Kokusenya Gassen (The Battles of Koxinga)


Kokusenya Gassen (The Battles of Koxinga)

Kabuki Plus

by Iizuka Misa

Historic hero Koxinga


Koxinga, known in Chinese as Zheng Chenggong and Japanese as Tei Seiko, was the model for Watonai. Born in 1624, his father Zheng Zhilong was a trader in Fujian, China who accumulated a large army, and his mother Tagawa Matsuko was a Japanese woman from Hirado, a port in Nagasaki Prefecture. His original Japanese name was Fukumatsu. He moved to China at the age of seven. At that time, the Ming government had been attacked by the Manchurian Qing clan, and the Ming royal family and its servants rose in resistance to the Qing government to retake the throne. Koxinga became a Ming general and manages at one point to surround Nanjing, but is eventually forced to retreat to the south. In 1661, he rescues Taiwan from the hands of the Dutch East Indian Company and began development of the area. Three generations of his family ruled Taiwan thereafter. Koxinga and his followers repeatedly requested support from Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate to restore the Ming dynasty to power, but the Tokugawa government had shut off Japan from all purposes but trade. Koxinga’s background and activities were well known in Japan even at that time.

Neither Japan nor China

Watonai is thought to be a Japanese pun meaning “neither Japan nor China” (wa = Japan, nai = not). It is a name indicating a individual on a scale not limited to two countries.



Kokusenya (literally, imperial-name-master) is a name indicating that Koxinga was deeply trusted by the emperor and allowed to take the emperor’s surname Xu. (“Ya” is an honorific title given to adult males.) Koxinga was too humble to use the name Xu, but the title nevertheless indicates his importance to the imperial family. The playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon uses a different character for “sen” than the historic name to emphasize that this is a fictional rendering.

“Kikorai, pinkan dansu, chiipa chiipa”

Nonsense words used in the text. From the context, we understand this to mean, “Go home.” Such lines seem to be inventions by Chikamatsu to represent Chinese and do not have any particular meaning.

“Tora tora toh-ra tora”

This is not a movie title. It is a game where two people hide behind a screen and make gestures like a warrior, old lady or tiger (tora), and others guess which is being portrayed. The warrior is Watonai, the old woman Watonai’s mother. The tiger defeats the old woman but loses to Watonai, while Watonai cannot beat his mother. It is a game inspired by the tiger-taming scene in this play.

Chinese cat

The scene in the castle where Watonai’s mother and stepdaughter protect each other from the knife-wielding Kanki is known as the “Chinese cat”. A line in the original puppet play describes the scene, when the bound mother is trying to save the daughter with her mouth, like a Chinese cat changing beds (i.e., a cat taking her kitten in her mouth to bed).

Playing Watonai role with child’s heart

Watonai tries to solve problems with force rather than talk, a youthful approach. Watonai has been part of the Ichikawa’s bombastic aragoto repertoire since the late 18th century. As such, he is portrayed with heavy makeup, padded kimono, a rope-like sash and long sword, all typical of young men in aragoto plays such as Goro in Yanone. Watonai is the only character in Kabuki who performs the stomping-like roppo walk twice in a single play.

“Unrivaled in Japan, unique in China”

There is a famous mie pose when Kanki rubs his beard as Watonai comes crashing into the castle. It is called the kan-u pose after a similar gesture by the hero (known in Chinese as Guan-yu Uncheng) in the Chinese classic Tale of Three Kingdoms. This pose is also seen in the Kabuki play Kan-u, one of the Eighteen Select Plays, and the popular Shunkan.

Mother with no name


Mother with no name