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. "Kurumabiki" is the bombastic scene which opens Act III. It was not in the original puppet play. This Kabuki-created scene was so successful that it was afterward integrated in the puppet play.

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

The play takes place in front of the Yoshida Shrine in Ky˘to. Since the downfall of Kan Sh˘j˘, the two brothers Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru are masterless retainers. They were respecitvely in the service of Kan Sh˘j˘ and Prince Tokiyo, both of them who fell into disgrace. Ume˘maru appears on the hanamichi and Sakuramaru comes on stage from the kamite agemaku. Both of them wear an enormous straw travelling-hat, helping them to travel the country in total anonymity (fukaamigasa). They bump into each other when they walk along the walls of the shrine and recognize each other. They mourn the tragic events that led to the banishment of their former masters and lament about the sad fact that their brother Matsu˘maru is still in the service of the villain Fujiwara no Shihei. A yakko suddenly annouces the arrival of a very important Lord at the shrine. They ask who is this Lord and the answer is ... Fujiwara no Shihei. They remove their straw sandals, then their hats and, striking a great mie, take the decision to attack their enemy. They both leave the stage by a ropp˘ through the hanamichi.

The walls of the shrine open on stage to reveal the next setting: the great entrance of the Yoshida Shrine with its beautiful torii. A magnificent carriage appears, led by Sugi˘maru, the steward of Shihei's procession. The 2 brothers rush on the procession and stop it. Sugi˘maru tells them they must be crazy to challenge Shihei. Both Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru change their costum with a great bukkaeri and Sugi˘maru orders his soldiers to attack, starting a tachimawari. They have no trouble to overcome 4 Shihei's soldiers but suddenly a deep loud bass-voiced "Mate!" ("wait!") is heard. Matsu˘maru appears from the torii, defying his 2 brothers. Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru start to rebuke him for serving the villain who is responsible for the downfall of Kan Sh˘j˘, but Matsu˘maru, who firmly holds the banner of Shihei, sends them about their business, saying that his master'enemies are his own enemies too and he will show them how a real warrior serves his master. Ume˘maru and Sakuramaru are enraged by their brother's arrogance and rush at the carriage, destroying its side panels. Drumrolls from the geza suggest the presence of supernatural forces in this carriage. Fujiwara no Shihei appears and, thanks to his magical power, reduces the two brothers to powerlessness. Shihei crushes them with his scornful attitude and Matsu˘maru mocks them. This short play ends with Matsu˘maru reminding his brothers that they will soon gather at their father's house to celebrate his 70th birthday anniversary. This event will give them the chance to resume their fight and settle their dispute there. The 4 actors pose while the stage curtain is drawn.


Is "Kurumabiki" on a blacklist? "The least liked of all the plays performed overseas so far has been "Kurumabiki" during the first Europen tour [...] The "most Kabuki-esque of all the Kabuki plays," it is a classic example of Kabuki's stylized beauty. Yet the audiences seemed mystified by it. During an intermission in Paris, I heard one person say to another, "I couldn't understand it at all. Those barrel-size straw hats were a surprise though. Do you think they will become next year's fashion?" (Kawatake Toshio in "Kabuki: Baroque Fusion of the Arts")

The actors Ichikawa Komaz˘ V, Matsumoto K˘shir˘ V, Ichikawa Yaoz˘ V and Ichimura Uzaemon XII playing the roles of Ume˘maru, Fujiwara no Shihei, Sakuramaru and Matsu˘maru in the "Kurumabiki" scene of the play "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami", which was performed in the 8th lunar month of 1834 at the Ichimuraza (print made by Utagawa Kunisada I)

A triptych made by Utagawa Toyokuni III in 1861
Prints & Illustrations
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