The Love Story of Izayoi & Seishin


Isayoi Seishin

Kabuki Plus

by Kaneda Eiichi

Sadanji and Kumesaburo

At the premiere, Ichikawa Kodanji IV played Seishin and Iwai Kumesaburo III (later Iwai Hanshiro VIII) played Izayoi. Kodanji was short and not particularly good looking, and his delivery was not considered impressive. He nevertheless rose from the ranks to become the head of his troupe thanks to his unusual realistic acting style, which suited the times. His strong reputation in Mokuami’s plays about small-time crooks earned him the nickname “the thief actor”. Meanwhile, the handsome Kumesaburo had not enjoyed much success prior to this play. For this role, the director had him shave his head, creating a mysterious beauty. The contrast with that appearance and a role requiring murder and blackmail earned him unexpected praise and proved his breakout.

Famed musical passage

One of the highlights of the drama is the musical passage as the lovers prepare their first suicide attempt. The narrator sings, “The clouds unexpectedly part, and they gaze at each other in the moonlight… The fragrance of the plum blossom rises from her frail sleeves as she clings to him.” It gives the scene an air of pathos, creating a beautiful picture set to gorgeous music.

Pleasure boating


The whitebait boat ridden by Hakuren that rescues Izayoi was a common scene in Edo. A whitebait fish bears eggs at the crossing of freshwater and the sea as in Sumida River, where the eggs were a well known product of early spring. Because the whitebait appears in evening, the fishermen light a fire on the boat, which attracts the fish. This provided both food and a pastime in Edo. When the boatman, having pulled Izayoi from the sea, announces that he will now sail on again, she misunderstands him to be saying that Seishin’s ghost will appear, causing her to lose her balance and fall on Hakuren. According to tradition among actors, the boatman, knowing nothing, should say the line naturally without undue emphasis.

“What…” “…am I to do?”: Divided dialogue

Kabuki has a stylized speech pattern called wari-zerifu (divided dialogue) in which two characters share the same speech in alternating lines. It is a unique approach depicting the shared emotions of characters. In this play, Seishin is wracked with guilt after failing at an attempted suicide, while Motome, racing desperately to deliver money home, is felled suddenly by severe stomach pains. Seishin: “Just like this, I throw myself into the river. That is how one life ends.” Motome: “There is no shade in which to rest, no place to ease my pain.” Seishin: “It is the impurity of my soul that prevents me from taking my life.” Motome: “I hurry but get nowhere.” Seishin: “What…” Both: “…am I to do?”

Blackmailing scene and Yosaburo


Mokuami is said to have copied the blackmailing incident between Seishin and Hakuren to a similar scene in the “Genjidana” scene in The Love Affair of Yosaburo and Otomi by Segawa Joko III a few years earlier. The settings both take place in Kamakura in the snow, and Seishin’s depiction certainly reminds us of Yosaburo. Mokuami did change certain details to enhance the scene.

Poetry over grammar


At Hakuren’s residence, Seikichi removes a type of birth certificate from his bag. Hakuren sees the inscription showing Seikichi to be the son of a fisherman named Seiji. He asks, “By chance, did your father have a scar on his forehead shaped like a crescent moon?” The syntax of the line in Japanese is a bit odd – something like, “did your father on his forehead have a scar…” – but the master Mokuami ignored the fine points of grammar to achieve a more poetic reading featuring alternative seven and five lines, an old lyrical device for which he was especially well known.

Devil Monk Seikichi and Devil Thistle Seikichi

The historical Seikichi, nicknamed the Devil Monk, was not a monk at all but a famous thief in the Edo Period. He was caught in Kyoto and executed in Edo in 1805, some 50 years before this play was written. A poem he wrote before dying said, “The devil thistle, whose name has proliferated as far as Musashino, withers away in the heat of day.” This is the source of the character’s nickname in the play. The Japanese title of the play includes a reference to azami (thistle).