Kabuki Index
Kabuki Summaries VIII
by Hisao Watanabe
Edited by R. Jeffrey Blair

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

  1. Dattan--Penance of Fire
  2. Gonza and Sukeju
  3. Kamiyui Shinza--Shinza the Hairdresser
  4. Makura Jishi--Dance
  5. Yanone--Arrowhead

Dattan--Penance of Fire

This dance drama, first performed at Tokyo's Kabuki-za theater in 1967, was written by Hagiwara Yukio and choreographed by the late Onoe Shoroku II. During the premiere, the lead character of Shukei was performed by Shoroku, himself. Onoe Baiko portrayed the woman with the blue cloth and Ichimura Uzaemon was Dodoji, a priest of Todai-ji temple. With each performance, this drama's popularity increased to where it is now one of the most popular dramas in kabuki. Today, Onoe Kikugoro VII, who appeared as one of the acolytes during its debut, will take the role of Shukei.

The author says that he was asked by Shoroku to make a drama featuring the religious austerities of Todai-ji temple. These austerities are called "O-mizu-tori" or "the scooping of sacred water." This purification ritual is held annually on March 12th in Todai-ji temple's Nigatsu-do hall. The entire event, which is called "Shunie" or "Kekaho" and includes "O-mizu-tori", offers laymen the opportunity to attend several rites including "Fire Brand", "Spreading Flower", and "Reading of the Death Register." (The death register contains the names of those who have served Todai-ji directly or as benefactors.) The final rite, from which this drama takes its name, is "Dattan"--the penance of fire.

To develop this dance drama, the author, himself, participated in the ritual three times, continuing to perfect his idea with each occasion. On a fourth visit, joined in the confines of the tiny hall by Shoroku and members of the templeĀfs staff, he was overwhelmed and had a deep, religious experience.

In Todai-ji temple there is a legend that about 800 years ago, a woman clad in blue cloth appeared before Shukei as he was reading the death register during the Shunie ritual. She asked him why her name had not been read as part of the ceremony before suddenly disappearing. She was in fact the ghost of a young woman that had fallen in love with Shukei during her lifetime. She appeared before him to recapture his heart and her words were merely a pretext to that end.

This dance drama is composed of four scenes. The first two present the severe austerities performed by Shuke, the acolytes, and Dodoji under the protection of sacred torches. Among these ascetic practices is the "Spreading Flower" ritual, one of the highlights of this performance.

In the later half of the drama, the woman clad in blue appears before Shukei while he is reading the death register. The author uses blue cloth to symbolize the worldly desires of human begins. As such, the woman clad in blue signifies Shukei's subconscious, tiring of religious austerities. She moves toward a suspicious Shukei, reveals her name--Wakasa, and tries to remind him of the pleasures and passion they enjoyed in their youthful days. Although she died many years ago, she cannot forget him and has come to be with him once again. At this moment, Shukei is deeply attracted to her and is only able to conquer his deep yearning for her passion after a difficult struggle with himself.

Until Wakasa stirs up Shukei's desires, the dance drama is characterized by a solemn tranquility, but afterwards, it changes completely, expressing fierce emotions. Performed under the glow of torches, the intense and ardent reverence displayed in the ritual of Dattan underscores the word's original Sanskrit meaning, "the burning of every worldly desire." Depicting the strict austerities of purification, the dance continues in a crescendo to the climax of the drama, the most spectacular scene in the performance.


The first scene:
A corridor in Nigatsu-do.

In Todai-ji temple, sometime during the Kamakura era (1192-1333), the Shunie ritual is drawing to a close with many priests proceeding to the main hall of Nigatsu-do.  The acolytes bearing torches lead the way, followed by Shukei.

The second scene:
A minor hall within Nigatsu-do.

Although it is around 9 o'clock in the evening, illumination from the torches makes it appear to be midday.  Dodoji and the other acolytes enter. Soon they begin their dance and a prayer for peace and prosperity.

The third scene:
The main hall of Nigatsu-do.

After the acolytes have finished the solemn rite of the "Spreading Flower," Shukei retreats to a secluded corner of the room, behind the partition of a sacred curtain. Continuing the Shunie ritual, Shukei begins to read the names of people that have been entered onto the death register.

