Play title Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi  In Japanese
Z˘ho Tenjiku Tokubŕ  In Japanese
Oto ni Kiku Tenjiku Tokubŕ  In Japanese
Tenjiku Tokubŕ Imay˘ Banashi  In Japanese
Author Katsu Hy˘z˘ I

Katsu Hy˘z˘ I's summer drama "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" was premiered in the 7th lunar month of 1804 at the Kawarasakiza [casting]. It was a spectacular natsu ky˘gen full of keren. It was also the first time in Kabuki history that hayagawari in honmizu was performed by Onoe Matsusuke I, the star of a starless casting. Rumors that these tricks were performed with illegal Christian magic quickly led to an investigation by officials of the Shogunate. It is firmly believed that these rumors may have been started deliberately as a publicity stunt. Instead of closing down the show, it made it wildly popular and gave it a sensational three-month run - unprecedented for a play that started as a stopgap, summer production.

The role of Tenjiku Tokubŕ is closely associated to the Otowaya guild. The current version used by the Onoe Kikugor˘ line of actors is based on Kawatake Mokuami's revision of this drama, which was entitled "Z˘ho Tenjiku Tokubŕ" and was staged in November 1883 at the Ichimuraza [casting]. The title "Oto ni Kiku Tenjiku Tokubŕ" was used for the first time in November 1891, in T˘ky˘ at the Fukanoza [casting]. There was a pun in it as Oto stands for Otowaya (the Onoe Kikugor˘ guild) and Kiku is the first ideogram in Onoe Kikugor˘'s firts name. Phonetically, "Oto ni Kiku" also can mean "hear the sound".

It is noteworthy to report that Katsu Hy˘z˘ I's drama "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" was also revived by the star Ichikawa Ennosuke III and the Omodakaya guild. The production was longer and much more spectacular than the original drama, full of hayagawari and including a chűnori, which is the trademark of most of large scale Omodakaya productions. It was entitled "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Imay˘ Banashi". Here is the table of all the productions:

Date Theater Tenjiku Tokubŕ, the zat˘ Tokuichi, Shiba Saemon Yoshiteru and 13 others roles
1982/07 Kabukiza (T˘ky˘) Ichikawa Ennosuke III
1983/04 Meijiza (T˘ky˘) Ichikawa Ennosuke III
1990/02 ďsaka Shinkabukiza (ďsaka) Ichikawa Ennosuke III
1990/07 Kabukiza (T˘ky˘) Ichikawa Ennosuke III
2012/02 Hakataza (T˘ky˘) Ichikawa Kamejir˘ II
2012/11 Meijiza (T˘ky˘) Ichikawa Ennosuke IV

The 1804 "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" was made up of 8 scenes. The 1982 "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" was made up of 15 scenes. A standard production of either "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi" or "Oto ni Kiku Tenjiku Tokubŕ" is nowadays made up of 3 acts (6 or 7 scenes). Shorter productions are occasionally staged, focusing on the Yoshioka/Umezu Mansion scenes.

Key words Gama
Natsu Ky˘gen
Tenjiku Tokubŕ
Yatai Kuzushi

Act I, scene 1: the Precincts of the Kitano Shrine in Ky˘to

A ceremony is to be held on this day at Kitano Shrine by the Ashikaga Shogunate, attended by retainers including young Sasaki Katsuranosuke whose family had been entrusted by the Sh˘gun with the keeping of a precious magic sword called Namikirimaru (literally the wave-cutting sword), said to be able to save its bearer in both fire and in water. This Namikirimaru is to be officially presented at the shrine today, so Katsuranosuke has brought it along. But in the meantime Yamana Tokigor˘ has been up to mischief. Tokigor˘ covets the retainer Umezu Kamon's sister Ich˘-no-Mae, but Ich˘-no-Mae loves Katsuranosuke. Consequently, Tokigor˘ plots to steal the sword in order to discredit Katsuranosuke. Also, he has utilized retainer Ishiwari Gengo to lure Ich˘-no-Mae out to the shrine that day on the promise of a rendezvous with Katsuranosuke. This Ishiwari Gengo is Katsuranosuke's family retainer, but he has allied himself with the rival Tokigor˘.

