Transcript: Lesley Downer, on her book Madame Sadayako | Jun 08, 2003

Lesley Downer stands behind a wooden lectern in a conference room. Behind her rises a stone chimney, and two oil paintings hang from a wall.
Lesley is in her forties, with shoulder-length wavy brown hair. She's wearing a black cardigan over a black shirt.

She says SO, WE CAN
START BY STEPPING ONTO A MAGIC
CARPET AND TWIRLING BACK IN
TIME.
IT'S 1899.
OKAY?
IT'S THE TURN OF THE CENTURY.
IT'S THE NAUGHTY 90S.
IT'S THE FANTASY û-
IT'S LA BELLE EPOCH IN PARIS
AND VIENNA.
SO YOU ARE ALL LADIES AND
GENTLEMEN OF 1899, TORONTO.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Lesley Downer. Author 'Madame Sadayakko.'"

Lesley continues LESS THAN 50 YEARS HAVE PASSED
SINCE COMMODORE MATTHEW PERRY
STEAMED INTO YOKOHAMA BAY IN
HIS BLACK SHIPS, AND FORCED
JAPAN TO OPEN ITS DOORS TO
TRADE AND COMMERCE WITH THE
WEST.
AND EVER SINCE THEN JAPANESE
ARTS AND CRAFTS HAVE BEEN
FLOODING SO WEST.
SO YOU LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF
1899 ARE MAD ABOUT JAPANESISM,
ABOUT JAPANESE CULTURE.
YOU'RE BUSY BUYING WOODBLOCK
PRINTS TO HANG IN YOUR HOMES,
AND YOU'RE FURNISHING YOUR
HOMES WITH UM, SWORDS AND
SCREENS AND ALL SORTS OF
WONDERFUL, JAPANESE KNICKNACKS.
THE HOTTEST ART MOVEMENT IS ART
NOVEAU, WHICH IS HUGELY
INSPIRED BY THESE VERY SAME
WOODBLOCK PRINTS.
AND THE GREAT ARTISTS OF OUR
TIME LIKE MANET, AND MONET AND
WHISTLER, AND VAN GOGH BUY
WOODBLOCK PRINTS, COLLECT THEM
AND ACTUALLY COPY THEM.
YOU ALSO MAY TRAVEL ACROSS THE
ATLANTIC TO MR. ARTHUR LACEN B.
LIBERTIES, EXCITING NEW
EMPORIUM ON REGENT STREET IN
LONDON TO BUY YET MORE SCREENS
AND WHAT HAVE YOU FOR YOUR
HOMES.
AND YOU QUITE POSSIBLY WEAR
KIMONOS WHEN YOU GO TO PARTIES.
BUT YOU'VE, ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE
THIS MASSIVE COLLECTION OF
JAPANOSORI, YOU QUITE POSSIBLY
HAVE NEVER SEEN A REAL JAPANESE
PERSON.
IT'S ALL JAPANESE ARTS AND
CRAFTS.
AND IF YOU HAVE, YOU'VE NEVER
SEEN ANYONE THAT LOOKS LIKE
YOUR IMAGINING OF THE EXOTIC
EAST.
THEN ONE DAY AN ARTICLE APPEARS
IN THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE.
IT'S MAY THE 20TH, 1899, AND
THE HEADLINE IS MADAME YAKKO,
THE LEADING GEISHA OF JAPAN
COMING HERE.
IT'S AS IF EVERYONE'S DREAMS
ABOUT THE EXOTIC EAST HAVE COME
TRUE.
SHE IS INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.
SHE'S AS BEAUTIFUL IN THE
FIGURES IN THOSE WOODBLOCK
PRINTS THAT YOU'VE BEEN BUSY
COLLECTING, AND SHE'S EVEN A
GEISHA.
SHE'S YOUR FANTASIES OF THE
ORIENT COME TO LIFE.
SO, TODAY I'M GOING TO TELL YOU
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SADAYAKKO
AND ALSO ABOUT HOW I SET OUT
DISCOVERING HER AND HER LIFE.
WELL, I FIRST CAME ACROSS
SADAYAKKO WHEN I WAS
RESEARCHING MY LAST BOOK, WHICH
WAS ABOUT GEISHA.
AND DISCOVERED SHE HAD BEEN
LIKE THE SARAH BERNHARDT OF
JAPAN.
SHE WAS JAPAN'S FIRST
INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR.
SHE WENT RIGHT AROUND THE
WORLD.
SHE TOURED THE WHOLE WORLD.
AND SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE
JAPAN'S FIRST CELEBRITY COUPLE.
THEY WERE LIKE THE JENNIFER
LOPEZ AND BEN AFFLECK OF
VICTORIAN JAPAN.
OR POSSIBLY MADONNA AND GUY
RITCHIE.
BUT TO MY AMAZEMENT ALTHOUGH
SHE WAS SO FAMOUS IN HER DAY,
SHE SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN TOTALLY
FORGOTTEN IN JAPAN AS WELL AS
IN THE WEST.
SO, I SET OFF TO FIND OUT AS
MUCH AS I COULD ABOUT HER.
WELL, HER BIRTH NAME WAS SADA
KOYAMA.
SHE WAS BORN IN 1871.
SHE WAS BORN RIGHT IN THE HEART
OF TOKYO.
SO MUCH RIGHT IN THE MERCANTILE
HEART, THAT LIKE EIGHT YEARS
AFTER SHE WAS BORN THE BANK OF
JAPAN WAS BUILT RIGHT THERE ON
HER BIRTH PLACE.
AND SHE WAS EXTREMELY
