Play title Genpei Nunobiki no Taki  In Japanese
The Genji, the Heike and the Nunobiki Waterfalls
Authors Namiki Senryű I
Miyoshi Sh˘raku

The play in five acts "Genpei Nunobiki no Taki" was originally written for the puppets theater in 1749. It was adapted for Kabuki in the 9th lunar month of 1757, produced by the zamoto Anegawa Daikichi I in ďsaka at the Kado no Shibai (casting unknown). It was staged in Edo for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1757 at the Moritaza, starring Nakamura Denz˘ I in the role of the warrior Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori.

Two different sets of kata for the role of Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori are used nowadays: Onoe Kikugor˘ V's kata and Ichikawa Danz˘ VII's kata. Onoe Kikugor˘ V's kata were based on kata created by Band˘ Mitsugor˘ III and transmitted to Onoe Kikugor˘ V through Band˘ Hikosabur˘ V. Onoe Kikugor˘ V's kata were used by Ichimura Uzaemon XV and Ichikawa Danjűr˘ XI. Ichikawa Danz˘ VII's kata came from Kamigata, where the actor learnt them from Arashi Mitsugor˘. Ichikawa Danz˘ VII's kata were used by Nakamura Kichiemon I.


The "Kurosuke Sumika" ("At Kurosuke's Home" in English) scene, Commonly called "Sanemori Monogatari", is the last scene of the third act of the play "Genpei Nunobiki no Taki". "Sanemori Monogatari" is very popular and regularly staged. Its highlights are the weird of a noble woman giving birth to a severed arm, the monogatari of Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori, the modori of Senoo Jűr˘ Kaneuji and the departure of Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori on his horse (uma) with Tarokichi imitating him on the spinning frame as though it were a horse (watakuri-uma). The role of Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori is considered as the nec plus ultra of wajitsu.

Key words Biwak˘
Genpei Kassen
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Kiso Yoshinaka
Sait˘ Sanemori

Among classical Kabuki dramas there are some which border on fantasy. And this is one of them. A woman, for example, is believed to have given birth to a full-grown human arm, rather than a baby. And later, when this same arm is rejoined to the woman's body from which it came, the dead woman comes back to life for a while.

Kurosuke's son-in-law, though mortally wounded, has returned home with the widow of Minamoto Yoshikawa. Aoi Gozen is expecting Yoshikawa's child very soon. Since the Heike clan intends to exterminate the Genji clan, even unborn children, their soldiers are searching for her.

Kurosuke's nephew, Nis˘ta, suspects who the woman from Ky˘to is and reports her presence to the authorities for a reward. So, when two high-ranking Heike warriors, Sait˘ Sanemori and Senoo Kaneuji, arrive at the house, Kurosuke has to admit that Aoi is indeed staying here.

Sanemori explains that they are only concerned that Aoi might give birth to a boy. If she gives birth to a girl, both will be spared. To which Kurosuke replies that the baby is expected this month and begs them to allow the mother to remain where she is until after the child's birth. But Kaneuji absolutely refuses, saying that it would be better to kill the mother immediately and have a look at the child. And although Kurosuke again implores him to wait, Kaneuji remains adamant and threatens to go look for himself.

A few minutes later, Kurosuke's wife, Koyoshi, enters carrying a bundle in her arms, which Kaneuji assumes must be a baby boy. He orders her to bring the baby to him, so that he can kill it. When she shows the two warriors the bundle, however, to their amazement it contains neither a boy nor a girl, but a severed human arm.

Kaneuji skeptically protests, "Who ever heard of a woman giving birth to an arm ?" but Sanemori assures him that stranger things have been known to happen. There was the Chinese princess who gave birth to an iron bar, for instance. Then he insists on taking full responsibility for accepting this incongruity. Both astonished by and suspicious of Sanemori's behavior, Kaneuji makes a great show of going off. Once he's out of sight, however, he gets hold of Nis˘ta; and they sneak back to spy on the household from a bamboo thicket.

After Kaneuiji's exit, Aoi enters with Kurosuke's grandson, Tarokichi, and thanks Sanemori for saving her life. In reply he explains that before the Heike-Genji wars, he served the Genji clan. Although circumstances now find him fighting for the Heike, deep in his heart he remains true to his former allegiance. He had volunteered to search for Aoi so that he might be able to save her and her child.

As for the severed arm, he believes it is that of a woman called Koman, whom he himself killed. Kurosuke and his wife cry out that Koman is their daughter. And Tarokichi, who is her son, bursts into tears. When asked why he killed her, Sanemori tells the whole story.

Crossing Lake Biwa by boat with some Heike warriors, he happened to rescue a drowning woman. One of the men in the boat tried to take a white flag that she was grasping in her hand. But she refused to release it, declaring that, if she did so, the Genji cause would be forever lost. She added that she would rather die than give it up. To prevent its being taken by force, Sanemori then killed her, cut off the arm, and flung it, still holding the flag, into the lake and out of reach of the Heike warriors. Sanemori gently tells Tarokichi that his mother was a very brave woman.

Some fishermen arrive with Koman's body, which they found on the shore. Sanemori puts the severed arm and the white flag next to the corpse. Then to everyone's surprise Koman comes back to life for a time. She faintly asks if Aoi got the flag safely. When assured that she did, she murmurs that there's something she would like to tell her son, Tarokichi. But before she can say anything, she relapses into unconsciousness and dies again.

Kurosuke knows what it was she wanted to say. She is not really his daughter, but of Taira stock. She had been abandoned by a Heike warrior as a child. While raising her, Kurosuke and his wife always expected someone to come and claim her. But no one ever did.

At this moment Aoi collapses. She's about to give birth. Sanemori sets up the white banner of the Genji clan so that the child may be born in a Genji household. It's a boy, the future warrior Minamoto Kiso Yoshinaka. Sanemori names the young heir Koma˘maru and that Tarokichi be allowed to serve as his retainer. But Aoi hesitates since it is now known that his mother is of Taira descent. First he must prove himself.

Having heard enough, Kaneuji comes out of hiding, calls Sanemori a traitor, deliberately kicks Koman's corpse, and declares his intention to kill the new born baby. Outraged Tarokichi attacks and mortally wounds him. Whereupon Kaneuji reveals that he is Koman's real father and Tarokichi's grandfather, that same Heike warrior that abandoned his child so many years ago. "Take my head", he bids Tarokichi, "and win your spurs". Then he draws his sword, holds the blade across the back of his own neck, and decapitates himself. Kurosuke gives the head to Tarokichi to present to Aoi and her son. And in this way Tarokichi is allowed to become Koma˘maru's retainer.

Now that he is a Genji warrior, Tarokichi declares that he's now going to avenge his mother's death by killing Sanemori. Sanemori tells him that no one would believe him because he's only a little boy. But he promises that when Tarokichi becomes a full-grown warrior, he will have an opportunity at Shinowara to take his revenge. And since Sanemori himself will then be a white-haired old man, he promised to dye his hair black so that Tarokichi can recognize him.

This summary has been written by Watanabe Hisao and edited by Jeff Blair [website]

The actors Sawamura Yoshijir˘ I, Ichikawa Ebiz˘ V, Sawamura Ch˘jűr˘ V and Ichikawa Dannosuke V playing the roles of Tarokichi, Senoo Jűr˘ Kaneyasu, Sait˘ Bett˘ Sanemori and Koman in the "Sanemori Monogatari" act of the play "Genpei Nunobiki no Taki", which was performed in the 11th lunar month of 1850 at the Kawarasakiza (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni III)

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