Ich˘-no-Mae, unaware of the trick, comes to the site accompanied by her faithful lady-in-waiting Sodegaki and is instructed by Gengo to wait near by. Meanwhile, Tokigor˘ who has arrived with the other retainers at the shrine suggests that it would be best to check the sword before it is officially presented. Katsuranosuke hands the sword over to Tokigor˘ who opens the container and lets out an exclamation of surprise, saying there are three swords in the box all looking outwardly exactly alike. Katsuranosuke explains that he had had two fake ones made to look just like the real one in order to foil any possible attempt to steal it. It would take an expert to pick the real sword from the three. Therefore, he insists that only a sword expert should be called on to inspect the sword now. Yamana says he is such an expert, and takes the sword box. The retainer Umezu Kamon, Ich˘-no-Mae's brother, agrees that it would be a good idea to check beforehand, but suggests that they go inside the shrine where Tokigor˘ and he can inspect the swords at leisure and choose the real one for the presentation.

All the others withdraw with the exception of Yamana who says he will follow them a moment later. As he is wondering who to entrust with the difficult task of stealing the sword, a snake handler named Danpachi steps out and says he will take care of the job. This Danpachi is a former Yamana retainer who had been discharged for drunken disorderliness, and is hoping to be reinstated by doing Yamana some favor. They go off whispering together. But now Gengo reappears on the scene, and from what he mutters to himself, it seems that Gengo had followed someone's instructions and had paid a man named Inosuke to steal the sword long before this time.

Act I, scene 2: a Room within the Kitano Shrine

Katsuranosuke opens the box for the inspection by Kamon and Tokigor˘, and is shocked to find only two swords in the box instead of three. Moreover, both are fakes. In consternation, Katsuranosuke starts to run off with the intention of seeking out the thief but is called back by Kamon who says the thief had already been caught.

This is a surprise to Katsuranosuke, and a shock to Tokigor˘. On Kamon's orders, his faithful servant Isohei comes in, leading Danpachi who is bound by a rope. Katsuranosuke takes the retrieved sword in relief, but on inspection, it turns out to be a fake too. This would mean that all three swords in the box had been fakes, so suspicion falls on Katsuranosuke. Tokigor˘ too, is amazed to learn that the sword had been a fake one.

Tokigor˘ then has his servants bring in Ich˘-no-Mae and Sodegaki. Kamon is surprised to see his sister there and questions her about it. Sodegaki explains that on Gengo's arrangement Ich˘-no-Mae had come to meet Katsuranosuke secretly. Katsuranosuke, however, had been entirely unaware of any such arrangement. Tokigor˘ accuses Katsuranosuke and Ich˘-no-Mae of having had secret relationship with each other over a fairly long period of time, and presents as proof a letter to Katsuranosuke written by Ich˘-no-Mae and entrusted to Gengo. Isohei realizes that Gengo has betrayed Ich˘-no-Mae.

Katsuranosuke is about to commit suicide in shame when he is stopped by Kamon. Kamon says that he cannot die yet because he must first find the missing sword as his responsibility. Katsuranosuke is put into the custody of Yoshioka S˘kan, elder retainer of the Sasaki family, and given 100 days in which to find the sword.

Act II, scene 1: at the Mansion of Yoshioka S˘kan in Ky˘to

Katsuranosuke is in custody at the mansion of Yoshioka S˘kan. The 100 day period of reprieve is over, and still the sword has not been found. Katsuranosuke thanks S˘kan's wife Yűnami for her kindness during his stay at their mansion. At this point it is announced that a send˘ who had just arrived at a nearby island has been brought in for questioning. Yűnami thinks that such a send˘, said to have drifted to the continent and traveled to its fabulous capital, should have many interesting tales to tell, and orders that he be brought in to tell his story in Katsuranosuke's presence.

Tokubŕ, the send˘ in question, comes into the room, and tells wonderful stories of his travels in exotic lands. After the long story is told, Katsuranosuke and Yűnami thank him and retire to another room, telling Tokubŕ to wait where he is until S˘kan comes to meet him. S˘kan, whose duty it is to question any suspicious strangers to the region, has heard Tokubŕ's story, and without further questioning, tells him he is free to leave as he wills. But now Tokubŕ looks long and hard at S˘kan's face and announces that S˘kan is to die that day, according to the prophecy that he can see in S˘kan's face. S˘kan shows no amazement. Instead, he tells Tokubŕ to come with him to the privacy of another room so that they can converse more intimately with each other.

In the meantime, Ich˘-no-Mae slips into the house with Sodegaki, but they are followed by Danpachi, who tries to abduct Ich˘-no-Mae and take her to Yamana Tokigor˘, frightening the women with his snakes. But at this moment Tokubŕ steps out and comes to the women's aid. Tokubŕ empties Danpachi's basket of snakes on Danpachi's head. The two men fight, and Danpachi is killed. The snakes slither away toward a bamboo water conduit in the garden, and suddenly the sound of frogs croaking is heard. A snake climbs up the conduit and splits into pieces. The other snakes follow, each one splitting apart. Tokubŕ observes all this with interest. The croak of frogs ceases as abruptly as it began. Tokubŕ heads off to find S˘kan for the promised drink.