BEAUTIFUL, EXTREMELY TALENTED.
UM, BUT THERE WERE A COUPLE OF
PROBLEMS.
FIRST OF ALL SHE WAS THE LAST
OF 12 CHILDREN, WHICH MEANT HER
FAMILY HAD 12 MOUTHS TO FEED.
AND SHE WAS BORN INTO A SAMURAI
FAMILY WHICH HAD FALLEN ON HARD
TIMES.
SO, WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU'RE A
SAMURAI FAMILY FALLEN ON HARD
TIMES IN VICTORIAN JAPAN?
WELL, YOU SELL YOUR DAUGHTER TO
BE A GEISHA.
AND THEY SOLD HER TO THE GEISHA
DISTRICT OF YOSHICHON, WHICH IS
ONLY TEN MINUTES FROM WHERE SHE
WAS BORN RIGHT IN THE HEART OF
TOKYO.
I KNOW WESTERNERS HAVE ALL
SORTS OF CONCEPTIONS OF WHAT A
GEISHA IS.
UM, AND NO MATTER HOW MANY
TIMES YOU'RE TOLD THAT IT'S
NOTHING TO DO WITH SEX, NOBODY
REALLY QUITE BELIEVES THAT.
AS FAR AS GEISHA ARE CONCERNED
THEY ARE ARTISTES.
THE WORD MEANS ARTS PERSON.
GEI IS ARTS, SHA IS PERSON.
AND THEY PRACTICE DANCE WHICH
IS LIKE JAPANESE CLASSICAL
DANCE, IT'S LIKE BALLET.
IT'S NOT PHYSICALLY LIKE BALLET
BUT IT HAS THE SAME STATUS AS
BALLET IN JAPAN.
AND THEY ALSO PRACTICE JAPANESE
CLASSICAL SINGING, WHICH HAS
THE SAME STATUS AS OPERA.
SO, THEY SEE THEMSELVES AS
MUSICIANS AND DANCERS.
AND AT THE END OF THE 19TH
CENTURY WHEN SHE WAS BORN, IT
WAS, IT WAS A KIND OF
AMBIVALENT PROFESSION.
ON THE ONE HAND THESE WERE
CELEBRITIES.
THEY WERE THE CELEBRITIES OF
THEIR DAY, LIKE THE ACTRESSES
OF THE VICTORIAN WEST, LIKE
SARAH BERNHARDT, AND THEY'RE
DEPICTED IN MANY, MANY
WOODBLOCK PRINTS.
WOMEN WOULD COPY THEIR
FASHIONS.
MEN WHO COULDN'T AFFORD THEIR
COMPANY WOULD BUY, BUY
WOODBLOCK PRINTS LIKE PINUP
POSTERS OF THEM.
BUT JUST AS MODERN PEOPLE IN
THE WEST TODAY, PEOPLE IN JAPAN
THEN WERE NOT TOTALLY SURE
THAT, THAT WAS THE FULL STORY.
THEY THOUGHT MAYBE SOMETHING
ELSE WENT ON AT THOSE TEAHOUSE
PARTIES.
AND RATHER AS IN THE OLD,
VICTORIAN SONG, "DON'T PUT YOUR
DAUGHTER ON THE STAGE MRS.
WORTHINGTON," UM, NOBODY
ACTUALLY WANTED THEIR OWN
DAUGHTER TO BE A GEISHA, UNLESS
THEY WERE IN DEEP FINANCIAL
STRAITS.
SO, THERE WAS THIS KIND OF
AMBIVALENCE.
NOBODY QUITE KNEW WHAT THE
GEISHA GOT UP TO WHEN THEY WERE
NOT DANCING AND SINGING.
SO, SHE WAS SOLD TO BE A
GEISHA.
SHE WAS ACTUALLY SENT FOR
DANCING CLASSES AT THE AGE OF
FOUR AND SOLD TO A GEISHA HOUSE
AT THE AGE OF SEVEN, AND SHE
NEVER REALLY FORGAVE HER FAMILY
FOR THAT.
AND SHE GREW UP, SHE WAS VERY
BEAUTIFUL, SHE WAS VERY
STRIKING.
VERY OUTSTANDING IN THE GEISHA
COMMUNITY.
SO THE MOTHER, THE PROPRIETRESS
OF THE GEISHA HOUSE TAUGHT HER
SPECIAL SKILLS.
AS WELL AS TEACHING HER SINGING
AND DANCING, SHE ALSO TAUGHT
HER VERY EXTRAORDINARY SKILLS
LIKE READING AND WRITING.
VERY UNUSUAL FOR WOMEN IN THOSE
DAYS.
AND SHE ALSO LEARNT HORSE
RIDING.
SHE WAS A VERY ACCOMPLISHED
HORSE RIDER.
SHE ALSO LEARNT BILLIARDS AND
SHE ALSO PRACTICED JUDO.
THIS ONE, SHE, SHE, SNUCK OFF
EVERY NOW AND THEN TO PRACTICE
UM, THROWING THE MAN WHO
CARRIED HER, HER SHAMISEN CASE.
THE SHAMISEN BEING THE BANJO
WHICH THE GEISHA PLAY.
AND SHE GREW UP IN SUCH A
BEAUTIFUL AND LIVELY YOUNG GIRL
THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT GUEST
AT THE TEAHOUSE WHERE SHE
PERFORMED TOOK A FANCY TO HER.
AND THIS PARTICULAR IMPORTANT
GUEST WAS AN INCREDIBLY
IMPORTANT GUEST.
HE WAS THE FIRST PRIME MINISTER
OF JAPAN.
HIS NAME WAS HIROBUMI ITO.
HE WAS THE FIRST, HE WAS THE
FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN,
BUT THE WORD PRIME MINISTER
DOESN'T QUITE MEAN WHAT YOU
MIGHT THINK IT MEANS.
THERE HAD NOT YET BEEN
ELECTIONS.
HE WAS INCREDIBLY POWERFUL.
IT WAS LIKE AN OLIGARCHY.
SO, HE WAS MORE LIKE THE FIRST
PRESIDENT YOU COULD SAY OF
JAPAN IN TERMS OF HIS POWER.
HE WAS LIKE THE GEORGE
WASHINGTON OF JAPAN.
BUT HE WAS LIKE GEORGE
WASHINGTON CROSSED WITH BILL
CLINTON.

