HIRAKANA SEISUIKI
   
Play title Hirakana Seisuiki  In Japanese
Authors Matsuda Bunk˘d˘
Miyoshi Sh˘raku
Takeda Izumo I
Takeda Koizumo I
Asada Kakei
History

The play "Hirakana Seisuiki" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 4th lunar month of 1739 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki the following month and staged for the first time in the 5th lunar month of 1739 in Ky˘to at the Minamigawa no Shibai, produced by Mizuki Tatsunosuke II for the nadai Hoteiya Umenoj˘ [casting]. Then, the play "Hirakana Seisuiki" was performed for the first time in ďsaka in the 9th lunar month of 1740: it was produced at the Kado no Shibai by Nakamura Jűz˘ I and the only know actor in the casting was Nakamura Tomijűr˘ I in the role of Chidori. This play was staged for the first time in Edo in the 7th lunar month of 1753, at the Ichimuraza [casting].

Structure

The play "Hirakana Seisuiki" was originally in five acts. Several scenes/acts have survived and are staged as independent drama: "Sakaro" (regularly staged, the most popular act of "Hirakana Seisuiki"), "Genta Kand˘" (occasionally staged) and "Kanzaki Ageya" (staged less frequently than the two others). Two others scenes have been revived a few times: "ďtsu Yadoya" and "Sasabiki".

Key words Ageya
Genpei-kassenmono
Genpei Seisuiki
Genji
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Heike
Jidaimono
Kiso Yoshinaka
Koshimoto
Kuruwa
Minamoto Yoritomo
Miuke
Mugen no Kane
Sakaro
Sasaki Takatsuna
Tachimawari
Tomoe Gozen
Y˘jiya
Summary

Act I: Itodo My˘jin
At Itodo My˘jin Shrine
This scene is no more part of the current Kabuki repertoire.

Minamoto no Yoritomo, head of the Genji Clan with his headquarters in Kamakura, is faced with a rebellion within his own ranks led by his cousin, Kiso Yoshinaka. Yoritomo orders his younger brothers Noriyori and Yoshitsune to crush this revolt. Under their command, 25,000 men march from Kamakura toward Ky˘to where the rebels are based.

On their way Yoshitsune and his men take rest at the Itodo My˘jin Shrine at the foot of the Suzuka mountain range. Yoshitsune asks an old woodcutter the easiest route leading to Uji in the suburbs of Ky˘to. Glad of the information offered by the old man, Yoshitsune gives him a generous reward.

Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki, one of Yoshitsune's principal retainers, who is proud of his skill in archery, fastens a fan to a pole near Yoshitsune's tent and shoots an arrow at it. Unfortunately the arrow misses the target and hits the white banner of the Genji clan instead.

Angry at what he takes to be an insult to his flag, Yoshitsune himself shoots an arrow to break the fan and berates Kagetoki in the most humiliating fashion. Desperate at his master's rage and contempt, Kagetoki feels he cannot atone for his blunder except by offering his own life. A fellow retainer, Sasaki Takatsuna, however, pleads with Yoshitsune for mercy and secures a pardon for Kajiwara Kagetoki.

Act I: Yoshinaka Yakata
At Yoshinaka's Palace
This scene is no more part of the current Kabuki repertoire.

Kiso Yoshinaka returns from the battlefront to his mansion in Ky˘to, greeted by his mistress, Yamabuki Gozen, their three-year-old son Komawakamaru, and Ofude, Yamabuki Gozen's favorite koshimoto. He tells Yamabuki Gozen that his forces are overwhelmed by Yoshitsune's forces which have successfully broken through Yoshinaka's line of defense. He also says that he tried to make a courtesy call at the retired emperor's residence but was turned away at the door.

Tomoe Gozen, a female samurai warrior and another mistress of Yoshinaka's, who has been valiantly taking part in the battle, comes back on horseback with a halberd under her arm and reports on a crushing defeat of Yoshinaka's forces. Yoshinaka and Tomoe Gozen go back to the battlefront to continue fighting against appalling odds.

Act II: Katsura no Sato Y˘jiya
The Toothbrush-maker in the Village of Katsura
This scene is no more part of the current Kabuki repertoire.

Ofude's father, Kamada Haito, is an unemployed samurai who earns his living by making toothbrushes (y˘jiya) in Katsura, a small village near Ky˘to. Haito's landlord calls at his house to tell him that a rich man, who has been informed of Ofude's return home, wants to make her his mistress. Haito tells the landlord, however, that Ofude has never come back. As soon as the landlord is gone, Haito takes the lid off a wooden chest in which Yamabuki Gozen, Komawakamaru and Ofude have been hiding.