In the meantime Katsuranosuke's faithful lackey Isohei comes sneaking into the garden. He knows that the 100 days are over, and has come because he is worried about his master's fate. At the same time S˘kan is heard remonstrating with Katsuranosuke, telling him not to act so hastily. Katsuranosuke, giving up hope of retrieving the sword, is trying to commit suicide. The two come out struggling with each other, followed by Ich˘-no-Mae and Sodegaki. Isohei hides.

The coming of Yamana Tokigor˘ and Umezu Kamon, as envoys (j˘shi) from the Shogunate, is announced. No doubt they have come to ask about the sword. Isohei steps out, and S˘kan entrusts Katsuranosuke to him, telling him to take him to safety somewhere. Ich˘-no-Mae is sent home in order to avoid further complications. Then S˘kan goes to meet the messengers. He tells them that he has allowed Katsuranosuke to escape, and taking responsibility for his deed, he stabs himself. Then he asks that he be allowed to spend the last moments of his life alone with his wife, Tokigor˘ is reluctant to do so, but Kamon consents.

After the two messengers have retired to another room, S˘kan calls for Tokubŕ. Then Yűnami tells Tokubŕ that he is S˘kan's son. Tokubŕ can hardly believe such a thing, until S˘kan says that the fact that he was able to read in S˘kan's face the prophecy that he was to die that day, is proof. Tokubŕ is still half in doubt. He brings up the matter of the missing sword and accuses S˘kan of being the one who stole it. He says that he can prove it. He saw the snakes head for the bamboo conduit, and from his knowledge of magic, he surmises that the snakes were all split to pieces because of the sword which is no doubt hidden there. He goes to the conduit and slashes it, whereupon a brocade wrapped sword emerges. Then S˘kan and Yűnami tell their story. The truth is that S˘kan is in reality Moku S˘kan, a retainer of the former Ming Dynasty of the continent, and he had come to Japan hoping to overthrow the Shogunate and take control of the land by using his special power of magic. That magic involved the possession of a certain magic mirror and magic sword. He had the mirror, but the sword had been missing until he stole it from Katsuranosuke.

S˘kan then conducts a ritual passing his secret of sorcery to Tokubŕ. Tokubŕ tries out his newly gained skill, and changes a stone into a huge toad (gama). He is all set to take over his father's ambition of overthrowing Japan. But now Yűnami admonishes him, saying he must not take part in such a traitor- ous revolt. When she says she will go inform the messengers from the Shogunate, Tokubŕ slashes at her with the sword. Yűnami then revealed that she had acted in that way to test him and see whether he is of the necessary caliber to carry out a revolt, He has proved himself in his act of killing his own mother in order to carry out his ambition. The parents die, happy that their son will carry cut S˘kan's conspiracy. As Tokubŕ is getting ready to leave, he is surrounded by guards, and accosted by Kamon and Tokigor˘. Tokubŕ, however, utilizes his newly gained power of magic, so that the strings of his assailants' bows are snapped. Tokubŕ makes a magic sign and the mansion collapses. Presently a huge toad appears on the roof with Tokubŕ astride it, blowing flames from its mouth.

Act II, scene 2: at the Watergate near S˘kan's Mansion

Isohei is seen surrounded by men who are trying to capture him, but he fights them off, and then goes chasing after them. S˘kan's mansion collapses with a frightening noise, and men come out with spears which they poke into the waterway flannel. A huge toad comes out, and the men find themselves powerless against it. The toad waddles to the passageway, and then in a spectacular hayagawari technique, the toad disappears, leaving Tokubŕ standing there, making a magic sign.

Act III, scene 1: at the Mansion of Umezu Kamon in Ky˘to

Umezu Kamon is being held responsible for the disappearance of Katsuranosuke, and there is no saying when envoys will come from the Shogunate demanding his death. Kamon's okugata Katsuragi is heavy-hearted at the state of affairs, and has been taken out on a flower-gathering outing to take her mind off the matter.

When she returns to the mansion she is met by faithful lackey Shikaz˘ who presents her with a basket of flowers which had been ordered for her by Kamon. As Katsuragi is looking at a poem card attached to the basket, a snake crawls out of it. Servants are about to kill it, but Katsuragi stops them, saying that she was born in the year of the snake, and so she wishes it to be spared.

