Kabuki Index

Kabuki Summaries III
by Hisao Watanabe
Edited by R. Jeffrey Blair

rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]


The following summaries can be found on this page.

  1. Wakaki Hi no Nobunaga--Oda Nobunaga in his younger days
  2. Kitsunebi--Fox fire
  3. Sakanaya Sogoro--Sogoro, the fish dealer
  4. Kawatsura Hogen Yakata no Ba--At Kawatsura Hogen's mansion
  5. Shiranami Gonin Otoko--Five dandies from the underworld
  6. Shibahama no Kawazaifu--Fortune At Shibahama

Wakaki Hi no Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga in his younger days

It was during the war period in the mid-sixteenth century, a period when only one's self could be trusted, a period of "kill or be killed". The story takes place in Kiyosu, the territory ruled by young Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) still in his teens. The third anniversary memorial service of the death of Nobuhide (1510-1551), Nobunaga's father, is being held at the family temple. At a nearby hill, a group of peasants and passersby are chatting and gazing at the anniversary memorial service. Joining this group, Priest Kakuen and a subordinate notice that the main guest, Nobunaga, has not arrived at the service yet. Nobunaga is especially notorious for his extraordinary stubbornness, so this provides Kakuen and the rest of the group an excellent opportunity to see it for themselves.

Just then Hayashi Mimasaka finds Kakuen among the crowd and questions him as he would a stranger. In truth, they are acquainted with each other. Like many other of Nobunaga's vassals, Mimasaka, who is in charge of Nagoya Castle, has been encouraged by Kakuen to betray Nobunaga, and he intends to take the opportunity.

In front of the others, they pretend not to know each other in order to avoid suspicion. A girl accidentally heard Kakuen pressing Mimasaka for his answer. Kakuen tries to kill the girl. But when Kakuen finds out the girl is Yayoi, the daughter of the ruler of Narumi, Yamaguchi Samanosuke, his attitude changes. She had been sent to Nobunaga as a hostage. The bright girl notices the change in Kakuen's attitude. After Mimasaka persuades Kakuen to leave, he approaches his beloved Yayoi.

Just then, Nobunaga comes along with the village children. He has a sloppy look and uses a lotus leaf as sunshade. Arriving at the top of the hill, he starts eating persimmons with the children. The sutra-chanting of the memorial service has begun. Nobunaga grumbles about those officiating being so particular about formality. He mumbles, "The best way to grieve for my father would be to do it alone in an open field under the sun." Chatting with the other children, Nobunaga diverts his uneasy feelings. Soon the children go on, leaving Nobunaga all alone.

Kakuen asks Nobunaga for a sip from his bottle gourd. After speaking with him for a while Kakuen senses greatness in the young man. Kakunen finds out from Tokichiro (1536-1598, known in later years as Toyotomi Hideyoshi), who happened to pass by, that the young man is Nobunaga. Nobunaga, on the other hand, has such keen insight that he knew at first glance that Kakuen was a spy. Overwhelmed and surprised by Nobunaga's skillful insight, Kakuen leaves.

Nobunaga lays on hay still wondering. The ceremony has ended. Yayoi tells Nobunaga that Hirate Masahide (1492-1553) felt very sorry about and responsible for Nobunaga's absence from the ceremony. His stiff-minded, old tutor has been a nuisance to the rebellious young lord. He leaves with Yayoi, knowing Masahide worries about him, but seems to pay no attention to the man who follows behind them in a state of deep depression. Masahide is well aware of Nobunaga's ability and has often remonstrated with him. Since Nobunaga never seems to listen, however, he feels at the end of his rope.

On a cold snowy morning, Masahide calls his three sons together and reveals his determination to commit "hara-kiri". The three sons know that it is impossible to change their father's mind. So, they don't try to dissuade him from killing himself. Following traditional practices, Masahide writes his last will and testament to his master Nobunaga and prepares for the ritual suicide.

Just then Nobunaga, back from a long horse ride, drops by Masahide's residence for tea. Afraid of losing his determination, Masahide refuses to meet him. Instead, he sends Yayoi as a substitute to meet Nobunaga and tell him that all is fine. Hearing this Nobunaga leaves with a few kind words for both Masahide and Yayoi. Then a strange sense of foreboding seems to come from the Butsuma (the room which contains the family's Buddhist altar). The sons find Masahide has dexterously committed suicide. Concealing his grief at his father's death, Goroemon sends Yayoi to summon Nobunaga.

