Sada Yacco (she may not be the Japanese Terry, if she be the
Japanese Duse) and I sat comfortably on the white sands of the
seashore off Chigasaki, where she has her country villa. Yes, we
sat like two children estrayed from the world. Before us the
eternal Fuji mountain, that white dome of beauty and art, stood like
a ghost. Madam Yacco must have been praying before the holy
mountain to have her art ennobled and her heart purified.
"Art is nothing but heart. Heart, only heart," she
declared a while ago. Now we were quiet and dreamy,
hearing the white song of the sea-waves which kissed our
feet. She appeared perfectly graceful and bewitching.
(By the way, she is no more a young girl, being above
The golden sun--did you ever see how brightly
the Japanese spring sun shines?--fell luxuriously over her flowing
hair. She left off dressing her hair in the stiff Japanese mode
ever since she returned from her foreign trip. She is adopting
every American and European custom, not only in her hair dressing.
I fancied that even her eyes sparkled like an American actress. To
hear her voice was a great treat.
"I owe everything to America. My American trip was my
education. America, America, what a great sound America has! Why,
I should like to go there again. This is a secret. How funny woman
has so many secrets! My husband (Oto Kawakami) is about signing a
contract with a certain manager to appear first in Argentine, and
our plan is to turn to America then. When? Next year, Mr. Noguchi.
"America taught me that naturalness was the foremost art. The
make-up of the face for instance. We used to make our faces like a
woman's in a Japanese picture--drawing little slender eyebrows,
reddening our lips, and powdering our faces thickly. American
critics said they were not the faces of living women, but of dead
persons. So they are. But Japanese think they are beauty. There's
nothing more unnatural than the Japanese make-up in face. Yes, I
learned so many things in America. In Japan a laughing face is
forbidden while dancing. But in America we must appear smiling and
happy in dancing. Japanese art is to make one as a doll. And on
the American stage we have to show ourselves as living women.
"It was a perfect wonder to see the variety of American face
powders. There are more than ten kinds to be sure. Science is
applied even to the powder. And we must make up according to
science. Once I ordered powder in New York and I was sent a yellow
powder. 'No thank you, my face is yellow enough,' I said, and
returned it. The storekeeper insisted on my using it, and I tried
it. To my surprise that yellow powder appeared creamy white on my
yellow face. When I renewed my order the storekeeper must have said
'I told you so.' How petty to think only the white powder the thing
to beautify the face! And after joining with Miss Loie Fuller (of
butterfly dance fame) in Paris, I learned a great deal from her.
She was wonderfully young for her age. She must be more than
fifty. Her house was such a wonder, with four or five carriages and
fifty horses. We played at the Théatre Loie Fuller on the Paris
Exposition grounds. She danced, too. She was a great manager
herself. Our company was paid three thousand dollars a week, but
afterward she begged us to cut down the salary.
"Our experience in America was the bitterest one, however. We
were ignorant about managing, and did not know what sort of play
would fit the American taste. We made a flat failure in San
Francisco. We landed on the Pacific Coast without any funds. You
can imagine how hungry, how discouraged we were. We engaged to play
at the California Theatre of 'Frisco for one week and we couldn't
continue more than three nights for various reasons. We were so
foolish as to appear to an American audience with one of our
classical dramas like Kasunohe. Nobody could understand, since they
had no knowledge of our Japanese history. Immediately we found out
that we must play a love play. Love is universal. Then we played
Geisha and Knight, which was a universal success through America and
Europe. It was a queer mixture of Japanese plays, but it appealed
to the American mind with love, and delighted with our gorgeous
costumes. Americans love anything showy and happy; they will not
stand things uselessly tragic. We used to omit the cutting-head-off
scene from Kesa. Once we showed the bloody part of it, and some
lady in the audience thrilled from fear. But in France things are
different. The more bloody the more glad the audience will be. My
death scene was the chiefest success in Paris. It seems to me that
the French are bloody people in heart. They are glad to cry rather
than to laugh. They are, perhaps, glad to kill or to be killed
rather than to cry. The young lady who appeared as if she wouldn't
tease even a butterfly would look at our 'haraki scene' with the
coolest face possible, and she would be glad at seeing it. Under
their grace and beauty all the French people are hungry for blood
and tears, I dare say. However, I am most grateful to France, since
she brought us to the front of the world of art and theatre. I owe
her the recommendation for my success of to-day.
