Othello in Tokyo: Performing Patriarchy, Race, and Empire in 1903 Japan
Robert Tierney, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 A literary event can continue to have an effect only if those who come after it still or once again respond to it—if there are readers who again appropriate the past work or authors who want to imitate, outdo or refute it.
Hans Robert Jauss,
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In 1903, the play Othello was performed for the first time on a stage in Japan, a non-Western empire in East Asia. As was common practice in the early 20th century, the play was adapted rather than translated into Japanese: the characters were given Japanese names, the action moved to the present, and the setting shifted from Venice and Cyprus to Japan and Taiwan. In addition, the protagonist was described as a member of Japan’s outcaste group (burakumin), a transposition of Othello’s “racial” identity into a Japanese context. In short, this localized production of Shakespeare’s play, titled Osero, focused on East Asia, not Europe, the early twentieth century, not the sixteenth. Scholars have shown that the earliest Shakespeare adaptations performed in Japan contributed to the formation of a Japanese national identity both modeled upon and differentiated from that of the West.  In this article, I argue that the 1903 Osero performs Japan’s new identity as an emerging colonial empire less than a decade after Japan acquired its first colony.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Kawakami Otojirō (1864-1911), the director of Osero, lacked any formalized training as an actor, but he nevertheless played a crucial part in creating Japan’s modern theater. He began his career as a political militant and a performer in sōshi shibai, the theater of stalwart youth, a popular performing art in the late 19th century period pioneered by Sudō Sadanori, an activist in the Freedom Party (Jiyuuto).  He became famous for his 1891 solo performances in a musical ballad form that one recent scholar has likened to rap music.  His best-known hit from this period, titled Oppekepebushi, a string of nonsense syllables that imitate the sound of a bugle, is a lampoon of contemporary social and political events. Kawakami subsequently staged political plays in the spirit of the opposition Freedom and People’s Rights Movement such as Itagaki kun Sōnan Jikki (Authentic Record of the Assassination Attempt on Mr. Itagaki), a work based on the attempt against Itagaki Taisuke, the head of the Freedom Party, and Saga Bōdōki, (Report on the Riots in Saga), a play about the rebellion of samurai in Saga domain against the Meiji government.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 After starting as a performer in political skits that ridiculed the government, Kawakami made a major public breakthrough with a series of war plays produced after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).  The best known of these plays, “The Wondrous and Magnificent Sino-Japanese War,” had its debut at the Asakusa Theater only two weeks after the declaration of war. Kawakami triumphed over his rivals in the theatrical world by creating a play that simulated the sights and sounds of the battlefield. His play not only featured a naval battle that was staged “realistically” with fireworks and electrical machinery, but it also included the singing of military songs and musical accompaniment by the bugle. Accordingly, it succeeded in affording to the audience a vicarious experience of battle and in conveying the excitement of war.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 By contrast, Kawakami’s chief rivals, the leading Kabuki troupes, failed in their endeavors to mount a successful war play. After the outbreak of the war, kabuki theaters in Tokyo and Osaka rushed to respond to Kawakami’s challenge; Fukuchi Ōchi, the most celebrated playwright of his day, wrote Flag of the Rising Sun, Always Victorious on Land and Sea, a play that featured the renowned kabuki actors Dan’jurō and Kikugorō.  These plays were commercial failures both because of their esthetic stylization of battle scenes and their perceived effeminacy and lack of military spirit. Over the long term, the popular success of Kawakami’s war plays signified the triumph of Westernized and upstart theater troupes on the Japanese stage in creating spectacles that responded to the demands of the time. From the 1890s, Kabuki ceased to be the vibrant and up-to-date popular theater that dramatized current events in Japanese society, a role that it played since it was founded in the 17th century, and became instead a staid, classical, and traditional form of drama like the older Noh Theater. Kawakami’s success not only launched a fad for war plays but it also heralded the triumph of upstart shinpa theater troupes, which began to draw audiences away from Kabuki theaters.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Accompanied by his wife Sadayakko, Japan’s first modern actress, Kawakami led his theater troupe on three tours of Europe and the U.S. between the years 1898 and 1902. His troupe performed shows inspired by kabuki, including one called The Geisha and the Samurai, in major theaters in Western cities and at the Paris World Exposition, self-orientalizing spectacle that sparked a wave of fascination for Japan’s performing and visual arts among leading artists in the West. After returning to Japan, however, he became an outspoken champion for the reform of Japanese theatrical traditions that was modeled after the contemporary theatres of Western nations. As an illustration of his new conceptions, he staged three of Shakespeare’s plays in 1903: Othello, Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. These performances were historical on more than one ground. They were not only the first truly popular performances of Shakespeare’s plays in Japan but also the earliest works to be performed in Western-style proscenium theater. In addition, they were the first to feature actresses, while they eliminated the role of the narrator, music and dance, all vital and obligatory features of Japanese traditional theater.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 3 For Othello, Kawakami chose the recent translation by Tozawa Koya (1873-1955) and he commissioned Emi Suiin (1869-1934), a popular writer affiliated with the Kenyūsha literary association who had achieved fame with his war stories published in the newspaper Chūō Shinbun, to adapt the play to the circumstances of contemporary Japan. Emi retained the title Osero for the play since a foreign-sounding title gave the work a certain cachet, but this title no longer coincided with the name of the protagonist. In Emi’s adaptation, Muro Washirō (Othello), a Japanese general, secretly weds Tomone (Desdemona), the daughter of count Fura Banjō (Brabantio), without obtaining the consent of her father. As Fura is about to assault Washirō, the Prime Minister Uenishi (The Duke of Venice) asks Washirō to lead an expedition to Taiwan and crush a rebellion in which foreign powers are implicated. He asks him to stay on as the new colonial governor of the colony, where Tomone soon joins him. Iya Gōzō (Iago), a subordinate officer who bears a grudge against Washirō, tricks the latter into believing that his wife, Tomone, is having an affair with the handsome officer Katsu Yoshio (Cassio). After the drunken Katsu disgraces himself at a banquet and loses his position as Washirō’s adjutant, Tomone intercedes with her husband to have Katsu reinstated, inflaming her husband’s suspicions. Falling into Iya Gōzō’s meticulously prepared trap, Washirō murders Tomone in a fit of jealousy, and, after realizing his mistake, he kills himself, calling himself an ignorant “savage” no better than the “raw savages” of Taiwan. At the end of the play, Katsu’s men execute Iya by firing squad, in an explosion of poetic justice.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 As this summary suggests, Emi freely altered the characters’ names, place names, and the time period of Othello when he adapted it to Meiji Japan. His adaptation, however, differs from earlier Shakespeare productions that domesticated Shakespeare plays and forced his into the pre-existing conventions of the Kabuki theater, notably by erasingand eliminating all of their foreign elements. In 1885, the journalist Bunkai Udagawa published an adaptation of the Merchant of Venice that Genzō (Hikizō) Katsu dramatized for the stage. The theatrical adaptation, titled Sakuradoki zeni no yo no naka (Money Talks in a World in which Cherry Blossoms Are in Bloom), was performed many times over the next decade in kabuki theaters in Osaka and Tokyo. Set in Osaka, Japan’s merchant capital during the late Edo period, Money Talks has subplots absent from the original and features a variety of stock characters familiar to kabuki theater fans: a greedy moneylender, venal officials, self-sacrificing friends, and filial children. If the play has a clear moral message, it derived more from Buddha’s mercy rather than from Christian charity; the theme of anti-Semitism vanished completely from the new play. The audience for the play probably thought that they were watching a typical sewamono or domestic play.  One could say that at this particular stage of Shakespeare’s introduction in Japan, consideration for the Japanese spectator trumped every other consideration.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 1 Whereas Money Talks domesticates Shakespeare by for example turning which Shylock into an Edo period moneylender, Osero is far more faithful to the plot of Othello, and carefully selects Japanese equivalents for the dramatic elements that constitute the play. Emi also wrote a play in the Western style, and retained most of the dramatis personae of the source work. Indeed, Osero is a real appropriation of the Shakespearean tragedy that turns the original into a Japanese play about the Japanese empire.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In his production of Osero, Kawakami used Western stagecraft and acting styles and he called the new theater seigeki or “straight theater,” borrowing a term first coined by the writer Mori Ogai to distinguish drama (seigeki) based on spoken dialogue from musical theater or opera (kageki). By the same term Kawakami meant both spoken drama that dispensed with elements of song and dance and drama performed in a “naturalistic” acting style.  Osero was offered to the Japanese audience as a model of “straight theater” and an early prototype of what would later become modern theater. For example, Kawakami sought to produce a realistic staging and setting of the play. To ensure that the stage set was realistic, he visited an island in the Pescadores, where part of the play is set, just as he had earlier crossed the Genkainada Straits in 1894 to gather material on the war-torn Korean peninsula for his war plays. Kawakami discovered that Thieves’ Island (Kippoto) in the Pescadores, was a desolate place of wild seas and steep rock faces, and he insisted the stage designer for Osero who had prepared an island with lush vegetation and palm trees redo the set.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 To be sure, Kawakami violated the spirit of his ideal of “straight theater” when he included the Crane and Tortoise (Tsurukame) dance performance by Ichikawa Kumehachi in the banquet scene of Osero. Indeed, to judge by contemporary press accounts, audiences responded most enthusiastically to such scenes as well as to the Western settings and lighting effects, but they were bored by “naturalistic” acting style of the performers. Since Japanese spectators were accustomed to the stylized speech and performance of Kabuki actors, they found nothing especially natural about “naturalistic” acting and were taken aback by the long soliloquies of the actors.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Besides seeking to educate audiences in the appreciation of Westernized theater, Kawakami doubtless saw benefits in launching his seigeki theater with Shakespeare. In effect, his choice testifies to the symbolic capital embodied in England’s greatest playwright and poet, a capital that had little to do with literature per se. Andrew Gerstle notes that “the 19th century Japanese elite accepted the genius of Shakespeare long before they knew anything about the works themselves, mainly because of the power of the British navy.” By performing Shakespeare on a Japanese stage, Kawakami appropriated and used this capital both to distinguish his acting troupe from his rivals and to improve the social status of actors. Whereas during the Edo period, actors were classified among the outcasts, they became commoners in the Meiji period, although this legal change did not transform them overnight into respectable members of society. By performing Shakespeare in Japan, Kawakami hoped free them from the taint of marginality and vagrancy. As one journalist put it, “He sought by his own powers to make a great reform of the Japanese theater and to bring the actors, previously despised as eta and hinin [names of outcast groups], closer to the imperial institution.” To be sure, some critics questioned whether a parvenu like Kawakami had any right to appropriate Shakespeare and to perform his plays in Japan. Tsubouchi Shōyō, who later translated all of Shakespeare into Japanese, condemned Osero as a betrayal of Shakespeare and he viewed the performance as a form of usurpation.