Hurrying back, Nobunaga calls out to Masahide at the top of his lungs. As he grabs the will and reads through it, he becomes confused, then suddenly cries loudly, realizing that he has lost his most loyal servant. He swears to himself that he will not allow Masahide's death to be in vain, that he will always bear Masahide's teachings in mind. Hayashi Sada and his son come to tell Nobunaga that Yayoi's father, Samanosuke and others have joined forces with his enemy Imagawa and are on their way to attack. Nobunaga, feeling that it is unnecessary to keep Yayoi as a hostage any longer, lets her go and makes up his mind to face the traitors with force.

As the enormous Imagawa army swarms into Owari territory with irresistible force, the people in the streets are in panic. In Nobunaga's castle the vassals gather for a strategy conference. Masahide's sons are also present. Mimasaka and a few others come running out of the wildly excited meeting. Sado insists that Nobunaga and all the vassals should hole up in the castle while Nobunaga considers reconciliation. The samurais are thoroughly discouraged by the time the meeting adjourns.

Finding that nobody understands his real intention, Nobunaga leaves his seat in frustration. He hurries into another room to escape the pursuing Sado. He picks up a tsutsumi hand-drum and checks the tone-cord. A look of agony comes over his face. Then the always reliable Tokichiro comes in with some sake. Drinking by himself, Nobunaga recalls memories of old Masahide.

Yayoi, who is worried about Nobunaga, comes in. Nobunaga tells her that circumstances have forced him to have her father killed. Then suddenly he makes up his mind to raid the Imagawa army at Okehazuma and orders Tokichiro to get things ready. Before the attack, Nobunaga dances to the tsutsumi of his beloved Yayoi.


Fox fire

Takeda Shingen [1521-1573] and Nagao Kenshin [1530-1578, also known as Uesugi Kenshin] were the lords of Kai province (now Yamanashi) and Echigo province (part of present day Niigata) respectively. These two were bitter enemies, fighting at least five major battles--the Battles of Kawanakajima [1553-1564]--against each other.

When they were still on friendly terms, Kenshin borrowed from Shingen a helmet blessed by the deity of Suwa. This helmet was believed to have magical power, giving the holder strength in battle. The fact that Kenshin never returned that helmet to Shingen, sparked the feud between them.

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu [1511-1550, the 12th Muromachi shogun 1522-1547], tried to defuse the feud between these two clans. He proposed an arranged marriage between Katsuyori and Yaegaki in the hopes of ending their fighting. Yoshiharu, however, was assassinated by an unknown assailant before the arranged marriage could take place.

The government suspected that the assailant must have been under orders from either Kenshin or Shingen, thinking that both sides despised the idea of uniting in marriage. The government decided that if no arrest was made in three years, both families would be forced to surrender the heads of their oldest sons. The two clans then searched for the assassin, but to no avail.

The Nagao family found someone who looked exactly like their adopted son and tried to offer him up in place of their son. Refusing to be sacrificed, however, this human decoy disfigured his own face, even gouging out one eye to avoid participation in the plot. The Nagao family then at a loss, feared their son's impending fate.

Meanwhile, Shingen made Katsuyori perform hara-kiri to avoid capture and death at the hands of the government. In fact, the man that performed hara-kiri was not the real Katsuyori at all. The real Takeda Katsuyori [1546-1582], disguised as a peasant, had unexpectedly sneaked into the Kenshin's mansion to retrieve the helmet.

Princess Yaegaki, Katsuyori's fiancee in the arranged marriage, was in the mansion reciting prayers of remembrance before an image of Katsuyori displayed in the family's Buddhist altar when he himself appeared before her in disguise. She was surprised by his close resemblance to the image. He, of course, denied his true identity, claiming that he was only a farmer, but Princess Yaegaki had already fallen in love with the young man who looked so much like her fiancee.

Unable to control her passion, Princess Yaegaki asked Nureginu (a lady-in-waiting) to act as the go-between for her and the young farmer. Princess Yaegaki, being shrewd, fancied the handsome, live young man over the fiance that she believed was dead. Although this flew in the face of her conservative upbringing and exalted position in feudal society, she nevertheless ignored her high status and the prescribed period of mourning in order to follow her heart with its passion for the young man. Nureginu replied, "if you steal the helmet for this young man, that is now treasured by your father, I will help you fulfill your dream." At this moment, Yaegaki realized that Nureginu was a spy for Shingen and the farmer was really Katsuyori, intent on retrieving the helmet. Still Yaegaki, unable to control her passion, decided to rob her father of the helmet in order to realize her love. Kenshin, however, already aware of the farmer's true identity, he sent Katsuyori away from the mansion on an errand and ordered an assassin to follow and kill him.