The coming of an envoy from the Ashikaga Shogunate is announced. Kamon comes out to greet the envoy, and the others withdraw. The envoy introduces himself as Hosokawa Shurinosuke Masamoto. He says he has been sent to check on two points. One is about the whereabouts of Sasaki Katsuranosuke. The other is about Kamon's relationship with Tokubŕ, alias Dainichimaru, son of the retainer Yoshioka S˘kan who had been proved guilty of having stolen the sword Namikirimaru. There is suspicion that Kamon may be in league with Tokubŕ to try to usurp power in the land through the use of magic. Kamon is refuting this charge when a commotion is heard and a blind masseur (zat˘) named Tokuichi pushes his way in spite of efforts by the servants to halt him.

Kamon is perturbed at the interruption, but Hosokawa Masamoto, hearing that the masseur is from Izumo and seems to be widely traveled, suggests that he might have some interesting tales to tell, Tokuichi is prevailed upon to give a performance of a provincial song of Izumo to the accompaniment of his shamisen but Tokuichi says he has something more interesting, and takes out an unusual instrument which he says has been brought from China. Tokuichi performs on the instrument, and Kamon orders that he be served some sake in appreciation. As Tokuichi is drinking, Masamoto keeps up the conversation, asking about sites in Tokuichi's home province. Finally Tokuichi makes a slip and says he was once a send˘. Instantly Masamoto asks him if then he has not heard of a fabulous sailor named Tokubŕ who is said to have traveled widely on the continent, even as far as India. Tokuichi is started and drops his cup. He gropes around to wipe up the mess, and Masamoto throws him a piece of paper to use, mentioning that it is a useless scrap of paper, one depicting the Toad God. This Toad God happens to by Tokubŕ's guardian god and the picture image symbolizes his parents to him. Masamoto says sharply that Tokuichi no doubt cannot wipe up the spilled liquor with a paper depicting that image. Tokuichi, however, opens his eyes and sees that it is just plain paper in his hands, so he says Toad God or whatever else means nothing to a poor masseur, and commences to use it to wipe up. Masamoto, however, has noticed that Tokuichi opened his eyes. He is quite sure that Tokuichi is none other than Tokubŕ.

Masamoto accuses Tokuichi of lying about being blind. With that he throws pebbles at a flower basket. A snake comes out and curls without fear around Tokuichi's legs. Both Kamon and Masamoto are more suspicious than ever of the mysterious masseur. Kamon orders his men to capture him when he starts to leap away, and men holding muskets surround him. Tokuichi opens his eyes and evading his would-be captors, he leaps into the garden pond.

At the same time a voice is heard announcing the coming of another envoy from the Sh˘gun. All present are surprised that there should be a second envoy when the first is still there. Masamoto is suspicious. Presently the second envoy, who introduces himself as Shiba Saemon Yoshiteru, comes in. He says that his mission is to request one of three, the missing sword Namikirimaru, Katsuranosuke's severed head, or Kamon's death. Kamon says that since the first two are not possible, he will forfeit his life, but asks for reprieve until that evening.

In the meantime Masamoto and Saemon continue to argue as to which the authentic envoy is. Kamon throws pebbles again at the flower basket, at which a snake comes out and clings to Saemon. Saemon grabs the snake. Kamon says it is strange that Saemon shows no fear of the snake, and Saemon boastfully slits the snake and discards it.

Act III, scene 2: another Room at Umezu Kamon's Mansion

Kamon's okugata Katsuragi, reading the poem card that had been attached to the basket of flowers from her husband, had understood it is a secret message which had asked her to sacrifice her life for the sake of the household's cause. She had been born in the year of the Snake, and the belief is that when a sorcerer using the Magic of the Toad God is smeared with the blood of anyone born in the year of the Snake, then he will lose his power of magic. In other words, Katsuragi has been asked to use her life blood to destroy Tokubŕ's magic power.

When the envoy Saemon comes to the room, she gives him a letter that she has written saying she has fallen in love with him. Saemon says that as Katsuragi had formerly been a famous courtesan, it is not strange that she should try to use her wiles to save the life of her husband, and refuses to take her seriously without more positive proof. Katsuragi takes out her dagger and cuts off her little finger as was the custom of geisha in making a vow of love, in order to prove her sincerity. Saemon feels faint for a moment, and Katsuragi, seeing this, now is sure that this envoy is an imposter, perhaps none other than Tokubŕ himself. She takes her dagger and attacks Saemon with it, but Saemon recovers control of himself, and kills her. However, her blood is splattered over Saemon, causing him to feel faint.