[Some chuckle]

Lesley continues HE TOOK, HE
TOOK FULL ADVANTAGE OF HIS VERY
POWERFUL POSITION TO HAVE
RATHER MORE LADY FRIENDS
ACTUALLY THAN EX-PRESIDENT
CLINTON EVEN.
AND UM, WHEN SHE WAS 12, HE
STAKED HIS CLAIM TO BE HER
FIRST LOVER.
DOCUMENTS WERE SIGNED.
HE ALSO, A LARGE AMOUNT OF
MONEY CHANGED HANDS.
ABOUT THE SAME AS WOULD BUY A,
A FAIRLY GRAND MANSION.
SO, SHE WAS THEN TO BE HIS.
BUT HE VERY KINDLY WAITED TILL
SHE WAS 15, TO ACTUALLY CONDUCT
THE DEFLOWERING CEREMONY.
UM, WHEN I WAS RESEARCHING MY
BOOK ON GEISHA I MET QUITE A
FEW WOMEN IN THEIR 80S, WHO HAD
BEEN DEFLOWERED WHEN THEY WERE
13.
SO, SHE WAS LUCKY IN THAT, IN
THAT RESPECT.
AND HE WAS ACTUALLY AT THE
TIME, HE WAS BUSY DRAWING UP
THE CONSTITUTION OF JAPAN ON A
SMALL ISLAND JUST OUTSIDE
TOKYO.
SO, WHEN SHE WAS 15, HE TOOK
HER DOWN TO THIS ISLAND AND IN
THE EVENING, HAVING BEEN BUSY
DRAWING UP THE CONSTITUTION, HE
CONDUCTED THE DEFLOWERING.
AND SHE THEN WAS GIVEN A GEISHA
NAME, WHICH WAS LIKE A MARK, IT
WAS LIKE A MARK OF PASSAGE IF
YOU LIKE.
UM, AND HER GEISHA NAME WAS
YAKKO.
SO, SHE STOPPED USING HER BIRTH
NAME OF SADA AND TOOK THE
GEISHA NAME OF YAKKO.
AND SHE WAS HIS MISTRESS FOR
THREE YEARS, WHICH MEANT THAT
SHE WAS EXTREMELY CELEBRATED.
SHE WAS REALLY FAMOUS.
SHE WAS LIKE A HOUSEHOLD NAME
IN JAPAN.
HUGELY IN DEMAND AT TEAHOUSE
PARTIES, WHERE ALL SHE WOULD BE
DOING WOULD BE POURING SAKI,
DANCING, SINGING, ENTERTAINING.
NO MORE THAN THAT.
OBVIOUSLY, IF SHE'S THE PRIME
MINISTER'S MISTRESS.
WELL, AT THE TIME UM, WHILE
WESTERNERS WERE WEARING KIMONO
AND GOING CRAZY ABOUT JAPANESE,
ALL, ALL THINGS JAPANESE,
COLLECTING JAPANESE WOODBLOCK
PRINTS AND SO ON, UM, JAPANESE
ON THE OTHER HAND WERE GOING
MAD ABOUT WESTERN CULTURE AND
EXPERIMENTING WITH WESTERN
FASHIONS.
UM, AND WHAT THAT MEANT IN
THOSE DAYS WAS LONG, VICTORIAN
DRESSES.
BUSTLES, BONNETS, BOWLER HATS,
UMBRELLAS, WHICH THEY WOULD MIX
AND MATCH WITH THEIR KIMONO,
DEPENDING ON WHAT THEY FELT
LIKE.
AND THE ARISTOCRATS IN TOKYO,
WOULD GO TO THE HALL OF THE
BAYING STAG, WHICH WAS A
PALATIAL BUILDING BUILT RIGHT
IN THE HEART OF TOKYO.
WHERE THEY WOULD EAT FRENCH
FOOD, AND THEY WOULD DANCE THE
FASHIONABLE DANCES OF THE DAY.
THE WALTZ AND THE QUADRILLE.
SO, ITO, THE PRIME MINISTER
TOOK YAKKO DANCING.
EVEN THOUGH IN FACT, HE SHOULD,
HE SHOULD HAVE TAKEN HIS WIFE.
BUT HE SMUGGLED IN HIS GEISHA
INSTEAD AND HE ALSO TOOK, HE
ALSO TOOK HER DOWN TO THE COAST
AND TAUGHT HER HOW TO SWIM,
WHICH WAS ANOTHER EXTRAORDINARY
ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR JAPANESE
WOMEN.
SO, SHE SPENT THREE YEARS AS
HIS MISTRESS.
BUT GEISHA ARE KIND OF LIKE
MODELS, AND SHE REALIZED THAT
SHE COULDN'T CONTINUE BEING A
GEISHA FOREVER.
SHE WAS GOING TO LOSE HER
LOOKS.
SO, THE PRIME MINISTER RELEASED
HER AND SHE TOOK A SUCCESSION
OF LOVERS IN SEARCH OF A
HUSBAND.
AT ONE POINT, SHE HAD A KABUKI
ACTOR, AND A SUMO WRESTLER AND
TWO BANKERS WHO WERE ALL HER
LOVERS AT THE SAME TIME.
SO, YOU CAN GUESS WHICH OF
THOSE WERE FOOTING THE BILL,
AND WHICH ONES SHE ACTUALLY
ENJOYED THE COMPANY OF.
AND THEN ONE DAY, NEWS BEGAN TO
SPREAD THROUGH TOKYO OF AN
EXTRAORDINARY, YOUNG MAN WHO
WAS CALLED THE LIBERTY KID.
HE WAS LIKE A REBEL WITHOUT A
CAUSE, OR A REBEL WITH A CAUSE.
HE'D BEEN IN PRISON MORE THAN A
HUNDRED TIMES FOR HIS POLITICAL
