Play title Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami  In Japanese
Authors Takeda Izumo I
Miyoshi Sh˘raku
Namiki Senryű I
Takeda Koizumo I (Takeda Izumo II)

The play "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 8th lunar month of 1746 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki the following month and staged for the first time in Ky˘to at the Kitagawa no Shibai, produced by Nakamura Kiyosabur˘ I [casting]. It was also performed for the first time in Edo, at the Ichimuraza, in the 3rd lunar month of 1747 [casting].

This great play is based on the life of Sugawara no Michizane (845~903), a renowned scholar who was promoted up to the prestigious rank of udaijin ("Right Minister", one of the 2 close advisors of the Emperor). Falsely accused by Fujiwara no Shihei, the "Left Minister" (sadaijin), of trying to hatch a plot with Prince Tokiyo to seize the power, Sugawara no Michizane was exiled to Kyűshű. He dedicated his last years in writing poems, expressing both his homesickness and his innocence. After his death, the Emperor's residence was often struck by lightning and people thought it was done by the vengeful spirit of Sugawara no Michizane. A shrine was built in Ky˘to to appease the spirit, the Kitano Tenmangű, and Sugawara no Michizane was revered as a the God of calligraphy. In the play Sugawara no Michizane is called Kan Sh˘j˘.

"At the time when the authors were working on the play, a great stir was caused in ďsaka by the birth of triplets. It was therefore decided to make use of triplets in the new production and thus it was that Matsu˘maru, Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru came into being. For the purpose of the story, the triplets are the sons of Sugawara's retainer, Shiratayű. When they were born, Sugawara stood sponsor to all three and named them after the trees he loved best, Matsu (Pine), Ume (Plum) and Sakura (Cherry). On their father's retirement, Ume˘maru took his place as Sugawara's personal retainer. At the same time his two others brothers were found equally worthy employment, one as the retainer of Prince Tokiyo and the other in the household of Sugawara's colleague, Fujiwara no Shihei. When Shihei's jealousy brought about Sugawara's downfall, the triplets became the victims of divided loyalties" (Aubrey and Giovanna Halford in "The Kabuki Handbook").


"Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" is made up of 5 acts:

Act Scene In Japanese In English
I 1 大内 ďuchi
The Imperial Palace
  2 加茂堤 Kamo Zutsumi
The Banks of the Kamo River
  3 筆法伝授 Hipp˘ Denju
The Transmission of the Secrets of Calligraphy
II 1 道行詞甘替 Michiyuki Kotoba no Amaikai
The Travel Dance of the Sweet Talking Candy Peddler of Love
  2 安井の浜 Yasui no Hama
The shore at Yasui
  3 道明寺 D˘my˘ji
At the D˘my˘ji Temple
III 1 車引 Kurumabiki
The Struggle for the Carriage
  2 賀の祝 Ga no Iwai
The Celebration
IV 1 天拝山 Tenpaizan
Mount Tenpai
  2 北嵯峨 Kitasaga
The Hermitage of Kitasaga
  3 寺子屋 Terakoya
The Village School
V 1 大内天変 ďuchi Tenpen
Disaster at the Imperial Palace
You need a Japanese Language Kit installed within your system in order to be able to read the characters

  • A standard t˘shi ky˘gen production of "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" is made up of Act I scene 2 ("Kamo Zutsumi"), Act I scene 3 ("Hipp˘ Denju"), Act II scene 3 ("D˘my˘ji"), Act III scene 1 ("Kurumabiki"), Act III scene 2 ("Ga no Iwai") and Act IV scene 3 ("Terakoya").
  • Act II scene 2 ("Yasui no Hama") and Act IV scene 2 ("Kitasaga") have never been staged since the end of WWII.
  • Others scenes are sometimes revived at the National Theatre.
  • Key words Aragoto
    Daigo Tenn˘
    Fujiwara Tokihira
    Gidayű Ky˘gen
    Heian Jidai
    Kabuki Sandai Meisaku Ky˘gen
    Kan Sh˘j˘
    Kubi Jikken
    Sugawara Michizane
    Yoshida Jinja

    Act I, scene 1: ďuchi
    The Imperial Palace
    --> A dedicated summary: "ďuchi"

    Act I, scene 2: Kamo Zutsumi
    The Banks of the Kamo River
    --> A dedicated summary: "Kamo Zutsumi"

    Act I, scene 3: Hipp˘ Denju
    The Transmission of the Secrets of Calligraphy
    --> A dedicated summary: "Hipp˘ Denju"

