Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees

義経千本桜

Yoshitsune Senbonzakura

Victor becomes the pursued

Brave soldiers from the defeated Heike clan, thought to have died in battle, have actually survived and seek their revenge.Edo playwrights crafted a powerful human drama from the world of the 12th-century Genpei wars. The Genji leader Yoshitsune is attacked variously by the Heike warriors Tomomori, disguised as the owner of a boathouse, and Noritsune, disguised as a mountain priest. The play also depicts Yoshitsune’s lover Shizuka Gozen and a fox who misses his parents. An imaginative drama poised brilliantly between fiction and nonfiction.

Synopsis

by Terada Shima

Mysterious reward

After decimating the Heike clan in a decisive battle, General Yoshitsune brings the news to the retired emperor. The latter’s adviser learns that Yoshitsune has had a disagreement with his brother, who is now the shogun. As a reward for services to the throne, the adviser gives Yoshitsune a treasured drum named Hatsune (meaning “first sound”). This is a signal to Yoshitsune to “beat” his older brother, the other side of the same drum. A refusal would mean a rejection of the imperial order, so Yoshitsune accepts the drum, thinking that as long as he does not beat it, he will not betray his brother.

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Fleeing the capital

A messenger from the brother in Kamakura comes to Yoshitsune at his home in Kyoto. The messenger has come to examine whether Yoshitsune is planning a coup. Yoshitsune’s wife is the stepdaughter of a general in the enemy clan as well as the messenger’s biological daughter. Torn between her husband and true father, the wife commits suicide to clear any suspicion that Yoshitsune is leaning toward the Heike side. A warrior from Kamakura comes to attack Yoshitsune, but the latter’s retainer Benkei ignores his master’s intervention and kills the intruder. The wife’s wish is thus unfulfilled, and Yoshitsune seeks to avoid conflict with his brother by fleeing the capital.

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Drum as keepsake

Yoshitsune and his troops, reaching Fushimi Shrine, are leaving Kyoto. His mistress Shizuka Gozen catches up with them and asks to be taken along, but is not allowed to join them. Yoshitsune gives her the drum as a keepsake and ties her to a tree to prevent her from chasing them. After they go, warriors from Kamakura try to capture her, but Yoshitsune’s retainer Sato Tadanobu suddenly appears and rescues her. Yoshitsune returns and rewards Tadanobu with his armory and the honorific name Genkuro. He orders him to protect Shizuka, then departs. Shizuka departs under Tadanobu’s protection. Tadanobu’s behavior is somewhat eccentric.

【Left】[from left]Musashibo Benkei(Ichikawa Sadanji)、Minamoto Yoshitsune(Nakamura Baigyoku) March 2007 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】Shizuka Gozen(Nakamura Shichinosuke) August 2010 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre
【Right】[from left]Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Onoe Shoroku)、Sasame chuta(Bando Kametoshi) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre

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Seaman turns out to be Tomomori

The Tokaiya boathouse in Amagasaki. Yoshitsune and his troops are quietly waiting for a boat to depart to Kyushu. After they leave, the boathouse owner Ginpei appears in a white robe (suggestive of a death robe) with a long sword. He is in fact Taira Tomomori, a general from the enemy side who was supposed to have drowned in battle. He has disguised his lady-in-waiting as his wife and the young Emperor Antoku as his daughter, and has been running the boathouse waiting for the opportunity to take revenge on Yoshitsune. He intentionally chooses a stormy day to lend out the ship so that he can make his attack on the water, where he is skilled.

