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. "Ga no Iwai" is the final scene of Act III. In the original puppet play, "Ga no Iwai" was in fact the whole third act and was divided into 3 scenes: "Chasenzake"* ("the tea whisk sake"), "Kenka" ("The fight") and "Sakuramaru Seppuku" ("Sakuramaru's suicide"). The Kabuki version of "Ga no Iwai" is made up of "Kenka" and "Sakuramaru Seppuku".

Key words Daigo Tenn˘
Fujiwara Tokihira
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Heian Jidai
Kan Sh˘j˘
Sugawara Michizane

The play takes place in the village of Sata, the day of the 70th birthday anniversary of Shiratayű, the father of Matsu˘maru, Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru. His family is deeply divided since the start of the conflict between the evil Minister Fujiwara no Shihei and the honest Minister Kan Sh˘j˘. A malicious plot hatched by Shihei, which involved the innocent prince Tokiyo, led to the downfall and exile of Kan Sh˘j˘. Matsu˘maru, Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru are respectively the retainers of Shihei, Kan Sh˘j˘ and prince Tokiyo. The stage curtain opens on the house of Shiratayű, where Matsu˘maru's wife Chiyo and Ume˘maru's wife haru are busy preparing the birthday party. Matsu˘maru and Ume˘maru appear on stage one after the other and immediately start to quarrel. The two wives unsuccessfully try to separate them. At least, they manage to take their sword in order to avoid a bloodbath. The two retainers start a funny tachimawari, using either their bare hands or some rice bales. They accidentally break during their fight a branch of Shiratayű's cherry tree. The old man, followed by Sakuramaru's wife Yae, appears on the hanamichi. Matsu˘maru and Ume˘maru hastily stop their fight and put their clothes and swords back on in order to greet their father. The last person to enter the house is Yae, who spent some time looking down the hanamichi, wondering where her husband is.

Matsu˘maru and Ume˘maru produce each a written document, handed to their father. Instead of birthday congratulations letters, Shiratayű is displeased at reading petitions regarding inheritance and how Shiratayű's property should be divided. The old man explodes with anger and accuses Matsu˘maru of betrayal. He flings his cap to his elder son, telling him that this is the only thing he'll ever get from him in inheritance. He orders him to leave his house immediately. Matsu˘maru, deeply hurt by Shiratayű's words, silently and sadly leaves the stage, walking down the hanamichi followed by Chiyo. Then Shiratayű turns his anger to Ume˘maru, blaming his passionate impatience, the cause of many troubles. He asks his second son to leave the house as well. The couple retires in the inner room in order to prepare their departure. Shiratayű also retires, leaving Yae alone on stage. She's still wondering why her husband is not here. Sakuramaru suddenly appears, not on the hanamichi but from the inner room to Yae's great surprise. He tells his wife that he arrived long time ago but stayed hidden. He holds himself responsible of the downfall of Kan Sh˘j˘**. He has taken the decision to commit ritual suicide to atone for his mistake.

Shiratayű is back on stage, holding a short sword on a ceremonial stand. Sakuramaru is his favourite son but he agreed to his decision. He laments the fate of his three children, one traitor, one hotheaded and one who has to die before his time. Yae desperately tries to prevent him from killing himself but he pushes her away and plunges the blade into his body. Shiratayű recites Buddhist prayers while his son dies with dignity. Yae suddenly decides to follow her husband on the road to the afterlife but Ume˘maru swiftly prevents her from stabbing herself with a little dagger. Shiratayű takes the decision to go to Kan Sh˘j˘'s exile place in Kyűshű to report the sad events that hit his family, leaving Sakuramaru's funeral in Ume˘maru's care.

(*) The "Chasenzake" scene brings almost nothing to "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami"'s plot: a farmer visits Shiratayű and is invited to come back later to drink some sake with the old man. Chiyo, Haru and Yae are busy cooking for the party. Shiratayű and Yae go together to pray at the local shrine. Nothing more. When I saw this short scene, I felt that the cooking scene would have been a great vehicle for onnagata actors to display their acting techniques. Who knows ... maybe it will be revived sooner or later in a Kabuki production.

(**) In the first act of the play, Sakuramaru and Yae helped Prince Tokiyo to meet his lover Princess Kariya, the daughter of Kan Sh˘j˘. This love affair was the pretext needed by Shihei to launch his vicious attack against his rival Kan Sh˘j˘.

Mimasu Daigor˘ IV and Nakamura Utaemon IV playing the roles of Ume˘maru and Matsu˘maru in the "Ga no Iwai" scene of the drama "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami", which was staged in the 9th lunar month of 1851 at the Naka no Shibai (print made by Utagawa Hirosada)

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