On July 16, 1879 (Meji 12): Former US president Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), who ends his world tour with a stop in Japan, attends a gala night in his honor at the famed Shintomiza Theater (新富座) in Tokyo.
The theater was managed by the legendary Morita Kanya (守田勘弥, 1846-1897), who introduced direct ticket sales—which used to be monopolized by theater teahouses—, bright lights and evening performances to the Japanese theater. His experiments and modernizations in both method and content made the Shintomiza Tokyo’s premier theater.
For this special occasion, lacquered chairs and carpets were brought in from a nearby palace. Just to show how important his visit was, the Prime Minister and three royal princes also attended. Quite unique in itself as kabuki had long been considered vulgar and for townsfolk; people of samurai class would have carefully disguised a visit.
By all accounts, Grant loved the performance and considered it a highlight of his visit to Japan. He must have especially appreciated the dance that was performed for him. More than 70 Yanagibashi geisha danced in kimono of horizontal red and white stripes and blue juban (underwear) with white stars, using fans decorated with the Japanese and US flag. The musicians meanwhile were dashed out in blue clothes with white stars, or clothes with red and white stripes.
See also blog entry.