Guided by the landlord, Banba no Chűta, a retainer of Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki, and his followers come to the front of the house, intending to arrest Komawakamaru. Haito meets Chűta at the door and promises to send the three refugees out of the house so as to enable him to abduct Komawakamaru. When they come out Chűta wrests what he believes to be the infant from Ofude's arms only to find to his chagrin that the "infant" is none other than a toy monkey. When Chűta and his men come back and enter the house to arrest the real Komawakamaru, Haito slips outdoors with the infant in his arms and locks the door from outside to make good Komawakamaru's escape from the enemy's clutches.

Act II: Kajiwara Yakata
At Kajiwara's Palace

In the mansion of Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki in Kamakura, several koshimoto place the armor of Kagetoki's eldest son Kajiwara Genta Kagesue in the toko no ma to prepare for his birthday celebration. Among them is Chidori, Kamada Haito's second daughter, who is in love with Genta.

Genta is absent as he is fighting alongside his father in Yoshitsune's army. His younger brother Kajiwara Heiji Kagetaka, who is malingering at home, comes in and tells the koshimoto except Chidori to go away to serve his mother Enju. When alone with Chidori, he makes amorous advances to her only to be sternly rejected by her. Chidori runs away, taking advantage of the arrival of Yokosuka Gunnai as a messenger from Kagetoki to announce Genta's imminent return.

Gunnai, who has brought Kagetoki's letter to his wife, intimates to Heiji that the letter tells of what Kagetoki regards as an ignominious act of Genta. In his competition with Sasaki Takatsuna in crossing the Uji River on horseback, the letter says, Genta was miserably defeated.

Act II: Senjin Mond˘
The Argument on "Reaching the Enemy Camp First"

Presently Genta arrives and is greeted by Enju and Chidori. Genta tells Enju that he was ordered home by his father who gave no reason for his order, merely telling him to hear from Enju about it. Enju says she has yet to open the box containing her husband's letter. While Enju is opening the box Chidori asks Genta about his health and Genta in return asks Chidori about Heiji, who seemed to be ill at the time of Genta's departure for the front. In reply Chidori tells Genta that she is troubled because Heiji is too healthy.

Heiji enters and arrogantly asks Genta to report on the Uji River crossing. Genta begins to say that when the forces under Yoshitsune reached the south bank of the Uji River on their march toward Ky˘to, Yoshinaka's troops made a last stand on the north bank, destroying the bridge over the river and constructing a barrier of stakes and ropes in the stream to obstruct a crossing by Yoshitsune's soldiers. He went on to say that in a rain of enemy arrows Genta and Takatsuna rode their horses into the river, competing for the honor of reaching the north bank first.

At this point Heiji breaks in, saying scornfully that, since the rest of the story will be too painful for Genta to relate, he will tell it for his brother. Chidori bids him be quiet, but Heiji gleefully says that Genta was defeated by Takatsuna. He explains that when Genta was going ahead, Takatsuna falsely shouted to him from behind that his girths were slipping and that while Genta was paying attention to them Takatsuna overtook and passed him. He praises Takatsuna for his cunning and laughs at Genta who was stupid enough to be deceived by Takatsuna.

Instead of making Genta commit seppuku, Heiji proposes to execute him. When he draws his sword, however, Genta catches hold of his arm and throws him. Then he beats Heiji with the flat of his own sword. The cowardly Heiji runs off.

Act II: Genta Kand˘
The Disinheritance of Genta

Genta asks Chidori to leave him alone with his mother. When Chidori has gone, he tells Enju that he deliberately let Takatsuna pass him and achieve the honor both had been seeking because he wanted to repay Takatsuna's kindness to his father on the occasion of Kagetoki's blunder at the Itodo My˘jin Shrine. He says he cannot tell the truth to his father, however, because if he did it would discredit Takatsuna's victory which was made possible by his sacrifice. He asks his mother to let him kill himself for the sake of his father.

Enju implores Genta not to die and reminds him of the fact that the Sh˘gun Yoritomo himself is Genta's godfather and that the Shogun gave him a suit of armor at his birth, an honor binding him to die only in the service of his lord. She adds that since Genta has yet had no opportunity to serve Yoritomo he cannot die unless he has distinguished himself in a battle for Yoritomo. Declaring that her husband is too cruel in ordering her to have Genta commit seppuku, she tears her husband's letter into shreds.

