Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy


Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami


Sugawara Michizane

An historical character, Sugawara Michizane, who served as a minister to the emperor. (He is also known as Minister Kan based on another reading of his name.) He is dignified and greatly respected. A scandal involving his stepdaughter and the emperor’s brother raised suspicion he was plotting a rebellion, and he is forced into exile. On the emperor’s order, he passes a scroll to Genzo imparting the secrets of his calligraphy.


The oldest of the triplet sons. As his father cares for Sugawara’s second home, the minister has arranged for the boys to serve in noblemen’s households. Umeomaru serves Sugawara himself. He has a straightforward and loyal character and follows his master into exile.


The second of the triplets. He has a son named Kotaro. He serves the evil minister Shihei, and becomes an enemy of his other brothers when Shihei forces their benefactor Sugawara out of office. As the only one who can identify Sugawara’s son, Matsuomaru is ordered to conduct the head verification inspection when the boy is beheaded.


The youngest of the triplets. He serves the emperor’s younger brother. Having a genial character, he agrees to arrange a secret rendezvous between the emperor’s brother and Sugawara’s niece. The scandal is discovered, leading to Sugawara’s dismissal and exile. Wracked with guilt, Sakuramaru takes drastic action in repentance.


Sakuramaru’s wife. She assists her husband in helping Kariya meet her lover. After her husband’s death, she looks after Sugawara’s wife.


Sugawara’s niece and adopted daughter. Her love for the emperor’s brother leads eventually to her stepfather’s downfall.

Tokiyo Shinno

Younger brother of the Emperor Daigo. He falls in love with Kariya and arranges to meet with her secretly. When their rendezvous becomes known, they couple are forced to flee.

Miyoshi Kiyotsura

Nobleman serving Shihei. He witnesses the rendezvous of the emperor’s brother and Kariya, allowing him to undermine Sugawara with the accusation of treachery.

Sachuben Mareyo

Student of calligraphy under Sugawara. He is bitterly disappointed that he did not receive the key scroll from the master with the secrets to calligraphy. Following Sugawara’s downfall and exile, he immediately switches his loyalty to Shihei.

Sono no Mae

Sugawara’s wife. After her husband’s banishment, she hides in the country, but is eventually rescued by Matsuomaru and reunited with her son.

Takebe Genzo

A servant and pupil of Sugawara. He was disowned due to an affair with Tonami and now runs a small school in the mountains. He receives the scroll of calligraphic secrets from Sugawara on imperial order. He is hiding Sugawara’s son, but Shihei discovers the boy’s whereabouts and orders Genzo to kill him. Genzo devises a desperate plan to save the boy.


Genzo’s wife. She previously served Sugawara’s wife but was dismissed for her affair with Genzo. She helps her husband run the mountain school.

Kan Shusai

Aged 7, Sugawara’s son. His intelligence and bearing belie his young age. He is hidden in the countryside disguised as a schoolboy.

Government official Terukuni

Warrior serving the retired emperor. He is charged with taking Sugawara to his Kyushu exile. He compassionately permits Sugawara to stop by his aunt’s home on the way and say goodbye.


Sugawara’s aunt and the mother of both Tatsuta no Mae and Kariya. A severe character. She shelters Kariya but beats her for her role in Sugawara’s downfall. This is regarded as one of Kabuki’s three most difficult old woman roles.

Tatsuta no Mae

Kakuju’s daughter, Kariya’s elder sister and Sukune Taro’s wife. She discovers that her husband and father-in-law are plotting to murder Sugawara and is killed when she tries to stop them.

Sukune Taro

Tatsuta no Mae’s husband and Haji Hyoe’s son. He plots with his father to assassinate Sugawara and kills his own wife when she gets in the way.

Haji Hyoe

Sukune Taro’s father. An evil man who joins forces with Shihei to kill Sugawara.


Umeomaru’s wife. After Sugawara’s ruin, she and her sister-in-law Yae look after his wife.


Matsuomaru’s wife. She enters their son Kotaro into Genzo’s school in disguise with a secret plan.


Father of the triplets. Formerly known as Shirokuro, he is allowed by Sugawara to take the name Shiratayu on his 70th birthday. He is a farmer on Sugawara’s land and looks after the minister’s second home.

Fujiwara Shihei

Senior minister and Sugawara’s sworn enemy. Entrusted with the powers of state while the emperor is sick, he uses the situation to his advantage and engineers Sugawara’s downfall. He is unfazed by threats from Umeomaru and Sakuramaru.