Performing Gender and Modern Patriarchy
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 “Straight” drama also implied a new politics of gender and, specifically, an alignment of gender with biological sex, as Ayako Kano argues in her analysis of the career of Kawakami Sadayakko. Since the 1880s, a crucial tenet in all reform projects for the Japanese theater was the training of a new breed of professional performer, the actress. Actresses had been banned from performing in public theaters since the Tokugawa regime outlawed women’s kabuki in 1629 because officials alleged that they were linked to prostitution and incited public disturbances. The roles of female characters in kabuki were traditionally acted by onnagata, cross-dressed males who specialized in female parts. In 1886, Toyama Masakazu argued that the institution of the onnagata was outmoded and no longer appropriate for an emerging modern state. “While male performers play the role of women, they cannot create a refined theater. Since men are not women, they cannot express women’s emotions, much less the body of the mistress and the bride. Male performers cannot express the abusive stepmother and the jealous woman.”  By comparison with the onnagata, Toyama held that an actress would offer a more convincing likeness of a mistress, a bride, a stepmother or a jealous woman, if not of every possible female roles. Reflecting these new values, the Tokyo police issued a regulation in 1890 that permitted men and women to perform on the Azumaza stage, while noting that foreigners would ridicule the “extremely licentious custom of men dressing as women.” 
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In his reformed theater, Kawakami “straightened” gender roles by having actresses perform female roles, but they initially shared the stage with traditional cross-dressing males. In Osero, for example, the role of Biwako was played by an onnagata. After making her début as an actress in the US and Europe, Sadayakko, Kawakami’s wife, started her career in Japan in the role of Tomone (Desdemona) opposite her husband (Washirō). This division of roles between husband and wife also mirrored the emergence of ideologies about the appropriate spheres of gendered activity aligned to biological sex. From the late 19th century, with the development of Japan’s modern patriarchal system, the model woman was epitomized by the slogan “wise mother, good-wife,” an ideal promoted especially among women of the middle and upper classes.  In this formulation, women were associated with the domestic space of the home and assigned duties toward the family whereas men were offered access to the new public spaces established by the modern state.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 However, in Emi’s Osero, Tomone plays the role of a headstrong, independent woman who disobeys her father’s wishes in choosing her husband and then runs away from home to join him in Taiwan. A disobedient daughter, she contravenes the provisions of the Meiji Civil Code (1898), which strengthened the father’s right to demand obedience from all other members of the family, including his right to approve marriages and adoptions and to control the disposition of family property. Tomone not only chooses her own husband on her own, but she weds him secretly in a Christian church. Since she marries without her father’s consent, her marriage is not strictly speaking a legal one by the standards of the day. Later she defends herself publicly before the Prime Minister of Japan, and as result, her father publicly disowns her. In short, Tomone is portrayed as a daughter who challenges the family patriarch and implicitly sets herself in opposition to the “family state” (kazoku kokka) ideology.  Accordingly, she sparks deep male anxieties about the threat that independent, modern women constitute to the patriarchal family, and its ethics of sexual subordination and obedience of women. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, Count Fura warns Washirō that that he had better thoroughly educate his wife “who has cheated her parents so that she does not cheat her husband.”  Indeed. Iya Gōzō cites Tomone’s earlier disobedience toward her father as a precedent for her alleged adultery with Katsu later in the play.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Whereas contemporary viewers regard Desdemona as the innocent victim of her husband’s unfounded jealousy and patriarchal violence, we should not necessarily assume that Japanese audiences shared the same sympathy in the Meiji period. Emi Suiin signals his ambivalence toward this character when he describes her marriage variously as “free love” (jiyū ren’ai) and as an illegal union (yagō). Indeed, he has her—and indeed, all female characters in the play—use a Chinese graph for mistress or concubine (mekake) when she refers to herself (watakushi). While graph, common at this time, expresses the prevalent misogyny of Meiji period male authors, it also implicitly calls into question the legitimacy of Tomone’s marriage with Washirō.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 1 If Emi treats the character of Tomone ambiguously, he depicts other female characters in Osero unambiguously as women of the pleasure quarters. Biwako (Bianco), a geisha from Shimabashi district of Tokyo who follows Katsu to Taiwan, describes herself as a woman of insatiable lust who is ready to “turn [herself] into a snake… to cross” to Taiwan.  Iya Gōzō hands her Tomone’s handkerchief and she in turn gives it to Katsu, thereby participating unwittingly in Iya’s plot to convince Washirō of his wife’s adultery. By her social background, Biwako is also identifiable as a prostitute. Indeed, her story mirrors that of many poor Japanese women, who emigrated to the colonies conquered by Japan or to Western colonies in Southeast Asia and worked in the flourishing prostitution market, the so-called karayukisan. While these women—many from Kyushu—provided the nation with a major source foreign revenue by remitting earnings to the home country, they were later castigated by the government elite as women of “disreputable morals” that hurt Japan’s international reputation. 
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 1 In the world of the play Osero, Tomone is clearly a good wife whose alleged infidelity and adultery exist only in the minds of the male characters in the play. At the same time, she is portrayed as a disobedient daughter who runs away from her father’s home at a time when women were expected to agree to matches that served the interests of their families. If Tomone is portrayed with ambivalence, Biwako is unambiguously a woman of the pleasure quarters. Biwako and Tomone represent the two polar extremes that defined the moral identity of women in the Meiji period, the good wife and the dissolute prostitute. When Washirō ceases to believe in Tomone’s virtue, he flips without transition to the opposite extreme of viewing her as a sexually insatiable prostitute. Feeling that his wife has betrayed him, he punishes her by the act of murder.
