Princess Kuzunoha

芦屋道満大内鑑~葛の葉

Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami

A heartbroken woman abandons her beloved child, leaving behind a note, “If you long for me, come seek me.” In fact, the mother is not what she seems to be.

The story depicts the secret behind the birth of the court diviner Abe Seimei in the 10th century. Seimei’s father Yasuna is inconsolable after the murder of his fiancée but is brought back from the abyss by her younger sister Princess Kuzunoha, who bears an exact resemblance. He swears his future to her. One day, he rescues a white fox from a chase, only to be beaten mercilessly by the pursuers. Princess Kuzunoha appears suddenly to save him. They have since been happily married for six years and have an adorable son. But the princess is not what she seems to be…

Synopsis

by Mizuochi Kiyoshi

Two princesses

A boy returns home after chasing dragonflies. His mother Kuzunoha warns him not to kill insects. Kuzunoha’s parents visit from her hometown, bringing along their daughter, who is engaged to Yasuna. When the father peeks into the house from outside, he is shocked to see a woman who looks exactly like his daughter weaving a cloth. Yasuna returns and sees that the parents have met Kuzunoha. The father insists that this is not the same woman that is inside and that there are two Kuzunoha. The surprised Yasuna tells the group to wait outside, and enters the house alone.

【Left】Kuzunoha, actually a fox(Nakamura Ganjiro) November 2004 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】[from left]Shinoda Shoji(Ichikawa Sadanji)、Shigarami(Nakamura Tozo)、Princess Kuzunoha(Nakamura Ganjiro)、Abe Yasuna(Nakamura Kanjaku) November 2004 Kabukiza Theatre

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Young child understands nothing

Inside the house, Kuzunoha changes her clothes and speaks quietly to the sleeping child. “The truth is, I’m not human. I am the fox that your father rescued six years ago when I was chased and nearly killed by Akuemon.” To repay Yasuna for his kindness, she disguised herself as the princess and nursed the injuries he suffered on her behalf. They eventually married and had a child, and have lived happily since. Now that the real princess has turned up, however, she will have to leave. She looks lovingly at her child. Foxes are thought to be more committed to family relationships than humans. She speaks of her pain at having to leave her child and breaks down in tears.

Kuzunoha, actually a fox(Nakamura Kaishun) October 2006 Kabukiza Theatre

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“If you long for me, come seek me”

She writes a parting note in mirror image on the paper screen: “If you long for me, come seek me in the distant Shinoda Woods. Heartbroken, Kuzunoha.” As she writes, the baby awakens. Having to hold the child in her arms, she writes by switching from right hand to left and finally by grasping the brush with her teeth. Only a fox could write in this extraordinary way.

Kuzunoha, actually a fox(Nakamura Ganjiro) November 2004 Kabukiza Theatre

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I heard the details

Yasuna appears. He has heard the story and wants to know why Kuzunoha would leave the baby. But she has already disappeared. Yasuna carries the child and chases his wife, who he now knows is a fox.

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Two magical endings

Two endings exist in the Kabuki version. “Michiyuki in the Wild Chrysanthemums” is a dance based on the original puppet play. It depicts the journey of Kuzunoha to her home in the Shinoda Woods. She rises from a trapdoor in the hanamichi with a lacquered umbrella and walking stick. She laments her inability to stay with the child and cries as she spots her own pitiful reflection in a pond. The other version, “Sashikago”, is set in Shinoda Woods in the midst of autumn. Akuemon tries to seduce Kuzunoha and attacks the palanquin. The princess’ servants Yokanbei and Nokanbei rush in and punish Akuemon, placing him on top of the palanquin. The section about the two servants, taken from the original puppet play, presents a picturesque scene typical of Kabuki. When the show is performed in the Kansai area (Osaka/Kyoto), more tricks are added. In some productions, Kuzunoha flies above the audience, while others feature old-style candles to show “fox fires” representing the fox spirit.

【Left】Kuzunoha, actually a fox(Nakamura Ganjiro) November 2004 Kabukiza Theatre
【Right】Kuzunoha, actually a fox(Nakamura Ganjiro) November 2004 Kabukiza Theatre

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