What Did The Most Famous Russian Girl In Japan Do?

Today, I would like to introduce you the most famous Russian girl in Japan. Her name is not Lena or Yulia, but Katyusha, in Russian Катюша, a diminutive of Екатерина (Ecaterina/Katherine).

We wrote in “Roses are Red…” in our website, 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo,

In Taisho period (1912–1926), when the movement of Taisho Democracy was active, the situation changed. In 1914, the first “pop song” sung by Sumako Matsui, one of the first actresses of Western realist theatre in late 19th to early 20th century in Japan, also famous for her cosmetic surgery nose, made great success. Her gramophone record sold more than 20,000 pieces! The song was called ‘The Song of Katyusha’, a song about a young lady named ‘Катюша’or ‘Екатерина (Yekaterina)’ as ‘Katyusha’ is a diminutive or pet name form of such Russian names. It was first sung in a stage of Tolstoy’s ‘Resurrection(novel)W‘ being dramatized. This was the era when normal citizens also supported many new cultures from the west.


The name of Katyusha for this song used to be famous, as it was released about 100 years ago. So, at the present time, only around *50,000 people (0.042%) may know it. (*cf: the number of people who are 100+ years old was 51,376 in the statistics in 2012.) Thus, I’m afraid, it is nonsense to assert that Katyusha is the most famous Russian name in Japan for this reason.

music score of "The song of Katyusha", the cover design was made by Yumeji Takehisa photo from Natsume books

music score of “The song of Katyusha”, the cover design was made by Yumeji Takehisa
photo from Natsume books

Here is another evidence, which is, I can say, incontrovertible…

There was a super clever advertising producer, like Yasushi Akimoto, at that time. He started to sell a headband saying that it was what Sumako Matsui put on when she was acting as Katyusha in the drama of ‘Resurrection’. That headband was sold under the name of Katyusha and the word is still in use. However, it was found out later that she did not put any headband in the play and it turned out to be just a cunning marketing strategy…


These headbands are called Katyusha in Japan even though there had nothing with the super star, Sumako Matsui
photo from a blog “Funny


In order to explain more about the “new” culture in Taisho period, I would like to share the History of theatre in Japan.

Kabuki used to be a representative of theatrical performances in Japan, in Edo period (1603–1868). But after the Meiji Restoration, when various foreign culture was introduced to Japan, in 1911, the 44th year of Meiji period, the first Western-style theatre, more precisely, Renaissance style, opened in the central Tokyo. It was Imperial Garden Theatre, now known as Imperial Theatre (Teikoku Gekijō). The theater was named “Imperial” but it was not established by the Imperial Government but by a private sector in which many politically and economically influential people, such as Eiichi Shibusawa and Kihachiro Okura were involved. They were all keen on adopting Western culture for the people in Japan.

An Italian choreographer/director, Giovanni Vittorio Rossi, was invited to the Imperial Theatre. He graduated “La Scala Theatre Ballet School” in Milan, Italy, and in Japan he worked as an instructor of Opera.


Imperial Theatre (right) and Tokyo Kaikan (left) in Taisho period

With the great popularity of the “new” theatrical performances played in Imperial Theatre, going to Imperial Theatre was regarded as cool in those days, and the advertising copy of Mitukoshi department store became a buzzword, “Today, to the Imperial Theatre, and tomorrow, to Mitsukoshi.”



Here I list up the “Western origin” programs played in Imperial Thatre for the first four years. As you see, many works of Shakespeare were played but we cannot miss the fact, which was indeed epoch-making, that programs were imported from many Western countries and translated into Japanese.



Poster for a performance of the theatrical version, with Sarah Bernhardt (1896)

The Lady of the Camellias Poster for a performance of the theatrical version, with Sarah Bernhardt (1896)



A Midsummer Night’s Dream Titania and Bottom by Johann Heinrich Füssli 1793–94



Original German text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translation by Bayard Taylor, illustrations by Harry Clarke. – Project Gutenberg Open Library




1874 playbill from a French production of Orpheus in the Underworld

*Information source: 100-year History of Imperial Theatre


In Russia the word Katyusha is not used only for a girls’ name as well as in Japan. In Russia, on the other hand, it was used for multiple rocket launchers used in World War II… Since the letter K (for Voronezh Komintern Factory, the producing company) was marked on the rocket launcers, Red Army troops adopted a nickname from Mikhail Isakovsky’s popular wartime song, “Katyusha”, about a girl longing for her absent beloved, who has gone away on military service.


While in Japan, in 1956, the song “Katyusha” with lyric translated into Japanese was released by a male vocal group, “Dark Ducks” and became very popular in Japan. I have no idea why but I hope this phenomenon occurred from the philosophy, “Let bygone be bygone.”

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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