Kabuki Index

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

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


The following summaries can be found on this page.

  1. Keisei Hangonko--Matahei's masterpiece
  2. Sonezaki Shinju--Double suicide at Sonezaki
  3. Shinobiyoru Koi wa Kusemono--Panoramic love and intrigue
  4. Shigure no Kotatsu--The coverlet drenched with tears
  5. Fubuki Touge--A pass in a snowstorm
  6. Tachinusubito--A sword thief

Keisei Hangonko

Matahei's masterpiece

Matahei, who is a disciple of ex-court artist Tosa Mitsunobu, has been making repeated calls on his master in order to get permission to use the respected Tosa name. Today, also, he has come to his masterÜs house with his wife Otoku.

By chance Mitsunobu, Matahei, and his wife meet a group of peasants searching for something. Listening to their story, they realize that the peasants are in pursuit of a tiger. Mitsunobu, however, laughs and refuses to believe them, saying there are no tigers in Japan. Then he sees the tiger and realizes that it must be a creature from a different dimension. To his artistically trained and critical eyes, the tiger's characteristics mark it as the work of a Tosa school artist. So, Mitsunobu calls one of his most promising young disciples, Shurinosuke, and orders him to bring a brush and ink. He tells him to draw the tiger and make it take on life. Doing this will allow the tiger to escape from this world back into the artistic world from which it came. Shurinosuke does as directed. As Mitsunobu expected, the tiger in the grove disappears. Mitsunobu rewards Shurinosuke for this achievement by allowing him to use the name Tosa. Matahei is, ofcourse, completely humiliated; nothing is more disgraceful than being regarded as inferior to a younger disciple.

Following this, an agitated young artist arrives with some news. He reports that another of the disciples of the Tosa school and his sweetheart are in danger on a false charge. They are in need of urgent aid. The bearer of this news volunteers to help them, asks Mitsunobu to send more men, and then dashes off. Mitsunobu calls on Shurinosuke to lead a group of men to go to their rescue. Matahei implores Shurinosuke to allow him to join in the rescue, but in vain. Matahei once again has to endure the humiliation of seeing the younger disciple favored ahead of him.

As the others leave, Matahei and Otoku are left in the garden. They realize that there is no hope of fulfilling Matahei's dream. That dream has been completely shattered. Otoku says that now there is no choice left but to die, but suggests that first Matahei draw a picture of himself on the side of a stone basin in the garden as a memento. She prepares the ink and brush. Matahei then draws on the side of the basin. To their surprise, as Matahei does this, an identical painting appears on the other side of the basin. While they are staring in wonder, Mitsunobu, who has been observing everything from inside the mansion, approaches them. He praised Matahei for his great work, which could only have been achieved through a great passion for art. Mitsunobu, his master, then bestows upon Matahei permission to use Tosa as his professional name.

Sonezaki Shinju

Double suicide at Sonezaki

In the precincts of the Ikutama Shrine a rich country man named Gihei and his flatterers are chatting about the best way is to enjoy the evening. They decide to buy the famous courtesan Ohatsu of the Tenmanya teahouse and take her out to a party. Ohatsu, however, pleads that she has been made to drink too much and now has a bitter headache. Under the circumstances, Gihei and his friends are forced to abandon their plans. Ohatsu is, in fact, in love with a clerk at Hiranoya soy shop named Tokubei. She is in bad shape because her lover has not been to see her for a long time. Then the maids of the teahouse cheer her up with a message from Tokubei, saying that he is coming to see her this very day.

Soon Tokubei appears. Ohatsu complains of his long absence and cannot understand why he is so quiet and aloof. Finally he tells her all about his troubles. His uncle and boss, Kyuemon, is so pleased with his industrious attitude at work that he arranged for Tokubei to marry his wife's niece, an heiress. When Tokubei refused the offer, he discovered that his stepmother had already accepted the dowry in advance from the niece's parents.

The money had to be returned to the parents, so Tokubei went back to his hometown, where his greedy stepmother lives. He managed to get the money back from her. Then on his way home with the money, he encountered an old friend named Kuheiji, who was in need of money. Kuheiji persuaded Tokubei to lend him the money saying it would be just for three days. Lacking the courage to refuse his old friend's request, Tokubei agreed to the loan on condition that Kuheiji repay it in three days without fail. He later realized that this had been a grave mistake. Consequently Kyuemon was forced to pay the dowry back to the girl's parents on Tokubei's behalf. Since Tokubei refused to marry his aunt's niece, his uncle insists that he should settle his debts with him and then leave town forever.

