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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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Yamato Gana Ariwara Keizu – Ranpei Monogurui / 倭仮名在原系図~蘭平物狂
—The Madness of the Footman Ranpei—

This was originally a puppet play first performed in 1775 at the Toyotake-za theater in Osaka. It is a jidaimono history play reworking a play by Chikamatsu about complex intrigue among famous Heian period figures like Ariwara no Yukihira and Tomo no Yoshio, exiled (probably on false charges) for setting fire to the gate of the imperial palace. In the play, Tomo no Yoshio is disguised as the footman Ranpei, who has taken service with Yukihira to avenge the death of his father. The story turns on the loss of a precious sword and Ranpei pretends that he is driven mad by the sight of a sword.

As it is performed today, the story is largely an excuse for showing Ranpei's love for his young son and for the tachimawari fight scene. This fight scene was created in modern times and features a huge ladder and a fight on top of a roof with a double tombo flip going from the roof to a stone lantern and then, in turn, to the ground.

Kami no Megumi Wago no Torikumi – Megumi no Kenka / 神明恵和合取組~め組の喧嘩
—The Fight of the Megumi Firemen and Sumo Wrestlers—

This play was by Takeshiba Kisui (a student of Kawatake Mokuami) and first performed in Meiji 23 (1890) at the Shintomi-za theater in Tokyo. It dramatizes a real fight in 1805 between sumo wrestlers and the members of the me-gumi firefighting gang. The gangs were designated by syllables of the Japanese alphabet and this group was designated by the syllable "me." But by a pun, the word "megumi" also means "gift of the gods" and this pun is used in the title and to refer to the fact that the fight took place in the Shinmei shrine in the Shiba district of Edo. It is a sewamono domestic play and part of the attraction is the way that the play imagined and preserved the realistic details of commoner life in the early 19th century.

The highlight of the play is the fight between the sumo wrestlers and firefighters and features the use of realistic props typical of both groups. There are a number of comic episodes as well that contrast the light and nimble firefighters and the slow and very strong sumo wrestlers. It ends in a free-for-all fight on stage, which sometimes even destroys the stage sets.

Michiyuki Tabiji no Hanamuko – Ochiudo ("Kanadehon Chushingura" kara) / 道行旅路の花聟 – 落人 – 仮名手本忠臣蔵から
—The Fugitives (From Chushingura)—

This is a dance to Kiyomoto narrative music first performed in 1833 at the Kawarasaki-za theater in Edo as part of a performance of "Kanadehon Chushingura." In the original play, when Lord Enya Hangan attacks Ko no Moronao in the palace, his retainer Hayano Kanpei and his wife's lady-in-waiting Okaru are having a romantic tryst. For his failure as a samurai Kanpei wants to commit ritual suicide immediately, but Okaru convinces him to go to her parent's home and wait for a time when he can be reinstated as a samurai. Before they set off, there is a fight with Bannai, the chief retainer of the villain, Ko no Moronao. This scene is the beginning of the tragic events of the last half of the play when Okaru becomes a courtesan and Kanpei commits ritual suicide. In the original puppet play, these events are shown in a relatively subdued way at the back gate to the palace, immediately after the fight between Hangan and Moronao. This 1833 dance shows the same scene, but transforms it into a colorful dance at the foot of Mt. Fuji with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. It is usually performed after the ritual suicide of Enya Hangan and serves to dispel the gloom of that solemn scene.

In this dance, Bannai is a comical character and this is also an example of a "shosa-date" "dance tachimawari." It is even more stylized than usual and the fighters wear very colorful costumes and use branches of cherry blossoms instead of weapons. The tachimawari is done to the dance music and is much closer to actual dance than usual.

See "Chushingura" for more.

Miyajima no Danmari / 宮島のだんまり
—The Danmari Fight in the Dark at Miyajima—

This is a danmari fight in the dark that has become an independent play. The Itsukushima shrine at Miyajima in Hiroshima is famous as the shrine with the torii gate in the sea, since the sea itself is the godhead. This shrine is closely associated with the Heike clan and Kiyomori, the head of the clan at the time of the wars between the Genji and Heike clans (Genpei gassen ). In this danmari, a number of interesting characters appear, including Kiyomori himself. Among them is Ukifune, a beautiful, top-ranking courtesan. But at the very end, she reveals that she is actually a male thief named Kesa Taro. He exits with a special roppo that begins with the walk of a courtesan and transforms into a powerful masculine roppo.