Heike and the Isle of Women, aka Shunkan


Heike Nyogo no Shima

Long-awaited pardon eludes Shunkan

Shunkan, in an act of mercy, ultimately decides to remain behind alone on a solitary island, but cannot give up his attachment to this world. His heartbreaking cry takes the drama beyond time and place.


by Iizuka Misa

Love on a remote island

The remote island of Kikaigashima (Devil’s Island) in southern Japan where exiles are sent. Three people, the monk Shunkan and two other men, have been on the island for three years after attempting a coup against their ruler. The modest lives on the island contrast markedly with their earlier luxurious lives, and they have no one to speak to but each other. They live every day with hope that they will be pardoned and allowed to return to Kyoto. Today, Naritsune has happy news: he has met a female diver and will marry her. The four resolve to live together like a family. They pour fresh water into a seashell to represent the exchange of wedding sake.

【Left】Shukan(Nakamura Kichiemon) June 2013 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】[from left]Chidori(Nakamura Shibajaku)、Naritsune(Nakamura Baigyoku) June 2013 Kabukiza Theatre


Arrival of the amnesty ship

Suddenly they see a mast out on the horizon. A ship bringing amnesty has finally come to allow their return to the capital. They rush out on the shore to greet it. However, when the messenger reads the notice, Shunkan’s name is not listed. The ruler has refused to pardon Shunkan and will leave him alone on the island. As they are bemoaning his fate, another messenger appears, saying that the ruler’s councilors in their compassion have decided to allow Shunkan to return as well.

【Left】[from left]Yasuyori(Nakamura Karoku)、Shukan(Matsumoto Koshiro)、Naritsune(Ichikawa Somegoro)、Chidori(Nakamura Shibajaku) January 2009  Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Shukan(Nakamura Kichiemon)、Seno Taro Kaneyasu(Ichikawa Sadanji) June 2013 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Tan Ssaemonnojo Motoyasu(Kataoka Nizaemon) June 2013 Kabukiza Theatre


Demon in the capital

The three are overjoyed and begin to get onboard along with the diver. The messenger rejects her, saying that only those who have received amnesty are allowed to board. He also tells Shunkan that his wife has been beheaded for upsetting the ruler. The three men get on the ship, while the diver laments that Devil Island has no devils, who are in the capital instead. She beats her head on a rock.

Chidori(Nakamura Fukusuke) January 2007 Kabukiza Theatre


Struggle among exiles

Taking pity, Shunkan loses his desire to return home given his wife’s death and offers to let the diver take his place. Still, the messenger does not accept the plea. Finally, Shunkan snatches his sword and fights with him. The second messenger says this is a personal fight and forbids others from joining. Shunkan and the first messenger grapple, and Shunkan ultimately kills him. As a murderer, he says he will remain on the island, and asks the second messenger to allow the diver to sail instead.

【Left】[from left]Chidori(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Shukan(Nakamura Kichiemon)、Seno Taro Kaneyasu(Ichikawa Danshiro) September 2010 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre 【Right】Shukan(Nakamura Kanzaburo) February 2010 Kabukiza Theatre



The ship sails with the men and diver, leaving Shunkan alone. He misses the company of his fellow exiles as he sees the ship off. Though he has resolved to stay, he cannot overcome his worldly desires. He is no longer an enlightened monk but a mere sad soul. He climbs up a vine onto a high dune, leaning against a pine true, and cries out mournfully to the fading ship.

【Left】[from left]Tan Ssaemonnojo Motoyasu(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Naritsune(Kataoka Hidetaro)、Chidori(Nakamura Kaishun)、Yasuyori(Nakamura Tozo) March 2005  Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】Shukan(Nakamura Kichiemon) June 2013 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Shukan(Nakamura Kichiemon) September 2010 Shinbashi Enbujo Theatre