Okamoto Kido (岡本綺堂)

Kido OKAMOTO (November 11, 1872 - March 1, 1939) was a novelist and playwright. His real name was Keiji OKAMOTO. His other pseudonyms included Kyokido, 鬼菫 and Kojiro. He was known as a playwright for Shin Kabuki (New Kabuki) and author of novels such as 'Hanshichi Torimonocho' (The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi).


He was born in Takanawa, Tokyo as the first son of Keinosuke (later Kiyoshi), a former shogunal retainer who worked for the British Legation after the Meiji Restoration. In 1873, following the relocation of the legation to Kojimachi, he moved to Motozono-cho, Kojimachi and grew up there, learning Chinese poetry from his father and English from his uncle and British students at the legation. When he was studying at Tokyo Ordinary Middle School (later Tokyo First Junior High School and currently Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya High School), he intended to become a playwright and after graduation joined a newspaper publisher, Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun. After that, he worked as a journalist for newspapers such as the Chuo Shinbun and Eiri Nippo for 24 years, until 1913. At the time of the Russo-Japanese War, he stayed in Manchuria as a war correspondent. He redeemed a geisha in Yoshiwara called Sakae KOJIMA who was from the Uwajima clan, and married her.

While he was writing reviews on plays or reports on society as a journalist under the name of Kyokido, in 1891 he published a novel, 'Takamatsu-jo' (Takamatsu-jo Castle), in the Tokyo Nichinichi newspaper. In 1896, his first play, 'Shishinden' (The Throne Hall), was published in "Kabuki Shinpo" (Kabuki News). In 1902, 'Kogane no Shachi Uwasa no Takanami' (written as a collaboration with Onitaro OKA) was performed in the Kabuki-za Theater. This play seemed to have received poor reviews, but he later became one of the top playwrights for Shin Kabuki through the success of 'Ishin Zengo' (Before and After the Restoration) and 'Shuzenji Monogatari' (The Tale of Shuzenji), and the new term 'Kido-mono' (Kido's play) was even created.

After 1913 he devoted himself to writing and published many newspaper serial novels, detective stories and thrillers. He wrote 196 plays during his lifetime. In 1916 he wrote two newspaper serial novels at the same time for the Kokumin Shinbun and Jiji Shinpo newspapers ('Sumizome' and 'Eginu'). In the same year, being inspired by Sherlock Holmes, he started to write 'Hanshichi Torimonocho,' the first detective novel in Japan, which was filled with the atmosphere of Edo and gained long-lasting popularity. His horror novels include adaptations of ancient Chinese horror stories and Western horror stories, and also compiled and translated works such as "Sekai Kaidan Meisakushu" (The World's Best Horror Stories) and "Shina Kaiki Shosetsushu" (Chinese Horror Stories). His accounts of Kabuki viewing from his childhood, "Ranpu no Moto nite" (Under the Lamp) is a valuable resource for learning about Kabuki in the Meiji period.

His style of writing was said to have changed after he traveled to the West in 1918. In the Great Kanto Earthquake, he lost his home and he stayed in the house of his disciple Roppuku NUKADA, later moving to Azabu and then to Hyakunin-cho in the following year. In 1930, he released a monthly magazine called "Butai" (Stage) in order to educate young people, serving as the editorial supervisor. In 1937, he became the first member of the Japan Art Academy from the field of theater. From around 1935 on, he did not write many novels or essays, mainly penning occasional gossip stories for the magazine "Sunday Mainichi." His last novel was 'Tora' (Tiger), published in 1937, but he continued to publish plays in the magazine "Butai" until 1938.

In 1939, he died from pneumonia in Meguro. He was buried in Aoyama Cemetery. After his death, Kyoichi OKAMOTO, his former Shosei (a student who is given room and board in exchange for performing domestic duties) and adopted son, established a publishing company named 'Seiabo' for the purpose of preserving Kido's works. The current president, Shuichi OKAMOTO, is Kido's grandson.

His Major Works

Shishinden' was first performed in 1902 at the Kabuki-za Theater. In 1908 he wrote 'Ishin Zengo' upon the request of Otojiro KAWAKAMI for 'the innovative performance' of Sadanji ICHIKAWA the Second at the Meiji-za Theater. They later established such a close relationship that he wrote 65 plays for Sadanji, and among Sadanji's popular series of performances called 'Kyoka Gikyoku Jusshu' (Ten Plays of Apricot Flower), 6 plays were written by Kido, and Sadanji did not allow other actors to perform them during his lifetime. Shuzenji Monogatari' was completed in 1909 and first performed in 1911 at the Meiji-za Theater. It was also performed at the Theater Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1927 by Firmin Gémier.