    In Scene 1 Chinese priest arrives to paint a portrait of the emperor. Due to the emperorĺs illness, Shihei and Sugawara discuss a stand-in for the emperor. Shihei nominates himself in a move calculated as a step towards the throne, but the emperor selects Prince Tokiyo. Shihei perceives favoritism for Sugawara whose younger daughter, Kariya, is Tokiyoĺs betrothed. The emperor also orders Sugawara to pass on his calligraphy secrets to a disciple of Sugawaraĺs choice. In the second scene on the banks of the Kamo River, Sakuramaru arranges an assignation between Tokiyo and Kariya. A spy spots the couple, reports back to Shihei, and returns with support to attack the young loversĺ rearguard, Sakuramaruĺs wife, Yae, who escapes. The significance of the first two scenes (which are often omitted) is the rousing of Shiheiĺs wrath for Sugawara. The play normally commences with Scene 3: ôThe Transmission of the Secrets of Calligraphy.ö Sugawara summons his best disciple, Genz˘, who was previously dismissed for falling in love with a maid, Tonami, in Sugawaraĺs service. The couple have since established a remote village school (terakoya). After Sugawara passes on his calligraphy secrets, the emperor summons him to court. Sugawaraĺs hat falls off, in what is seen as an ill omen, and Shihei falsely accuses Sugawara of coveting the throne via the marriage of Kariya to Tokiyo. The emperor exiles Sugawara. Genz˘, realizing the threat to Sugawaraĺs son, Kan Shűsai, runs off with the young boy to the country.

    Act II, scene 1: Michiyuki Kotoba no Amaikai
    The Travel Dance of the Sweet Talking Candy Peddler of Love
    --> A dedicated summary: "Michiyuki Kotoba no Amaikai"

    Act II, scene 2: Yasui no Hama
    The shore at Yasui
    --> A dedicated summary: "Yasui no Hama"

    Act II, scene 3: D˘my˘ji
    At the D˘my˘ji Temple
    --> A dedicated summary: "D˘my˘ji"

    Shiheiĺs spies have caught up with Tokiyo and Kariya. Tokiyo has been taken away and Kariya placed in the care of her older sister, Tatsuya, who lives near D˘my˘ji Temple. Sugawara is staying under the same roof pending the arrival of an escort at cockcrow to take him to Dazaifu. Angry at Kariya for her love affair which has been used to disgrace Sugawara, Kakuju, mother of Tatsuta and Kariya, beats Kariya with a stick. Sukune Tar˘ and his father Hy˘e, Shiheiĺs minions, conspire to assassinate Sugawara. Tatsuta, who is Tar˘ĺs husband, overhears their plan to make a cock crow before daybreak, is murdered by Tar˘, and her corpse thrown into a pond. The cock crows when it is held over the corpse, in accord with superstition, and the false escort leaves with Sugawara in a litter. Kakuju discovers Tatsutaĺs corpse, spots cloth missing from Tar˘ĺs kimono used as a gag, and stabs Tar˘. The real escort arrives, learns of the skullduggery and is about to set off in pursuit when the false escort returns having discovered that its passenger was, in fact, a wooden statue of Sugawara. However, Sugawara emerges from the litter, the false escort is arrested, and Hy˘e summarily executed. Kariya tearfully sees off Sugawara.

    Act III, scene 1: Kurumabiki
    The Struggle for the Carriage
    --> A dedicated summary: "Kurumabiki"

    Act III, scene 2: Ga no Iwai
    The Celebration
    --> A dedicated summary: "Ga no Iwai"

    ôThe Struggle for the Carriageö (Kuruma-biki) Scene brings together the triplets for the first time. Sakuramaru and Ume˘maru, dispossessed of their masters (Tokiyo and Sugawara) and consequently unemployed, encounter Matsu˘maru, retainer of Shihei, the cause of their plight. In order to represent the differences between the triplets, each acts in a different style (Sakuramaru Ś the weak, romantic; Ume˘maru Ś the hero; and Matsu˘maru Ś the villain), and each wears a distinctive costume with the sleeve bearing his flower emblem (cherry, plum, or pine) and makeup that indicates his role. Sakuramaru and Ume˘maru attack Matsu˘maru for his loyalty to his master and, when Shiheiĺs carriage arrives, pull apart the carriage. Shihei, in ceremonial court attire, long wig, and blue makeup, which denotes his role as an evil noble, emerges and glowers with malevolence from the top of the carriage. Terror-struck, Sakuramaru and Ume˘maru agree to settle differences with Matsu˘maru at Sugawaraĺs forthcoming birthday celebration.

