Dance titles Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari  In Japanese
Kubeki Yoi Kumo no Itosuji  In Japanese
Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi  In Japanese
Common title Kumo no Ito  In Japanese
Authors Kanai Sansh˘ (1765 lyrics)
Tokiwazu Mojidayű I (1765 music)
Sakurada Jisuke III (1837 lyrics)
Kishizawa Shikisa IV (1837 music)
Kawatake Shinshichi III (1889 lyrics)

The first version of this Tokiwazu-based kaomise buy˘ "Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari" was premiered at the Ichimuraza in the 11th lunar month of 1765 [more details]. A second version was written by Sakurada Jisuke III and it was premiered in the 11th lunar month of 1837 at the Nakamuraza. It was entitled "Kubeki Yoi Kumo no Itosuji" and it starred Sawamura Tossh˘ I and Iwai Shijaku I [more details]. "Kubeki Yoi Kumo no Itosuji" was revived and revised by Kawatake Shinshichi III in September 1889 at the Chitoseza, where it was staged under the title "Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi" [more details]. After WWII, "Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi" was revived by Nakamura Utaemon VI in March 1959 at the Meijiza [more details]. Then, "Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari" was revived in December 1969 at the Kabukiza [more details]. Afterwards, it was staged either by Ichikawa Ennosuke III [1] ("Kubeki Yoi Kumo no Itosuji", 6-role hengemono) or by Nakamura Senjaku II [2] ("Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari", 4-role hengemono). From 2006, "Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari" was regularly staged by Ichikawa Ennosuke III's nephew Ichikawa Kamejir˘ II as a spectacular 6-roles hengemono.

Key words Aragoto
Chisuji no Ito
Heian Jidai
Hirai Yasumasa
Kaomise Buy˘
Kumo no Sei
Kumo Taiji
Kumo Yoten
Minamoto Yorimitsu
Sakata Kintoki
Sendai J˘ruri
Urabe Suetake
Usui Sadamitsu
Watanabe Tsuna
Yamai Hachimaki
Yamato Katsuragisan


Minamoto no Yorimitsu was a general of the Heian period. There were lots of ancient narratives dealing with Yorimitsu and his four famous bodyguards (shitenn˘). This dance-drama is one of them. In this story, the spirit of an evil spider (kumo no sei) seeks Yorimitsu's life in the shape of a child (kamuro), a medicine peddler (kusuri-uri), an apprentice courtesan (shinz˘), a blind musician (zat˘) and a high-ranking courtesan (keisei) but all these five disguises are discovered and the spirit has to reveal its true form. In the summary below, we'll focus on Nakamura Ganjir˘ III's version of "Kumo no Ito", which has 4 roles performed by the same actor using hayagawari techniques: the kamuro, the zat˘, the keisei and the giant spider (kumo).

Summary for Ichikawa Ennosuke IV's 6-role "Kumo no Ito" ==> The Spiderĺs Web and The Stringed Catalpa Bow.


Minamoto no Yorimitsu's bodyguards (shitenn˘) Sakata Shumenoj˘ Kintoki and Usui Yukienoj˘ Sadamitsu are on duty one night at Yorimitsu's mansion. They are suddenly assailed by a weird drowsiness and express a wish for drinking a cup of tea to stay awake. A strange kamuro suddenly appears before them, bringing some tea for the two men. They are pleasantly surprised at this unexpected arrival, but they also note that this kamuro is unknown and seems to be a stranger. They wonder about her real identity. They are indeed right to be cautious as this kamuro is in reality the spirit of an evil spider in disguise. She has come to try to kill Yorimitsu. After engaging in a brief give-and-take with the two bodyguards, the girl suddenly tries to approach Yorimitsu's chamber but Kintoki holds her back. She immediately disappears.

The evil spirit of the spider appears in the guise of a zat˘, who sings a type of narrative ballad known as Sendai J˘ruri. As the two bodyguards are bored to death, they ask the zat˘ to perform a song for them. He starts to sing, but, as he is dancing, he opens his supposedly blind eyes and heads for Yorimitsu's chamber. Kintoki and Sadamitsu draw their swords, but the weird zat˘ disappears again. The two warriors surmise that the mysterious apparitions must have been caused by the old spirit of evil spider of Mount Katsuragi in the province of Yamato. They warn each other to be on guard against its next apparition.

Now the keisei Usugumo, Yorimitsu's lover, appears before Yorimitsu, who has fallen ill because of a curse casted by the evil spider. Yorimitsu, who wears a yamai hachimaki, the symbol of his sickness, is happy to see Usugumo, but when she comes near him, he becomes suspicious and draws his sword. Usugumo disappears. Kintoki and Sadamitsu, who have heard Yorimitsu's voice, come into check, and Yorimitsu tells them about the strange apparition of his lover in his chamber. The two bodyguards are certain that this is all the evil deeds of the spirit of the giant spider of Mount Katsuragi. They all head out to search the mansion to capture it. As they are about to leave the room, they are called back by the voice of Usugumo. Behind the voice is the spirit of the nasty giant spider on its true form. She challenges the three men and a furious fight ensues. The tachimawari is performed in a very charming Kabuki style, combining music with the movements of the actors. The spirit of the spider throws webbing made of rice paper (chisuji no ito). In Ichikawa Ennosuke IV's version of "Kumo no Ito", the two others shitenn˘, Urabe Kageyu Suetake and Watanabe Genji Tsuna, are also on stage to fight the nasty spider. There are also a group of kumo yoten on stage. The fight ends (kumo taiji) with the spectacular arrival of Hirai Saemonnoj˘ Yasumasa, the demon queller (oshimodoshi) of this dance-drama, showing off the bombastic aragoto style of acting.


[1] Ichikawa Ennosuke III performed a few times his own version of "Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi" as an independent dance-drama which was made up of 6 roles : a little girl, a kosh˘, a taiko mochi, a zat˘, the keisei Usugumo and the spirit of the spider. "Kumo no Ito Oyozume Banashi" was also integrated as ˘giri at the end of Tsuruya Nanboku IV's spectacular drama "Gohiiki Tsunagi Uma", which was staged 3 times: April 1984 (Meijiza), September 1986 (Meijiza) and October 1993 (Kabukiza).

[2] He performed "Kumo no Ito" 4 times during his Senjaku years : June 1975 (Nakaza), February 1980 (Asahiza), February 1981 (Sunshine Theatre) and March 1990 (Kabukiza). He performed it only once during his Ganjir˘ years, in January 2000 at the Sh˘chikuza.

Kataoka Ainosuke VI and Ichikawa Kamejir˘ II playing the roles of Hirai Yasumasa and the spirit of the evil spider in the dance-drama "Kumo no Ito Azusa no Yumihari" (illustration courtesy of RANCHUROW (2009) all rights reserved)

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