|Play title||Sesshű Gapp˘-ga-Tsuji|
The play "Sesshű Gapp˘-ga-Tsuji" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 2nd lunar month of 1773 in ďsaka at the Kitahorieza. It was adapted for Kabuki many years later and staged for the first time in the 6th lunar month of 1835 in Ky˘to at the Kitagawa no Shibai [casting]. It was staged in ďsaka and Edo for the first time respectively in the 3rd lunar month of 1839 at the Kado no Shibai [casting] and in the 9th lunar month of 1852 at the Ichimuraza [casting]. The story of Shuntokumaru was based on a famous sekky˘-bushi.
"The play has always been contentious and was indeed banned as late as 1937 on the grounds that a stepmother's love for her stepson was immoral" (Aubrey and Giovanna Halford in "The Kabuki Handbook").
Aoto Saemon Fujitsuna
Act I, scene 1: Sumiyoshi Jinja Keidai
Otsuji, the daughter of Gapp˘ D˘shin, first entered the Takayasu mansion in the province of Kawachi. The Takayasu clan was led by the powerful daimy˘ Takayasu Saemon Michitoshi and Otsuji served him as a koshimoto. Eventually, on the death of the lord's wife (seishitsu), Otsuji became his second wife, taking the name of Tamate Gozen.
The heir of the Takayasu clan is Takayasu Shuntokumaru, a youth who is only slightly younger than his stepmother Tamate Gozen. Another son, Takayasu Jir˘maru, born to a sokushitsu, is plotting with his two followers Tsuboi Heima and the r˘nin Kakehashi Zusho to kill Shuntokumaru and take over the estate, as well as winning Shuntokumaru's fiancÚe, Princess Asaka, for himself. The time is ripe for the plot, because Lord Takayasu is now gravely ill.
Tamate Gozen, accompanied by Shuntokumaru and a group of koshimoto, come to worship at the Sumiyoshi Shrine for Takayasu's quick recovery. At the same time, Princess Asaka, who has exchanged many love letters with her Shuntokumaru but has never met him in person, has become impatient to meet him, and with the cooperation of her servant, the yakko Irihei, and Irihei's wife Oraku, has come to the shrine, disguised as a commoner, to seek a chance to meet him.
Presently, Shuntokumaru comes out from the shrine and Princess Asaka, who has been waiting for the opportunity, hurries out to accost him and tell him of her love. Shuntokumaru sees her and suspects her identity in spite of her disguise. Princess Asaka confesses her love for him and says she would rather die than be put off any longer. Shuntokumaru explains that his father has been sick, and that marriage arrangements will be made as soon as he is well again. Princess Asaka is relieved to know that Shuntokumaru has not been refusing her for any other reason. Irihei and Oraku urge the two young fiancÚs to slip away into the nearby woods together for a bit of privacy. However, before they are able to do it, one of Tamate Gozen's koshimoto come to say that Tamate Gozen is looking for Shuntokumaru.
Princess Asaka hurriedly hides herself. Tamate Gozen arrives and brings with her an abalone shell to use as a sake cup, and offers Shuntokumaru a drink, saying that it is from the shrine. But after he has partaken of it, she says that the drink having been offered from a woman to a man is the symbol of a love pledge. She goes on to confess that ever since she was his mother's koshimoto, she has always been secretly in love with Shuntokumaru. When she has been chosen to become Takayasu's second wife, she has despaired because it was Takayasu's son she loved, not Shuntokumaru's father. However, if she were to refuse Takayasu Michitoshi, she would not have been allowed to stay any further at the Takayasu mansion. Shuntokumaru is flabbergasted by his step-mother's love confession, and at first he tries to take it as words spoken under the influence of sake. However, Tamate Gozen proves insistent. In tears, he implores her to return to her senses and protect her honor. Finally, he breaks away from her clutches and hurries away.
