in the same way."
'FujiKo, it must be understood, embraces in her own being the combination of the East and the West, for her mother was Japanese and her father was English. But she was reared in the Japanese atmosphere and the Japanese personality predominates. Clad in her favorite Japanese garb - which is her favorite garb today and always will be - she looks entirely like a true daughter of Nippon. She speaks Japanese with an accent that must be all-entrancing for those who understand the meaning. But in her English garments she can never conceal the trace of Oriental blood; and her English speech, pure and irreproachable though her grammar is, she cannot quite obliterate the wistful gentleness of Oriental sound and the oddity of Oriental inability to pronounce some of our harsh Occidental syllables.
'The Inevitable Fan.
'FujiKo sat in her snug little apartment before an open fire and chatted about things of the West and things of the East. She had been visiting and still wore her European garments. And yet, when the fire became a little hot in her face, she instinctively reached for a fan, which she opened with one twist of the wrist in native Japanese fashion to protect her from the heat.
'"when I was born in Japan," said FujiKo, "the English people and the Japanese people did not mingle as they now do. So when my mother became the bride of an Englishman her family thought she had done something which was almost a disgrace to her race - which was a very nice race indeed - and the English people thought the same thing about the white man who had married a Japanese woman. This made it that things were not always as they might have been.
'''My mother brought me up just like a little Japanese girl - until she died. Then I must go to England. So to England I went and there I attended what I think you would call a girls' college - which is why I speak English so well, and there is nothing surprising in it. For it is long since I left Japan. It is now thirteen years - and I am weary and would like to go back there once again.
'''I came to American for the first time about eight years ago. Then I went back to England, and now I am here once more. In England I did my little Japanese plays and Japanese songs and dances in an engagement at the Criterion Theatre, London, and in many entertainments for the people high in society. As I had been much to the theatre in Japan, so I have been much to the theatre both in England and America. I have played with English and American companies, especially in such productions as The Mikado, and so I know the ways of the Western stage. But still I love and cling to the Japanese idea of art, for it is more delicate.
'The Stage in Japan.
'''Of course it is all a matter of opinion. You like things one way on the stage in America and we like them another way in Japan. You want all the things so real - and we want them all so idealized and so beautiful. And I like them best as they do them in Japan.
'''Here, for instance, you make a moon so real and so big that it is for me almost impossible to believe that it is not truly a real moon in the heaven. But this moon will travel across the whole sky in half an hour - which is not like a real moon at all. In Japan we do not have these real moons, but things that suggest more than they say; many exquisite and delicate details that do not fit New York or English ideas. And I, for my part do not love the real moons at all!
'''Here in America you have so many, many people to make a play to be put on the stage. Worst of all, you have that terrible creature, the stage manager. In Japan there is no stage manager. No good author would trust any one but himself to express the thoughts which he has created.
'''suppose that you went to a Japanese dramatist and asked him to tell you about his new play. He might have his secretary read passages of it aloud to you. Then, so you would understand it all more clearly, he would himself draw you the pictures of the various scenes as the reading went on and explain what the people did and where they were and what was the meaning of everything.
'''When a Japanese dramatist has written a play he will draw all the scenes and color them. He will even say just what clothes the men and the women are to wear at every moment and just what the materials must be. For in Japan all these minute details have meanings, and it may be very important even in what manner a girl has her hair done. There is some special significance for everything.



(photo: unknown, circa 1905)