PROTEST ACTIVITIES, AND HE'D
FINALLY STARTED WRITING PROTEST
SONGS.
SO, HE WAS A KIND OF AN, AN
EMINEM OF JAPAN IF YOU LIKE.
HE WROTE THESE SONGS VERY
CRITICAL OF THE JAPANESE
ESTABLISHMENT, WHICH KIND OF
WENT ALONG LIKE RAP TO THE
RHYTHM OF THE SHAMISEN, THE
BANJO, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE KEY
INSTRUMENTS IN JAPAN.
AND HIS NAME WAS OTTOJILA
KALIKUMI.
SO HE WAS LIKE, HE WAS LIKE A
ROCK AND ROLL STAR OF VICTORIAN
JAPAN.
AND HE ACTUALLY HAD A MASSIVE
FAN CLUB.
IN FACT, GEISHA USED TO WAYLAY
HIM AND TRY AND DRAG HIM OFF TO
THEIR GEISHA HOUSES, AND HE'D
HAVE TO KIND OF FIGHT HIS WAY
FREE OF THEM AND CARRY ON HIS
WAY.
SO YOU HAVE THIS ROCK AND ROLL
STAR WITH HIS HUGE NUMBER OF
FANS, AND YOU HAVE THE MOST
FAMOUS GEISHA IN JAPAN.
SO OBVIOUSLY, THEY FELL IN LOVE
AND THEY GOT MARRIED.
WELL, WHAT THIS MEANT FOR HER,
WAS THAT SHE HAD TO GIVE UP HER
CAREER AS A GEISHA, BECAUSE THE
TWO, THE TWO CATEGORIES OF WIFE
AND GEISHA ARE INCOMPATIBLE.
IT'S A BIT LIKE BEING A NUN AND
A WIFE.
YOU CAN'T BE BOTH AT THE SAME
TIME.
SO, SHE WENT BACK TO HER BIRTH
NAME OF SADA AND BECAME HIS
DEVOTED WIFE.
AND HE RATHER LIKE MANY ROCK
STARS, REALIZED THAT LIFE
COULDN'T CONTINUE JUST SINGING
AND SO HE TOOK UP AN ACTING
CAREER, AND HE FOUNDED AN
ACTING TROUPE.
WELL, AT THIS TIME IN JAPAN
WOMEN HAD BEEN BANNED FROM THE
STAGE FOR 250 YEARS.
UM, GEISHA WERE LIKE KIND OF
PARLOUR ACTRESSES.
I MEAN GEISHA ACTED TO PRIVATE
AUDIENCES OF VERY WEALTHY MEN
IN TEAHOUSES, AND THEY
PERFORMED THE SAME SINGING AND
DANCING AND SIMILAR PLAYS TO
THOSE OF THE KABUKI THEATRE.
BUT THE PUBLIC SAW ACTING
TROUPES CONSISTING ENTIRELY OF
MEN.
AS WITH KABUKI IN PRESENT DAY
JAPAN AND THE NOH IN PRESENT
DAY JAPAN, AND THE THEATRE IN
SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLAND.
SO, HE PUT TOGETHER AN ACTING
TROUPE OF ACTORS AND TIME WENT
ON AND EVENTUALLY WE REACH
1899, WHICH IS WHERE WE BEGAN.
AND THAT YEAR THEY WERE INVITED
BY A MAN CALLED YUMINDO
KUSHABIKI, TO BRING THE ACTING
TROUPE TO THE UNITED STATES.
YUMINDO KUSHABIKI ACTUALLY HAD
A TEA GARDEN IN ATLANTIC CITY
AT THE TIME.
AND THEY BOARDED A STEAMER AND
VIA, AND WENT VIA HONOLULU AND
ARRIVED IN SAN FRANCISCO, IN
MAY, 1899.
WELL, WHEN THEY GOT THERE, THEY
REALIZED STRAIGHT AWAY THAT AN
ACTING TROUPE IN WHICH MEN
PLAYED THE PARTS OF WOMEN WAS
NOT GONNA WORK IN AMERICA.
AMERICANS WOULD LAUGH.
NOW, THIS WAS THE AGE OF SARAH
BERNHARDT.
IT WAS THE AGE WHEN THERE WAS
NO, THERE'S NO TV, THERE'S NO
MOVIES, SO, THE STAGE ACTRESSES
HAD ALL THE UM, ALL THE
CHARISMA AND ALL THE APPEAL OF
ACTRESSES AND MODELS AND
ANYBODY ELSE TODAY.
SO, SARAH BERNHARDT WAS LIKE
MADONNA ROLLED TOGETHER WITH
KATE MOSS, ROLLED TOGETHER WITH
GWYNETH PALTROW.
SO, WHAT THEY NEEDED WAS
SOMEBODY WHO WOULD BE AS
CHARISMATIC AND AS BEAUTIFUL AS
SARAH BERNHARDT.
AND THEY HAD THE OBVIOUS
PERSON.
THEY HAD THE WIFE OF THE LEADER
OF THE TROUPE, WHO HAD BEEN THE
MOST FAMOUS GEISHA IN JAPAN.
SO, SHE WAS VERY GAME.
SHE WAS USED TO PERFORMING.
SHE WAS PERFECTLY HAPPY TO STEP
ON STAGE.
SHE PUT TOGETHER HER BIRTH NAME
OF SADA AND HER GEISHA NAME OF
YAKKO, TO MAKE HER NEW STAGE
NAME OF SADAYAKKO AND STEPPED
ON STAGE.
WELL, AT THE TIME WESTERNERS
WERE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT
ANYONE NOT WESTERN WAS
PRIMITIVE, AND THEY HAD NEVER
SEEN JAPANESE THEATRE BEFORE.
THIS WAS THE FIRST JAPANESE
THEATRE TROUPE EVER TO TOUR THE
WEST.
AND SHE AS YOU'LL SEE, AS YOU,
YOU CAN SEE WAS JAPAN'S FIRST
AND ONLY ACTRESS AT THIS POINT.
SO, THE CRITICS WERE KIND OF A
LITTLE DUBIOUS ABOUT THESE
PLAYS WHICH THEY THOUGHT WERE
RATHER OUTLANDISH.
BUT EVERYBODY WAS TOTALLY
BEWITCHED BY HER.
SHE WAS INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.
SHE WAS LIKE A WOODBLOCK PRINT
COME TO LIFE, AND SHE HAD A
FANTASTICALLY, CHARISMATIC
STAGE PRESENCE.
SO, THEY GOT GOOD REVIEWS, BUT
THEY HAD TROUBLE GATHERING
AUDIENCES, BECAUSE AS I SAID,
PEOPLE HAD NEVER SEEN JAPANESE
THEATRE BEFORE.
AND AT FIRST, THEY WERE REALLY
LIVING HAND TO MOUTH.
SO, THEY WOULD PERFORM IN SAN
FRANCISCO AND THEY WOULD MAKE
JUST ENOUGH MONEY TO MAKE THEIR
FARE TO TAKE THE SHIP UP THE
COAST TO SEATTLE.
THEN THEY WOULD PERFORM THERE.
THEN THEY WENT ONTO TACOMA, AND
THEN THEY WENT TO PORTLAND,
OREGON, AND THINGS WERE KIND OF
HARD.
UM, AND BY THE TIME THEY GOT TO
CHICAGO THERE, SHE RAN OUT OF
MONEY.
AND OTTOJILA HER HUSBAND, WHOSE
GOING AROUND THE CITY TRYING TO
FIND A THEATRE MANAGER WHO
WOULD LET THEM PERFORM, SO THAT
THEY COULD MAKE THE MONEY TO
JUST PAY THEIR HOTEL BILLS AND
TO EAT AND DRINK.
AND ALL THE THEATRE MANAGERS
WERE SAYING NO.
AND EVENTUALLY THEY WERE
ACTUALLY LIVING ON SOMETHING
LIKE TWO PIECES OF BREAD AND A
CUP OF COFFEE PER DAY FOR ALL
19 ACTORS, UM, AND FILLING UP
THEIR STOMACHS WITH WATER.
BUT AT THE LAST MINUTE THEY
WERE ABLE TO FIND ONE THEATRE
THAT, THAT ALLOWED THEM TO
PERFORM FOR ONE MATINEE.
AND THERE, THEY WERE SO HUNGRY
ACTUALLY THAT WHEN SHE
PERFORMED HER DEATH SCENE SHE
WAS TWIRLING AROUND DANCING AND
SHE ACTUALLY PASSED OUT.
BUT THE AUDIENCE HAD NEVER SEEN
JAPANESE THEATRE, SO THEY
DIDN'T, THEY THOUGHT THIS WAS
INTENTIONAL.
IF SHE'S, IF IT'S A DEATH
SCENE, SHE'D FALL OVER.
IT SEEMED NATURAL.
AND IT WAS A FANTASTIC SUCCESS.
THAT, THAT ONE SHOW EXPANDED
INTO TWO WEEKS, AND THEY
ACQUIRED AN AMERICAN MANAGER,
AND SUDDENLY THEY HAD MADE IT.
WELL, THEY WENT ONTO BOSTON.
THERE THEY FOUND THEMSELVES
PERFORMING ALONGSIDE HENRY
IRVING AND ELLEN TERRY, WHO
WERE LIKE THE GREATEST ACTOR
AND ACTRESS OF THE ENGLISH
SPEAKING WORLD.
AND BY THE TIME THEY REACHED
WASHINGTON, D.C., THEY HAD
ACQUIRED SUCH FAME THAT THEY
PERFORMED FOR PRESIDENT WILLIAM
MCKINLEY.
IT'S NOW 1900.
THEY WENT ONTO NEW YORK, WHERE
SHE WAS ABSOLUTELY THE TALK OF
THE TOWN.
SO MUCH SO, THAT SHE WAS
FEATURED ON THE COVER OF
HARPER'S BIZARRE, THE MARCH THE
24TH, 1900.
AND IN HER SPARE TIME SHE WAS
OUT BUYING GORGEOUS, WESTERN
STYLE DRESSES.
SO, ON STAGE SHE WAS UM, SHE
WAS THE MYSTERIOUS ORIENT
PERSONIFIED IN HER KIMONO.
BUT OFF STAGE, SHE WORE THESE
BEAUTIFUL LONG DRESSES, LONG
TEA GOWNS, WITH LEGABUTTON
SLEEVES AND SO ON.
AND THEN THEY SAILED ACROSS THE
ATLANTIC TO LIVERPOOL.
TOOK THE TRAIN DOWN TO HOUSTON
AND ARRIVED IN LONDON AND
PERFORMED AT THE CORONET
THEATRE IN A RATHER OBSCURE
SUBURB OF LONDON CALLED NOTTING
HILL GATE.
WHERE ONCE AGAIN THEY ENCHANTED
THE CRITICS.
SO, BY NOW SHE WAS SO FAMOUS,
THAT THE REVIEWS WERE GOING FOR
THEM.
PEOPLE IN LONDON HAD HEARD
ABOUT THEIR FAME IN AMERICA,
AND THEY WERE INVITED TO
PERFORM FOR EDWARD PRINCE OF
WALES.