Tamate Gozen, finding that it is useless to pursue him, orders her palanquin bearers to take her home. But now, Princess Asaka who has observed this terrible scene is in despair. Irihei and Oraku try to console her, and urge her to return home for the time being. At this point, Takayasu Jir˘maru and Tsuboi Heima come out to try to abduct Princess Asaka. Irihei fights and chases them off. Then the three head of for the mansion of Princess Asaka's father in the province of Izumi.
Act I, scene 2: Takayasu Yakata
The sake that Tamate Gozen has offered to Shuntokumaru has been a poison (dokushu), causing Shuntokumaru to become afflicted with leprosy (raiby˘). As a result, Shuntokumaru has confined himself to his room, refusing to see anyone but the doctor and the kar˘ Honda Chikaranosuke. Chikaranosuke, however, is now absent, having gone on a trip to Taga Shrine to pray for Shuntokumaru's recovery. His wife Habikino is therefore acting as her husband's substitute.
Tamate Gozen feels she should have access to his room but she is sharply denied entry by Habikino, who together with her husband, does not trust Tamate Gozen's attitude toward her stepson. She pointedly says that, just like the young and beautiful koshimoto of the mansion, Tamate Gozen is not allowed into Shuntokumaru's room.
In the meantime Takamiya Chűj˘ Shigemitsu, an imperial envoy (chokushi), comes bearing a message for Lord Takayasu Michitoshi, who in spite of his illness, comes out to receive the visitor, along with Jir˘maru and Tsuboi Heima. Takamiya says that Takayasu's request to have Shuntokumaru instated as his successor has been approved, and that Takayasu Shuntokumaru has to go to the imperial court for his official investiture. Takayasu is perturbed at the news because of Shuntokumaru's illness, and asks the envoy to go back to the imperial court with Takayasu's request for the postponement of Shuntokumaru's investiture. The envoy, however, chastises Takayasu for trying to put off what he himself has been requesting. Jir˘maru and Tsuboi Heima prompt Takayasu to entertain Takamiya Shigemitsu with delicacies. They place a tray with a container before the envoy, who however, grumpily says he does not want to eat, and overturns the tray. Ry˘ coins dash out of the overturned container. The envoy, without any sign of embarrassment, immediately gathers the ry˘ and changes his attitude entirely, saying that he will do everything to arrange for the postponement of Shuntokumaru's visit to the court.
In the meantime, Shuntokumaru has been listening in and is in despair, thinking of the anxiety he is causing his father. He therefore decides to slip away secretly on a pilgrimage (junrei), and writes a letter requesting that his foster brother Jir˘maru become his father's heir in his place. However, he is observed by Tamate Gozen. She chastises him for having so little regard for her passion for him, and insists that she will have him for her lover. Shuntokumaru, having no other recourse, ties her with a cord so that she cannot follow him. Then he slips sorrowfully away through the back gate of the mansion (uramon).
Habikino comes by and frees Tamate Gozen. Tamate Gozen explains the situation and wants to chase after Shuntokumaru. However, Habikino is understandably reluctant to have Tamate Gozen go after the youth, and calls for Takayasu and the others. She reads Shuntokumaru's letter explaining the circumstances. Jir˘maru pretends to a grief he does not feel at all. In order to keep up pretences, he makes as if he is going to kill himself, but is restrained by Tsuboi Heima. Habikino, in the absence of her husband, will act as his substitute. She orders the men to go out in groups and to seek out Shuntokumaru.
But now envoy Takamiya Shigemitsu, who has overheard all, comes to the room. He says that in the event that the recognized heir Shuntokumaru is missing, the existence of the fief itself is threatened, and suggests that Jir˘maru go immediately to get himself invested in his brother's stead. Michitoshi, who is suspicious of the envoy, stalls for time by saying that a decision will be made after Chikaranosuke's return.
The garden is covered with snow. Hiding in the shadows, Habikino is keeping watch as Tamate Gozen slips covertly out, dressed for travel. Habikino immediately steps out to stop her, and accuses of an illicit love for her stepson. Tamate Gozen counters fiercely, and the two fight it out in the garden. Tamate Gozen strikes Habikino a blow with her umbrella, and Habikino staggers. Then, Tamate Gozen hurries off.