Masamoto comes hurrying to the room, and asks the somewhat dazed Saemon why he killed Katsuragi. Saemon says that she had insulted him. Now Kamon comes in bearing a sword on a tray, saying it is the missing Namikirimaru. Saemon tries to take it but Masamoto says that as he himself is the envoy, it is his right to inspect and accept it. Saemon, however, takes one look at the sword and announces it to be a fake. Kamon asks Saemon how he can know it is a fake when no one but a very special few have ever been permitted to see the sword Namikirimaru. Saemon, in reality Tokubŕ in disguise, sees that the situation is getting out of hand and goes off, threatening to take the matter up with the Sh˘gun. But men are lying in wait for him. Masamoto accuses him of being Tokubŕ, alias Dainichimaru, and Kamon warns him that every entry to the mansion is guarded so that not even an ant can get out.

Saemon, that is, Tokubŕ, tries to use his magic to make his escape, but finds it is having no effect. This is because he had been splattered by Katsuragi's blood, causing him to lose his magic power. Kamon then reveals that his wife having been born in the year of the Snake had consented to sacrifice her life to break Tokubŕ's magic power. Tokubŕ realizes that he has been defeated and is about to break the magic mirror in his possession. Masamoto, however, quickly retrieves it safely. They then ask Tokubŕ to return the sword too. Tokubŕ tries to bluff it off saying he does not know anything about the sword. However, when he attacks Kamon with his sword, Kamon recognizes the sword as Namikirimaru and wrests it from him. With both the mirror and sword no long in the hands of the vengeful enemy, the safety of the nation is now assured.



In October 1999 the members of Kikugor˘'s troupe performed in a rare revival of the play "Oto ni Kiku Tenjiku Tokubŕ", a specialty of the Kikugor˘ line of actors. It was first presented in 1804, at a time when Japan was closed to other countries. Having a central character who had traveled through the countries of Asia was exotic, and the play caused a sensation, especially because it was coupled with stage tricks, including the main actor appearing in a toad costume (usually the job of a minor actor) and later jumping into a pond of real water, only to appear seconds later in a different guise at the end of the hanamichi. It was rumored at the time that these tricks were caused by illegal Christian magic, resulting in an investigation by the Edo shogunate.

The trouble is that once you have seen Ichikawa Ennosuke's breath-taking, fast-moving, stunt-filled Kabuki, everyone else's "spectacular tricks" seem tame by comparison. So for me the pleasure of this play came not so much from the much advertised use of giant toads hopping around the place as it did from the unusual and hilarious speech which Kikugor˘ masterly delivered, reciting the many places that Tokubŕ, the chief character and villain, had visited on his world travels. The technique Kikugor˘ used has been passed down from the Edo period. It involves including modern references within a period play and is delightfully effective in creating a sense of closeness to the actor and of audience member participation, since they recognize all the allusions. This time Tokubŕ was telling of his visit to the exotic Ryűkyű Islands, that is Okinawa, and how some famous people like Amuro Namie and SPEED come from there, and how it's a great place for scuba diving, but that nowadays young people were not so careful and the environment was being damaged. After that he went to Taiwan where there had just been an earthquake, and then on to Hong Kong. He produced a Chinese menu and began to read the different food items with fake Chinese intonation. Of course, the enrapt listeners on stage were as impressed as the theater audience, and Kikugor˘ clearly enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek monologue.

The story is too complex to detail here, but the plot develops in two directions. First there is a convoluted story of a sword which goes missing while in the care of Katsuranosuke (Tokiz˘). Then mixed into that plot is the premise that the recently arrived boatman, Tokubŕ, discovers he is the son of a Chinese Ming retainer, who by using secret toad magic has worked to overthrow Japan. The father kills himself in order to pass this magic on to Tokubŕ. Ultimately Tokubŕ's magic is defeated, but the play ends leaving the final battle to another time.

Text courtesy of Jean Wilson

The actor Onoe Kikugor˘ III playing the role of Tenjiku Tokubŕ in the drama "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Ikoku Banashi", which was staged in the 8th lunar month of 1832 at the Kawarasakiza (print made by Utagawa Kuniyoshi)

The actor Onoe Tamiz˘ II playing the role of Tenjiku Tokubŕ in the drama "Tenjiku Tokubŕ Banri no Irifune", which was staged in the 7th lunar month of 1841 at the Nakamuraza (print made by Utagawa Kunisada I)

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