Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ulysses S. Grant and Noh Theater

"Noh might actually not have survived if General Ulysses S. Grant had not arrived in Tokyo on a goodwill tour in 1879 and declared that this fine art should be preserved.”

Grant was in fact one of the first foreigners to see Noh theater, traveling for two years after resignation as US Prez. in 1877 - by 1879, he arrived in the court of Lord Iwakura Tomomi (in the course of a few meetings with the Meiji emperor). The man was a noh patron, and, lo and behold, Grant's praise motivated him to be much more of one, establishing the Noh Society and building the first permanent noh stage for the general public in Tokyo's Shiba Park.

Before hitting Japan, Grant hit up India, China, Russia and others on a grand world tour -- below is a restored photo from the same year (1879) that catches Grant eerily floating in a background-less setting with Chinese Viceroy Li Hung Chang. The photograph's restorer points to JF Packard's 1880 account of Grants trips, describing the scene:
"The visit of the Viceroy to the General was returned next day in great pomp. There was a marine guard from the Ashuelot. We went to the viceregal palace in the Viceroy's yacht, and as we steamed up the river, every foot of ground, every spot on the junks, was covered with people. At the landing, troops were drawn up. A chair lined with yellow silk — such a chair as is only used by the Emperor — was awaiting the General. As far as the eye could reach the multitude stood expectant and gazing, and we went to the palace through a line of troops, who stood with arms at a present. Amid the firing of guns, the beating of gongs, our procession slowly marched to the palace-door. The Viceroy, surrounded by his mandarins and attendants, welcomed the General. "