[from left]Tokaiya Ginpei, actually Taira Tomomori(Nakamura Kichiemon)、O-ryu, actually Chief Lady-in-Waiting Suke(Nakamura Shibajaku) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre

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Pretending to be ghost

The lady-in-waiting and child emperor appear in splendid costumes to watch the battle at sea. Yoshitsune had already figured out Ginpei’s identity, and it soon becomes clear that the Heike side will lose the battle again. The lady-in-waiting tearfully suggests to the emperor that they follow Tomomori to the bottom of the sea, but they are stopped by Yoshitsune’s retainers. After a desperate battle, Tomomori returns with the look of a demon. He realizes that the empress and her mate have been captured by Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune promises that he will protect his captives’ lives. Tomomori hears the emperor saying that Yoshitsune’s compassion must be respected and witnesses the suicide of the lady-in-waiting. He thus realizes that his ambition to restore the Heike clan is terminated. His last wish is that everyone be told it was his ghost who tried to harm Yoshitsune. He wraps himself in an anchor and jumps into the sea.

【Left】O-ryu, actually Chief Lady-in-Waiting Suke(Nakamura Kaishun) July 2012 Osaka Shochikuza Theatre
【Center】[from left]Tokaiya Ginpei, actually Taira Tomomori(Nakamura Kichiemon)、Musashibo Benkei(Ichikawa Danshiro)、Minamoto Yoshitsune(Nakamura Tomijuro) October 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】Tokaiya Ginpei, actually Taira Tomomori(Nakamura Kichiemon) July 2012 Osaka Shochikuza Theatre

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Journey of love and loyalty

Shizuka Gozen is pursuing Yoshitsune in Mt Yoshino, where the famous cherry trees are in full bloom. She notices that Tadanobu strangely appears out of nowhere whenever she beats the drum. Her love for Yoshitsune and Tadanobu’s sense of loyalty come together in a beautiful spring journey. The couple look at the drum and armor to remember Yoshitsune, and discuss the battle where Tadanobu’s brother was killed by an enemy arrow. A warrior from Kamakura comes to kidnap Shizuka but is chased away by Tadanobu.

【Left】[from left]Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Onoe Kikugoro)、Shizuka Gozen(Sakata Tojuro) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Shizuka Gozen(Sakata Tojuro) October 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Long search for father

Three people arrive at a tea shop: the wife, son and retainer of Koremori, general of the enemy Heike clan. They are searching for him, having heard he is hiding in the area. At the shop, Gonta, a local bully, steals money from them, but they are forced to bear the humiliation to avoid being found out as Heike, which would have resulted in their arrest.

【Left】[from left]Igami no Gonta(Kataoka Nizaemon)、Shume Kokingo(Kataoka Ainosuke) March 2004 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Kosen(Kataoka Hidetaro)、Igami no Gonta(Kataoka Nizaemon) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre

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Kokingo’s death

The trio is pursued to the edge of the woods. The retainer Kokingo has a heated battle with the pursuers. Despite his efforts, he is fatally stabbed. The dying Kokingo sends away the general’s wife and son and breathes his last. A sushi shop owner happens by and, with a plan in mind, cuts off Kokingo’s head and takes it away.

Shume Kokingo(Nakamura Baishi) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre

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Sushi shop worker reveals his true nature

The daughter of the sushi shop owner is in love with the shop worker Yasuke. She was informed that there would be an engagement announcement that night. She receives a visit from her ne’er-do-well brother Gonta, who had been banned from the home by their father. Gonta wheedles money out of the mother. When his father unexpectedly returns, Gonta stashes the cash in one of the sushi buckets and quickly hides himself. The father enters and, seeing no one around, secretly slips the severed head into another sushi bucket. He intends to use it to protect Yasuke, who is in fact the Heike general Koremori. The sushi shop owner had taken him on as a servant as a favor to the boy’s father. Koremori is being hunted, and the shop owner schemes to claim he is dead by passing the head to authorities as Koremori’s. After everyone has gone to sleep, Koremori’s wife and son coincidentally come to the shop deep in the night seeking shelter. He reunites with his family. The shop owner’s daughter overhears their story and realizes that she is in love with someone of a different social rank. She sadly informs them that they are in danger and advises them to run away. This is overheard by Gonta, who resolves to capture them and turn them in for the reward. He frantically rushes after them after grabbing the sushi bucket holding the money – or so he believes.