The Discursive Invention of “Race”
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 2 While Osero is the first adaptation of Othello to be performed as a play, it is actually the third adaptation of the work to be published in Japan. In 1890s, two narrative adaptations of Othello appeared in print before any translations of the play into Japanese were available. In 1891, Jōno Denpei (1832-1902) serialized the novel Abata Denshichirō (Pock-marked Denshichirō) in the Yamato Newspaper and the same work appeared in book form in 1893.  In his preface to the book, Jōno describes Othello as a “famous Western novel,” suggesting that he was familiar with the Tales of Shakespeare (1807) by Mary and Charles Lamb, which had already been translated into Japanese. In 1892, Matsubayashi Baien performed Abata Denshichirō as a kōdan (a traditional form of dramatic storytelling) in a small theater in Tokyo. The adaptation is set in the city of Edo (Tokyo) in the year 1853, the year that Admiral Perry mashalled his fleet of Black Ships to force the opening of Japan. Denshichirō, the 25-year old studious son of a famous doctor in Nagasaki, has a dark complexion, is short of stature, and is scarred by smallpox, a widespread and fatal disease in the early Meiji period. He marries Suteko, the beautiful only daughter of a high official in the government. A complete summary of this novel would take me too far from Osero, but I will mention that at the end, Suteko (Desdemona) is not killed by her jealous husband, but instead commits suicide, because he suspects that she is unfaithful. After her suicide, Denshichirō realizes his mistake and cuts his own throat.  In 1892, Udagawa Bunkai (1848-1930) serialized a second narrative adaptation called Bandō Musha in the Osaka Mainichi Newspaper. In these early adaptations, the Japanese Othello is not distinguished from others by race or religion: rather, he is depicted as extremely ugly, his face disfigured by smallpox. As such, he is a foil opposed to the beauty of the Desdemona-like character that he loves. These works show that when Othello was first adapted into Japanese, it was treated as a story rather than a play and that the theme of race was almost entirely missing: instead it offered a variation of the beauty and the beast plot.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 1 By contrast with these narrative works, Osero is the first theatrical adaptation of Othello and the first to treat the topic of race. Scholars have noted of Shakespeare’s play that it was written before the modern concept of race existed and that it documents how the phenomenon of race came into being even before words to describe it were coined. Whereas Othello is a play about “race” that was performed before the modern notion of race existed,  Osero illustrates the domestication of new racial ideas in modern Japan. Washirō is a member of a “new” racial minority that had not existed as such a few decades earlier.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 A surviving photograph of the performance of Osero shows that Kawakami played the role of Washirō with his face painted black, probably in imitation of actors in minstrel shows that he had witnessed in the United States rather than of Kabuki actors who also painted their faces. In the script, he is described as a rough-featured general from Satsuma and rumored to be a new commoner (shinheimin), that is, a former outcaste. Iya Gōzō conveys this rumor to Rotoriko, the feckless suitor of Tomone: “Washirō is a dark and rugged man and cannot compare with a talented man of our day and age like you. The two of you are as different as a snowball and a piece of charcoal. What’s more, Count Fura comes from a proud blood line that dates back to the distant past. General Washirō may be a new commoner or so rumor has it.” Iya passes along this malicious rumor to the audience but he offers no evidence whatsoever to substantiate it. During a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Count Fura alludes to Washirō’s lowly status in a revealing slip of the tongue. Describing the general’s position, he pronounces the first syllable of the word shinheimin (shin or new), pauses, and then substitutes a less offensive term (newly…appointed commander). The expression “newly…appointed commander” is a compromise that couches a pointed insult in an apparently neutral appellation. While he attempts to conceal his thoughts, Fura betrays them by his meaningful pause, which allows the audience to discern his real meaning through the veil of language. 
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The present-day reader has to parse the text carefully just to spot these hints. Nevertheless, critics who attended the first performance of Osero had no difficulty understanding that Washirō’s status was an adaptation into Japanese of Othello’s racial difference. The critic Oka Onitarō writes: “In the original Othello is a negro. In the adaptation he is turned into a dark-skinned man, and furthermore, in order to reflect the racial difference of Othello in the original, he becomes a new commoner–this is a rather clumsy way of adaptation yet there would be no other way to make the Japanese understand.”  To understand the reason why a theater critic found Washirō’s status to be a plausible transposition of Othello’s racial difference, one needs to consider that the new commoners were thought of as a racial group. Since we tend to think of race as being manifested by physical characteristics, the description of this group, physically undistinguishable from other Japanese, as constituting a separate race jars with our conventional notions. Nevertheless, as Omi and Winant, note, race is “an unstable and ‘decentered’ complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle” and racial formations “are the socio-historical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed and destroyed.” Although race is the product of complex political struggles and historical processes, it tends to base itself on a fictitious biology and to conceal its historical origins. If the race of the new commoners was an outcome of history, then we need to attend to the process by which this race was generated discursively in the absence of “objective” racial differences.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 During the Edo period (1603-1867), social contempt for the outcastes (eta) was buttressed by administrative codes. To make the boundary between the outcastes and others visible to all, officials prescribed the clothes they must wear, the places they must live, and the customs that regulated their daily life. In 1871, the Meiji government issued a decree called the Senmin kaihōrei, the edict for the emancipation of outcasts, which abolished the social distinctions that had hitherto divided Japanese commoners (heimin) into separate status groups. However, discrimination against the outcastes was not eliminated by a stroke of the pen. When local functionaries entered the names of outcasts in family registers established in 1871, they made sure that members of the group were identifiable by making special marks on the registers and by inserting the character shin (new) in front of the word heimin (commoner), giving rise to the neologism shinheimin (new commoner). Later, the word entered Japanese popular discourse and circulated widely in the press and in popular fiction.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Writers justified prejudice against new commoners by alleging that their bodies differed from those of ordinary Japanese, a discursive reconfiguration that I call the racialization of the outcasts. In newspaper articles, they were described as a “foreign race” or “tribe.” Novelists tended to “construct outcaste bodies through a set of tell-tale, visible markings” in their works, thereby creating “a sense of absolute, incommensurable difference between the seen object and the seeing subject.”  In official documents, government bureaucrats spoke of them as “naturalized” Japanese.  Washirō stands at the point of intersection of three heterogeneous strands of racialization: the biological construction of blood, the anthropological notion of race, and the Meiji politics of emigration. In Osero, Iya insists that Washirō’s marriage to Tomone is “unnatural” because he has bad blood. Viewers of the play evidently viewed Washirō’s status as a “translation” into Japanese context of Othello’s racial difference from other Japanese. Lastly, because of widespread prejudice within Japan, Washirō makes his career in the nation’s overseas colonies. 
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 1 Takahashi Yoshio was perhaps the first to refer to the bad blood of the new commoners in his 1885 Theory on the Improvement of the Japanese Race, Japan’s first work on eugenics. In addition to promoting changes in diet, clothing, and housing to strengthen the Japanese people, he advocated eugenics policies to regulate marriage. Takahashi is notorious for advocating intermarriage between Japanese and “superior” Westerners, which he believed would improve the “inferior” Japanese heredity. By the same token, he opposed intermarriage between Japanese and those with “tainted” blood, among whom he numbered the new commoners.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 2 In the feudal society of the past, society was divided into the separate castes of samurai, peasants, artisans, merchants, eta and hinin and marriage across caste lines was not easily permitted. Since higher castes would not even share fire with eta and hinin, marriage [between members of different castes] was completely out of the question… Currently, since the eta and hinin of former days have joined the ranks of the commoners, they will have ordinary social intercourse with others and their blood will spread widely throughout society. The number of families with the genes for leprosy is not small, especially among the lower orders of society. According to the theories of experts, leprosy will be passed on for five generations until it is eradicated. As long as people continue to get married without giving a thought to the tainted stock and bad heredity of the marriage partner, they must run the risk of polluting not only the blood of their own family group but also that of their relatives and in-laws.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 1 Besides associating new commoners with the “hereditary” disease of leprosy, Takahashi suggested that abolition of the status system would pollute Japanese blood for generations. In castigating his contemporaries for not paying attention to the bloodline of their marital partner, he anticipated later views that marriage with new commoners posed a dire threat to the purity of Japanese blood and the construction of new social barriers to render such “pollution” impossible. In 1903, the year that Osero was staged in Tokyo, a woman in Hiroshima successfully sued her husband for divorce on the grounds that he had concealed his family origins at the time of marriage. An appeals court later upheld this judicial decision with the argument that the woman would never have consented to marry the man in the first place if she had known that he was a new commoner.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The eugenicist Takahashi viewed the new commoners as part of Japanese society, though he looked upon them as a diseased part that had to be quarantined from other groups. By contrast, from the early 1880s, anthropologists argued that the new commoners were members of a “foreign” race that had emigrated to Japan in the distant past. With the establishment of the Tokyo Anthropological Association in 1884, anthropologists launched investigations into the origins of the Japanese race as well as of the Ainu and the Okinawans, who lived on the nation’s periphery. The new commoners were another group, located on the social periphery of the nation, whose racial origins became an object of anthropological curiosity. In an article published in the Journal of the Tokyo Anthropological Society in 1886, Fujii Kansuke wrote: “In general, the people called the eta constitute one part of the Japanese people although they are particularly subject to persecution. The reason must be that their original ancestors … belonged to a foreign race.” Fujii speculated that Japanese persecuted the new commoners because they were the descendants of Koreans brought to Japan as prisoners of war in the sixteenth century, but he called for scientific investigations into their mysterious origins. A decade later, Torii Ryūzō, a prominent academic anthropologist, conducted anthropometric measurements of new commoners living in Hyogo and Kochi prefectures as well as of prisoners from the same group held in an Utsunomiya jail and he published his findings in popular newspapers. He concluded: “It is clear that [the new commoners] are endowed with a physical constitution resembling that of the Malay race and are very different from the Japanese in whom the Mongoloid element is predominant.”  Contrary to Torii’s hypothesis, however, most anthropologists later subscribed to Fujii’s view that the new commoners were descendants of Koreans. After Korea became a Japanese colony in 1910, prejudice against the members of the group reinforced and mingled with colonial prejudices against Koreans. In addition, this discourse on the new commoners as racially foreign soon found its way into popular discourse. In the Broken Commandment, the most famous novel about a new commoner from the pre-World War II period, one character remarks that the members of this group are recognizable by clearly visible marks: “I’ve seen plenty of eta. Their skin is darker than ours—you can tell them at a glance, and being shut out of society has made them terribly warped inside as well.”