Habikino's husband, the kar˘ Honda Chikaranosuke comes hurrying back to the Takayasu mansion from his long journey to and from the Taga Shrine. He has heard of Shuntokumaru's illness but he has come back too late. As they have suspected, Tamate Gozen is guilty of an illicit love for Shuntokumaru, and Shuntokumaru has fled with Tamate Gozen following after him. Moreover, the envoy Takamiya Shigemitsu has made off with the succession paper after strongly urging that Jir˘maru be instated as Takayasu Michitoshi's heir. Chikaranosuke is suspicious of the envoy and decides to immediately chase after him.
Act I, scene 3: Tatsuta-goeyama Sakamichi
As Chikaranosuke has feared, the envoy was a fake, being in reality Kakehashi Zusho, one of Jir˘maru's henchmen. Jir˘maru and Tsuboi Heima meet Kakehashi Zusho on the path across Mt. Tatsuta. Zusho is about to hand over the papers of succession to Jir˘maru, but Jir˘maru asks Zusho to keep it in custody where it will be safe from the prying eyes of Honda Chikaranosuke. Jir˘maru and Heima depart.
Left alone, Kakehashi Zusho pays off the men who played the roles of his retinue, two fake tomozamurai. Just as they have dispersed, Honda Chikaranosuke comes in hot pursuit, and there is not sufficient time to get the two tomozamurai back in order again. Zusho, however, puts up a good bluff against Chikaranosuke's accusation of being a false envoy, until Chikaranosuke hotly says that he has met previously the real Takamiya Shigemitsu in person, and that he bears no resemblance to the man before him. Zusho realizes that the game is close to be over but now as a trump card, he takes out the succession paper, saying he will destroy it. Chikaranosuke, however, stays calm and says that this paper is a fake, as the real one has already been handed over to the real Takamiya Shigemitsu. Zusho disgustedly throws away the useless document, which Chikaranosuke quickly takes possession of, saying that this is indeed the authentic paper. He also confesses that he has never met the real Takamiya. After a fight, in which the desperate r˘nin Kakehashi Zusho is killed, Chikaranosuke heads hack to the mansion to fight the remaining conspirators.
Act II, scene 1: Shitenn˘ji Saimon
In the meantime, Princess Asaka, having heard of Shuntokumaru's flight from his father's mansion, runs away from home to go seek him. She is followed by her faithful servant the yakko Irihei, who goes around to places where people gather, in the hope of hearing some words about the missing Shuntokumaru. His search eventually leads him to the vicinity of the Shitenn˘ji Temple, where he hears rumors of a young blind leper and thinks it might by Shuntokumaru.
Act II, scene 2: Bandai-ga-Ike
Gapp˘ D˘shin comes by with his cart. He is Tamate Gozen's father and now a gannin b˘zu going around and collecting donations for the maintenance of a small Enmad˘ Temple with which he is entrusted. The old man, tired from making his rounds, lies down for a nap. By chance, the site is adjacent to the hut (mushirogoya) by Bandai-ga-Ike Pond where Shuntokumaru has found shelter.
Princess Asaka, in her search for Shuntokumaru, comes by. She sees Shuntokumaru standing before his hut. As he is now completely disfigured by leprosy, she does not recognize him. She asks him whether by chance he might have met or heard about another leper like himself, who is the son of a lord and who is called Shuntokumaru.
Shuntokumaru is alarmed, but realizing that Princess Asaka has failed to recognize him, says that Shuntokumaru was living in the hut with him for a time, but recently committed suicide by throwing himself into Bandai-ga-Ike Pond. Princess Asaka is in despair. When Shuntokumaru realizes that she intends to kill herself too by throwing herself into the pond, he restrains her and says that his story was false. He explains that Shuntokumaru has departed on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, leaving as an instruction that if anyone came seeking him, the seeker was to be told that Shuntokumaru died in the pond.