【Left】[from left]Osato(Nakamura Baishi)、Yasuke, actually Taira Koremori (Nakamura Tokizo)、Wakaba no Naishi(Ichimura Manjiro) November 2014 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Igami no Gonta(Onoe Kikugoro) November 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Tense head inspection

The shogun’s retainer Kajiwara Kiyotoki comes to the sushi shop with a large contingent and demands that the shop owner hand over Koremori. When the shop owner opens the bucket to take out the head, hoping to pass it off as Koremori, he is surprised to find money instead. As he struggles for an explanation, Gonta appears and demands an award for capturing Koremori’s head. The shop owner is livid. Kajiwara examines the head carefully and accepts it. As a reward, he gives him an outfit from the shogun. When Kajiwara leaves, the furious shop owner stabs Gonta.

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Truth of Gonta

Gonta, dying from his wounds, reveals that the head he offered as Koremori was in fact the head that the father himself had brought. After picking up the bucket by mistake, Gonta realized his father’s scheme and thought that the false head alone would be too risky. He thus dressed up his wife and son with the clothing of Koremori’s wife and son, and delivered them along with the head, a ploy which proved successful. When Gonta calls, the real Koremori family emerge safely.

[from left]Yazaemon(Ichikawa Sadanji)、Osato(Nakamura Baishi)、Igami no Gonta(Onoe Kikugoro)、Oyone(Ichikawa Unosuke) November 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Koremori becomes monk

When they tear open the war dress left by the shogun’s retainer, they discover a monk’s dress and prayer bears inside. This shows that the shogun was also planning to show mercy on Koremori by having him become a monk. The retainer thus purposely played along with Gonta’s deceipt. Koremori, realizing the transience of life, vows to become a monk. Gonta had been planning to deceive the shogun, but was in fact deceived himself. He regrets his shallowness, while his father also bemoans his karma. Gonta has become a good person too late, and he soon dies.

[from left]Wakaba no Naishi(Ichimura Manjiro)、Yasuke, actually Taira Koremori(Nakamura Tokizo)、Yazaemon(Ichikawa Sadanji)、Osato(Nakamura Baishi)、Igami no Gonta(Onoe Kikugoro)、Oyone(Ichikawa Unosuke) November 2014 Kabukiza Theatre

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Fox reveals its true figure

The palace of Kawatsura Hogen, the head monk in Mt Yoshino. He is secretly sheltering Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune receives a visit from Tadanobu, but is surprised when his retainer says he knows nothing about Shizuka Gozen or the drum. They then receive the news that Shizuka Gozen has arrived with someone claiming to be Tadanobu. Yoshitsune becomes suspicious and asks Tadanobu to hide. When Shizuka appears, she confesses that the retainer’s behavior has been rather odd. Yoshitsune asks her to identify which is the real Tadanobu. When she beats the drum, her traveling companion appears instantly and listens in fascination to the sound. Upon interrogation, he confesses that he is actually a fox. (Foxes are often depicted in Japanese folklore as having magical powers.) His parents were used for the skin of the drum. Missing them, he turned into a human and followed the drum. Yoshitsune compares himself with the fox as he has little attachment to his own family, and feels compassion. He grants the fox the drum. The fox is delighted and warns that the monks are coming to attack them.

【Left】[from left]Sato Tadanobu(Onoe Kikugoro)、Minamoto Yoshitsune(Nakamura Baigyoku) October 2013 Kabukiza Theatre
【Center】Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Onoe Kikugoro) October 2009 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Onoe Kikugoro) October 2009 Kabukiza Theatre

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Flower watchtower on Mt Yoshino

In Mt Yoshino, full of cherry blossoms, the real Tadanobu corners the enemy monk with the aid of the magical fox. In fact, the “monk” was a soldier in the enemy clan who was thought to have drowned in battle. He disguised himself as a monk and hid in the mountain while plotting his revenge. By the arrangement of Yoshitsune, the child emperor is sent back to his mother and becomes a monk. Amid the thousands of blooming cherry blossoms, the tale of Yoshitsune comes to a finale.

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