'''The dramatist may even say just what the decoration must be on the fan of the leading character - and, perhaps, if the fan is important, he will draw a picture of it. He also takes charge of the rehearsing and tells the leading man in the company just how all things must be performed. And he gives directions even to the carpenters.
'''And the scenery - that is so very, very important that the dramatist paints it with his own hands!
'''The Japanese plays tell legends of the land and strange stories and often have witches and spirits in them. They reflect the history and incidents and characteristics of heroic old Japan. They sometimes are very strong; and they are always most delicately beautiful, all like ideals and dreams. The greatest of the Japanese playwrights was Fukunchi. And the drama in Japan is most extremely and honorably old. For it began many hundreds and hundreds of years ago, with the ancient No Dance.
'Real Japanese Theatre.
'''You see that I speak only of the real Japanese theatre that is native to the country; not of some European ideas that may have been introduced since I left, not of the regular Western theatres in some of the places where there are large European colonies. I speak of the real Japanese theatre in which the people sit Japanese fashion in little compartments, each surrounded by a kind of low little rail - each a kind of 'box'.
'''Some of these real old Japanese plays will begin at 10 o'clock in the morning and will last until 11 o'clock at night! There is a kind of tea garden in connection with the theatre where you guy your tickets, and where you arrange for refreshments. Of course all of the plays are not so long and much of the time in the plays is taken up in pantomime and dancing and in doing things as they do them in actual life. For instance, you don't generally find long times supposed to have elapsed between the acts. On the programme of an English play you will find 'four days later.' In Japan they would act out all that took place in those four days.
'''The players memorize their lines - though they have a prompter, of course, to make sure not to have trouble. But they do not necessarily learn their lines word for word exactly as they do here. They are not bound so close to what is written, for they are all artists and they understand the art. I do not mean that they do not follow the text or that they say anything they like; only the great actors have always been allowed to improvise. As they are such artists they improvise beautifully and in the right manner.
'There is one thing in the Japanese theatre which is always for the foreigner very funny. It is so funny that I am afraid you would not be polite if you saw it, and would laugh right out. It is even funny for me, when I think of it from the Western point of view.
'''This funny thing is a little fellow called the Kurumango, whose business it is to help take care of things on the stage while the play is going on. Everything must be exact, and so the Japanese think they must have these people. If you are polite and Japanese, you simply pretend that you don't see them - and so then, for you, they aren't there at all!
'''For instance, if the great actor has a dress with a train and wants to turn around, he does not kick it out behind like an American star. The little Kurumango runs out and with one deft motion fixes it with all the folds in precisely the right form, Then at night sometimes there may not be light enough from the lanterns on the face of the actor. So the Kurumango runs out with a torch and holds it up so that the light falls in just the right way! This is the old Japanese idea of a spotlight.
'''When I was a girl at home and went to the theatre all I could, for always I loved the stage and wanted to be an actress, the greatest of all the actors was Danjuro, who died only a few years ago. He played male roles sometimes, but he was especially famous in women's parts. Absolutely you could not tell from his voice or his walk or anything that he was not a woman. Until very recently, you know, all the women's parts in Japan were played by men and boys - as they once were in England. I think it is not ore than fifteen years since there were the first actresses in Japan. It must be remembered that the Geisha is not an actress at all, but just a dancer and entertainer I the tea houses and such places.
'''When I go home to Japan this Summer, I shall be sorry, very sorry, if I find things much changed. You see, the Japanese way if very beautiful, most ideal and I love it so.
'''As I said before, it is all a matter of opinion and I do not like the real moon and the electric signs in front of the theatres. I like the little Kurumango and the lanterns in the night-time, and the gay flags and streamers telling all about the entertainment within.''
'Fuji-Ko, among other things, is trying to get a hearing in America for the real Japanese play, translated and altered in construction, but real in all its essential atmosphere. For instance, she had written a one-act piece founded on one of the oldest and most honored dramas in the East. This piece she calls The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima. The story it tells is of a magic cat, which, like such creatures in Japanese legend, takes the form of a woman and works havoc in the household. After she has slain the lord of the house she is finally killed herself by a faithful young warrior who keeps himself from falling under her evil spell by forcing a sword into his own thigh. Thus he revenges his master, for, by the expression of the woman's face, he has guessed she is a vampire. All her caresses cannot lead him astray from the path of duty.
'A Dramatic Incident.
'Another Japanese incident in drama, which Bronson Howard recently mentioned at the greatest melodramatic scene in history, may be told in a few words: A girl, in terror, comes on the stage and then vanishes. She is pursued. The scene in the rear is a rice field. There is a pause. Then comes a smothered cry - and, in following silence, the tall rice stalks wave, showing where the body of the woman must have fall to mother earth. There is only the waving of the rice stalks - and nothing more.
'The ending of another tragedy, which Mr. Howard cited with equal respect as the highest attainment along aesthetic lines, is yet more unique. A young man has been condemned to hari-kari. The last act shows only a plum tree on the stage. One by one the petals of the blossoms drop to the ground.
'''Imagine an American audience with the poetry to appreciate such a scene as that!'' said Mr. Howard, as he described it.'
(The New York Times, New York, Sunday, 10 May 1908, p.X3)

' Fuji-Ko, the Japanese pantomimic dancer, playing in New York in The Vampire Cat, is about to publish a book on the folk lore of Japan.'
(Semi Weekly Reporter, Waterloo, Iowa, Wednesday, 26 November 1908, p.2d)

* * * * * * * *

Return to home page

© John Culme, 2008