Gunnai enters and demands that Genta be punished with death according to his father's wish. Enju declares that seppuku, an honorable death, is too good for Genta who has gravely disgraced the family honor. She says she has decided to deprive Genta of his swords and disinherit him. At her request Heiji brings some old servant's clothing. Heiji and Gunnai make Genta change into it. Heiji kicks and mocks at Genta and urges Chidori to switch her love to him. He is interrupted, however, by Enju who takes Chidori to another room, saying she has to punish Chidori for her secret love affair with Genta.

Heiji and Gunnai then attack Genta with their swords but Genta easily gets the best of them, He causes Heiji to flee for his life and beheads Gunnai with Gunnai's sword. Genta wishes to see his mother once again before leaving but restrains himself, hoping that soon he may be able to see her on his return with some feat of arms to his credit. As he is about to go Enju reappears. Now that Genta has been disinherited she cannot address him directly. So, pointing at a chest of armor beside her, she says to herself that since this armor granted by Yoritomo is his personal property, Genta, though disinherited, is free to carry it with him on his travel. After Enju has withdrawn Genta removes the lid of the chest to find Chidori as well as the armor concealed therein. Glad of his mother's heart-warming "parting gift", Genta leaves the house with Chidori, carrying the armor which will enable him to take his rightful position again in the Genji Clan when the opportunity offers.

Act III: ďtsu Yadoya
The Inn at ďtsu

On their fugitive journey Yamabuki Gozen, Komawakamaru and Haito stay at the Shimizuya Inn in ďtsu, near Ky˘to. Yamabuki Gozen is ill as a result of her long and difficult fugitive journey.

Another family consisting of the old boatman Gonshir˘, his daughter Oyoshi and her three-year-old son Tsuchimatsu come to the next room to stay overnight. When Komawakamaru cries, Oyoshi, at her father's suggestion, comes into his room to please him by giving him a picture and, joined by her father, starts talking with Ofude and Haito. The old man says that he is on a pilgrimage to various Buddhist temples together with his daughter and grandson on the occasion of the third anniversary of the death of her daughter's husband.

After all have gone to bed in their respective rooms a messenger comes to call the proprietor to the sh˘ya's office. Then Komawakamaru and Tsuchimatsu leave their beds and play together with a paper lantern lighting the two rooms. Accidentally they knock over the lantern and the light goes out. Just at this moment, Banba no Chűta and his troops, sent by Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki, attack the inn. Their evil plan is to assassinate Komawakamaru. All those staying at the inn rush away in panic in the dark. In the confusion, Komawakamaru and Tsuchimatsu are inadvertently interchanged by their respective relatives.

Act III: Sasabiki
The Bamboo Hearse

The assailants pursue Yamabuki Gozen and her party in a bamboo thicket behind the Shimizuya. Ofude, who has been carrying a child whom she believes to be Komawakamaru but is actually Tsuchimatsu, the boatman's grandson, hands him to Yamabuki Gozen. Then, she goes away to fight off the enemies. In her absence Chűta arrives and kills Haito, knocks Yamabuki Gozen unconscious and beheads the child.

After Chűta has gone, carrying the boy's severed head, Ofude comes back and, inspecting the headless body of the murdered boy, discerns that he is not Komawakamaru but the boatman's grandson. Ofude tells Yamabuki Gozen of the boy's true identity but Yamabuki Gozen soon dies of shock and grief. Ofude takes the boy's little coat from the body to use it as a clue for her future search for Komawakamaru who she believes may have miraculously survived the attack, having been taken to safety by the boatman and his daughter by mistake.

Ofude cuts off a bamboo in the thicket and from it makes an improvised cradle in which to lay the body of Yamabuki Gozen so that it may be carried to the site of simple funeral rites which are all that now can be offered to her who was once of such high estate.

Act III: Matsuemon Uchi
At Matsuemon's House

When the old boatman Gonshir˘ and his daughter Oyoshi fled from the Shimizuya Inn at ďtsu during the attack on Yoshinaka's child, Komawakamaru, they took with them Komawakamaru instead of Oyoshi's son, Tsuchimatsu, by mistake. Too frightened to return to the Shimizuya when the mistake was discovered, they have taken the child to their house in Fukushima where they live with Oyoshi's second husband, a boatman named Matsuemon.

As the curtain opens on, a memorial service is being held in the absence of Matsuemon to mark the third anniversary of Oyoshi's first husband's death. One of several housewives attending the service asks Gonshir˘ why his grandson now looks so different from the boy he used to be. Gonshir˘ and Oyoshi sadly admit that he is indeed a different boy and explain how the strange mistake occurred. The visitors are about to go back to their homes when Matsuemon comes back, carrying an oar over his shoulder.