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 1 Since the new commoners were viewed as a separate “race,” many writers proposed that they seek their salvation and emancipation by emigrating overseas. Paradoxically, some advocates of emigration contradicted the eugenicists’ assertions that members of the group were racially inferior to other Japanese. Indeed, at a time when the government promoted meat eating among the general population to strengthen Japanese bodies, the new commoners, who traditionally ate meat, were touted as a physically strong group that was well suited to serve in the nation’s defense. Sugiura Jūgō (1855-1924), a prominent intellectual associated with the nationalist Seikyōsha group, wrote in the Yomiuri Newspaper: “The society of the new commoners has long practiced meat-eating… In terms of physical strength and character, they are one step closer to the people of Western countries in comparison with other Japanese … Is it not a terrible waste that they are not permitted to freely exercise their abilities within the confines of Japanese society?”  Not only were the new commoners singled out as a distinct racial group with special abilities, but they were also described as potential patriots who could be mobilized to serve the expansion of the nation. Since they possessed both the physical and the character traits required to become pioneers of empire, they had to be offered an outlet for their untapped potential.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 1 In “Hankai yumemonogatari” (Hankai Dream Story), Sugiura gives concrete shape to this outlet: he advocates that the new commoners be mobilized as the vanguard of Japan’s colonial expansion.  In this story, a political orator from the new commoner class proposes that 90,000 sturdy young men from his community be sent to a place “west of Pacific, east of Indian Ocean, South of the China Sea and North of Oceania” and that they establish a Japanese colony there. Although this location is not named, it is readily identifiable as the Philippines. After overthrowing the Spanish rulers, the young men will liberate the Filipino people from despotism, solve the problems of the new commoners, extend Japan’s influence towards the South, and promote the prosperity of Asia. Yanase Keisuke, a Japanese bureaucrat in Taiwan, supported measures that would aid poor new commoners to resettle in Taiwan to rescue them from poverty and to strengthen the nation by fortifying “the southern gate of the nation.”  The pedagogue Nanbu Roan suggested that the best way to improve the condition of the community would be to help them to settle in future colonies in Korea, China and the South Seas. In the fiction of the Meiji period, emigration was often proposed as the only feasible solution to the social discrimination that they faced in Japan. This view of emigration is reflected in the final scene of The Broken Commandment where the protagonist moves to Texas to escape from social prejudice in Japan.
The Performance of the Japanese Empire
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 In the 19th century, the play Othello was transported to British-ruled colonies and performed in circumstances where its subtext on race and empire could not be ignored although it was construed in contradictory ways. Jyotsna Singh argues that the export of Shakespeare to Calcutta “kept alive the myth of English cultural refinement and superiority—a myth that was crucial to the rulers’ political interests in colonial India.” Whereas British staged the plays of Shakespeare in the colonies to construct an image of British superiority among the colonized Indians, an Indian actor who performed the lead role in a performance in 1848 Calcutta gave the play a different significance. Singh cites this latter performance as an example of a “strategy of mimicry” which produced “a different, vernacular Shakespeare,” disrupted rigid categories of difference and aroused anxiety in the largely British audience. 
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 1 Performance of Othello in a colonial context displaced the hegemonic reading of the play and generated new interpretations tied to the new location of its performance. Scholars of modern India, however, have shown that Indian writers have appropriated Shakespeare to resist British colonization. By contrast, Japanese appropriations of Shakespeare occupy a different position in modern Japanese theater partly because Japan was never colonized by England and became an East Asian empire in 1895. Indeed, Osero is an adaptation that represents a nation that was never a colony, but rather an imperialist rival of England, a non-Western empire.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 If the character of Washirō stands at the confluence of various Japanese discourses on race, the play Osero performs the Japanese empire at a critical stage of its early formation. Japan acquired Taiwan after the Sino-Japanese war of 1895 but remained fettered by unequal treaties that subordinated it to the Western powers. Indeed, after its victory in 1895, France, Germany, and Russia forced Japan to return the Liaodong peninsula to China in an incident known as the Triple Intervention, which demonstrated that Western powers considered Japan’s military victory to be the result of China’s weakness rather than of Japan’s strength. One may describe Japan’s global position at this time as anomalous: an empire that controlled its own colonies but that was still caught in the semi-colonial order of the treaty port system.  Because of its ambivalent position, Japan alternated between imperial subject and colonized object, between observer and observed.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Emi interspersed short interludes or “plays within the play” in Osero that “perform” Japan’s ambiguous status on the stage. In these interludes, Japan is situated between an Asia it seeks to dominate and a West from which it seeks recognition. Towards colonized Asia, Japan is the privileged audience of the spectacle offered by others that it dominates. By contrast, Japanese characters perform their new roles as colonizers before a critical audience of Western spectators. While Osero was never performed in the West, the play takes place before an abstract, spectral West that was, in effect, a critical gaze directed at the Japanese empire.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 1 The West was a potential menace that threatened to thwart Japan’s expansion but also a powerful group that the Japanese government had to cajole to realize its imperial ambitions. In the opening act of Osero, Prime Minister Uenishi sends Washirō to Taiwan to confront an unnamed power (an allusion to Russia, with which Japan fought a major war in 1904-1905) that is backing “bandits and pirates” and undermining Japan’s control of Taiwan. After he crushes the rebellion, Washirō invites members of the Taiwanese elite and Westerners to a banquet to celebrate his military victory and his accession to the position of governor general. The banquet is, in part, a performance staged by the colonial authorities to show their nation to its best advantage before a foreign audience. However, the drunken Katsu disgraces himself “before the eyes of foreigners” when he picks a fight with a Taiwanese “gentleman,” thereby undercutting the aim of this mise en scène of Japan as an imperial power.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Perhaps the best example of this performance of empire before the West occurs off-stage during the second act of Osero. Katsu explains that Washirō’s return from the battlefield has been delayed because he had to brief “a group of foreign reporters about the situation of the pirates and the course of the battles.” This briefing was a vital assignment because “a novice in military matters … might have given [foreign reporters] mistaken information and they would simply convey fantastical errors back to Europe and America, and that would create a fine mess.” Another character chimes in: “You are absolutely right. They certainly published some mistaken news about the siege of Port Arthur. For that reason, some foreigners even think that the Japanese are a race that loves cruelty, no different from the Turks.”
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 1 In the Sino-Japanese war, foreign reporters were crucial mediators between Japan and its image in the West. However, the power that they wielded was a double-edged sword: while they generally presented Japan in a favorable light from the inception of the war, they also used their pens to blacken the nation’s reputation. After witnessing the Japanese army’s victorious entry into Port Arthur, James Creelman broke news of a “Japanese massacre” of innocent civilians in a special cable dispatch to New York The World dated December 12, 1894. He wrote that the “Japanese troops massacred practically the entire population [of Port Arthur] in cold blood. The defenseless population were butchered in their homes and their bodies were unspeakably mutilated.” This massacre was the “first stain upon Japanese civilization” and a sign that “Japan had …relapsed into barbarism.” Once news of the atrocity broke, other papers in Europe and the United States offered extended and detailed coverage of the Port Arthur massacre. Thomas Cowan of the London Spectator, in an article called “Asian Atrocities” likened Port Arthur to the Turkish massacre of Armenians and warned the Japanese against throwing aside “Western self-restraint” when using the “weapons borrowed from the West.” He ascribed the brutality shown by the Japanese troops to an atavistic racial instinct noting that the Japanese had “fierce Mongolian instincts only as yet partially extirpated” and that “Europe has not forgotten some outbreaks of the samurai.” If reporters discovered in Japan’s war-time victory a proof of the success of its modernization, they argued that the Port Arthur massacre exposed that the nation’s modernization was a thin veneer concealing its atavistic “barbarism.” This scandal broke at an inopportune moment for Japan. Japanese diplomats were then engaged in delicate treaty renegotiations with the United States to restore the nation’s tariff autonomy and to abolish extraterritorial jurisdiction.