Tokubei explains to Ohatsu that this is why he has not been to see her for so long. Ohatsu is overjoyed to find out that he still loves her and seeks to comfort him. At this time Kuheiji enters, accompanied by a party of his friends, and all are apparently the worse for drink. Tokubei goes to him and presses him to repay the loan, but Kuheiji denies all knowledge of it. When Tokubei produces a promissory note, Kuheiji declares it to be a forgery. A crowd gathers. Tokubei, in despair and frustration, attacks Kuheiji, causing a fight to break out. Gihei happens to come upon the scene, catches hold of Ohatsu, and forces her to leave in a palanquin with him.

After returning Ohatsu weeps as her fellow courtesans whisper unkind things about her lover. Kyuemon comes to the door and asks for her. When she goes out to talk with him, he pleads with her to give up Tokubei, saying she is spoiling the advantageous match arranged for him and driving him to squander money which is not his to spend. Ohatsu denies these charges, swears that her love for Tokubei is true, and denies any knowledge of his whereabouts. Then Kyuemon goes into the Tenmanya to talk with the proprietor, leaving Ohatsu to worry about her lover. But, to her great joy, she Tokubei comes to Tenmanya to see her secretly. Ohatsu and Tokubei embrace tenderly, and she tells him of his uncle's visit.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Kuheiji and his friends who fortunately are too pleased to notice Tokubei in the dark shadows. Ohatsu is forced to go back into the house, as they have come especially on her account. In order to hide Tokubei, she leads him under the verandah and then sits on the step. Kuheiji has come with the intention of ransoming Ohatsu with the money which was taken from Tokubei. He lays the money out on the mat and asks for her redemption. Ohatsu can see no way out of this desperate situation. She makes it clear during the ensuing conversation, in which her answers are really intended for Tokubei, that she is ready to join her lover in putting an end to their unhappiness. In her anxiety to make sure that Tokubei understands, she taps her clog on the stone step to give emphasis to her words and stretches out her naked foot in Tokubei's direction. He caresses her foot to show that he understands her intention and draws her instep across his throat as if it were a sword to show that he also is ready to die. Kuheiji thinks that she must be drunk to talk in this extraordinary way, professing her willingness to die. Brandishing his money under her nose, he goes off to conclude the bargain. Ohatsu is forced to go to her room without speaking directly to Tokubei.

After a while a bell tolls. Ohatsu creeps out of her room, dressed in white, clutching a rosary and a razor. She attracts Tokubei's attention, puts out the lamp, and in the dark the two grope towards each other. When they stumble, the master of Tenmanya awakens, but the couple manage to get safely away before a maid relights the lamp. No sooner have they gone out of the room, than one of Kuheiji's servants comes to the door calling for his master. Their conversation reveals Kuheiji's dirty plot to defame Tokubei. Because Kuheiji has foolishly neglected to give his men a share of the stolen money he has swindled, they now desert him. Kyuemon, who has overheard their talk, bursts into a rage, breaks into Kuheiji's room, and beats him mercilessly.

A servant is sent to fetch Ohatsu to see if she knows where Tokubei is hiding, but returns instead with OhatsuÜs final letter. Kyuemon, deeply affected, immediately organizes a search party for the couple. Mournful reverberations from a temple bell are heard. The two lovers, unaware of the change in their fortunes, are on their last journey into the forest of Sonezaki. They walk the road to death quietly. Seven strokes of the temple bell mark the dawn; six have sounded. The remaining one will be the last echo for these two.

Shinobiyoru Koi wa Kusemono

Panoramic love and intrigue

Yoshimine Munesada is at home playing the koto. At the front gate, Sekibei is sitting and drinking sake wine under the branches of a large cherry tree in full bloom with snow-covered mountains in the background. Ono no Komachi-hime [mid-9th century, about 830-875] comes there to see her fiance, Munesada. At first Sekibei refuses her entry, but Munesada discovers her presence, and they rejoice over their reunion. Sekibei, under the influence of sake wine, speaks his mind, gossiping frankly with Munesada and Komachi-hime. While they are taking pleasure in exchanging love stories, Sekibei accidentally drops some Imperial seals which he has stolen and hidden for future use. He has plans to reign over the whole country. Komachi-hime becomes aware of the seals, picks one up, and quietly puts it in her bosom. Sekibei sees her take the seal and demands that she return it to him. When she refuses, he departs, grinding his teeth in anger and frustration.

