japonisme: on realities and illusions

08 August 2007

on realities and illusions

let us be clear. this is what the real mikado looked like at the time of the mikado. emperor at 15, emperor meiji stressed the importance of wearing western clothing, as he is wearing here, in his 20s.

right around that same day, had you been seeing a new operetta back in new england, you might have gotten the idea that a mikado looked like this, where actually it is Frederick Federici.

through the following decades, you might have seen something near to this model; here ...

or here ...

or maybe here....

or maybe even here....

interesting, though, this was not a point of conflict.

perhaps moreso (though who cannot relate?) were his 'punishments to fit the crime":

All prosy dull society sinners,
Who chatter and bleat and bore,
Are sent to hear sermons
From mystical Germans
Who preach from ten till four.
The amateur tenor, whose vocal villainies
All desire to shirk,
Shall, during off-hours,
Exhibit his powers
To Madame Tussaud's waxwork.
The lady who dyes a chemical yellow
Or stains her grey hair puce,
Or pinches her figure,
Is painted with vigour
And permanent walnut juice.
The idiot who, in railway carriages,
Scribbles on window-panes,
We only suffer
To ride on a buffer
In Parliamentary trains.

what caused a major uproar among trad- itionalists were the wonderful, new, 1926 designs charles ricketts devised for the d'oyly carte production.

The admitted refurbishing consisted of new scenery, new dresses, and new properties designed by Mr. Charles Ricketts, which in the mass made a highly effective scheme of colour. The Mikado dressed like that may or may not be more Japanese than the old setting; it is certainly less English. Again, the faithful may complain that it is less "Gilbertian," that Yum-Yum and her companions should remain pretty girls according to thoroughly Western notions, whatever their dresses may be, and that the Japaneseness should not be allowed to go further than the bric-à-brac of the mid-Victorian drawing-room. 2

even punch lampooned the changes.

what more serious conflicts did occur, at the time, and over the years in response are covered very interestingly here.

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Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks for an enlightening essay, Lotusgreen. Every time my attention is drawn back to the Mikado, I think I could spend a whole lifetime appreciating the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. Their lyrics were so witty and erudite, there is really no one else like them.

You are such a fan of Japanese culture, I don't know if you regard the Mikado as an impure bastardization of the original. But for me, I think it is terrific.

15 August, 2007 14:19  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

now david--do you really think i'd spend so much time discussing the mikado if i thought it was impure?

... well... on second thought ;^)

as i've said here, that's an ongoing open question with no possible "true" answer. it's a celebration, a fascination, a delight, an inspiration, and something that encouraged misunderstanding.

any excuse for beauty is a good one.

16 August, 2007 19:16  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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