Kumo ni Magou Ueno no Hatsuhana (Kochiyama & Naozamurai)


Kumo ni Magou Ueno no Hatsuhana (Kochiyama & Naozamurai)

Kabuki Plus

by Kaneda Eiichi

“The Six Poets” and “The Six Thieves”

Stories involving Kochiyama have long been popular material for storytellers and novelists. The basis for the Kabuki drama was a story by noted storyteller Shorin Hakuen II entitled “The Six Stars of the Tempo Era”, referring ironically to thieves. Hakuen was known for his skills at weaving narratives about thieves and gangsters and was nicknamed Hakuen the Thief. He thus shares a feature with the play’s creator Mokuami, who was known as the Gangster Playwright. The six thieves chosen as outcasts from society were Kochiyama, Kataoka Naojiro, Dark Ushimatsu, Kaneko Ichinojo, Moritaya Seizo and, as the only woman, Michitose. These characters were a parody of the famous Six Poets of the Heian Era, namely Ariwara Narihira, Sojo Henjo, Otomo Kuronushi, Funya Yasuhide, Kisen Hoshi and, as the only woman, Ono no Komachi.

Tea master (Osukiya Bozu)

Kochiyama’s Japanese title includes the honorific “bozu”, which in today’s usage would normally imply a priest. In fact, he is a retainer in the Edo Castle in charge of tea affairs. Such retainers are low ranked and paid, but have direct access to the Shogun and senior officials, giving them access to sensitive information. They often leaked such secrets to local lords or gave information on the lords to the Shogun’s household. As such, the lords were highly wary of these figures. Kochiyama took full advantage of his position. Because he shaves his head and pretends to be a monk in the course of the story, modern audiences may well become confused by the storyline.

Famous quotes

The show includes a number of famous lines depicting Kochiyama’s unique character. In disdain for commoners, he says, “If you only know the joy of seaweed and fried bean curd, you can’t hope to find a skilled craftsman.” He asks for money by referring obliquely to “golden tea”, implying coins. He continues with the play’s most famous line, “The greater the sinner, the greater the saint.” Another line, “Here comes Kitamura Daizen,” puns on the “kita” in the name, which means “to come”. In one case, Mokuami wrote, “So the big man has lost his senses”, for an actor who was particularly tall. That line is changed according to the actor: “A little man’s knowledge is easy to read” or, in recent years, “Volunteering too readily is like a frog clinging to the riverbank.”

All about noodles

In the second play, the samurai Naojiro, a masseur and two townsmen (actually undercover policemen) are eating actual soba noodles as the curtain opens. The noodles are traditionally delivered from a famous shop. Naojiro demonstrates how a real Edo citizen eats his noodles in contrast with the boring manner of the other three. In the past, audiences would flock to noodle shops after the play, but those days are now gone. One character says, “Eating plain tempura is a bore,” referring to the old back-menu at local noodle shops featuring tempura served in soba soup without the accompanying soba.