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Realizing the importance of the control of information in warfare, Washirō performs a crucial task for the Meiji regime by fielding questions from the foreign press. His performance throws into relief both Japan’s dependence on Western good will and the role Western journalists played in shaping Japan’s image overseas. In effect, military victory in the Sino-Japanese War did not automatically translate into a higher international status for Japan. As the character Monda fretted, “false reporting” about Port Arthur harmed Japan’s reputation because Westerners perceived the Japanese as “just like the Turks” and “a people that loves cruelty.”
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 In this scene then, the Japanese empire is a play performed before an audience made up of Western reporters. Within the same play, however, there are scenes of a different order from which Westerners are absent, the Japanese are colonizing spectators and colonized East Asians the objects of their gaze. Shortly after Washirō returns from the battlefields, a group of Taiwanese aborigines, the so-called seiban or raw savages, led by a Chinese interpreter, perform a skit before a Japanese soldier guarding the governor-general’s study. The interpreter explains that the “savages” want to pray facing the sun and express their devotion to the governor-general. “The raw savages (seiban) turn toward the rising sun, prostrate themselves on the ground and start bellowing out a queer incantation in loud voices. They also dance and jump about.” Eventually the guard puts an end to the performance and chases the performers off the stage but he gets angry when the Chinese interpreter asks him for a tip: “So you think you can make money by putting your savages on display. You still haven’t overcome your Chinese nature. Taiwan is a Japanese territory now, so you had better start to behave like a Japanese.”
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 The colonized people in this scene consist of a Chinese interpreter and a group of aborigines, reflecting exitstingdivisions in Taiwan’s multi-ethnic society. The Japanese guard exercises disciplinary power over these characters when he orders the Chinese interpreter, who speaks in broken Japanese, to behave like a Japanese. At the same time, he chides him for failing to assimilate and puts the blame for this failure on his “nature” (seishitsu) as a Chinese. Nevertheless, the Chinese is depicted as a representative of a relatively civilized group who serves as an interpreter for the aborigines and is well aware of the “exhibition” value of the aborigines from which he seeks to profit. If the guard castigates the interpreter, he describes the aborigines as barely human producers of unarticulated noise, who require the mediation of an interpreter to communicate with the colonial authorities. After he chases them off stage, the guard mutters “these savages eat people—they are scarier than malaria.” The association of the aborigines with cannibalism and disease echoes Washirō’s earlier monologue in which he woos Tomone by recounting his past exploits, which included the taming of cannibals. The aborigines, far from being invited to assimilate, are discursively treated as fit for eradication.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Like other empires before it, Japan established its rule over Taiwan by exploiting existing ethnic divisions among the population. This scene hints at a significant shift in the politics of “divide and rule” over a differentiated colonial population that took place at the start of the twentieth century. Washirō is sent to Taiwan to put down “bandits” (tohi), a term that specifically designated ethnic Chinese who resisted Japanese colonization. However, he is also charged to win support among the colony’s social elite and he invites Taiwanese “gentlemen” to the banquet. Indeed these invitees are described as kijun shijin or surrendered gentlemen, that is, former enemies who have pledged loyalty to the colonial regime. 
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Indeed, by 1903, ethnic Chinese “bandits” were no longer the main opponent of the colonial government. The “savage” aborigines inhabiting Taiwan’s mountainous interior had become the new archenemy to be defeated. From this time, the regime applied a carrot and stick approach to the aborigines in order to gain control of the timber resources of the Taiwanese interior, most notably camphor. Not coincidentally, in colonial discourse, spokesmen no longer stressed the suppression of banditry as the primary objective of colonization but rather emphasized Japan’s mission to bring civilization to aboriginal headhunters. Whereas the colonial government had cultivated the neutrality of the aborigines when it fought the largely Chinese ethnic resistance, it later abandoned its policy of conciliation. Instead, ethnic Chinese become the objects of Japanese policies of assimilation and cooptation while the aborigines became the abjected others within the colonial order, a discursive shift that is mirrored in Osero.
Imperial Performance and the “House of Peoples”
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 In the play Osero, the Taiwan “savages” perform their ritualistic dance before the very seat of the colonial government and under the watchful eye of a Japanese guard but, ultimately, they perform for the Japanese spectators attending the play. But this “play within a play” resembles a real performance that took place in 1903. When Osero was staged in Osaka, journalists noted that it was the only play in the city that managed to draw a large audience while other theaters were empty because of the Fifth Industrial Exposition, then in full swing.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Unlike the four earlier expositions held in Japan, the Fifth Industrial Exposition represented Japan as a colonial empire. Besides including a Taiwan pavilion, it featured a Gakujutsu jinruikan (Scientific House of Peoples) that displayed “specimens” of various Asian populations in human showcases. According to one account, “The House of Peoples is a building located off to the side of the main gate. It is designed to exhibit a collection of peoples of different race, their life styles, tools, and customs in their real settings. The spectator can see the everyday activities and lifestyle of a total of twenty-one men and women from different countries: five Ainu from Hokkaido, four raw savages (seiban) from Taiwan, two from the Ryūkyū islands [Okinawa], two from Korea, three from China, three from India, one from Java, and one from Africa. Each of these national groups lives in a habitation modeled after their native style of housing but they live alongside one another and share a common space. In addition, within the building, a special stage has been constructed and each group alternates performing their indigenous songs and dances there. The spectators enter from the front of the building and exit through the rear. Ordinary tickets cost ten sen while special tickets cost thirty sen, the special tickets include a photograph of the natives (dojin) and a cup of green tea.” Although the exhibition featured men and women from far away lands, it was dominated by representatives from Japan’s closest neighbors and gave visible form to a new East Asian order in which Japan replaced China as the center of civilization. This was, in fact, the original plan of this exhibition, but the organizers overreached in their ambitions: protests by Chinese students and Korean diplomatic representatives led to the cancellation of exhibits from these two countries. Established by an Osaka entrepreneur and situated outside the main gates of the Fifth Industrial Exposition, this human showcase was first called the “House of Peoples,” but was renamed the “Scientific House of Peoples,” as reported in the Osaka Asahi Newspaper of March 9, 1903: “The House of Peoples has collected materials on different races and artifacts of their customs and lifestyles in order to increase knowledge and promote anthropological research…. Since some people may still think that the House of Peoples is just a spectacle of human freaks [misemono], the organizers have decided to rename it the “Scientific House of Peoples,” they have solicited financial support from sponsors and requested the assistance of Dr. Tsuboi of Tokyo, who has graciously consented to donate a map of the different races and numerous archeological specimens to the exhibition.”
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 As the author of this article notes, this anthropological exhibition was organized with the assistance of Tsuboi Shōgorō (1863-1913), the founder of the Tokyo Anthropological Association, and with the cooperation of the faculty in anthropology of the University of Tokyo. Tsuboi believed that human showcases could serve as a pedagogical tool to educate Japanese citizenry about the new discipline of anthropology. In his view, Japan was situated in a vast anthropological “museum” that it needed to study. In a 1903 article in the Journal of the Tokyo Anthropological Association, he set forth the educational goals of the exhibit: “A visitor (to the exhibition) will gain an understanding of the distribution of races in different regions of the globe, of the differences in appearance and customs between race A and race B, as well as a notion of the variety of the physical appearances and customs among the races of man.” Tsuboi had visited the famous colonial pavilions at the Paris Expo in 1889, the first world exposition to feature human showcases of indigenous peoples from French colonial possessions, and was therefore familiar with this new technology of empire. Besides its ostensible educational objectives, the exhibition served to legitimize imperial conquest and inculcate a sense of superiority in the citizens of imperial Japan.
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 This “House of Peoples” sparked a heated controversy within Japan and drew protests from Okinawan intellectuals who denounced the display of their fellow citizens in a series of scathing articles in the Ryūkyū Shinbun. In an editorial calling for the exhibit to be closed, one writer noted: “To line up Okinawans with Taiwanese savages and Hokkaido Ainu is to view Okinawans, who are truly Japanese, as one of these savages. No matter how insensitive Okinawans may be, we can never put up with this kind of humiliation.”  Rather than protesting racism per se, this writer objected to being placed on a par with the Ainu and with “Taiwanese savages.” Since Okinawan intellectuals routinely refer to these so-called “savages” in extremely insulting terms, they offer a hint at the complexity of the structures of discrimination that the House of Peoples exemplified. It would be a simplification to say that the House of Peoples merely symbolized Japanese prejudice toward other Asians. As this citation above shows, some Okinawans had internalized the same racial and ethnic hierarchy that the Japanese put into practice and they had adopted the same prejudices toward other groups that they accused the Japanese of manifesting toward themselves.