Just then, a woman clad in blue cloth appears before him claiming to be an entrant in the register and asks why he has neglected to read out her name. Suspicious, Shukei asks her to identify herself. Closing the space between them, she asks, "Have you forgotten me?" She is the ghost of Wakasa, a young woman with whom, many years ago, Shukei enjoyed the spring time of his life.

"Though we promised to marry," she continues, "you entered the Buddhist world, forsaking me for your own religious pursuits. I still believe in us. I have come here to unite with you in a new life.Āh Shukei begs her to dismiss everything as a dream, forgetting even him. When she covers him with her blue cloth, he succumbs to her seductive temptations.

He emerges from behind the sacred curtain now tainted by his own desire. The two of them dance, enraptured by the memory of their innocent love. Shukei, however, tries to break her hold over him as a battle between his religious beliefs and his emotions rages within him. She asks him to say her name, but Shukei regains control over himself and repeatedly calls her "shoé no nyonin," or "woman of the blue cloth." This is his only defense, a way to distance himself from her, to avoid becoming completely enchanted.

When at last, he casts off the blue cloth, she suddenly disappears, completely unnoticed by the others present. Shukei finishes reading the death register and begins to dance manically, as if possessed, to exorcize his desire and the memory of the woman clad in blue. The acolytes follow, continuing their rigorous worship.

The fourth scene:
The inner sanctum of Nigatsu-do.

Now midnight in the inner sanctum, the ritual penance of Dattan begins. Illuminated by blazing torches, Shukei and the acolytes begin its intense austerities until the gong of Todai-ji temple rings out, signaling the ritual's conclusion.

Gonza and Sukeju

This drama was written by Okamoto Kido, whose other masterpieces include "Shuzenji Monogatari" and "Bancho Sarayashiki," and was first staged at Misonoza in July 1949. Today's performance is part of the famous play Ooka Seidan; the cases of Chief Justice Ooka Tadasuke, former magistrate of Echizen, who lived during the Edo era. Even today, he is revered as a distinguished judge. This play relates the story of one of those cases.

Today's version includes the same material as Ooka Seidan, but the flavor of the drama has been changed completely through its translation into kabuki. With a comical and humorous theme, this play adapts a broad view of one of the stories, featuring plebian life as seen through the eyes of Gonza and Sukeju, the main characters.

In the opening scene, the residents of a tenement house tackle the annual chore of cleaning their well. People during the Edo period would clean the local wells each summer as one of their seasonal chores. Thus, this scene is full of the season's atmosphere and highlights the comical, playful banter between Gonza, Sukeju, Gonza's wife, and Sukeju's brother--until Hikosaburo appears. Then the entire mood changes drastically, transforming the performance from a comedy to a detective drama. As is usual in the stories of Ooka Seidan, an unexpected fact is revealed as part of the grand finale.


In downtown Edo, many people, including beggar priests and monkey showmen, are present at a well cleaning festival. Everyone is working hard to clean the well. Among them is Sukeju's brother Sukehachi.

Sukeju, a partner with Gonza as palanquin bearers, enters. He approaches Gonza's wife, Okan, and inquires about Gonza's whereabouts. Okan replies that he is napping. Feeling that Gonza should join in the well cleaning, Sukeju is displeased. Sukehachi agrees with his brother, so the two of them berate Okan. In the meantime, Gonza has awoken and appears. No sooner does he do so than Sukeju criticizes him and demands that he participate in the chore at hand. Gonza, however, ignores the order. He points out that his wife is helping and insists that that should be enough. Gonza and Sukeju argue with each other, but eventually Sukeju gives up and leaves the scene.

After a little while, Sukeju and Sukehachi begin a brotherly quarrel, because Sukeju teases his him about being made a fool of by a monkey. The tenement residents rush in to stop their fight. Then their landlord, Rokurobe, comes over and reprimands them for their childish behavior. He orders everyone to hurry up with the job of cleaning the well and personally asks Gonza why he isnĀft working. To excuse his absence, Gonza claims he had a very important job which prevented him from arriving earlier. Hearing this, Sukeju expresses his sympathy for Gonza to Rokurobe, who, unmoved by his words, barks at Gonza and his wife, forcing him to join the others on the job at hand.

