“All the world’s a stage”: diplomatic entertainment in inter-war Japan

08 February 2019

Area Studies | Empire and Globalism

In 1929, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester travelled to Japan to invest Emperor Hirohito with the Order of the Garter and in honour of the visit, the prince was treated to a presentation of a Kabuki drama by the famous Kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo. Browsing through Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1930: Japan and Great Power Status, the newly released third section of Adam Matthew’s Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 collection, I came across a programme prepared specifically for the drama’s performance for Prince Henry.

Titled Jusansai no Yoritomo (Thirteen-Year-Old Yoritomo) and written by Kinka Kimura, the drama recalls Japan’s early history, telling the story of young Minamoto no Yoritomo who, in 1185, would become the first shōgun of the Kamakura shogunate of Japan.

Image © The National Archives London, UK. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Image © The National Archives London, UK. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Very much written with its audience in mind, the programme provides a unique insight into the status of diplomatic relations between Britain and Japan at this time. An introduction to the drama notes that its style blends Japanese tradition with Western influences:

“Mr Kimura treats his subject matter in a manner which, in many ways, is distinctly new to Japan. The Kabuki drama is remaining true to its century-old traditions for the great part, but the stage art and technique of the West are wielding a greater and greater influence over it.”

Arguably, with the aid of hindsight, this programme also suggests the conflict of interests faced by Japan in terms of developing international relationships with the West whilst pursuing its own imperial aims – something that would rise to the surface particularly during the 1930s. Of the story itself, the Introduction notes:

“This period has been called “Japan’s War of Roses,” but it is not an accurate analogy, for neither of the great warrior families dreamed of disturbing the Emperor on his Throne. All that was sought was temporal power under his authority.”

As Japan’s imperialist intentions increased in the 1930s, diplomatic ties were tested and broken. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, Hirohito’s status as a member of the Order of the Garter was revoked (it would, however, be reinstated in 1971). Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 charts the shifting nature of Anglo-Japanese relations throughout this turbulent period of international economic, social and political instability.

 

1919-1930: Japan and Great Power Status, Section III of Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952, is available now. For more information, including trial access and price enquiries, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Amy Hubbard

Amy Hubbard

Since joining Adam Matthew’s editorial team in January 2015 I’ve had the privilege to work on some fantastic resources including ‘World’s Fairs: A Global History of Exhibitions’, 'Race Relations in America‘ and 'Socialism on Film: The Cold War and International Propaganda’. My academic background is in literature and film and my main academic interests lie in visual culture, in particular anything to do with David Bowie.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.