Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku (Numazu)


Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku (Numazu)

Kabuki Plus

by Mizuochi Kiyoshi

Vendetta at Iga Ueno

The Vendetta at Iga Ueno is one of Japan’s three great revenge dramas along with the Soga brothers saga and the 47 Ronin. It took place on 7 November 1634. The trigger was the murder of Watanabe Gentayu by Kawai Matagoro, both of whom were serving the Ikeda clan, in a homosexual love triangle. After the murder, Kawai escaped and was hiding at the household of a senior officer named Ando in Edo. Ikeda Tadao, the lord of the province, demanded that Kawai be handed over, but Ando refused, and the event became a full-out conflict between a regional ruler and a senior official of the national government. The national government tried to calm the situation by banishing Matagoro from Edo. In the meantime, the victim’s brother Kazuma asked his brother-in-law Araki Mataemon to assist. Araki achieved the revenge at the corner of a locksmith’s shop in Iga Ueno. Though a personal vendetta, it become a major event as it involved the regional lord and national government.

Araki Mataemon’s killing of 36 men

The events become exaggerated in numerous tellings, with Mataemon said to have killed 36 men. In actuality, four people from Kazuma’s side fought 11 people on Matagoro’s side, and Mataemon killed two of the latter group (Matagoro’s uncle and a servant).

Boundary markers


The prologue to the play is called “Boundary Marker”, referring to signs posted at the entry to inn districts indicating the region name and delineating the authority of the respective rulers. The “Numazu” scene opens with vibrant shamisen music depicting the busy traffic on the Tokaido Highway from Edo to Kyoto. When Heisaku and Jubei travel together, they walk through the audience, ad-libbing along the way, before returning via the hanamichi. The stage set is changed while the audience is distracted by the actors, a Kabuki-esque touch.

Osaka/Kyoto version and Tokyo version


Jubei’s acting style differs in Kamigata (Osaka/Kyoto) and Tokyo. In the former, Jubei acts in the wagoto gentleman style typical of that region. He falls in love with Oyone at first sight and stops at Heisaku’s house, where he proposes to her (and is turned down). The actor must present the character’s gentleness and lovability in a comical manner. It is only with Oyone’s attempted robbery that he becomes aware that Heisaku is his father, after which he plays a more manly role. In the original puppet play, Jubei learns the truth about Heisaku in a conversation with him, and proposes marriage to Oyone to save them from poverty. The Tokyo version adheres more closely to the original, with Tokubei portrayed more seriously. In Kabuki plays adapted from puppet dramas, Kansai versions tend to stick with the original, while Tokyo versions focus more on the actor. The reverse is true, however, for “Numazu”. Nevertheless, many Tokyo actors often perform Tokubei in Kamigata style.

Suicide in the river

After being caught attempting to steal the medicine case, Oyone tells her life story. This story, called kudoki, is the highlight of the play for a female-role actor. Her actions caused her husband to become injured at the scene, and he is rehabilitating. They have sold everything they own to survive but are reaching bottom. She says if she doesn’t die first, she will drown herself in the Segawa River tomorrow. The line is a pun on her former life as the courtesan Segawa in Edo’s Yoshiwara pleasure district.

Matagoro’s destination is Kyushu’s Sagara

At the request of the dying Heisaku, Jubei proclaims, so that Oyone can hear, that Matagoro is reportedly heading to Sagara in Kyushu. A light rain starts to fall. Jubei puts an umbrella over Heisaku, who is lying beside him. This is a highlight of the piece known as “Senbon Matsubara” (field of a thousand pines), showing the first and last meeting of father and son.

Chikamatsu Hanji

Chikamatsu Hanji (1725-83) is a pen name adopted by Hozumi Shigeakira. He apprenticed under the famed writer Takeda Izumo II and became a puppet playwright. He greatly admired the legendary Chikamatsu Monzaemon, with whom his father was acquainted, and took the surname in his honor. His major works include Hidakagawa Iriai Zakura, Honcho Nijushiko, Sekitori Senryo Nobori, Keisei Awa no Naruto, Omi Genji Senjin Yakata, Kamakura Sandaiki and Imoseyama Onna Teikin. The monumental Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku was his final piece.