Play title Gosho Zakura Horikawa no Youchi  In Japanese
Imperial Palace Cherry Blossoms and the Horikawa Night Attack [1]
Authors Matsuda Bunk˘d˘
Miyoshi Sh˘raku

The play "Gosho Zakura Horikawa no Youchi" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1737 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki many years later and staged for the first time in the 4th lunar month of 1762 in ďsaka at the Naka no Shibai [casting]; the roles of Benkei, Owasa, Shinobu and Jijű Tar˘ were played by Nakamura Utaemon I, Arashi Koroku I, Arashi Hinasuke I and Fujikawa Hachiz˘ I.


"Gosho Zakura Horikawa no Youchi" is a 5-act maruhonmono. The "Benkei J˘shi" scene belongs to the fourth act.
--> Other still performed act: "T˘yata Monogatari".

Key words Genpei Kassen
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Kajiwara Kagetaka
Kajiwara Kagetoki
Minamoto Yoritomo
Minamoto Yoshitsune
Musashib˘ Benkei
Sato Gozen
Taira Tokitada

Yoritomo of the Genji clan has defeated the Heike clan and has become the ruler in Kamakura. His younger brother Yoshitsune is also an able combat commander, but Yoritomo, who is a suspicious warlod, distrusts Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune's seishitsu Ky˘-no-Kimi is a adopted daughter of Taira no Tokitada, who is one of the main members of the Heike clan. Kajiwara Kagetoki, a senior retainer of Yoritomo, has suspected that Yoshitsune might rebel with Tokitada against Yoritomo. Yoritomo has ordered Benkei to bring her severed head as an evidence that Yoshitsune is innocent. Benkei goes as Yoritomo's messenger to the mansion of Jijű Tar˘ Morikuni [2], where Ky˘-no-Kimi, who is pregnant, lives.

Jijű Tar˘ Morikuni and his wife the okugata Hananoi listen to Benkei's official message. Even if it may help proving the innocence of Yoshitsune, Jijű Tar˘ can't accept it because Ky˘-no-Kimi is the wife of his lord. Both Jijű Tar˘ and Benkei come to the conclusion that they have to look for a substitute of Ky˘-no-Kimi.

Jijű Tar˘, hananoi and Benkei retire in a different room while one of Ky˘-no-Kimi's ladies-in-waiting, Shinobu, stays alone on the stage. Her mother Osawa comes to the mansion to meet her. When the mother and her daughter are enjoying their reunion, Jijű Tar˘ and Hananoi come back to the stage. Jijű asks Osawa to give him Shinbu's life instead of the life of Ky˘-no-Kimi. Of course Shinobu is surprised very much, but she accepts it, because she is a retainer of Ky˘-no-Kimi.

Osawa is surprised very much, and refuses his request. She has a husband who is Shinobu's father, but she doesn't know even his face and name. Osawa says that she can't kill her daughter Shinobu until Shinobu meet to her father. Jijű Tar˘ gets angry with her very much, because he thinks it is her bad excuse. Then, Osawa talks about her life.

18 years ago, when Osawa was waiting for the moon to rise, she and someone made love in the dark. Her lover fled hurriedly, because some people came near them. He left only his red left sleeve to her. After that, she found that she was pregnant, and the baby was named Shinobu. Osawa has been searching for her lover for 18 years. Osawa shows the red left sleeve wearing under her kimono to them.

Jijű Tar˘ understands Osawa's talking, but he can't give up killing Shinobu. He tries to slash Shinobu with his sword. Although Osawa protects her daughter, Shinobu is cornered to the front of the paper door (fusuma). Shinobu is suddenly stabbed through the fusuma and her murderer is Benkei.

Benkei appears on stage, hodling a bloody sword. He shows his red right sleeve wearing under his kimono. It and the red left sleeve that Osawa has make a pair. After he lost its red left sleeve, he always has been wearing it like before, because it was sewed by his mother. Benkei was Osawa's lover of that night.

Osawa tries to make Shinobu know that Benkei is her father her daughter has already become unconscious. She dies without realizing that she was killed by her real father. Benkei says that if he had met Shinobu as father and daughter, he couldn't have killed her. He cries the first time in all his life (˘toshi).

Jijű Tar˘ severs Shinobu's head. Then, he commits suicide by seppuku. All of them are surprised, and Hananoi asks why her husband should die. Jijű Tar˘ answers that Kajiwara Kagetoki is a suspicious man, and that he will suspect the severed head isn't Ky˘-no-Kimi's one. If he dies, Kajiwara may believe that Ky˘-no-Kimi has really been killed and that Jijű Tar˘ killed himself to atone for the killing of his lord's wife. Before dying, the old man asks Benkei to bring him head to Kajiwara as well as Shinobu's one. The old man dies and Benkei severs his head. The two grieving women try to cling to Benkei but he throws them off and leaves the mansion through the hanamichi, carrying the two severed heads with him. The monk warrior has successfully accomplished his terrible mission.

This summary has been written by Sekidobashi Sakura (April 2004) and edited by Sh˘riya Aragor˘


[1] The title "Imperial Palace Cherry Blossoms and the Horikawa Night Attack" comes from Samuel Leiter's "Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre".

[2] Jijű was not a family name but a court title (jijű). The jijű Tar˘ Morikuni was a fictitious character, which was specifically created for "Gosho Zakura Horikawa no Youchi".

The actors Onoe Kikujir˘ II and Arashi Kichisabur˘ III playing the roles of Owasa and Benkei in the "Benkei J˘shi" scene of the drama "Gosho Zakura Horikawa no Youchi" in a mitate-e print made in 1861 by Utagawa Kunikazu

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