In 1927, he wrote 'Haikaishi' (Haiku Poet) and it was performed in the following year at the Shintomi-za Theater starring Kichiemon NAKAMURA the First. Afterwards, he wrote 'Shigure Furu Yoru' (A Drizzling Night), 'Gonza to Sukeju' (Gonza and Sukeju), 'Furin Sobaya' (Soba Noodle Seller at Night) and so on for Kichiemon.

"Ranpu no Moto nite" was a series published in the magazine "Shin Engei" (New Theater Arts) under the title of 'Suginishi Monogatari' (A Past Story) from 1920 to 1922 and from 1924 to 1925. The first half of it appeared again in the magazine "Kabuki" from 1929 to 1930. In 1935 it was published under the title of "Meiji Gekidan Ranpu no Moto nite" (On the Theater of the Meiji Period - Under the Lamp). In 1942, it was published under the title of "Meiji no Engeki" (The Theater of the Meiji Period) together with "Kabuki Dangi" (Kabuki Lecture) for Daito Selected Classics of Literature by Daito Publishing, and it was recommended by the Ministry of Education as "a contribution to the moral education of young people during the war." It did not mention the private lives of actors because Kido did not have any private relationship with actors as a play critic, not even visiting their backstage rooms, a fact which did not change after he started to write plays, including with Sadanji the Second. Since the 1949 version, 'Meiji Engeki Nenpyo' (Timeline of Theater History in the Meiji Period) by Kido has been included.

Hanshichi Torimonocho
In 1916, he became interested in detective stories, inspired by reading Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and decided to write his own detective story in pure Edo style, because he thought that a contemporary story might easily be an imitation of Western stories. Thereafter he wrote three stories and gave them under the title of 'Hanshichi Torimonocho' to a magazine called "Bungei Kurabu" (Literature Club) when it asked him to write a series, which started from the January issue of the following year. It became popular and he continued writing. From 1919 he wrote nine stories under the title of 'Hanshichi Kikigakicho' (The Hanshichi Notebooks) using a style in which Hanshichi took dictation of his senior's stories, at which point the series came to a temporary halt. It was later published in book form and its popularity increased, so when the magazine "Kuraku" (Joys and Sorrows) was launched in 1924, Matsutaro KAWAGUCHI asked him to write a sequel. However, he declined, saying that he would not write the Hanshichi series any more, and instead he wrote a series of other old stories called 'Miura Rojin Mukashibanashi' (Stories by Old Mr. Miura). In 1934, he started to write the Hanshichi series again upon the request of the magazine "Kodan Kurabu" (Kodan Club) and Seiji NOMA, president of the publisher Kodansha and a fan of Hanshichi. He continued writing it until the age of 65, and its last story 'Ninin Nyobo' (Two Wives) was also the last novel written by Kido.

The Hanshichi series was adapted into a play by Kido and performed in 1926 starring Kikugoro ONOE the Sixth, and the old gossip stories which appeared in it were also used for the stages of narrative artists in the post-war period, such as Shozo HAYASHIYA and Ensho SANYUTEI the Sixth for Rakugo (comic story telling), Engyoku GODOKEN for Kodan (dramatic story telling), and Hiroshi TAKAHASHI and Kinsho KURATA for Monogatari (story telling). Kido visited Takeaki ENOMOTO and Kaishu KATSU when he was working for newspapers, and made good use of that experience in his works.

It is a series of detective stories set in the residence of a lawyer named Umezawa in Koishikawa. It was published under the title of 'Seiado Kidan' (Mysterious Tales at Seiado) in the magazine "Kuraku" and became popular, and then was published in book form in 1926. Following that, in the same year, he rewrote horror stories he had written for other magazines in the same style and published them under the title of "Kindai Iyo Hen" (Modern Mysterious Tales). In 1927 and 1928, "Tantei Yawa" (Detective Stories at Night) and "Kokin Tantei Juwa" (Ten Detective Stories of Past and Present) were published. They are not really like contemporary detective stories but rather romantic and mysterious stories with a taste of detective stories of the time.