Play title Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura  In Japanese
Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees
Common title Shi-no-Kiri  In Japanese
Authors Takeda Izumo II
Miyoshi Sh˘raku
Namiki Senryű I

The play "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 11th lunar month of 1747 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted for Kabuki the following year and staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1748 in Ise with Kataoka Nizaemon IV (Tokaiya Ginpei, Yokawa no Zenji Kakuhan) and Yamamoto Koheiji (Tadanobu). It was performed for the first time in a city licensed theater in the 5th lunar month of 1748, in Edo at the Nakamuraza [casting].


The "Kawatsura H˘gen Yakata" scene, which is nowadays one of the most frequently performed acts of "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura", is in fact the final scene (kiri) of act IV (Yodanme no Kiri). It is commonly called "Shi-no-Kiri" ("shi" means 4 in Japanese).

Key words Genpei-kassenmono
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Minamoto Yoritomo
Minamoto Yoshitsune

Previous scene: "Yoshinoyama"

Kawatsura H˘gen Yakata
In Kawatsura H˘gen's Palace

The scene takes place at Kawatsura H˘gen's mansion on top of Mount Yoshino. Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189) has been hiding himself there as he flees from his elder half-brother, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199). When Sat˘ Tadanobu (1161-1186) comes there to see Yoshitsune, Yoshitsune asks him why he has not been attending Shizuka as ordered. Tadanobu looks bewildered and explains that he has just this moment arrived from his home, where he has been taking care of his sick mother. Yoshitsune insists on knowing where Shizuka is, if not with Tadanobu. He suspects Tadanobu of lying to him and of having turned Shizuka over to his brother in order to collect a large reward. Thinking that Tadanobu has now come to betray him, Yoshitsune drives him into a corner.

Suddenly a servant announces the arrival of Shizuka and another Sat˘ Tadanobu. Tadanobu angrily demands who is impersonating him. Shizuka, however, appears all alone with a precious drum wrapped in a silk cloth. Yoshitsune rejoices to meet her again. Then he inquires after the other Tadanobu. She answers that he was with her just a moment ago. Yoshitsune is confused and orders Shizuka to verify which Tadanobu is the real one. After some thought she recalls that on her journey whenever she beat upon the drum, Tadanobu would mysteriously appear at her side. So she tries beating the drum. As soon as Shizuka strikes the drum, the Tadanobu-fox suddenly appears from nowhere. Frightened by the suddenness of his appearance, she thrusts at him with a sword, but the fox skillfully leaps to one side. She commands it to reveal its true identity. Then the fox tells its story.

Long ago in the Yamato area there lived a pair of old foxes that had lived there for a thousand years. One summer, to the consternation of all the farmers, there was a terrible drought throughout the district. They decided to capture the two foxes, and with the skins they made a drum which successfully brought them the much needed rain. Ever since that time the drum has been preserved and treasured. The Tadanobu-fox explains that he is, in fact, a son of the foxes from whose skins the drum was made, the drum of which Shizuka now has possession. Immediately upon finishing his story, he changes from Tadanobu back into his true fox form. He tells her that because of his love for his parents, he has followed the drum everywhere.

Yoshitsune, who has been eavesdropping on the talk from behind a bamboo blind in the next room, is deeply moved by the fox's human-like devotion to and affection for his parents. He finds parallels between the fox's loyalty and his own hard situation, caused by his half-brother. He thereupon bestows the name of Yoshitsune Genkur˘ upon the fox (a great honor for any animal, indeed, since most people in those days were not allowed to have family names).

Yoshitsune thanks him for his care and protection of Shizuka while the real Tadanobu was absent. He further grants him the drum as a reward. The fox is overjoyed at the present and expresses his heartfelt thanks for Yoshitsune's kindness. He informs Yoshitsune that a band of evil monk-soldiers are plotting to attack him this very night. Through magical power he found out and has placed a magical guard about the mansion to defeat them. Yoshitsune doesn't have a thing to worry about. A while later, the band of priests turns up at the mansion to kill Yoshitsune, but the fox plays with them and then drives them off. (This scene is usually performed comically.) Finally he makes off, holding the drum firmly.

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

Next scene: "Okuniwa"

The actors Nakamura Matsue III, Nakamura Utaemon III and Onoe Baik˘ III playing the roles of Shizuka Gozen, the fox Tadanobu and Yoshitsune in the "Shi-no-Kiri" scene of the drama "Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura", which was staged at the Nakamuraza in the 11th lunar month of 1815

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