Japan’s 24 Paragons of Filial Piety


Honcho Nijushiko

Kabuki Plus

by Komiya Akiko


The word Honcho (main dynasty), usually used in connection with China, refers here to Japan.Nijushiko is a book compiled during China’s Yuan Dynasty based on the story of 24 wise men. The tale of Moso, who prays for her late mother and finds a bamboo shoot in mid winter, is a famous story in Japan and used in Act III of the play, where two brothers try to dig out a bamboo in a snow-covered field that is actually a book of warrior tactics.

Danjuro IX

Paramount actor of the Meiji Period along with Kikugoro V. In contrast with the chic Kikugoro, Danjuro had brooding eyes and a rugged look, not normally appropriate for a female role. Nevertheless, he was highly praised for his portrayal of Princess Yaegaki. When the curtains open, the princess has her back to the audience as she gazes at the portrait of her lover. Her neckline must be sensual, and the audience should be taken by her beauty when she turns around. The success of the performance was a testament to Danjuro’s skillful acting and a good instance of the beauty of illusion in Kabuki.



Yaegaki’s movements when she proclaims her love for her fiancé take many forms. The Utaemon acting family uses a fan and a partitioned screen with a magpie drawing when reciting the line “the same color as a bird’s wings”. The Kikugoro family uses a little cloth, and a duck is placed on the pond for the princess to look at. Generations even within the same family make slight variations depend on their body types or personalities. One of the joys of Kabuki is seeing the same production with various actors. An interesting style created by Jakuemon uses puppet-like gestures in the garden scene to reflect the show’s roots as a puppet play.

Omiwatari (passage of the gods)

When Lake Suwa in Nagano ices over in mid winter, the expansion of the ice causes the center to crack, erupting with a boom. This crack links the upper and lower parts of Suwa Shrine, forming a visual passage between them. People thus believed that it was the markings of a god’s path. It is believed that the messenger of Suwa Shrine is a fox who makes the first walk. If a human goes before the fox has walked, he will fall into the lake and drown. The playwrights created the romantic tale of a woman crossing with the fox’s aid based on this myth.


【Photo】Omiwatari of Lake Suwa (C)Suwa City Museum