Just then, Hikosaburo, the young owner of a fancy store, emerges. He is the son of Hikobe, who until recently lived in the tenement house and also owned a fancy store. Hikosaburo says he has received a letter, which states that his father robbed a retired woman of 100 ryo at an inn and murdered her. The letter states further that Hikobe was eventually arrested, but then died in jail.

Unable to believe such a story, Hikosaburo has rushed from Ozaka to the tenement house. Rokurobe regretfully informs him that Hikobe seems to have made a full confession in court. Gonza and Sukeju intently watch and listen to the conversation as it transpires. Rokurobe informs Hikosaburo that once a trial is concluded it is virtually impossible to overturn the judgment. Hikosaburo then declares that he intends to storm into the court and demand the case be reopened.  (To make such a appeal was considered taboo in those days. The act of appearing before the court to contend a judgment was usually construed by the government as a capital offense. Although the final course of action was in the hands of the presiding judge, the person asking for an appeal was risking his own life.)

Seeing Hikosaburo's fierce determination, Gonza and Sukeju reluctantly confess their secret to Rokurobe. On the night that the woman was killed, the two of them saw Kantaro, a plasterer living near the tenement, washing what appeared to be a woman's sleeve and a glittering object, perhaps a sword, in a nearby rain barrel. Not wanting to be involved in such a serious matter, Gonza and Sukeju had until now kept that fact to themselves.

Upon hearing their account, Rokurobe decides to deliver Hikosaburo, Gonza, and Sukeju to the police, with the intention of resolving the case. With this new information, Kantaro is also summoned by the police for questioning. Thus all four end up being examined by the court.

A month later, having been released from custody, Gonza and Sukeju return home to their usual life, quarreling with each other, as is their usual practice. They soon hear from Sukehachi that the court has also released Kantaro. In a state of confusion they begin to doubt their previous testimony, thinking the person they saw might not have been Kantaro after all, a fact they had admitted to the court.

Bearing fish and a barrel of sake, Kantaro comes to thank people at the tenement house, believing their testimony helped him obtain his release from custody. Despite his seemingly humble manner, Gonza and Sukeju find Kantaro's passivity a little strange. Then one of the showman's monkeys, which had been eyeing Kantaro, jumps at him. Kantaro's countenance drastically changes as he stabs the monkey, killing it. Then, just as quickly, he retreats behind a soft and calm faćade and apologizes for killing the monkey. Acting as if nothing unusual had happened, he continues to expresses his thanks the tenants, saying to himself, but in a voice loud enough to be heard, "This might have happened because of my arrogant attitude and suspicious behavior. My summons to court was only natural because of my reputation as a dangerous fellow."

Sukehachi cannot stomach Kantaro's transparent faćade and the obvious resentment that he holds for everyone in his heart. Thus he openly expresses his rage against him. Gonza and Sukeju quite agree with Sukehachi's estimation of the situation and return the barrel of sake. In response, Kantaro turns violent and begins fighting with Sukehachi. The other people present, however, manage to pin him down and tie him up.

Someone announces that the police have come, so Gonza and Sukeju hastily shut Kantaro in their palanquin to hide him. One of the police officers arrives and inquires as to Kantaro's whereabouts. People in the tenement house reply only with feigned ignorance. Just then, a struggling Kantaro bursts forth from the palanquin, crying for help. Instead of helping him, however, the police declare that proof of Kantaro's crime has come to light, arrest him once again, and take him away.

Rokurobe and Hikosaburo arrive in time to see the stunned reaction of the residents of the tenement house from witnessing Kantaro's sudden arrest. Rokurobe informs people there was no proof at all of Kantaro's involvement in the old woman's murder. Therefore, after long and careful consideration, Magistrate Ooka Tadasuke, allowed Kantaro to go in order to uncover the necessary evidence of his guilt.

The magistrate's idea worked well. One of his men tailed Kantaro and witnessed him burning a cloth purse stained with blood, thus revealing his guilt. From the beginning of the case Magistrate Ooka had his eye on Kantaro, thinking that he must be the true criminal. In fact, the magistrate was responsible for starting the rumor that Hikobe died in jail in order to encourage the true culprit to relax his guard.

When Hikobe makes his appearance, Gonza, Sukeju, and the other residents rejoice over his acquittal.  And so, the residents resume their peaceful lives of bickering and petty quarrelling.