QUEEN VICTORIA'S SON, WHO WAS
SOON TO BECOME EDWARD THE
SEVENTH.
WELL, HER HUSBAND WHO WAS QUITE
A, A BRAGGART, UM, KEPT A VERY
DETAILED DIARY.
AND HE RECORDS IN THE DIARY
THAT THEY PERFORMED ON A
JAPANESE STAGE BUILT IN
BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
AND WHEN THEY WERE INTERVIEWED
IN LATER YEARS, THEY ALWAYS
SAID THAT THEY HAD PERFORMED AT
BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
AND AT ONE POINT THE STORY GREW
EVEN LARGER AND SADAYAKKO WHEN
SHE WAS INTERVIEWED, SAID THAT
QUEEN VICTORIA HERSELF HAD BEEN
TO SEE THEM PERFORM.
HAD HELD HER WIG AND HAD SAID
HOW HEAVY IT WAS, AND HAD SAID
THAT SHE WOULD WRITE TO THE
MIKADO, THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN, A
PERSONAL LETTER AND ASK THAT
SADAYAKKO BE ALLOWED TO PERFORM
ON STAGE IN JAPAN, EVEN THOUGH
WOMEN HAD BEEN BANNED SO FAR.
UM, UNFORTUNATELY, IF YOU LOOK
AT THE BRITISH PRESS AT THE
SAME TIME, YOU DISCOVER THAT
THEY DID NOT PERFORM AT
BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
UM, THEY PERFORMED IN A MANSION
IN MAYFAIR, AND QUEEN VICTORIA
SADLY DIDN'T SEE THEM, THOUGH
EDWARD THE PRINCE, THE PRINCE
OF WALES DID.
BUT I GUESS THEY THOUGHT IT
MADE A MUCH BETTER STORY, AND
ANYWAY JAPAN WAS A VERY LONG
WAY AWAY AND NOBODY WOULD EVER
FIND OUT.
AND IN FACT NOBODY DID FIND
OUT.
EVERY SINGLE REPORT OF THEIR
STORY, RIGHT UP UNTIL NOW IN
JAPANESE SAYS THAT THEY DID
PERFORM AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
SO, FOR THE LAST 100 YEARS
THEIR STORY HAS HELD OUT UNTIL
ME, UNFORTUNATELY.
UM, AND IN LONDON SHE GOT THE
GREATEST COMPLIMENT OF ALL FROM
THE CRITIC, MAX BIRBAUM, WHO
WROTE, "THAT IF LIKE PARIS, HE
WERE FORCED TO DECIDE WHICH OF
SARAH BERNHARDT, TREJENNE," THE
VERY FAMOUS FRENCH ACTRESS, "OR
SADAYAKKO WAS THE MOST
BEAUTIFUL, HE WOULD BE FORCED
TO AWARD THE GOLDEN APPLE TO
SADAYAKKO."
SO, FROM LONDON THEY WENT ONTO
PARIS AND IT'S NOW, IT'S THE
SUMMER OF 1900.
IT'S ONE OF THE HOTTEST SUMMERS
ANYONE'S SEEN FOR A LONG TIME,
AND PARIS IS CELEBRATING THE
WORLD'S FAIR.
AND THIS IS THE BIGGEST WORLD'S
FAIR EVER BEFORE...
AND THE WHOLE OF PARIS IS FULL
OF MOSQUES AND MINARETTES.
UM, JAVANESE DANCERS, UM, REAL
GEISHA TUCKED AWAY IN THE
TROCADERO.
UM, THE WHOLE PARIS SKYLINE IS
LIT UP WITH ELECTRICITY, THIS
NEW FANGLED INVENTION FOR THE
FIRST TIME EVER, THE WHOLE
SKYLINE.
THERE'S ALSO A, A MOVING
SIDEWALK TO TAKE PEOPLE FROM
PLACE TO PLACE.
AND THERE THEY WERE CONTRACTED
BY LOWEY FULLER, THE AMERICAN
DANCER WHO LATER BECAME ISADORA
DUNCAN'S MENTOR AND MANAGER,
AND THEY PERFORMED AT THE LOWEY
FULLER THEATRE.
AND EVERYBODY AGREED THAT
SADAYAKKO WAS THE, THE STAR OF
THAT PARIS WORLD'S FAIR WITHOUT
ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT.
WELL, WHAT THEY WERE DOING WAS
PLAYS IN JAPANESE, SO THE
AUDIENCE COULDN'T UNDERSTAND
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING.
AND THEY TOOK KABUKI DRAMAS,
WHICH IN THOSE DAYS BEGAN AT
DAWN AND WENT ON TILL SUNSET,
AND THEY REDUCED THEM RIGHT
DOWN TO HALF AN HOUR.
AND EVEN THEN, ACTUALLY THE
CRITICS SAID THAT THEY WERE A
BIT LONG.
CRITICS GOT A BIT BORED.
UM, AND THEY WOULD MUMBLE A BIT
OF JAPANESE DIALOGUE AND THEN
THEY WOULD HAVE LOTS OF
FIGHTING.
UM, IN FACT AT ONE POINT THE
SWORDS WERE WIRED UP WITH
AGAIN, WITH THIS EXCITING, NEW