When Princess Yaegaki discovers her father's scheme, she exclaims, "I wish I were a bird! I want to grow feathers and fly to Katsuyori to tell him about this dangerous situation." Impressed by Princess Yaegaki's devotion to Katsuyori, the Suwa Deity sends foxes, his guardians, to assist her. The foxes possess Princess Yaegaki granting her magical powers (symbolized by kitsunebi). At the end of the dance, Princess Yaegaki flies off to Katsuyori.

Sakanaya Sogoro

Sogoro, the fish dealer

The play starts in Shiba (in downtown Edo) on a day when people in the area are celebrating the festival of their guardian deity. The streets are crowded with people and bands. But in Sogoro's house, Ohama and Sankichi are deeply depressed over the death of Sogoro's younger sister, Otsuta. Otsuta was well-known among the neighbors for her gentle manner and her devotion to her parents. As Lord Isobe's concubine, she was well taken care of until, as rumor had it, he himself killed her for having committed adultery. People, however, cannot believe that she had become so wanton as to be double-timing her lord and master.

When Sogoro gets home, his father is shouting in lament, "We did not ask to send Otsuta to Lord Isobe's residence. We were urged to do so and could not refuse his request. And now she has been executed!" Sogoro, too, was mortified. But he couldn't help thinking of how Otsuta's allowance had saved his family from poverty and felt he must calm his father down. In fact, he himself had been freed from debt by the money they received. Ohama offers him sake wine, his favorite, in consideration of his feelings. But he refuses. In the past his tendency to drink to excess had robbed him of his powers of reason and brought on many failures. So he has solemnly sworn off alcohol forever.

Just then the apprentice of a local liquor merchant brings in a barrel of sake. He explains that a beautiful maid-servant ordered it to be delivered there. The maid in question proves to be Onagi, who had taken care of Otsuta at Isobe's residence. Sogoro's family asks her why Isobe killed Otsuta. According to Onagi, when Otsuta went out of find her pet cat, Tenzo, who had become hopelessly infatuated with her, accosted her and made advances. Hearing her scream, Urato's younger brother rushed to her rescue. But Tenzo ran off just before he arrived and then fingered the pair as illicit lovers. He made the accusation not only because he thought he must revenge himself upon Otsuta for repulsing his advances, but also because she had overheard him and his father discussing plans to overthrow the Isobes. And without checking the facts carefully, Isobe, a quick-tempered and simple man who tended to act rashly under the influence of sake, brutally killed Otsuta and dumped her body into an old well in the garden. In short, Otsuta had been unjustly accused and punished. She had been completely innocent.

In light of these circumstances, no one present is able to restrain their anger. Sogoro, in particular, feels great pity for his younger sister. He can keep his vow to stop drinking no longer. At last he begins to drink the sake which Onagi thoughtfully presented as a token of her heart-felt sympathy for Sogoro's family. As he drinks more and more, his movements become more and more animated. Finally he gets so worked up as not to be able to restrain himself. Sogoro, who detests any injustice, runs off at full speed towards Isobe's residence shouting, "I going to Isobe to demand an explanation of why he killed my dear sister. I'll never be satisfied until I hear it from him directly."

Next we see a very drunk Sogoro at the front door of Isobe's residence. He threatens to create a disturbance and to expose how Lord Isobe has murdered his sister. Tenzo has him subdued and tied up for fear that his own wrong doing will come to light. Anxious about her husband's rash behavior, Ohama, who has followed him, arrives. Knowing that nobody can tell what Sogoro might do when he's drunk, she pleads for mercy with everybody surrounding her husband.

Still struggling hard, Sogoro kicks at Tenzo. He gets angry and is about to cut Sogoro down when Isobe's chief retainer, Urato, intercedes. He orders Sogoro untied. Realizing that Urato is a reasonable man, Sogoro begins to confess his strong feelings. And although Urato understands his position, he declines, for the time being, to publicly support Sogoro. All he can do now is to try to calm Sogoro down.

In contrast to Ohama, who is trembling for fear of her husband's fate, Sogoro dozes off. Tenzo thinks he must assassinate Urato because he has an instinctive fear that the true facts might be revealed. While Sogoro is fast asleep in the garden, worrying by his side is Ohama. Soon Sogoro awakens and returns to his senses. His wife tells him all that has happened while he was drunk. And he begins feeling ashamed of his rude behavior just as Lord Isobe's entrance is announced.