Kamiyui Shinza--Shinza the Hairdresser

Okuma, the daughter of the owner of Shirakaya lumber yard, has fallen in love with and become secretly engaged to one of the shop assistants. Her mother has taken over the business since her husband passed away a few years ago. Recently, however, the shop has fallen into financial trouble. To alleviate their mounting debts, the widow decides to offer her daughter's hand in marriage to the sons of some wealthy merchants. Okuma and her fiance, Chuhichi, now face a difficult situation. While the two lament their situation, a hairdresser named Shinza overhears their conversation. Although posing as a traveling hairdresser, Shinza is actually an ex-convict with a penchant for gambling. Recognizing the opportunity to take advantage of the couple's dilemma, Shinza urges them to run away from the shop and vows to resolve any troubles created by their sudden departure.

Shinza sends Okuma on ahead by palanquin to his house, while he and Chuhichi walk the night road alone. Along the way, Shinza reveals his treachery to Chuhichi and his intention to blackmail the lumberyard. Chuhichi stands in disbelief, but Shinza dramatically pulls back his sleeve to expose the prison tattoos on his arm, and thus, his true identity: Irezumi Shinza (Tattoo Shinza). Feeling confident and in full control of the situation, Shinza boasts that he will now take Okuma for his own, as well, then proceeds to beat Chuhichi to a pulp and disappear into the night.

Unable to return to the shop he has just abandoned or find his fiancee, Chuhichi's grief knows no bounds. In utter despair he decides to abandon his life by jumping into a nearby river, but is saved by Genhichi, the boss of a gambling ring.

Meanwhile back at the lumberyard, Okuma's family has learned of her abduction and convenes a meeting to discuss ways of saving her. They decide to ask Genhichi to negotiate with Shinza on their behalf. Genhichi agrees to their request and raises 10 ryo to be used as ransom. He travels to Shinza's house and offers the money in exchange for Okuma's release. Shinza, however, is unsatisfied with the meager amount and sends Genhichi away a failure.

A short while later, the landlord of Shinza's tenement pays him a visit. Chobei is much more clever and cunning than Genhichi. He begins to conduct his own negotiations for Okuma's freedom. Shrewdly unbalancing Shinza with a potent mix of flattering praise and open threats, Chobei settles the abduction issue for a promise of 30 ryo and sends Okuma safely back to Shirakaya.

When the Tokugawa government began to collapse in the mid 19th century, the old order and its traditions died out as well. New ways of thinking permeated every aspect of life. Kabuki theatre was no exception. The names of locations in this drama, unlike older kabuki plays, are real and the places realistically described. Previously, harsh laws strictly prohibited such realism, but in the cultural turmoil of this newly emerging era Kawatake Mokuami was able to ignore long-standing tradition. In sharp contrast to earlier governments, the Meiji government even encouraged theatres to produce plays in contemporary settings, using real facts and events, rather than the bombastic fiction that filled earlier kabuki works.

This drama marks a transitional period between the Edo and Meiji eras when people everywhere were exercising their newfound freedoms. Rebellion, especially by a younger generation run rampant, is a common phenomenon throughout human history. Much like today, the young stars in those days refused to bow to an outdated authoritarian hierarchy. A gangster on the rise, such as Shinza, would fiercely resist any opponents who used their lofty status to exert their authority and dominate him. We see this reflected in the present drama, when Shinza declares, "I hate your attitude. You push and shove everyone that is in your way, as you peddle your influence around." He thereby expresses a lowly commoner's psychological rage against his upper-class superiors, giving us a glimpse of kabuki's true roots as an anti-establishment force.

An interesting aspect of this drama is Shinza's decision to buy a fresh bonito for three bu, a very exorbitant amount of money (100,000 yen = 1 ryo = 4 bu). Usually short of cash, Shinza buys the fish because of its freshness, showing a poor man's reckless abandon. Psychologically, he is on top of the world anticipating his return home to enjoy toying with Okuma, guzzling down sake, and savoring the bonito which he cannot really afford. Thus the bonito becomes a very important symbol in this drama.

After Genhichi is sent away, Chobei enters Shinza's house and witnesses Shinza eating the extravagant bonito. Shinza becomes ashamed because he has been behind in his rent for such a long time. By way of apology, he offers half of the fish to Chobei. (This exchange is very important, providing a subtle clue to the audience as to what will come later in the drama.)