    In Scene 2, the triplets gather at the home in Sata Village of Shiradayű, their father and elderly retainer of Sugawara. Ume˘maru and Matsu˘maru soon begin fighting. Deprived of swords by their wives, they toss large straw bales and snap a branch from Sugawaraĺs favorite cherry tree just before he appears. Sugawara and Shiradayű disown Matsu˘maru, who departs in anguish. Sakuramaru commits suicide as the result of an omen: the breaking of the branch that signified his responsibility for the act of bringing Tokiyo and Kariya together which has led to Sugawaraĺs downfall. Shiradayűĺs heartbreak is compounded because he is obligated to live on in order to continue serving Sugawara. Sakuramaruĺs wife, Yae, shares Shiradayűĺs fate.

    Act IV, scene 1: Tenpaizan
    Mount Tenpai
    --> A dedicated summary: "Tenpaizan"

    Act IV, scene 2: Kitasaga
    The Hermitage of Kitasaga

    Act IV, scene 3: Terakoya
    The Village School
    --> A dedicated summary: "Terakoya"

    One year later on Mt. Tenpai, in Kyushu, Sugawara dreams that his favorite plum tree has been transported to a neighboring temple. Shiradayű accompanies Sugawara on a visit to the temple where their plum blossom-viewing is interrupted by a duel between Ume˘maru and Heima, a retainer sent by Shihei to assassinate Sugawara. Sugawara decapitates Heima with a plum branch and then ascends to heaven. This scene is rarely performed.

    ôThe Village Schoolö (Terakoya), the most famous scene of the play, begins with Sugawaraĺs son, the noble-looking Kan Shűsai, standing apart from the rough village children. Shihei has learned that Genz˘, the schoolĺs teacher, is harboring Kan Shűsai. His soldiers surround the village and order Genz˘ to surrender the childĺs head. Chiyo escorts her son, the gentle-looking K˘tar˘, into the schoolyard for Tonami, Genz˘ĺs wife, to enrol him. The touching separation of Chiyo and K˘tar˘ is parodied by that between Sansuke, Chiyoĺs servant, and her idiot son. As soon as Tonami introduces K˘tar˘, Genz˘ realizes that the head of K˘tar˘ might substitute for that of Kan Shűsai, and he consults Tonami.

    Shihei has ordered Matsu˘maru to verify the head of Kan Shűsai. As a sign of the tragedy to follow, Matsu˘maru wears a bushy wig, signifying sickness, and a magnificent kimono bearing a bleak design of snow-covered pines. The nasty Genba and a band of police encircle the school to ensure that Kan Shűsai does not escape. Matsu˘maru compares the number of desks with the number of children, whose faces he inspects as they leave, and concludes that, as he has ordered, his own son, K˘tar˘, has been brought to the school in the hope that Genz˘ will substitute his head. He orders Genz˘ to produce the head and then listens to the sickening sound of a decapitation indoors. Matsu˘maru staggers sickeningly in a famous pose. Genz˘ returns with a box and, in the playĺs climax, Matsu˘maru grips the box and stares inside unable to betray whether it is the head of his son or that of Kan Shűsai. He declares that it is Kan Shűsaiĺs head and then departs with the resolution that illness has compelled him to leave Shiheiĺs service.

    Chiyo comes to collect K˘tar˘, and Genz˘ attempts to kill her to conceal the substitution. Chiyo defends herself by holding up K˘tar˘ĺs desk, out of which falls his burial clothes, revealing the plan of Chiyo and Matsu˘maru. The parents, joyous at preserving the life of Kan Shűsai and grieving for K˘tar˘, remove their clothes disclosing white mourning kimono, and are joined by Sugawaraĺs wife. The mixture of exultation and sorrow lends the closing pose by all the parents especial poignancy.

    Act V, scene 1: ďuchi Tenpen
    Disaster at the Imperial Palace

    The final act is not often performed. Sugawara has died vowing retribution on Shihei. Catastrophes strike successively until a priest divines the cause. Kan Shűsai kills Shihei, Sugawaraĺs name is restored, and Sugawara is declared a god.

    Paul Kennelly (source)

    The upper part of the poster for the t˘shi ky˘gen production of "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami", which was staged at the Kabukiza in February 2002

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