INVENTION, ELECTRICITY, SO THAT
WHEN THE BLADES TOUCHED, SPARKS
FLEW.
AND THEY ALSO HAD LOTS OF JUDO,
LOTS OF SORT OF SOMERSAULTING
JUDO THROWS, AND LOTS OF HER
WONDERFUL DANCING.
AND THEIR MOST FAMOUS PLAY "THE
GEISHA IN THE NIGHT," ENDED
WITH HER, HER UNFORGETTABLE
DEATH SCENE WHERE SHE KEELS
OVER AND DIES IN HER LOVER'S
ARMS.
IT WAS SAID TO BE SO REALISTIC,
IT WAS IF SHE ACTUALLY
DECOMPOSED.
ONE CRITIC SAID, "HER FEATURES
DECOMPOSE.
HER EYES BECOME IMMOBILE.
HER MOUTH AND LIPS DISCOLOUR
AND BECOME PURPLISH.
HER HAIR STANDS ON END.
ALL HORROR APPEARS."
AND IT WAS SO REALISTIC, THAT
IT, A SHIVER WOULD PASS THROUGH
THE AUDIENCE AS IF THE
AUDITORIUM HAD SUDDENLY BECOME
COLD.
AND AGAIN IT WAS SAID THAT HER
DEATH SCENE WAS BETTER THAN
SARAH BERNHARDT'S OR ANYBODY
ELSE.
SARAH BERNHARDT DIDN'T THINK
MUCH OF ALL THIS BY THE WAY.
WENT TO SEE HER, AND SHE WAS
RATHER RUDE ABOUT IT.
SAID SHE WAS LIKE A MONKEY.
UM, BUT SADAYAKKO BEING FAR
MORE POLITE WENT TO SEE SARAH
BERNHARDT AND COMMENTED,
WESTERN ACTRESSES VERY MUCH
SPEAK WORDS.
JAPANESE ACTRESSES VERY MUCH
ACT.
WHICH WAS QUITE AN ASTUTE THING
TO POINT OUT.
SARAH BERNHARDT WAS GIVEN TO
LIKE 45 MINUTE MONOLOGUES.
UM, WHEREAS YOU KNOW, THE WHOLE
PLAY ONLY LASTS A HALF AN HOUR
WITH THE JAPANESE DRAMAS WHICH
SOME OF THE CRITICS CONFESSED
THEY FOUND A BIT OF A RELIEF.
AND, ALL, EVERYBODY WHO WAS
ANYBODY IN PARIS IN 1900 WENT
TO SEE HER PERFORM.
AUGUSTE RODIN, THE SCULPTOR,
UM, BEGGED TO SCULPT HER.
AND SHE TOLD HIM THAT
UNFORTUNATELY SHE WAS TOO BUSY
WHICH WAS TRUE.
UM, SHE WAS DOING THREE SHOWS A
DAY SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.
ANDRE JEDE, WHO WAS A VERY
STRICT CRITIC WENT TO SEE HER
SIX TIMES AND SAID THAT SHE WAS
AS GREAT AS ESCALISTE.
AND ALL THE SYMBOLIST WRITERS
OF THE TIME RUSHED TO SEE HER.
THEN A LITTLE MORE, A LITTLE
TIME PASSES AND WE GET TO 1902.
BY NOW, THEY'VE BEEN BACK TO
JAPAN TO GET MORE ACTORS AND
THEY'VE STARTED A HUGE TOUR
WHICH GOES, IS TO TAKE THEM
RIGHT THROUGH EUROPE.
AND BACK IN PARIS IN 1902,
AHEM, THERE WAS A YOUNG, AHEM,
SORRY, A YOUNG SPANISH ARTIST,
AHEM, SORRY, WHO WAS AGED 19
LIVING IN DISGUSTING SQUALOR IN
MONTMARTRE WHOSE NAME WAS PABLO
PICASSO.
AND HE WAS IN NEED OF
COMMISSIONS, AND HE WAS
COMMISSIONED TO PAINT HER WHICH
HE DID.
HE DID AT LEAST FOUR DIFFERENT
PICTURES OF HER WHICH I'VE
SEEN, PLUS POSSIBLY OTHERS.
MANY, MANY OTHER ARTISTS ALSO
WERE INSPIRED BY HER AND
PAINTED HER.
KIS VAN DONGAN THE FOURTH, WHO
WAS A FRIEND OF PICASSO DID A
KIND OF INTENSE RED PAINTING OF
HER.
AND THERE WERE ALSO BRITISH
ARTISTS, SPANISH ARTISTS, MANY
OTHER ARTISTS WHO PAINTED HER.
AND THEY WENT ON, THEY TOURED
BERLIN, VIENNA, WHERE CLINT
ASKED HER TO PERFORM IN HIS
THEATRE.
UM, THEY PERFORMED FOR EMPEROR
FRANZ JOSEF.
THEY WENT TO, THEY CARRIED ON
THROUGH BUCAREST, BUDAPEST,
KRAKOW, WARSAW, ST. PETERSBERG,
MOSCOW, WHERE THEY HAD DINNER
WITH THE TZAR, SO BY NOW THEY
WERE MIXING WITH ROYALTY AND
TAKING IT FOR GRANTED.
AND FINALLY IN MARCH 1902, THEY
GOT DOWN TO ITALY.
AND THERE A COMPOSER CALLED
GIACOMO PUCCINI WAS IN THE
MIDDLE OF WORKING ON "MADAME
BUTTERFLY."
AND HE WAS VERY, HE HAD HIS
PLOT WHICH CAME FROM A SHORT
STORY BY JOHN LUTHER LONG.
HE HAD SEEN THE PLAY BY DAVID
BELASCO, THE AMERICAN
PLAYWRIGHT IN LONDON.