Shinza then tries to scare him off by flaunting his tattoos--two rings around his arm--a brand given to him by the police for his criminal acts, but Chobei remains unimpressed. In those days, the relationship between tenant/landlord was very stringent, much like that between peasants and samurai, but it often softened into a relationship like that of a father and son. Chobei takes advantage of this relationship, not mincing words with Shinza. Few others would attempt such forceful persuasion with Shinza for fear of making him angry. Chobei persists until he has settled the abduction issue for 30 ryo to be paid after Okuma's safe release. Shinza wastes no time in sending her safely back home.

Having completed his end of the bargain, Shinza looks to Chobei for his payment. Chobei has no intention of giving Shinza the money and tries to divert his attention with small talk. Shinza, however, finally becomes impatient and comes straight out, demanding his due. At last, Chobei begins to count out the money slowly and carefully but stops at 15 ryo and thanks Shinza for the half a bonito that he had offered earlier. Shinza implores him to continue counting, but Chobei only repeats himself, thanking Shinza again for the bonito. At last, Shinza becomes upset, so Chobei once again counts out 15 ryo, stops, and thanks Shinza. Chobei's only response to Shinza is to express his great appreciation for the expensive fish again and again to the point that Shinza, out of sheer frustration, offers the entire bonito to Chobei if he will just finish counting out the 30 ryo. Katsuyakko, Shinza's assistant, witnessing the actions of Chobei leans over to Shinza and explains that Chobei must be hinting that the other 15 ryo is his commission. Beaten by Chobei's persistence, Shinza accepts the reduced amount of 15 ryo. Before the transaction is completed, Chobei withholds 2 more ryo for the back-rent that Shinza owes. Thus, Shinza has been deprived of three things: Okuma, 17 ryo, and half of the bonito.

A neighbor rushes onto the scene with the big news that a robber has broken into Chobei's house and stolen all his money. Now Shinza's loss is complete and the curtain falls.

Makura Jishi--Dance

The fantastically beautiful courtesan Yayoi dances to the music, showing bitterness toward her dreary life in the gay quarters. While dancing, she becomes overawed by a peony and gradually forgets herself, falling into a trance from the soporific effects of the flower. Before she knows what is happening she is possessed by a lion spirit. Long, long ago the peony and the lion were closely associated symbols.

At first, Yayoi dances gracefully, yearning for love. Before long she picks up a tiny lion's head. Then she becomes more and more absorbed in the dance. Finally, she loses control of herself as the lion's spirit takes over her movements, pulling her off the stage. There follows an interlude in which Yayoi's two attendants perform sometimes merrily but sometimes melancholically. After they have gone, the music becomes intensively restless. At this point, Yayoi reappears. She is now a personification of the lion spirit. She dances dynamically in Shishi no Kurui Manner, which depicts the state of the legendary lion in a playful frenzy.


In 1193 after a long period of hardship, two young samurai brothers, Soga no Goro Tokimune and Soga no Juro Sukenari wreaked vengeance for the murder of their father 18 years earlier and were put to death. For their persistence and loyalty in this just cause, they came to be celebrated in theaters and in many books as models of male virtue. This is one in a series of several kabuki plays--the Soga Cycle--which deal with this historic act of revenge.

The scene begins with Soga no Goro sharpening a giant arrowhead in his house on New Year's day. He is preparing for the day when he and his brother can strike down their enemy, a daimyo called Suketsune, who after murdering their father has risen in rank to become a councilor to Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo [1147-1199].

A friend comes to his house bringing Goro a folding fan and a painting of a treasure ship both of which are regarded as auspicious presents on a lucky day. It was believed that if you sleep with the painting underneath your pillow and have a good dream, it will come true. In due course Goro goes to sleep with the painting under his neckrest. While sleeping Goro dreams of his brother, Juro, who implores him to hasten to his rescue. He is in a desperate situation after being surrounded by Suketsune's retainers. In response to his brother's telepathic message, Goro immediately awakens, hijacks a horse from a radish salesman, and gallops at full-speed in the direction of his brother using a giant radish as his riding crop.

Last updated August 2007
Copyright (C) 2006-2007 by Jeff Blair
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