In the meantime a hawk appears bearing a letter and a sleeve stained by the blood of Munesada's brother, Yasusada. Munesada thinks that his brother must have been killed on the orders of Otomo Kuronushi and his gang. The two brothers have been the targets of a conspiracy headed by Kuronushi. Just as he assumed, the letter is from a dying Yasusada. It says that, mistaking him for Munesada, Kuronushi's band has murdered him and will no longer be on the lookout for Munesada. Just then Munesada finds a mirror which is an heirloom of the Kuronushi family. Although Munesada still doesn't know that Kuronushi has disguised himself as Sekibei, he feels danger lurking, becomes suspicious of the innocent-looking gatekeeper, and asks Komachi-hime to go to her father for help.

In the evening Munesada prays, as usual, for the repose of the late Emperor's soul. While he is holding the memorial service he includes his brother's name to be consoled. He puts his brother's blood-stained sleeve on the altar and begins praying, but suddenly realizes that the bloody item will defile the sacred place. So, he conceals it in his koto. While he is praying, Sekibei, still under the influence of sake wine, enters. Munesada stops praying and wants to know what Sekibei's true identity is. Though he peppers the gatekeeper with penetrating questions, Sekibei manages to evade his close inquiry under pretense of drunkenness.

After this escape Sekibei begins drinking again. He sees stars reflected in his large sake cup and considers them to be a good omen. Hopeful and full of ambition, he decides to cut down the large cherry tree to make its branches into materials for incense. He takes a huge ax and begins sharpening it. Then he cuts Munesada's koto, which happens to be within his reach, as a test of the cutting ability of the ax. From the koto the blood-stained sleeve appears. When Sekibei touches the sleeve the seal which he keeps miraculously flies up into the cherry tree. Sekibei believes that some supernatural being must exist in the cherry tree. He tries to attack it with his ax, but his hands mysteriously become numb and suddenly he is unable to move under the influence of some magical power.

Just then the late Yasusada's beloved courtesan, Sumizome, appears. Sekibei looks at her with suspicion but is charmed by her beauty. She is, in fact, the spirit of the cherry tree. Once, when the spirit saw Yasusada, she was greatly attracted to him and could not bear to be separated from him. So, she transformed herself into a beautiful courtesan, and they became lovers. Sekibei questions her closely about her life as a courtesan. At first, Sekibei is overwhelmed by her false shows of affection, but as he questions her she gathers up the sleeve in question and begins weeping. At last she turns to him and reveals her true identity. She tells him that, as the spirit of the cherry tree, she knows who he is and what he is going to do and that it is he on whom she must take revenge for her lover's death. At last Sekibei removes his disguise, revealing himself to be Kuronushi. The two engage in a life and death struggle. Kuronushi, with his huge ax, and Sumizome, with her magic powers. Bit by bit Kuronushi begins to succumb to Sumizome's assault.

Shigure no Kotatsu

The coverlet drenched with tears

Although Jihei has a devoted wife and children, he falls in love with the courtesan Koharu and cannot bear to part from her. Unfortunately, she is about to be redeemed by one of her clients. Jihei sits at home under the ãkotatsu . He pretends to be asleep but his eyes are full of tears thinking about Koharu. This is where the title of the drama comes from.

His wife, Osan, goes about the household chores. When their servant tells her that her mother and JiheiÜs elder brother, Magoemon, are on their way to call on them, Jihei goes to the shop front and makes himself look busy. In order to relieve them from anxiety about his selfish deeds, Jihei writes a sworn statement to the effect that he has broken with Koharu forever. But, in fact, he and Koharu have firmly promised to die together for the sake of true love.

Similarly, Koharu does her duty to Osan and Magoemon by bidding Jihei good-bye at the teahouse Kawasho, pretending that she has become tired of him. OsanÜs womenÜs intuition, however, tells her that her husband cannot forget Koharu. She realizes the two will commit double suicide if they cannot live together, and it will be her fault. She makes up her mind, therefore, to divorce Jihei to prevent such a tragedy.