"The American theatre was a wonder for us. Even electricity was
not used in the Japanese theatre some fifteen years years ago.
Drops and scenery were a revelation. We were studying in America
rather than acting to Americans. We landed in San Francisco
hopelessly ignorant, and returned fairly acquainted with the
dramatic art and stagecraft. As I said, we owe everything to
"Once in New York we attended a certain dramatic school, whose
president, I believe, was a certain Mr. Bellnap. We saw a pantomime
there which struck us forcibly. After we returned home we added to
it some Japanese original art of 'acting without words,' and made
out of it some new thing. Mr. Bellnap gave us The Traitor
Samisen--a one-act play with a poor artist and heartless wife--and
we expect to put it on the stage.
"We found a manager first in Chicago by the name of Mr.
Comstock. Till then we had no manager. What a terrible experience
we had in 'Frisco and other Coast cities! After Chicago we had a
fairly good reception in Boston. We played before the late
President McKinley at the Japanese legation of Washington. We had
the most cordial welcome. Even the critics made splendid comments.
Some paper compared my husband with great Booth in Soga, saying that
his tragic power and minute acting had no rival. It was laughingly
overpraised, of course. Our sail in New York was easy after having
gained distinction at Washington. I, especially , was treated
handsomely. Once I was invited by the Actress' Club, and became a
special member, and was given a medal of 'good luck.' Also, we were
invited to the Players' Club, which is the monument of the dead
"And in London! Everything went as we expected. Even a play
like Takanori, which was little appreciated in America, was received
heartily. English people understand what is loyalty and Americans
don't. It may be the difference between a republic and an imperial
kingdom. The highest honor we received in London was nothing but
that we were admitted before the Prince of Wales of those days, the
King Edward of to-day, and played before him. A stage in the
fashion of the Japanese stage was made in Buckingham Palace grounds,
and the play was such a success. The prince was immensely pleased,
especially with my Dojoji, and he gave me a kind word and asked me
many questions. 'How lovely is your hair,' he said playfully.
Afterward we were given two thousand dollars in English gold. While
we were playing at the Coronet we signed a contract with Miss Loie
Fuller. We played also at the Japanese legation of Paris, and
before the President of France. I had such a lovely talk with Mrs.
President, and we walked arm in arm in the garden. (It was a garden
party where we were invited and played). I made acquaintances with
Miss Bernhardt and other French actresses, who gave me a thousand
valuable suggestions. My life in Paris was the most delightful
one. I can hardly forget it.
"After all, the American theatre is the most competent, and the
American actresses are the best. And the American critics are
generous, not falling into flattery and foolish praise. The falling
into flattery and foolish praise. The American criticism was an
education for us. We learned much from it. And it gave us hints
and points which were new and adoptable.
"Am I not tired playing for six long hours instead of three, as
in America, you say? I tell you, Mr. Noguchi, that three hours of
America are harder than six hours in Japan. Why? In America we are
not acting before an audience like the Japanese, who smoke, talk,
eat, occasionally sleep, and often bring their babies with them.
And the Japanese audience hardly see the play. But in America the
audience are serious and study and criticise. To play before them
is not easy work at all. As long as our Japanese way of seeing the
play does not change we see little hope of improving the Japanese
theatre. Japanese come to spend their time rather than to see the
play. Alas, they do not understand that the theatre is the holy
dome of art and humanity. There will be some time yet for the
Japanese theatre to become a holy place of poetry and human beauty.
Let me say again, the play is nothing but heart! Yes, heart,
"I thank you, Madam Yacco, for giving me such a delightful
"Not at all, Mr. Noguchi. Come often, will you?"
Courtesy of Darrel.C. Karl
Drawing by T.F. Simon. Theatre Moderne Paris. FS 1908