Princess Asaka staggers away from the hut, determined to go on seeking her lover. At this point, the yakko Irihei comes back to the same site, after a fruitless round of the precincts of the Shitenn˘ji Temple. He sees Princess Asaka and hurries to her side. Princess Asaka tells him about the leper and what he had told her about Shuntokumaru, and implores Irihei to accompany her on the journey to pilgrimage sites in search of Shuntokumaru.
The yakko Irihei, however, harbors feels suspicious about the identity of this young leper. He and Princess Asaka pretend to hurry away, but, instead of going off, they return surreptitiously near the hut to observe the leper.
Shuntokumaru, believing that Princess Asaka and Irihei have left, steps out of his hut. Then he bursts out weeping, lamenting that he cannot even see her departing figure because of his blindness. Hearing him, the eavesdroppers realize that he is indeed Takayasu Shuntokumaru. They rush to him but Shuntokumaru tries to flee, with Princess Asaka desperately clinging to him.
At this moment Jir˘maru, who has been seeking Princess Asaka, comes to the pond. He tries to make off with Princess Asaka, while Irihei fights his henchmen. Shuntokumaru and Princess Asaka are unable to protect themselves against Jir˘maru, but at the crucial moment, Gapp˘ D˘shin jumps out to their recue. He tells Princess Asaka to pull Shuntokumaru away on his cart, while he himself will follow after them, after he has thoroughly taken care of Jir˘maru. In the ensuing fight, Gapp˘, although an old man, beats Jir˘maru and sends him flying into the pond.
Gapp˘ was born the son of the daimy˘ Aoto Saemon Fujitsuna but he was reduced to his current poor condition due to a villainous slander. He is a proud man who has refused to take advantage of his daughter Otsuji's elevation to a high rank as the new wife of the daimy˘ Takayasu Michitoshi. But he has heard of Tamate Gozen's scandalous love for her stepson and of her departure from Takayasu's mansion in pursuit of the fleeing Shuntokumaru. He is understandably angry.
Gapp˘ has saved Shuntokumaru and Princess Asaka from the clutches of Jir˘maru at the Bandai-ga-Ike Pond and has brought them home with him in the province of Settsu. He cannot bring himself to forgive his daughter for such a shameful demeanor. He has decided to hold a memorial service that night at his home, attended by neighbors, for an anonymous deceased. He is sure that Tamate Gozen should have been chased and killed by Takayasu's men. Even if this is not the case, he is determined not to acknowledge her again as his daughter. His wife Otoku, however, is more simply involved in grieving her daughter's death, and is reprimanded by Gapp˘ for her tears, although Gapp˘ himself in spite of his stubborn attitude is just as grieved as his wife.
At this point, Tamate Gozen comes to her father's country hermitage (anshitsu). She is heard by Gapp˘ who in spite of a moment of hesitation, pretends not to hear anything. Otoku also hears Tamate Gozen's voice and starts for the door but Gapp˘ harshly stops her, saying that her daughter is dead, and if it is her voice outside, then it must be her ghost. Otoku, however, insists that she wants to meet Tamate Gozen again, even if it is only her ghost. Gapp˘ confesses that as a former samurai, he would have no other choice than to kill his own daughter if he should meet her again. Therefore, he does not want her to come to the house. However, Otoku opens the door in spite of his protests.
Otoku is overjoyed to find that it is not a ghost but the real Tamate Gozen, alive and well. Even Gapp˘ feels tempted to take a look at his daughter whom he has not met for many years, but he stubbornly forces himself to turn aside. Otoku says that there are rumors accusing Tamate Gozen of a scandalous crime, and begs her to prove that it is false. Tamate Gozen, however, quite imperiously says that she is indeed in love with Shuntokumaru, and has come expressly for the purpose at meeting him. She begs her mother to allow her to meet Shuntokumaru. Gapp˘ cannot control himself any longer. He takes out a sword from the closet and tries to strike Tamate Gozen with it. Otaku restrains him, urging him to allow Tamate Gozen to become a nun instead. However, Tamate Gozen curtly turns down the suggestion, saying she has no intention of shaving off to become a nun. Gapp˘ again tries to stab her, but Otoku desperately pleads with him to allow her a little more time to persuade Tamate Gozen to give up her love. Grumbling, Gapp˘ leaves the room, while Otoku pulls away the unwilling Tamate Gozen to another room.