She implores Jihei to go to Koharu immediately and ransom her before she is bought by the other client. Osan donates what money she has and offers to sell her clothes and the children's to raise the full amount of the ransom. Just then OsanÜs father, Gozaemon, comes. He discovers that the chest of drawers is empty, and OsanÜs clothes are all bundled up. He is convinced that Jihei is stealing his wifeÜs clothes to pay for his dissipation and peremptorily drags Osan away, leaving the weeping children with Jihei.

Later Jihei and Koharu marry, but when they find out that Osan has become a nun they come to their senses. Koharu praises OsanÜs unselfishness and hints to Jihei that she intends to kill herself because of the sorrow she has caused her. Jihei, too, tells Koharu that he will die with her to atone for his sins against his wife. Thus they walk the road to death together at Amijima.

Fubuki Touge

A pass in a snowstorm

This story takes place in the late Edo era at a mountain hut which has been built for people who make a pilgrimage to Minobesan, the head temple of the Nichiren sect. Oen and Sukezo arrive there in the middle of a night during a bad snowstorm. They are an adulterous couple. Oen was the wife of Naokichi, a notorious gambler. As Naokichi's underling, Sukezo was always well taken care of by his boss. Yet, he and Oen fell hopelessly in love with each other before they were aware of it. If he had discovered their illicit relationship, they would have been cruelly put to death in accordance with the code all yakuza live by. Instead their immoral conduct gradually escalated, and to escape punishment, they decided to elope. They now live as fugitives, in great fear of revenge by Naokichi.

But as destiny would have it, they encounter the person they are running from in the very hut where they are taking refuge from the storm. In fact, Naokichi is on his way to Minobesan to calm his vengeful spirit. Ironically, Sukezo and Oen are on their way home after visiting Minobesan where they expressed remorse for their wrong doings and apologized from the bottom of their hearts. In the hut they beg desperately for Naokichi's forgiveness and understanding. Naokichi replies in a way they could never have imagined, "At first I was furious with anger and hunted all over for you, but as time went by I came to realize how unworthy I was and gave up all my plans for revenge."

On hearing Naokichi's remarks Sukezo breathes a sigh of relief. Soon, however, he is convulsed in a fit of coughing from a malady he has been suffering from for a long time. Then Oen takes some pills from her bag, chews them up, and passes them from her mouth to Sukezo's. Seeing this passionate behavior immediately rekindles Naokichi's desire for revenge. He becomes like a madmen as his previous tranquillity and understanding evaporate. At last he draws his sword.

Now for Oen and Sukezo the moment of truth is at hand as they face death together. Surprisingly, at this critical time hey think only of themselves and their own survival. Each insists that the other is to blame, that they were seduced. The two even begin to use abusive languages against each other. To see such an ugly, selfish struggle between them, completely disgusts Naokichi. "You dogs!," he admonishes, "Don't ever forget there should be something that you hold more dear than your own miserable lives!" Then he flees from the hut into the snowstorm that rages outside.


A sword thief

One day Kurobei's eye catches sight of Manbei's sword, which is made of gold. Although Manbei is very cautious, Kurobei eventually manages to quietly remove the sword from Manbei in a crowd. When Manbei finds his sword missing and notices Kurobei wearing it, a loud dispute ensues. At the sound of their clamor, a magistrate named Saemon and his assistant, Tonai, appear. Both Kurobei and Manbei insist that they are the rightful owners of the sword. After taking possession of the sword, Saemon declares that he will settle the matter by asking a few questions in order to decide who the true owner is. The real owner of the sword should be able to answer correctly.

Saemon adds another condition, they should also perform a dance which has a deep relation with the sword in question. The examination begins. Saemon tests Manbei first and then asks Kurobei the same questions. Thus Kurobei, having overheard Manbei's answers, can easily respond. He also follows Manbei's example when it comes to the dancing. In this way, Kurobei gives a convincing performance until Manbei realizes that he is aping him. After realizing the thief's strategy, he begins speaking in a low voice and dancing so as not to be seen by the other man. Kurobei finds himself unable to continue the deception and thereby reveals his identity.

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