Sogoro prepares for the worst. But his violent behavior is overlooked out of consideration for poor Otsuta. Judgment has been reached in consultation with Urato. Isobe apologizes from the bottom of his heart saying, "I was very rash and my judgment had been impaired by drink. I very much regret what I did." He asks Sogoro to accept condolence money for Otsuta, offers an allowance to the father, and proclaims that he is going to punish Tenzo and his father.

Kawatsura Hogen Yakata no Ba

At Kawatsura Hogen's mansion

The scene takes place at Kawatsura Hogen's mansion on top of Mount Yoshino. Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189) has been hiding himself there as he flees from his elder half-brother, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199). When Sato Tadanobu (1161-1186) comes there to see Yoshitsune, Yoshitsune asks him why he has not been attending Shizuka as ordered. Tadanobu looks bewildered and explains that he has just this moment arrived from his home, where he has been taking care of his sick mother. Yoshitsune insists on knowing where Shizuka is, if not with Tadanobu. He suspects Tadanobu of lying to him and of having turned Shizuka over to his brother in order to collect a large reward. Thinking that Tadanobu has now come to betray him, Yoshitsune drives him into a corner.

Suddenly a servant announces the arrival of Shizuka and another Sato Tadanobu. Tadanobu angrily demands who is impersonating him. Shizuka, however, appears all alone with a precious drum wrapped in a silk cloth. Yoshitsune rejoices to meet her again. Then he inquires after the other Tadanobu. She answers that he was with her just a moment ago. Yoshitsune is confused and orders Shizuka to verify which Tadanobu is the real one. After some thought she recalls that on her journey whenever she beat upon the drum, Tadanobu would mysteriously appear at her side. So she tries beating the drum. As soon as Shizuka strikes the drum, the Tadanobu-fox suddenly appears from nowhere. Frightened by the suddenness of his appearance, she thrusts at him with a sword, but the fox skillfully leaps to one side. She commands it to reveal its true identity. Then the fox tells its story.

Long ago in the Yamato area there lived a pair of old foxes that had lived there for a thousand years. One summer, to the consternation of all the farmers, there was a terrible drought throughout the district. They decided to capture the two foxes, and with the skins they made a drum which successfully brought them the much needed rain. Ever since that time the drum has been preserved and treasured. The Tadanobu-fox explains that he is, in fact, a son of the foxes from whose skins the drum was made, the drum of which Shizuka now has possession. Immediately upon finishing his story, he changes from Tadanobu back into his true fox form. He tells her that because of his love for his parents, he has followed the drum everywhere.

Yoshitsune, who has been eavesdropping on the talk from behind a bamboo blind in the next room, is deeply moved by the fox's human-like devotion to and affection for his parents. He finds parallels between the fox's loyalty and his own hard situation, caused by his half-brother. He thereupon bestows the name of Yoshitsune Genkuro upon the fox (a great honor for any animal, indeed, since most people in those days were not allowed to have family names).

Yoshitsune thanks him for his care and protection of Shizuka while the real Tadanobu was absent. He further grants him the drum as a reward. The fox is overjoyed at the present and expresses his heartfelt thanks for Yoshitsune's kindness. He informs Yoshitsune that a band of evil monk-soldiers are plotting to attack him this very night. Through magical power he found out and has placed a magical guard about the mansion to defeat them. Yoshitsune doesn't have a thing to worry about. A while later, the band of priests turns up at the mansion to kill Yoshitsune, but the fox plays with them and then drives them off. (This scene is usually performed comically.) Finally he makes off, holding the drum firmly.

Shiranami Gonin Otoko

Five dandies from the underworld

Benten Kozo Kikunosuke, a handsome young man, was the son of a wealthy merchant but ran away at an early age to enjoy the wild life of an outlaw. Now, many years later, Benten and another gang member named Nango Rikimaru, are plotting to extort money from the owner of Hamamatsuya cloth shop. Benten is disguised as a young lady of high rank, while Rikimaru pretends to be a retainer who is escorting her. The two are warmly received by the manager and servants of the shop. They are shown rolls of silk and brocade suitable for wedding clothes, but Benten pretends not to be satisfied with them.

While turning over a bundle of silks, he secretly slips a piece of material into the bundle. He then retrieves the planted piece of material and clumsily stuffs it into the front of his kimono. He is seen by one of the shop assistants and in the ensuing scuffle is wounded on the forehead by the manager. Rikimaru, as Benten's escort, mediates between them. Showing a receipt for it from another shop, he proves to the manager that the piece of material does not come from Hamamatsuya. First, Sonosuke, the son-in-law of the shop's owner arrives and hears the story. Then Kobei, the owner, appears. Finally, a neighbor named Seji comes to mediate, but in vain. Rikimaru demands 100 ryo as compensation for the wound on the lady's brow. After some haggling Kobei is forced to pay up.

