Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki


Dan no Ura Kabuto Gunki

Kabuki Plus

by Iizuka Misa


Kagekiyo is a descendant of the noble Fujiwara family. He is sometimes known by the surnames Fujiwara and Kajiwara, but because of his actions on behalf of the Heike (Taira) clan, he is also called Taira Kagekiyo. Furthermore, he is nicknamed “the evil one” in a Japanese pun referring to his strength and Taira background. The Tale of Heike describes how he broke the enemy’s helmet apart with his bare hands in the war against the Genji clan. He participated in the decisive battle at Dan no Ura, in which his clan was crushed by the Genji. After that loss, he tried to assassinate the Genji leader Yoritomo in Kamakura. The prison where he was incarcerated still stands in Kamakura today.

Kagekiyo’s jail break and helmet busting


Kagekiyo’s legendary bravery has been celebrated in Noh drama, dance, puppet theatre and elsewhere. Kabuki features him in numerous plays, such as Kagekiyo (one of the Ichikawa family’s “18 Select Plays”), Shusse Kagekiyo and Musume Kagekiyo Yashima Nikki. The present play, Akoya, derives from Shusse Kagekiyo, which also includes a scene where Kagekiyo breaks out of prison with his bare hands. The episode featuring him breaking apart the enemy’s helmet has been depicted in many dramas and dances.

Puppet play legacy 1: Takeda Yakko

When Iwanaga Saemon orders the torture instruments to be brought out, soldiers known as “Takeda yakko” appear with loud voice and wild costumes and makeup. The name Takeda is thought to be related to the generic puppets used in Osaka’s Takeda-style puppet theatre. They also appear in Goto Sanbaso.

Puppet play legacy 2: Puppet-like acting

The evil Iwanaga Saemon, who wants to torture Akoya, is presented exactly as his counterpart in the puppet drama: red silk overcoat, black velvet kimono, greasy hair and red face. He moves his thick eyebrows up and down humorously like a puppet, his words are sung by a narrator, and he moves as if manipulated by a puppeteer.



When Akoya plays the koto, Shigetada exclaims, “That’s the Fuki-gumi song.” This refers to a famous koto number recognized as a masterpiece of the genre. The first line involves a rhubarb (fuki), so the song has come to be known by that name. The fact that Shigetada immediately recognizes the tune shows his sophistication.

Akoya’s costume and character

Akoya’s emergence in formal gorgeous courtesan attire is not just a representation of her occupation but serves as a symbol of her pride as the lover of a war hero and determination not to bow to torture. With her appearance on the hanamichi, the chanter sings of her beauty amid a troubled mind, suggesting the character’s resolve to maintain a strong front.

Succession of Akoya role


Akoya is an extremely challenging role requiring the dignity of a courtesan and high skill on three traditional instruments, which she must play and sing with great formality while intimating at her deep feeling for her lover. The role was passed after the war from Kataoka Nizaemon XII to Nakamura Utaemon VI, who was the only one allowed to play it for many years. When the play was revived under Utaemon’s direction for the 30th anniversary of the National Theatre in 1997, the role was passed to Bando Tamasaburo.