Matsuemon tells his wife and father-in-law that he was sent for by Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki and was asked by him to teach his boatmen sakaro, the art of maneuvering an oared craft backward as well as forward. Matsuemon then excuses himself, saying he is sleepy as he was treated to sake by Kajiwara Kagetoki.

Ofude visits Matsuemon's house to which she has traced the son of Yoshinaka, holding as a clue the coat of Tsuchimatsu. She tells Gonshir˘ her purpose of recovering Komawakamaru but explains that Gonshir˘'s grandson is dead. Gonshir˘, his hope just raised and then dashed so terribly, shouts through his tears that Komawakamaru also must die.

At this moment Matsuemon comes from an inner room with Komawakamaru in his arms to announce that he is in fact Yoshinaka's former retainer, Higuchi Jir˘ Kanemitsu. He declares that he will guard the child of his master to the death. He persuades Gonshir˘ to honor his grandson. Tsuchimatsu, thanks to his terrible death, honorably saved the life of Yoshinaka's son. Ofude, seeing that the boy is now well protected from harm, goes away with an easier heart.

Act III: Hamabe Monomi Matsu
The Shore "Watchtower" Pine Tree

Toward evening three rough-looking boatmen visit the house to ask Matsuemon for instructions in the art of sakaro. Matsuemon leaves with them for the river bank where Matsuemon's boat is moored.

As Matsuemon goes on board with the three boatmen and begins to instruct them, they suddenly attack him, saying they have been ordered to arrest him by Kajiwara Kagetoki who knows that Matsuemon is in fact Higuchi Kanemitsu. Matsuemon fights back and beats them to death with an oar one by one. Then he climbs up a large pine tree and, looking out over the countryside, sees that he is surrounded on all sides by the Genji army. Oyoshi comes to tell Matsuemon that her father has left the house without disclosing his destination. This makes Matsuemon believe that he has been betrayed by his father-in-law.

Soon Hatakeyama Shigetada, the commander of the Genji troops, arrives, guided by Gonshir˘ carrying Komawakamaru on his back. When accused by Oyoshi, Gonshir˘ admits that he went to inform against Matsuemon but he did so in order to have Komawakamaru spared by the enemy as a reward for his service. Indeed Kagetoki has promised to do no harm to what Gonshir˘ claims to be his grandson, Tsuchimatsu. Matsuemon offers himself to be arrested by Shigetada and takes farewell of the little boy.

Act IV: Tsuji H˘in
The Fortune-teller at the Crossroad
This scene is no more part of the current Kabuki repertoire.

Since he was expelled from his father's house, Kajiwara Genta has found no employment. When his slender resources gave out, his lover Chidori, who had left the house with him, was forced to become a courtesan in the pleasure quarter of Kanzaki. Genta himself took refuge in the house of a fortune-teller in ďsaka in the district of Nishinari Kashima.

Chidori's sister, Ofude, is searching for her and, seeing the fortune-teller's sign, calls at the house to see if she can learn from him of Chidori's whereabouts. Ofude does not have any idea that her sister's lover is actually living in this house and Genta, unfortunately, is absent when she visits the house. To her disappointment, the fortune-teller can give her no indication where Chidori can be. Ofude sadly leaves.

Genta now returns and tells the fortune-teller that he has learned that Minamoto no Yoshitsune is preparing to launch an attack against the enemy at dawn the next day. Genta sees in this a chance to distinguish himself in battle at last and by his bravery return himself to the family that disinherited him. He needs his armor, which Chidori took with her for safekeeping when she became a courtesan. No armor means no fight. Too poorly dressed even to call at the ageya where she serves, Genta conceives of a plan by which he will pose as a factor of Yoshitsune and demand of some local farmers some rice to provision Yoshitsune's troops. The farmers, however, challenge his credentials and refuse to part with their stores until they receive an order directly from Benkei, chief of the general's staff. Genta persuades the fortune-teller to disguise himself as Benkei. The disguise is ridiculously imperfect but the pretence is convincing enough for the farmers, who all hand over their rice without further delay. Genta has now the money he needs to present himself suitably dressed at the tea house to obtain from Chidori the armor he had left with her.