Now Shuntokumaru and Princess Asaka, who have been taking refuge at Gapp˘'s country hermitage, come out of an adjoining room. They have overheard the conversation, and feel that it is no longer safe for them to stay at the house now that Tamate Gozen has come there. Fortunately, the yakko Irihei, who has come to the house following rumors of their presence at Gapp˘'s country hermitage, has been hiding outside and he has eavesdropped everything. He enters the house and urges the young lovers to quickly run away.
Tamate Gozen comes into the main room and clings to Shuntokumaru, saying she has followed after him a long distance through much difficulty, and is overjoyed to see him again. Shuntokumaru chastises his stepmother for her bad attitude, and says that now surely she must revile him because of his ugly disease. Tamate Gozen, however, says that his affliction has only increased her passion for him. Then, she confesses that she is responsible for his leprosy through a poison that she has put into the sake she has offered him at the Sumiyoshi Shrine. They are all flabbergasted by Tamate Gozen's confession. Princess Asaka tries desperately to pull Shuntokumaru away with her, but Tamate Gozen shoves her aside heartlessly, saying that she has no intention of giving him up now after all her efforts. Irihei also tries to intervene, but Tamate Gozen frantically forces him outside the country hermitage and locks the door.
At this point Gapp˘ dashes into the room, his sword drawn, and stabs her. At the same time the yakko Irihei breaks open the door and runs in. Tamate Gozen, fatally wounded, tells her tale. Her attitude now entirely changed. She reveals the plot of Shuntokumaru's stepbrother Jir˘maru to usurp the succession to the Takayasu house. She also says that she used poison to cause Shuntokumaru's disfiguration as it was the only way to force him to leave the mansion, where he was in constant danger to be murdered by the conspirators. Gapp˘ is suspicious of her tale, saying it would have been much simpler to just reveal the plot to Takayasu. Tamate Gozen, however, replies that if she has done so, Jir˘maru would have been punished and, due to her moral duty as a stepmother, Jir˘maru is as much her stepson as Shuntokumaru is. Thus, in order to avoid a direct accusation, she has taken this terrible and devious means. Gapp˘ is still not convinced. He asks why she should have come chasing so frantically after Shuntokumaru if she were entirely free of the illicit passion of which she is suspected. Tamate Gozen then explains that she has followed him in order to make available to him the counter-potion that would cure him of the leprosy. This potion must be mixed with the still warm blood from the liver of a woman born at the hour, on the day in the month of the year of the tiger (tora). If this blood is drunk from the same abalone shell in which the poison was taken, Shuntokumaru should be cured. She says that she herself was luckily born at this extremely specified time and that she has brought with her the abalone shell in which she had used at the Sumiyoshi Shrine. Tamate Gozen's blood is taken to create the potion while Gapp˘ strikes the prayer bell. Shuntokumaru respectfully drinks it the potion as ordered. Miraculously, he is instantly cured. Tamate Gozen lives long enough to see his stepson's recovery and then dies without any regret as her desire has finally being fulfilled.
 This scene was divided into two scenes, "Takayasu Yakata" ('At the Takayasu Mansion') and "Takayasu Yakata Niwasaki" ('In the Garden of the Takayasu Mansion') for the revival of "Sesshű Gapp˘-ga-Tsuji" at the National Theatre in June 1968. With the following scene "Tatsutayama-goe" at the end, it became the 2nd act of this production.
Illustration from a tsuji banzuke for the staging of "Sesshű Gapp˘-ga-Tsuji" at the Imperial Theater in November 1929 with Onoe Baik˘ VI, Kataoka Nizaemon XI, Kataoka Gat˘ IV, Nakamura Shikaku II, Onoe K˘z˘ II and Morita Kan'ya XIII in the roles of Tamate Gozen, Gapp˘ D˘shin, Takayasu Shuntokumaru, Princess Asaka, Gapp˘'s wife Otoku and the yakko Irihei