¶ 47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 1 Accordingly, the House of Peoples affair epitomizes the complex position that Okinawans occupied in Japan’s imperial hierarchy: they were at once objects and subjects of discrimination. Intellectuals were outraged that the Okinawans had been singled out from the residents of other prefectures as a particular race and included in a “freak show” organized in Osaka despite their diligent efforts to “improve their customs” and become like other Japanese. In a variation on the standard notion of colonial mimicry, Okinawans intellectuals urged their fellow countrymen to imitate the Japanese model perfectly in order to become mainstream Japanese. Having suffered from discrimination, they wanted to catch up and attain equality, in part by putting some distance between themselves and “Taiwanese savages” and the Ainu. In effect, they transferred onto these others the social stigma that they suffered in Japan in a process that Peter Stallybrass and Allan White call “displaced abjection,” whereby “‘low’ social groups turn their figurative and actual power, not against those in authority, but against those who are even ‘lower’” in the social hierarchy.” Besides offering a figural representation of the structure of discrimination in Japan, the House of Peoples was a theatrical set on which the subject peoples performed their new identities in front of their imperial masters and it paradoxically reinforced the oppressive racial hierarchy of imperial Japan which victimized groups like the Okinawans.
A Portrait of the Imperialist as Subaltern
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 What relationship does Washirō’s racial identity bear to the performance of Japan’s empire? In some ways, Washirō is an allegorical figure that embodies the split nature of the Japanese empire as a whole. He is a man who rises and wins a high status by his individual efforts rather than by birth. As such, he epitomizes the Meiji ethic of individual success, which linked personal ambition to the good of the nation. In one crucial respect, though the career trajectory of Washirō differs from that of the typical protagonist of Meiji success stories. Japan’s foreign wars and the colonization of Taiwan provide him with the opportunities to escape from his inferior status position and social discrimination in Japan. Washirō first makes his career in the army, an institution reputed to be open to all talents. In a book that explained Japan to the West published in 1905, Baron Suematsu Kenchō singled out the Japanese military as a strictly meritocratic organization: “One can see in the Japanese army or navy the sons of noblemen or rich merchants being commanded and led by an officer who has risen from the lowest class of people. There may even be officers whose origins, if scrutinized minutely, belong to a class vulgarly called “new commoners.” Just as African-Americans enlisted in the U.S. armed forces in the World War II as a way to improve their status in a white-dominated nation, Washirō seeks to rise within Japanese society by distinguishing himself on the foreign battlefields of Japan’s first modern wars.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 As I have shown, the leaders of the Meiji regime abolished the Tokugawa status system and replaced it with two broad categories: the gentry (shizoku), a group that included former samurai and court aristocrats, and the commoners (heimin), which subsumed the earlier divisions of peasants, merchants artisans, and the outcasts (the new commoners were later split off as a separate group). Both Washirō and Count Fura exemplify this remodeling in class identities, since, even though they occupy opposite ends of the same social ladder, they both represent social identities of recent origin. I have already shown that Washirō’s identity as a new commoner was a product of the abolition of the status system and the domestication of discourses on race. The same holds true for Fura’s identity as a member of the nobility. Far from being a sign of his ancient lineage, Fura’s title of “count” was granted by the Meiji regime only after its creation of the hereditary peerage system in 1884. In marrying Fura’s daughter, Washirō violates the modern taboo against the crossing of class and “racial” barriers that replace the feudal caste system.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 If Washirō’s anxiety and eventual downfall can be explained by his liminal status as a “new commoner” in Japanese society, his liminality also mirrors the precarious position of early twentieth century Japan in the world order. Washirō is a racialized other within Japan, but his nation is a racial other in the Western-dominated system of imperialism, a nation that has successfully Westernized but is not accepted as an equal. The ambivalent position of Japan in this global order is mirrored in the play Osero: on the one hand, Japanese characters perform their roles as colonizers before a Western audience while, on the other hand, they are the audience for the performance of colonized Asian subjects. Washirō offers one image of Japan at the turn of the century, a semi-colonized country that seeks to obtain recognition from the West by dominating its Asian neighbors.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 However, his career illustrates also a little-known truth about the Japanese empire: subaltern colonizers played an essential role in settling new territories placed under Japanese imperial control. Washirō uses the opportunities created by Japan’s colonial wars to better his own position in Japan, eventually rising to the position of governor general of Taiwan and marrying the daughter of a “count.” While there is little evidence that new commoners emigrated in large numbers to the colonies, members of other subordinate groups played a crucial role in the building of Japanese empire. By 1940, Okinawans, a semi-colonized people group in Japan, were the largest group of colonists in Japanese-ruled Micronesia while Koreans outnumbered Japanese settlers in Manchuria in the 1930s. Comparative insiders within the empire, these members of subaltern groups fled poverty in their homelands, exacerbated by the introduction of the capitalist modes of production, to pursue careers in the widening spaces of the Japanese empire. Through a process of transfer of oppression, they occupied a position of superiority toward the indigenous population in Manchuria and the South Seas and acquired privileges that they were denied at home. Just as Okinawans objected to their inclusion in the House of People in a “displacement of abjection,” we can find a similar process at work in Washirō, a member of the underclass of Japanese society who rises to the highest position in colonial Taiwan.
¶ 52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 1 Interestingly, Osero was performed in Okinawa in 1906, a few years after its debut in Tokyo, by an Okinawan theater troupe. Performed in the Okinawa dialect, the play garnered favorable reviews and was followed by other performances of Shakespeare’s plays in Okinawa. Whereas Kawakami staged Osero in Tokyo to show that Japan had entered the ranks of the civilized West, the Okinawan players sought to demonstrate that they were civilized Japanese by performing the Emi-Kawakami adaptation in Okinawa. Many Okinawans went to Taiwan in the early years of Japan’s colonization where they served within the lower echelons of the colonial hierarchy. Like Washirō in Osero, the Okinawans occupied a subaltern position within Japan, but they raised their status by taking part in Japanese imperial enterprises. It is likely that the Okinawan audience reacted differently to the play than their counterparts in metropolitan Japan. As Suzuki Masae astutely observes, there were many Okinawan “Othellos” during the colonial period. 
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Just like the Okinawan writers who protested the display of their fellow citizens in the Scientific House of Peoples, Washirō offers an exemplary case of displaced abjection. A despised member of a minority in Japan, he ascends to the pinnacle of power in Taiwan during the early years of Japan’s colonization, within a colonial hierarchy based on the division between the civilized and the savage. When Washirō first hears Iya’s insinuations about Tomone’s adultery, he dismisses them as unfounded, drawing a clear demarcation between himself and the irrational Taiwanese aborigines, who are unable to distinguish between the truth and baseless rumors. In his final speech, however, he condemns himself for falling to the level of these “savages” he was sent to subjugate, implying that “savages” kill their spouses without reason and that they rightfully occupy the lowest rung of the colonial hierarchy.
¶ 54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 I believe that all of you know of the services that I, Washirō, have rendered to the nation. But now, blinded to my wife’s true love, my passion for her has turned to bitter resentment and my spirit has been reduced to disorder by jealousy. I ask all of you to let others know the truth of how I, a military man, have made a dreadful blunder that should never have happened. Having thrown away my treasure, what is the point of regretting the past? Observe the end of Muro Washirō who became as ignorant as a seiban [raw savage] because of his unfounded jealousy.
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 To appreciate the imperial logic of this play, one must consider why Emi chose to set his play in Taiwan. Just as Othello’s downfall takes place, not in Venice, but rather in its colony of Cyprus, Washirō’s transformation into a “savage” takes place in Japan’s colony of Taiwan rather than in Tokyo. Notwithstanding the ill will that his enemies bear toward him, Washirō attains a position of prominence in the Japanese capital and is treated with respect. At the cabinet meeting in the first act, government ministers unanimously select him to lead a critical mission in Taiwan. The Prime Minister then personally mediates between him and his estranged father-in-law (Count Fura) to reconcile the latter to Tomone’s marriage. By contrast with the civilized metropolis, Taiwan is a colonial backwater associated with political instability, violence, and savagery, particularly for Japanese in the early 20th century. In this new environment, Washirō is depicted as an individual whose propensity to barbarism needs to be kept in check. When he berates his wife in front of Kurachi, an envoy of the prime minister, the latter chides him by asking him to imagine what “foreigners” or “civilized Japanese” would think if they were present at the scene. Violence lurks beneath the surface of everyday life, but it is ever ready to explode, as it does when Katsu wounds Monda with his sword in the banquet scene and when Washirō’s murders Tomone in her bedchamber. Iya’s task is facilitated by the fact that he is acting in a military milieu in Taiwan rather than in the modern capital of Tokyo.
