Play title Meiboku Sendai Hagi  In Japanese
Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki  In Japanese
Authors Nagawa Kamesuke I
Isojii Sosuke
Sakurada Jisuke I

"Meiboku Sendai Hagi" has a complicated history: it was staged for the first time in the 4th lunar month of 1777 as a 5-act drama written by Nagawa Kamesuke I and Isojii Sosuke, which was produced in ďsaka at the Naka no Shibai [casting]. This drama was inspired by "Keisei Mutsu no Tamagawa", the first play dealing with the Date succession troubles, which was staged in the 1st lunar month of 1767 at the Naka no Shibai. Sakurada Jisuke I wrote a similar drama, which was entitled "Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki" and staged for the first time in the 7th lunar month of 1778 at the Nakamuraza [casting]. Then, the playwrights Matsu Kanshi, Takahashi Buhei and Yoshida Kadomaru wrote a play in 9 acts for the puppet theater, using the title "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" and mixing elements from both the original "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" and "Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki". This puppet drama was staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1785 in Edo at the Yűkiza. It was afterwards adapted for Kabuki and evolved during the nineteenth century.

"The play is based on a real event involving the Date clan of Sendai during the 1660's, but censorship prevented contemporary incidents being dramatized, so the drama was set during the Muromachi period (1336-1568), and names were changed to disguise the protagonists' identity." (text courtesy of Jean Wilson 1998)

The 17th Date clan was replaced by the 15th Ashikaga clan and Lord Date Tsunamune, the cause of the succession troubles, became Ashikaga Yorikane in the Kabuki drama.


The current version of "Meiboku Sendai Hagi" is made up of 3 acts and 6 scenes. The second act is made up of the "Take-no-Ma", "Goten" and "Yukashita" scenes. There are 2 possibilities in term of production: either act I and the 3 scenes of act II or a t˘shi ky˘gen performance which includes act I, "Goten", "Yukashita" and act III ("Take-no-Ma" is not performed in this second case). The "Goten" scene is commonly called "Mama Taki" ("boiled rice cooking").

Key words Aragoto

Take-no-Ma ("The bamboo room")

Because of his dissipation, the unpopular Yorikane is forced to retire and Tsuruchiyo, his young son, is made head of the clan. However, to protect Tsuruchiyo against assassination plots, he is kept in the women's quarters under the guard of Masaoka on the pretext that he is ill. Yashio, the lady in charge of the palace and the sister of Nikki Danj˘ (the head of the plot), has guessed that Tsuruchiyo so-called illness is in fact Masaoka's stratagem. She drops in on Masaoka's room without warning, bringing with her a doctor, Lady Matsushima, Lady Okinoi and several ladies-in-waiting. Yashio's plan is to discredit Masaoka and pick up Tsuruchiyo. The child is examined by the doctor, who concludes that an evil presence in this room threatens his life. They begin a search and find a sinister-looking man named Kat˘ta, who was hidden in the celing. This man confesses that Masaoka has ordered him to murder the heir of the clan. Lady Matsushima, who is not on the plotters' side, questions him more thoroughly and has no problem to prove that Kat˘ta is a liar. Yashio is upset but has a plan B: she exhibits a forged letter, which is supposed to be from Masaoka and contains the details of Masaoka's plan to get rid of Tsuruchiyo. Lady Okinoi, who is not on the plotters' side, examines the letter and easily exposes the forgery of the document. Yashio fulminates against Masaoka, accusing her of being a woman of low birth and bad reputation, unworthy of taking care of the young lord. Tsurichiyo, the hand on the handle of his little sword, interrupts Yashio and tells her that he will stay with Masaoka and her son Senmatsu. The frustrated Yashio has no choice but to leave the room.

Goten ("The palace")

Masaoka has trained her own young son, Senmatsu, to taste Tsuruchiyo's food as a precaution against poisoning. A lengthy but emotionally sustained scene follows in which we see Masaoka painstakingly prepare food using the only implements available to her-tea ceremony utensils. The waiting seems interminable to the two hungry boys, yet they try to behave as young warriors, not complaining, but nevertheless sneaking over and looking over Masaoka's shoulder to see what progress is being made. The actor playing the role of Masaoka has to movingly portray her heartache at the hardship they have to endure only to receive sparse rations.

Those plotting to take over the clan have now eliminated everyone but the young lord, whom they target next. They send poisoned cakes via the hand of Sakae Gozen, the wife of a high-ranking retainer, who is accompanied by Yashio, the vile sister of the evil Nikki Danj˘, leader of the plotters. Yashio is traditionally played by an actor who never normally plays female roles, and the character is supposed to be rough and wicked. Young Senmatsu dashes out and eats one of the cakes as he has been trained to do, but notices immediately that something is wrong. Yashio instantly stabs him to death claiming that his rude behavior is receiving its just punishment. Despite her son being murdered in front of her eyes, Masaoka must show no emotion. In fact, she is so stoic that she fools Sakae into believing that she is on the side of the plotters, and that it was actually Tsuruchiyo disguised in retainer's clothes who had died. Assuming she can trust Masaoka, Sakae gives her a secret scroll listing all the conspirators. The role of Masaoka is a fine example of the fierce devotion to duty and self-sacrificing love frequently portrayed in Kabuki.

Finally alone, Masaoka gives vent to her grief for her son, but Yashio has been watching and attacks her. Masaoka stabs her, but just at that moment, a giant rat appears and runs off with the scroll.

Yukashita ("Below the floor")

The next scene is set below masaoka's room. A faithful retainer of Yorikane named Arajishi Otokonosuke (performed in the aragoto style), who was driven away from the upper floor by Yashio, mounts guard below the room of his Lord's son. He spots the rat with the scroll and hits the beast with his heavy iron fan. The rat is hurt but manages to escape. It reemerges through a trapdoor in the hanamichi in its true form as Nikki Danj˘, the archvillain of Kabuki roles. Carrying the scroll in his mouth, he is preceded and followed by stage hands carrying candles and he exits the hanamichi as if walking on clouds.

"Goten" and some parts of "Take-no-Ma" and "Yukashita" are courtesy of Jean Wilson


For many actors and experts, the role of Masaoka is the most prestigious role for an onnagata actor.

The actors Arashi Rikan IV, Arashi Wasabur˘ III, Ichikawa Danjűr˘ IX and Ichikawa Ringo playing the roles of Yashio, Senmatsu, Masaoka and Tsuruchiyo in the "Goten" scene of the drama "Kite Mimasu Date no Uchikake", which was staged in October 1882 at the Ichimuraza (print made by Morikawa Chikashige)

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