The two rascals are about to leave with their booty when they are stopped by a samurai who happened to have been in the next room. Itto Tamashima is, in fact, an alias used by Nippon Daemon, the boss of Benten's group. He looks hard at the young lady and tells Kobei that he is being taken for a fool. Having caught sight of a pattern of cherry blossoms tattooed on her arm convinces him the woman is really a man in disguise. Benten appears to be in a desperate situation. This is the great moment of the play. At last Benten reveals his identity. He announces his real name in the play's most famous speech. Rikimaru takes off his samurai dress, and Benten also removes his disguise.

Daemon, appearing to be outraged by this plot to cheat such an honest shopkeeper, offers to immediately cut off the crooks' heads. Kobei is astonished at this offer. He feels, however, that it would not be good for the sake of his shop and thus decides to overlook the matter. He even gives Benten a little money to buy plaster for his bruise. Benten gathers his women's clothes, and leaves with Rikimaru. Outside the shop they stop to divide up the small amount of money. On the way home, they play a game: each agrees to take turns carrying the heavy bundle of disguises that they used for their hoax, changing whenever they meet a bald-headed man.

The next scene takes place on the banks of Inase River with the police following close behind. The five members of the band of theives appear in turn: Benten, Tadanobu Rikei, Akaboshi Juzaburo, Nango Rikimaru, and their leader--Nippon Daemon. They decide to disperse for a while until things cool down. Too late; the police catch up to them. Each, in turn, announces his name and attributes. Then they overcome the police and scatter.

Benten arrives at the front of Gokuraku Temple. He regrets his way of life and repents. With the police at his heels, he finds temporary refuge on the roof of the massive temple-gate. After a spectacular fight he manages to drive them back. He realizes, however, that he has committed too many evil deeds to return to a decent life as a law-abiding citizen. Standing upright on the roof, he commits suicide.

Then Daemon is seen in the upper story of the same gate. He was asleep but has been wakened by the uproar of the chase for Benten. Two of his followers come to tell him that he is surrounded. They have, in fact, betrayed him. When they attack Daemon, he kills them. Subsequently, the chief-of-police informs Daemon that Benten has killed himself and the rest of the group have all been captured. Consequently Daemon gives up all plans of escape.

This very involved drama contains a subplot. This scene occurs after Benten and Rikimaru have left the cloth shop and Daemon, as a samurai, remains in the store. Thinking he is a brave and honest samurai, the store's owner feels very indebted to him. Kobei lowers his guard and invites Daemon to a private inner room for a drink. After getting drunk, Daemon reveals in a vigorous speech who he really is. He draws his sword and demands all Kobei's money. Sonosuke, however, throws himself between them, begging to die in his father's place. Daemon is deeply impressed by the young man's devotion. He says he has a missing son who would be about Sonosuke's age. In the ensuing conversation he realizes that Sonosuke is, in fact, his long-lost child. Kobei, too, learns that Benten is his real son. The essential theme of the drama is to demonstrate the law of cause and effect which is an element of the concept of karma.

Shibahama no Kawazaifu

Fortune At Shibahama

Masagoro, a fishmonger, likes sake wine and in addition is lazy when it comes to working. He never pays attention to his wife's advice. One morning when he is on the way to the marketplace to buy fish, he picks up a purse, which happens to contain a large sum of money. This emboldens him to hold a big party for all the tenants in his tenement house. At the party he drinks himself to sleep. Next morning he asks his wife, Otatsu, if she has the purse. As she knows that her husband is a gullible person, she deceives him, saying that it was all only a dream. She lectures him about the dire need for him to reflect upon his poor conduct. She has been trying to get him to mend his bad habits. She speaks so eloquently and enthusiastically that he is finally persuaded to believe what she says, then makes up his mind to stop drinking and to sincerely apply himself to his trade. In fact, Otatsu had reported the purse in question to the local government office.

Three years pass. On the last day of the year, Masagoro and Otatsu receive, from the government, the purse and the money which nobody had come to claim. Otatsu apologizes to Masagoro for telling him a lie. Contrary to what she imagined with great anxiety would be his response, Masagoro kindly thanks her for her consideration towards him. Thus they are able to rejoice together.

Last updated March 2006
Copyright (C) 1997-2006 by Jeff Blair
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