¶ 57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 And what are we to make of the paradoxical fate of this military commander who ends up becoming a “savage,” thereby overturning the colonial hierarchy? Kawamura Minato has argued that the incorporation of Taiwanese “savages” in the Japanese empire in 1895 eventually resulted in the Japanese discovery of savagery within themselves.In Osero, the Japanese spectators do not discover savagery within themselves but rather in a representative of a downtrodden domestic minority. Although Washirō rises to become the supreme ruler of Taiwan, he is also a subaltern who occupies an insecure position in the social hierarchy. Internalizing the division between his high position as governor general of Taiwan and his membership in a stigmatized minority, he describes his downfall as that of becoming a “seiban,” who occupied the lowest rung of the colonial hierarchy. In effect, Washirō does not kill himself simply because he feels remorse for murdering his wife, but, to follow his own explanation, he executes the other within himself, who has fallen to savagery. Accordingly, his suicide is also a murder in which the professional soldier condemns and puts his inner “savage” to death. In addition to killing the “savage” within him, he becomes the “savage” on whom the members of audience can project status anxieties about their own position in a global imperial order. By executing himself, Washirō displaces the anxiety of his spectators onto himself and offers himself as a substitute victim, bringing the audience a kind of cathartic relief. They, in turn, constitute themselves as members of a homogeneous and civilized country by expelling this racial “other” from the body of the nation.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 1 In his adaptation of Othello to contemporary Japan, Emi Suiin generally remains faithful to the story line of the play. However, he adds one scene that is absent from Shakespeare’s play, thereby altering the sense of the play and changing the genre to which the play belongs. In Othello, Othello receives a letter from the Duke enjoining him to leave his post and return to Venice, but the letter offers no reason for the recall. In Osero, by contrast, Kurachi, secretary to the Prime Minister, travels to Taiwan and orders Washirō to return to Japan to face accusations that he committed atrocities.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 Washiro: Who says I killed civilians? People who say this are shooting us in the back from afar. Rumors start flying because the distance is so great between Japan and Taiwan. Ha, ha,ha…
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Kurachi: The Japanese are an emotional people. They become envious when they watch you rise in fame and look for ways to make you stumble.… But public opinion is public opinion and since rumors are spreading, we can’t afford to ignore them. That is why I was sent here, but of course, the prime minister has complete trust in you.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 The letter from the prime minister requests that Washirō return and face charges about a massacre of civilians. In addition, Washirō learns that Count Fura is a member of the parliamentary commission demanding his recall and that he has been ordered to hand over the reins of power to his adjutant Katsu. Both details heighten his doubts about Tomone’s infidelity.
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 1 Adding a touch of political melodrama to the play, Emi suggests that Washirō is a victim of the cynical politics of the Meiji government. An outsider among the elite, he served the government loyally, but he was easily sacrificed once the foreign threat to the empire was removed. Lacking an independent power base, he is blamed for the “massacres” that accompany Japan’s expansion and tarnish its reputation as a civilized nation. In this scene, then, Washirō is trapped between the “civilized” Japanese colonizers and the “barbarous” colonized he is accused of massacring. Because this scene immediately precedes the play’s denouement, the spectator is left wondering whether Iya Gōzō is the only one who seeks to engineer the downfall of the protagonist. Indeed, judging by this added scene, Iya plays perhaps a more subsidiary role in Osero than Iago does in Othello. If Iya had not goaded the protagonist to commit a crime of passion, then the state might have employed different means to bring down General Washirō. Ultimately, the play Osero shows that the fashioning of a Japanese empire was inseparable from the subordination of subaltern groups to the cynical realpolitik of the modern state. While the government acted to mobilize these groups for service within the Japanese empire, it also treated them as disposable and callously discarded them once their services were no longer required.
¶ 66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0  In an autobiographical account of his career, Kawakami notes that he was arrested 170 times by the police and imprisoned 24 times for his anti-government skits and performances. Watakushi ga aruita michi (The Path of my Life), Kawakami Otojirō, recorded by Kawajiri Seitan, 19–, publisher unknown, page numbers not given.
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0  Lesley Downer calls him “the first Japanese rap star.” Leslie Downer, Madame Sadayakko: the Geisha who Bewitched the West (New York: Gotham Books, 2003), 53.
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0  The genre of the war play was a short-lived phenomenon. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), theatrical troupes also launched spectacles to capitalize on popular chauvinism, but they were upstaged by photographers and film makers who conveyed a realistic representation of the military battlefield at much lesser expense.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0  Donald Keene, “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Its Cultural Effects in Japan,” in Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture, ed, Donald Shively, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 159.
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0  Tozawa Koya, a professor of English at Tokyo Imperial University, translated several of Shakespeare’s plays, including several in conjunction with his colleague, Asano Wasaburō.
¶ 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0  Kenyūsha means, literally, friends of the inkstone. Established by the popular writer Ozaki Kōyō in 1885, this literary association had a major influence on the development of the Japanese fiction during the subsequent two decades.
¶ 75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 1  According to Emi, in the opening performance of Osero, the soldiers mistakenly fired on Washirō rather than Iya. Emi Suiin, Jiko Chūshin Meiji Bundanshi (A Self-Centered Literary History of Meiji Period) (Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1927), 387-89.
¶ 76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0  The play reflects the introduction of capitalism to Japan. Masuya Gohei (Shylock) stands for the negative side of the money economy, but Shotarō (Bassanio) represents the rising entrepreneurial class. See Yoshihara, opus cit, pp. 21-33.
¶ 77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0  Mori Ogai first used this term in an article written in 1889, “Engeki kairyō ronsha no henken ni odoroku” (Surprised by the Prejudices of Advocates of Theater Reform), in Ōgai Zenshū, Vol . 22, (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1973), 30-34.
¶ 78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 2  The long soliloquies of actors on stage were among the many conventions of Western theatre that Japanese audiences and actors had particular difficulty accepting. Suematsu Kenchō, a prominent proponent of theater reformer, pointed to the absence of soliloquies in Japanese plays as evidence of their barbarous and backward nature: “In Japanese plays, it is rare for a character to speak alone, and in this respect, our plays are far inferior to Western plays. It is most unfortunate that Japanese plays do not feature any famous soliloquies that could measure up to like Hamlet’s celebrated soliloquy “to be or not to be.” Suematsu Kenchō, “Engeki Kairyō Iken (My View on Theater Reform),” Meiji bunka zenshū, # 12, Bungaku geijutsuhen, (Tokyo: Nihon Hyōronsha, 1928), 232-3. Suematsu’s opinion notwithstanding, the theatrical convention of the soliloquy was no more “natural” than the Kabuki actor’s frozen poses (mie) at certain heightened dramatic moments of the plot. Kawakami, in his 1903 performance of Hamlet, dropped Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech from the play due to opposition of the actors in the performance.
¶ 79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0  Andrew Gerstle, “Artists’ and Scholars’ Use of the ‘Exotic’”, in Shakespeare East and West, ed. Minoru Fujita and Leonard Pronko, (London: Curzon Press Ltd., 1996), 69.
¶ 80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0  Entertainers such as singers, dancers, and actors formed a distinct class of non-hereditary pariahs (hinin) that were associated with the licensed quarters. Conrad Totman, 2000: 228-229. Chamberlain notes that kabuki actors were ‘despised” and that when a census was taken, they were “denoted by the numerals used in counting animals, thus ip-piki, ni-hiki, not hitori, futari.” Basil Chamberlain, Japanese Things: Being Notes on Various Subjects Connected With Japan, (Rutland: Tuttle, 1971), 465.
¶ 81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0  Miyako Shinbun 1/10 1901, cited in Shirakawa Nobuo, Kawakami Otojirō Sadayakko, Shinbun ni miru jinbutsuzō (Kawakami Otojirō and Sadayakko as seen in the newspapers) (Tokyo: Yūshōdō shuppan 1985), 342.
¶ 86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0  Sharon H. Nolte and Sally Ann Hastings, “The Meiji Policy Toward Women, 1890-1910,” in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945, ed. by Gail Lee Bernstein, (Berkeley: UC Press, 1991), 152.