BUT HE WANTED TO MAKE HIS OPERA
AS AUTHENTICALLY JAPANESE AS
POSSIBLE, BECAUSE THERE WAS
SUCH A MASSIVE INTEREST IN ALL
THINGS JAPANESE.
HE WANTED TO WEAVE SNIPPETS OF
JAPANESE MUSIC INTO HIS SCORE,
AND HE REALLY WANTED TO MAKE
MADAME BUTTERFLY AS MUCH LIKE A
REAL JAPANESE WOMAN AS HE
COULD.
WELL, THEY ARRIVED IN ROME IN
MARCH, 1902.
HE WENT RUSHING TO ROME.
HE WAS TOO LATE, HE MISSED
THEM.
THEY CARRIED ON DOING A SORT OF
ZIGZAG COURSE THROUGH ITALY.
THEY PERFORMED IN GENOA,
LIVORNO, OTHER PLACES, AND
FINALLY IN APRIL ARRIVED IN
MILAN.
AND THIS TIME HE WAS THERE, HE
WAS WAITING.
HE GOT THERE FIRST.
AND HE WENT TO SEE THEM FOUR
NIGHTS RUNNING.
THE FOUR NIGHTS THAT THEY
PERFORMED IN MILAN.
AND VERY SHORTLY AFTERWARDS,
FIRST OF ALL HE CUT "MADAME
BUTTERFLY" BY AN ACT, SO,
BECAUSE THERE PLAYS WERE SO
SHORT AND SHARP AND ENDED IN
YOU KNOW, USUALLY IN SUICIDE.
SO, HE MADE "MADAME BUTTERFLY."
EQUALLY, KIND OF EQUALLY
DRAMATIC IN ITS, IN THE WAY
THAT IT WAS, THAT IT WAS
PERFORMED.
HE ALSO TOOK A PIECE OF MUSIC
WHICH SADAYAKKO PLAYED, IT WAS
HER MOST FAMOUS PIECE OF MUSIC
AND HE WOVE IT INTO THE SCORE
AS MADAME BUTTERFLY'S OWN
THEME.
AND LASTLY HE TOOK SADAYAKKO'S
STAGE PERSONA, WHICH ALL THE
CRITICS DESCRIBED AS BEING
CHILDLIKE AND INFANTILE.
UM, SHE WOULD APPEAR TO BE VERY
CHILDLIKE, VERY INFANTILE, AND
THEN WITH SUDDENLY WITH A
MOMENT OF INCREDIBLE SAVAGERY,
THIS WAS THE WORD THE CRITICS
USED, SAVAGE, SHE WOULD HAVE
THIS, THIS AMAZING DEATH SCENE.
AND IN THE LIBRETTO, MADAME
BUTTERFLY IS DESCRIBED IN JUST
THE SAME WAY.
SHE IS ENDLESSLY CHILDLIKE,
INFANTILE, AND THEN SUDDENLY
SHE BECOMES SAVAGE.
SO, HE MODELLED MADAME
BUTTERFLY'S PERSONA ON
SADAYAKKO'S STAGE PERSONALITY.
WELL, THERE'S A LOT MORE I
COULD TELL YOU ABOUT SADAYAKKO,
BUT FOR TODAY WHAT I'M GOING TO
DO IS CONCLUDE WITH UM, A
RECORDING THAT WAS MADE OF THIS
JAPANESE TROUPE.
IT WAS MADE IN 1900, UM, AND
IT'S THE FIRST EVER RECORDING
OF JAPANESE VOICES.
IT WAS MADE ON WAX DISK, SO
IT'S RATHER, IT'S VERY
SCRATCHY.
AND WHAT I'M GONNA PLAY IS THE
HIT SONG, WHICH WAS OTTOJILA,
HER HUSBAND'S HIT SONG WHEN HE
FIRST APPEARED IN TOKYO.
IT'S THE OK PAPAPAY SONG.
AND THE CHORUS GOES, OK
PAPAPAY, OK PAKAPEPPO, PEPPO
POH-POH.
IT'S LIKE THE SOUND OF A
TRUMPET, SO YOU CAN PICK OUT
THOSE WORDS.
UM, I'M NOT GOING TO PLAY YOU
VERY MUCH OF THIS, AND ONE
REASON IS THAT UM, IT'S QUITE
HARD ON WESTERN EARS.
ONE, THE CRITIC, ONE CRITIC
FROM AN ENGLISH PAPER WROTE
ABOUT THE JAPANESE MUSIC, "NO
WORDS COULD DO JUSTICE TO ITS
HORRORS.
BESIDES WHICH THE EFFORTS OF
CACOPHONY OF THE DOMESTIC
PUSSYCAT ON THE ROOF ARE PALTRY."
SO, I'LL PLAY YOU A LITTLE BIT
OF THE OK PAPAPAY SONG.
IT STARTS OFF WITH A LITTLE,
SHORT INTRODUCTION FROM THE ACTOR.

The book "Madame Sadayakko" appears in close-up. The cover features a picture of a Japanese woman in traditional costume.

Music plays and a person speaking Japanese can be heard.
She sings in Japanese.

Lesley says SEE, THIS,
THIS IS THE CHORUS.

The music and the singing continues.

Lesley says SO YOU GOT THE CHORUS.

[Audience laughs]

Lesley says AND YOU
APPRECIATED THE JAPANESE MUSIC.
SO ANYWAY, I SHALL LEAVE IT THERE.

[Audience applauding]

Lesley says OH, YES.

[Audience applauding]

Watch: Lesley Downer, on her book Madame Sadayako