The Summer Festival


Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami

Kabuki Plus

by Komiya Akiko

Tsutsumi Tonai

The prison guard who releases Danshichi at Sumiyoshi Shrine. Though merely a peripheral role who simply announces Danshichi’s pardon and exits, it became noted for the contribution of an actor named Sawamura Yodogoro in the Edo Period. Yodogoro put a fan over his face as he left the stage to convey the bright sunlight of the summer afternoon, a gesture that is still used in performances today.

Kubinuki” yukata pattern


Danshichi emerges from a barber clean shaven and wearing a new yukata summer kimono. The yukata is a simple and stylish outfit with an elaborate pattern on the back and collar that enhances the actor’s masculine appeal. Many actors use their family crest.

Iron grill

Placed over a fire to cook fish. Otsugi uses this to grill mackerel outside the house, a typical scene during the festival period in Osaka. Tokubei’s wife appears in a black translucent kimono carrying a parasol. In contrast with her elegant look, she takes decisive action in pressing the grill against her face to disfigure herself and preclude rumors she is trying to tempt other men. This demonstrates her iron will and gives honor to her husband.


There were two different types of tattoos in the Edo Period. One was tattooed on the arm of criminals as punishment. The other covers various patterns, such as false beauty spots shared by two lovers and tattoos adopted by gamblers. Men often chose dragons, carp, legendary heroes or other bold symbols. Women had more sensual white-powdered tattoos, which became visible when they bathed or felt flush. Danshichi’s tattoo depends on the actor: Kikugoro VI and his school use the King of Hell and other hellish scenes; Kichiemon I, peonies and Chinese lions; and Enjaku, the god of fire and two child guardians. Some these days make tattoos of Danshichi himself appearing on the stage. Inserting needles into the skin is painful, and because the colors must be retouched every few years, tattoos take money and strength of will. Gangsters like to show their tattoos off, but ordinary people with tattoos tend to wear long-sleeve shirts even in summer so as not to show them.

Mie pose

In the murder scene in the back streets, Danshichi makes more than ten mie poses. He first removes his kimono, revealing a colorful tattoo against his white body and red obi belt. His hair is untied and scattered over his face. He then makes various eye-catching poses: he spreads his legs with his sword behind him, stands on one leg with sword parallel to the ground, straddles Giheiji’s body with both hands on the sword as he is about to deliver the final blow and more. One well known pose resembles a frog being crushed.

Actual water


Danshichi washes off the mud and blood after his murder of Giheiji. He uses actual water on the stage, which he draws from a well and splashes over his body. The mud is created using sticky soil mixed with incense, or brown-colored flour; it is never true mud.



During the Edo Period, there was a particularly severe punishment for parricide, i.e., the killing of a parent, in-law or other close relative. Criminals were paraded around for public humiliation, and their heads would be cut off and publicly exhibited. For the murder of a parent, the official punishment was crucifixion. One line in the drama says, “If you cut an inch, it will be repaid by a foot-long bamboo saw,” i.e., a particularly painful punishment. Danshichi’s friend comes up with a way to save him from this crime. The only crime worse was to kill one’s master.

Danshichi in puppet drama

Among Bunraku puppet heads, there is a series called Danshichi heads covering a number of roles. The Big Danshichi is used for history dramas, while the Little Danshichi refers to a scoundrel who later has a change of heart. There is also a Danshichi escape as in the scene on the back streets during the festival. Interestingly, a Danshichi Walk, an exaggerated walking style used in numerous plays, features a different head called Bunshichi.

Various directorial styles

The Summer Festival is an extremely popular play, but only three of the original nine acts were typically performed in the past. In 1962, Nizaemon XIII added two acts, and this was repeated by Ennosuke III (the current En’o II) in 1997. In a Tokyo production in 1996, Kankuro (later Kanzaburo XVIII) used only one of those two later acts in a new mix by director Kushida Kazumi that clarified the story considerably. Kushida introduced a scene where the shrine carriers flood onto the stage immediately after the gruesome killing in the mud, and this has since become the standard version. In a 2002 version performed by Kankuro’s troop at a temporary theater in an Osaka park, the back wall dropped out in the final scene to reveal Danshichi and Tokubei running through the park and back to the stage. The Tokyo revival in 2003 topped this by adding a police car, which roared through the set delivery door at back.

New York production

Kanzaburo’s troupe performed The Summer Festival in New York in 2004 in the open area in front of Lincoln Center. It won wide acclaim, including a rave in the NY Times. The end featured the NYC police, with guns drawn. The same production was performed in 2008 in Berlin and Siviu (Rumania). In a production in Osaka Park in 2012, Danshichi and Tokubei ran off the stage completely against the backdrop of Osaka Castle.