¶ 87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0  Parents or lineal ascendants had to approve of the marriage of sons under the age of 30 and daughters under the age of 25. Harald Fuess, Divorce in Japan, Family, Gender and the State 1600-2000, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 117.
¶ 88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0  In this ideology, the emperor’s family, which had ruled Japan in an unbroken line of descent from Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, constituted the main family line and all other Japanese households were branch families of the same house.
¶ 89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0  Emi Suiin, Osero, in Meiji Hon’yaku Bungaku Zenshū Shinbun Zasshi hen: #4 Sheikusupia (Anthology of Meiji-period Translated Literature in Newspapers and Periodicals: #4 Shakespeare) (Tokyo: Ōsorasha, 1997), 28.
¶ 91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0  Yoshihara Yukari. “Emi Suiin hon’an Kawakami Otojirō ichiza jōen Osero (The Emi Suiin/ Kawakami Otojirō Adaptation of Osero),” in Shakaibungaku # 21 (2005): 27.
¶ 92 Leave a comment on paragraph 92 0  See Taira Tatsuhiko, “Hon’an kōdanka Oserō to shinbun shōsetsu Abata Denshichirō, Ronshō” (A Study of the serialized Abata Denshichirō and the adaptation of Othello for Kōdan) in Akita Keizai Hōka Daigaku tanki daigaku bu, #74, 2004, 1-30.
¶ 100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0  Omi and Winant define racialization as an ideological process that involves “the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice, or group.” Ibid, 54.
¶ 102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0  Kurokawa Midori and Fujino Yutaka, Kingendai Burakushi, saihen sareru sabetsu no kōzō (Modern History of the Buraku: The Reproduction of Structures of Discrimination), (Tokyo: Yūshisha, 2009), 51.
¶ 103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0  Because of this early 20th century history, the Burakumin Liberation league has consistently promoted assimilation of burakumin into Japanese society and their recognition as ethnically Japanese. It does not consider the burakumin as an ethnic minority group and denounces anyone who claims that they are ethnically different from the Japanese.
¶ 104 Leave a comment on paragraph 104 0  Takahashi Yoshio, Nihon jinshu kairyō ron (On the Improvement of the Japanese Race), 1885, in Meiji Bunka Shiryō Sōsho, ed. Kaji Ryūichi Vol 6. (Tokyo: Kazama Shobō, 1961), 55.
¶ 106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0  Fujii cited in Kurokawa Midori. Ika to Dōka no Aida: hisabetsu buraku ninshiki no kiseki (Between Assimilation and Differentiation: Changing Conceptions of the Discriminated Hamlets), (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1999), 52.
¶ 107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0  For a summary of his finding in Hyogo prefecture, see Torii Ryūzō, “Eta no jinruigaku chōsa” (Anthropological Survey of the Eta) cited in Kurokawa, op cit, 55; regarding Tokushima, see Torii Ryūzō, “Eta ni tsuite no jinruigakuteki chōsa” (Anthropological Survey regarding the Eta), Tōkyō Jinruigakkai Zasshi, #140 (11/28/1897): 45-47.
¶ 109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0  Sugiura (1886) cited in Kō Yonran, “Tekisasu o meguru gensetsuken” (The Discursive Realm of Texas) in Diskūru no teikoku (Empire of Discourse), eds Kaneko Akio, Takahashi Osamu, Yoshida Morio (Tokyo: Shinyōsha, 2000), 279.
¶ 110 Leave a comment on paragraph 110 0  During the Edo period, a few writers proposed that the bakufu mobilize the outcasts to colonize Ezo (Hokkaido), but the government never implemented these schemes. in the Meiji period, public intellectuals supported the emigration of “new commoners” to both Hokkaido and to the South Seas. Unlike their predecessors in the Edo period, they appealed directly to the patriotism of members of minority group and tried to win their enthusiastic participation in these projects. Noah McCormack, “Buraku Emigration in the Meiji Era—Other Ways to Become ‘Japanese,’” in East Asian History 23(2002): 87-108.
¶ 111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0  According to the book cover, the story was conceived by Sugiura but was written by Fukumoto Nichinan (1857-1921). Fukumoto, also a member of the Seikyōsha, was a prominent advocate of Japan’s southward expansion and, according to one account, he attempted to realize the plan described in “Hankai Dream Story.” Okamoto Wataru, Tokushu buraku no kaihō (The Liberation of Special Hamlets), (Tokyo: Saisho shoten, 1921), 267-70.
¶ 115 Leave a comment on paragraph 115 0  The new commoner protagonist of the novel could only become a full-fledged Japanese on condition that he leave Japan. See Michael Bourdaghs, The Dawn that Never Comes: Shimazaki Toson and Japanese Nationalism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 65.
¶ 116 Leave a comment on paragraph 116 0  In 20th century South Africa, the apartheid regime banned Othello because it features miscegenation; in post-apartheid South Africa, the play has been received as an attack on modern racism and a work which make the voices of oppressed heard. Jyotsna Singh, “Different Shakespeares: The Bard in Colonial/Postcolonial India,” in Shakespeare Varied Perspectives, Vikram Chopra, ed. (Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1996), 123-25.
¶ 117 Leave a comment on paragraph 117 0  In 1899, Japan negotiated a treaty with Great Britain that abolished extraterritoriality. In 1911, fixed tariffs—which had permitted the cheap importation of Western goods—were eliminated, putting a final stop to the unequal treaties imposed on Japan since the middle of the nineteenth century.
¶ 119 Leave a comment on paragraph 119 0  In the United States and Great Britain, journalists tended to portray the Japanese as standing for the values of civilization and the Chinese as representing barbarism. See Trumbell White, The War in the East: Japan, China and Corea, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Monarch Book Co, 1895), 595; S. C. M. Paine, The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Power, Perceptions and Primacy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 213.
¶ 124 Leave a comment on paragraph 124 0  Osaka Mainichi Shinbun, March 1, 1903, reprinted in Jinruikan fūinsareta tobira (The Human Pavilion: the Sealed Door), Engeki Jinruikan no jōen o jitsugen sasetai kai, ed, (Osaka: Aatowaakusu, 2005), 394-96.
¶ 126 Leave a comment on paragraph 126 0  Tsuboi cited in Itō Mamiko, “Daigokai naikoku kangyō hakuenkai to banpaku kaisai e no mosaku; Taiwankan to Jinruikan ” (Exploring The Fifth Industrial Exposition and The Sponsorship of World Fairs: The Taiwan Pavilion and the House of Peoples), Nihon Rekishi, #686 (7/2005): 82.
¶ 127 Leave a comment on paragraph 127 0  For a detailed account, see Arazato Kinpuku and Oshiro Natsuhiro, Kindai Okinawa no ayumi (The Development of Modern Okinawa), (Tokyo: Taiheiyo Shuppansha, 1969), 198-200.
¶ 129 Leave a comment on paragraph 129 0  In a 1900 lecture, the Okinawan intellectual Ota Chōfu asserted: “One of the most important tasks for present-day Okinawa is to make everything look as it does in other prefectures in Japan. We should even sneeze the way people in other prefectures do.” Cited in Oguma Eiji ‘Nihonjin’ no kyōkai (The Boundaries of the Japanese), (Tokyo: Shinyōsha, 1998), 281.
¶ 132 Leave a comment on paragraph 132 0  On Okinawans, see Mark Peattie, “The Nan’yō: Japan in the South Pacific, 1885-1945,” in The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945, eds. Ramon H. Myers and Mark R. Peattie (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 196-97; On Koreans, see Hyun Ok Park, “Korean Manchuria: The Racial Politics of Territorial Osmosis,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly. 99:1 (Winter 2000): 193-217.
¶ 133 Leave a comment on paragraph 133 0  Nakahodo Masanori, Okinawa bungakuron no hōhō: yamatoyo to amerikayo no moto de (Methodology of Okinawa Literature Study: From Japanese Rule to American Rule), (Tokyo: Shinseisha, 1987), 10-13.
¶ 135 Leave a comment on paragraph 135 0  Suzuki Masae, “Kindai Okinawa to Sheikusupia Juyō” (The Reception of Shakespeare in Modern Okinawa) in Fukusū no Okinawa: diasupora kara kibo e, Nishi Masahiko and Hara Takehiko, eds., (Tokyo: Jinbun Shoin, 2003), 107-114.
¶ 141 Leave a comment on paragraph 141 0  Coleridge speaks of Iago’s “motiveless malignity.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 On Literature, ed. R. A. Foakes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 315. Iago’s motive for seeking Othello’s downfall has always been an enigma for students of the play.