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Kabuki is spectacular and you don’t have to know anything to enjoy it. But a little bit of information about a few of the terms and the plays makes it even better.
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Kanadehon Chushingura – Godanme / 仮名手本忠臣蔵~五段目
—The Treasury of Loyal Retainers – Act V: The Yamazaki Highway—

This play dramatized the vendetta of the former retainers of the Ako clan and was first performed in the puppet theater in 1748. It is so popular that it used to be said that it was a sure-fire drug for reviving a flagging theater. Although young people today are not so familiar with the original historical incident, until recently, every December – the anniversary of the attack, there were movies and TV dramas of the Chushingura story, so much so that many people are more familiar with the fictional names than the actual historical names.

Much of the play centers on the difficulties of the former retainers of Lord Enya Hangan. At the time of the original incident, Hangan's retainer Hayano Kanpei was having a romantic tryst with Okaru, a lady-in-waiting to Hangan's wife. Kanpei wanted to commit suicide for not being at his master's side at the crucial moment. Okaru persuades him to live and for them to wait for the time when he can be reinstated by going to her father's house in Yamazaki, near Kyoto.

Kanpei's story is the heart of the fifth and sixth acts of the play, while Okaru's story continues in the seventh act, set in the Ichiriki teahouse in the Gion pleasure quarters.

In the fifth act, Kanpei encounters a former retainer of Hangan and in veiled terms is asked for money to show his good faith. Although Kanpei doesn't know it, Okaru and her family have been trying to find a way to raise money for him and finally decide to sell her as a courtesan. Okaru's father Yoichibei is rushing home with half of the money, fifty gold coins, when he is killed by a highway robber, Ono Sadakuro, also a former retainer of Hangan, who has gone bad. Kanpei is making a living as a hunter and aims at a wild boar that comes running by. (The theme of this program.) Instead of killing the boar, he kills Sadakuro, but eventually mistakenly believes that he killed his father-in-law, Yoichibei. This leads to Kanpei's tragic suicide in the sixth act – miserable and realistic, contrasting with the noble suicide of Hangan in the fourth act.

People jokingly say that the only thing to get out of the fifth act of Chushingura alive is the boar.

For Chushingura, also see the notes for "Unique Stage Structures" and "Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers" in the 2014 season and "Playing Different Onnagata Roles" in the Kazutaro season.

Honcho Nijushiko – Okuniwa / 本朝廿四孝~奥庭
—The Japanese Twenty-Four Examples of Filial Piety – The Inner Garden—

This play was first performed in the puppet theater in 1766. In the inner garden scene, Princess Yaegaki is trying to save the life of her lover, Takeda Katsuyori. Her father Nagao Kenshin has sent assassins after Katsuyori and she wants to warn him. She finally gets the strength from the Sacred Helmet of Suwa which is possessed by magical fox spirits.

Genpei Nunobiki no Taki – Sanemori Monogatari / 源平布引滝~実盛物語
—The White Banner of the Genji Clan – The Tale of Sanemori—

This play was first performed in the puppet theater in 1749. In the early days of the wars between the Heike and Genji clans, one famous episode was when the Genji warrior Tezuka Taro killed the Heike warrior (originally a member of the Genji clan) Saito Sanemori. Sanemori was a very old man, so people doubted the head was actually that of Sanemori, so they washed it and his hair was pure white. Sanemori had dyed it black to fight alongside the younger warriors.

The scene "Sanemori Monogatari" shows an encounter of the young Sanemori and Tezuka Taro as a child. It ends as Sanemori goes away on his horse, first giving little Taro a ride.

Omi no Okane / 近江のお兼
—Okane, the Strongwoman of Lake Biwa—

This is a dance first performed in 1813 as part of a set of eight dances evoking the beautiful sights of Lake Biwa all performed by Ichikawa Danjuro VII (who usually played male roles). Now it is performed independently. The dance is about a legendary strong woman who stopped a runaway horse.

Ichinotani Futaba Gunki – Kumi Uchi / 一谷嫩軍記~組打
—A Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani – The Battle at Suma Bay—

This play was first performed in the puppet theater in 1741. Although it is most famous for the scene set in Kumagai's battle camp, on occasion the scene called "Kumi Uchi" which shows the actual fight between Kumagai and Atsumori is shown. The fight is notable for using child actors in part of the scene to make it look like the battle is being fought in the distance.

For more about "Kumagai's Battle Camp" see "Kabuki's Leading Male Roles" in the 2014 season.

Shinpan Utazaemon – Nozakimura / 新版歌祭文~野崎村
—A New Ballad of the Tale of Osome and Hisamatsu – Nozaki Village—

This play was first performed in the puppet theater in 1780 and is one of the last and most famous plays about the love suicide of Osome, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and the apprentice Hisamatsu. This was a scandal because of the class difference. This particular play elaborates the original story with all kinds of plot complications and is set in Hisamatsu's home village of Nozakimura. At the end of the scene, Osome and Hisamatsu return to Osaka, but propriety demands that they return separately. Osome and her mother go by boat and Hisamatsu goes by palanquin.