Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees


Yoshitsune Senbonzakura

Kabuki Plus

by Terada Shima

Horikawa Palace and Yoshitsune’s wife

The historical Yoshitsune became a top official in Kyoto after winning a major battle. However, he subsequently had a disagreement with his brother, the nation’s supreme leader, and was forced to escape. His house during his time in Kyoto was in the Horikawa district. The model for Kyo no Kimi, his wife in the play, was Kyo Gozen, the daughter of a lord in the Kanto region. She appears in numerous well known Kabuki dramas.

Taira Tomomori


Taira Tomomori is presented as a brave and determined warrior in the Tales of Heike (Heike means House of Taira) and is featured in many Noh and puppet dramas. In the latter half of the Tokaiya act, he appears in a white death robe bearing a long sword. This comes from the Noh drama Benkei on the Ship, where he is an evil ghost who attacks Yoshitsune. His act of drowning himself with an anchor is an adaptation of another Noh drama Ikari Kazuki, where he again appears as a ghost and tells of how he died by drowning. In both these Noh dramas, he is depicted as a spirit of a deceased warrior. In contrast, this Kabuki drama shows him as very much alive, disguised as a commoner running a boathouse as he awaits the opportunity for revenge. It is typical of Edo theater to take old tales and modernize them with new twists.

Oyasu and Oryu


In the Tokaiya scene, the boatkeeper’s wife Oryu is actually the lady-in-waiting Suke, while her daughter Oyasu is in reality the Emperor Antoku. At the beginning of the scene, Benkei gets shivers in his legs when he tries to walk over the sleeping Oyasu, signaling that the latter is not an ordinary person. In the original puppet drama, Oyasu is a real girl, but her grandfather claims she is a boy so that she will be declared emperor. Oryu initially carries out chit-chat like a commoner boasting about her husband, but later appears as a lady-in-waiting in formal costume with formal speech, recommending that her child be drowned. This is a reworking of the story from The Tales of Heike to show two different sides of her personality.

Kokingo’s fight scenes

There is a model in The Tales of Heike for Kokingo, who also appears in the Noh drama Koremori. Here, he has two major scenes: one as a handsome and frail young soldier, and the other as a dynamic fighter in a big fight scene against a large number of enemy troops. There is a stylized and beautiful version created by the fight master Bando Yaenosuke for a 1925 film, in which enemy troops spread out in a radial pattern and hold ends of a rope binding Kokingo. Actors working in tandem create a highlight.

Igami no Gonta


In Kansai dialect, a boisterous child is called Gonta, based on this drama. Gonta, however, is not a simple outlaw. He pretends to be evil, but sacrifices his own wife and child when his father’s plan looks to go awry. There are two different versions of the character, one from Edo and one from Osaka. The latter is closer to the original puppet drama, where Gonta is portrayed as a local gangster. In the former, he behaves like a typical Edo town boy, partially removing his checkered kimono to reveal his bare torso as he carries a sushi bucket down the hanamichi. Also, he raises the face of his wife and son with his foot as he looks away when he delivers them to Kajiwara. In Edo style, the actor wears a false mole under the left eyebrow after Koshiro V, who was famous for the role.


The sushi in the show is not the raw style we know today, but a pickled version called “narezushi” using sweetfish. The belly of the fish is stuffed with rice, and the fish is weighted down in a bucket and naturally fermented, making it a simple preserved meal. In this scene, Yasuke tells the shop owner’s daughter that she has quickly become accustomed (nare) to the role, a pun on narezushi. Tsurube Sushi was the royal sushi shop for the Sento Palace, where the retired emperor lived. Yasuke, the seventh-generation owner of the shop, is thought to be the model for the drama’s Yazaemon. Sushi in general is still referred to by some by the nickname Yasuke.

Fox Tadanobu


The fox Tadanobu, also named Genkuro, is the child of two foxes who were killed for their skins, which were used to make drums to pray for rain. This drum became a treasure of the imperial household, and the baby fox could not approach it. The drum was later passed to Yoshitsune, who in turn gave it to Shizuka, allowing the fox to get near. Missing his parents, the fox transforms himself into a human in order to pursue the drum. Yoshitsune, who had little affection from his own family, later takes pity on the fox after the latter served Shizuka so well. In the “Before the Shrine” scene, the fox performs in bombastic aragoto style. He wears a fiery makeup with raised hair. He wears straps over a monk’s robe and a kimono with a red wheel pattern. He appears on the hanamichi with a unique “fox walk”. In a later scene, the actor portrays both the real Tadanobu and the fox Tadanobu through quick changes. When he reveals himself as the fox, he dons a white shaggy kimono. Various acrobatic tricks were used in the Edo Period, including flying and quick changes from character to character. The Edo style, where the fox exits via a special “fox hop” down the hanamichi, is distinct from the Kansai style devised by Ennosuke III (currently En’o), where the character is hoisted up over the heads of the audience to the back of the theater and offstage. The latter was first performed in 1968 at the National Theater and has since become the standard version of Ennosuke’s acting family.

【photo】Fox Tadanobu (Genkuro)(Ichikawa Ennosuke) December 2013 Kyoto Minamiza Theatre