Act IV: Kanzaki Ageya
A House of Assignation in Kanzaki

Disguising herself as a rich samurai, Enju, Genta's mother, visits the Chitoseya ageya in the Kanzaki kuruwa, a few miles west of ďsaka and asks its proprietor, who does not recognize this splendid figure, to call Umegae, a courtesan, as his entertainer. Umegae is in fact the professional name of Chidori, Genta's lover, who has become a courtesan to financially support him.

Soon after "the samurai" has withdrawn to an inner room to wait for her, Umegae arrives but, instead of going straight to meet the guest she has been called to entertain, asks the proprietor to let her talk with her sister Ofude, whom she chanced to meet on the street. Ofude arrives and tells Umegae of the death of their father, Kamada Haito, at ďtsu and her plan to revenge his death. She is just about to tell Umegae who the murderer was when the ageya proprietor bustles in to inform Umegae that the samurai who called for her services is offering to redeem her (miuke). Ofude takes leave of the surprised and confused Umegae, promising to come again later to further discuss their plans.

Umegae lingers a little while, being reluctant to offer herself to the strange customer who has proposed to redeem her without so much as having an interview. At this moment Genta comes to see Chidori in haste. Thanks to the tricks he played on the farmers, he is now richly dressed.

Genta quickly comes to the point of demanding the armor he left in the charge of Umegae. Umegae reveals to Genta that she has pawned the armor for 300 ry˘ in order to pay the bills which Genta has incurred during his many previous visits to meet her at the Chitoseya. This collapse of his hope to restore his fortunes and name by valor at the front drives Genta to the point of suicide but Umegae pleads with him to give her a chance to think of some way to redeem the pledge even though there is now so little time left. Genta is persuaded and leaves.

Suddenly Umegae recalls the legend of Mugen no Kane, a magic bell with terrifying powers: those who can strike this bell become extremely rich in this world but will go directly to hell after death to suffer eternally. Taking the water ladle near her hand, she moves wistfully to strike the stone water basin by the verandah of the room, wishing that this could be similarly generous, when to her astonishment, a number of gold coins fall at her feet. Hardly daring to believe her good fortune, Umegae gathers them and finds that there is 300 ry˘, exactly the sum needed to redeem Genta's armor. Overjoyed, she hurries to the pawn shop.

Act IV: Okuzashiki
The Innermost Room

Genta and Ofude come back separately to the Chitoseya tea house to meet Umegae. Ofude hides behind the garden gate.

Presently Umegae returns with Genta's armor carried by a pawn shop employee. As Genta tries to go hurriedly to the battle front Umegae pleads with him to wait because she is soon to consult with her sister Ofude about taking revenge for their father's death. Ofude comes out of her hiding to tell them that Genta's father, Kajiwara Heiz˘ Kagetoki, had his men murder her father. Ofude is about to unsheathe her sword to attack Kagetoki's son Genta when two arrows without their heads hit Ofude and Umegae. Soon Enju, who has been disguising herself as a samurai, appears with a bow in hand and tells Genta that she has helped him recover his armor by throwing gold coins from the balcony. Although she had formally banished her son from the family, she has been deeply distressed to hear reports of the strains to which he has been reduced. Knowing that Chidori has become a courtesan, she has come to the Chitoseya to spy on the couple and, if possible, to relieve her beloved son's distress secretly.

Enju tries to kill herself by stabbing her chest with two arrowheads but is dissuaded by Genta. She says she wanted to apologize with death to Haito's two daughters and appeals to them to pardon her husband and allow Genta to take part in the imminent battle. When Genta puts on his armor Umegae decorates his quiver with a blossoming plum twig (the name Umegae means "plum branch"), wishing him good luck in the battle.

Two covers of illustrated prgrams for the production of "Hirakana Seisuiki" in ďsaka at the Naka no Shibai, in the 5th lunar month of 1829 (left) and in the 8th lunar month of 1819 (right)

The actors Band˘ Jutar˘ I (top/left), Ichikawa Danz˘ V (bottom/left), Ichikawa Hakuen II (bottom/middle), Fujikawa Tomokichi II (bottom/right) and ďtani Tomoemon II (top/right) playing the roles of Enju, Genta, Heiji, Chidori and ??? in the "Genta Kand˘" scene

The actors Kataoka Nizaemon VII (top/left), Fujikawa Kayű II (top/right), Asao Kuzaemon I (bottom/right), Nakamura Karoku I (bottom/middle) and Nakayama Bunshichi III (bottom/right) playing the roles of Matsuemon, Ofude, Gonshir˘, Oyoshi and Shigetada in the first scene of "Sakaro"

Prints & Illustrations

 
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