Key Kabuki Words Key Kabuki Words
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.
  • program tab
  • program tab
Imoseyama Onna Teikin / 妹背山婦女庭訓
—Husband and Wife Mountains: A Moral Guide for Women—

This is a jidaimono period piece on the grandest scale originally written for the Bunraku puppet theater or ningyo joruri and adapted to kabuki soon afterwards. Imoseyama Onna Teikin was first performed in 1771 at the Takemoto-za in Osaka and written by Chikamatsu Hanji (1725 – 83) and others. Although Hanji was not actually related to Chikamatsu Monzaemon, he took the name because he revered him and is the last great playwright of the puppet theater. He reworked all the materials of his predecessors and the kabuki theater into complex, theatrically effective plays.
The full-length play is loosely based on historical events in the seventh century when Iruka, the despotic leader of the Soga clan, was deposed by Emperor Tenchi, who killed Iruka with the aid of Fujiwara no Kamatari in a coup d'état. In this version of the story, Iruka is actually the product of a magic birth. His mother became pregnant after drinking the blood of a sacred deer, making Iruka nearly invulnerable. Iruka is played in very stylized fashion as a larger-than-life villain and has blue lines of kumadori make-up to show that he is a villain that is an aristocrat from the imperial court.
The center section of the play is about two families, the family of the late Dazai ruling the province of Yamato (now Nara prefecture) and the family of Daihanji ruling the province of Kii (now Wakayama prefecture). This is a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet and is the focus of the program.
The final part of the play combines the story of Iruka with the legend of the god of the Omiwa shrine in Nara. A woman was visited nightly by a mysterious lover. Curious as to his identity, she attached a thread to his clothing and followed it to the Omiwa shrine where she found that he was actually the god of the shrine, a serpent with a thirst for sake. The story of Omiwa appeared in "Onnagata Costumes" and "Women in Love."
Iruka pushes the legitimate emperor (who is blind) from power and also lusts after the emperor's mistress Uneme. Koganosuke is hiding her from Iruka. This becomes an additional reason that Iruka wants to get Koganosuke under his control.

Shodan: Kasugano Komatsubara no ba / 初段 春日野小松原の場
—A Pine Forest Above the Kasuga Plain (from Act I)—

This scene is the middle part of the first act of the original play. Koganosuke, the son of Daihanji, comes hunting birds with arrows blown from a tube. Hinadori, the daughter of the late Dazai also comes on an outing. The two young people see each other, but are too shy to do anything. Hinadori's lady-in-waiting borrows Koganosuke's hunting tube so that the couple can talk intimately while still keeping a respectful distance. Finally they embrace. But a retainer of the dictator Iruka appears and is amused to see that they are together because their families are bitter enemies. This gives Iruka something to use against both families. After Hinadori leaves, the emperor's mistress Uneme appears fleeing Iruka. Koganosuke takes her into hiding and makes it appear that she has committed suicide by throwing herself into the Sarusawa pond.

Sandan: Dazaiyakata Hana Watashi / 三段目 太宰館花渡し
—Passing Over the Flowers in Daizai's Mansion (from Act III)—

This is the second scene of the third act of the original play. Iruka comes to the mansion of the late Dazai and summons Dazai's widow Sadaka and Daihanji. Dazai's family and Daihanji have long been bitter enemies over a border dispute and are only here together because of Iruka's order and both think they are here to interrogate the other. Iruka suspects that the emperor's mistress Uneme is actually alive and that Koganosuke has hidden her. Daihanji knows nothing of this and is stunned by the accusation. Iruka then accuses Sadaka and Hinadori of being accomplices of Koganosuke since he knows that Hinadori and Koganosuke are lovers. Sadaka is shocked when she hears this. Iruka says he can have the two young people killed in the same way he can crush a branch of flowering blossoms. If they want to save their children's lives, Sadaka must send Hinadori to be Iruka's bride and Daihanji must send Koganosuke to serve Iruka directly. Of course, once Koganosuke is under Iruka's control, Iruka can torture Koganosuke until he reveals where Uneme is. Iruka gives the two parents flowering branches to symbolize the lives of their children.

Sandan: Yoshinogawa no ba / 三段目 吉野川の場
—The Yoshino River (from Act III)—

This is the end of the third act of the original play and is the most famous scene of this section and has one of the most spectacular sets in kabuki. On the side of the stage to the audience's right, there is the villa of Daihanji and Mt. Se. On the side of the stage to the audience's left is the late Dazai's villa and Mt. Imo. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the Yoshino river separates the two villas. Two hanamichi runways are used and it is as though the river flows through the audience between the two hanamichi. On the left is a world of women; on the right a world of men and there are even two separate Takemoto ensembles. On the left for the world of women is narrative singing in a florid, highly ornamented style. On the right for the world of men is a more sober, masculine style.
Brooding over her hopeless love, Hinadori has come to her family's villa for rest and there is a magnificent display of dolls for Girl's Day. At the same time, Koganosuke has retreated to his family's villa to pray and think of what is best for the realm. They see each other, but are separated by the river and cannot meet.
Sadaka and Daihanji appear on the two hanamichi as though they are talking across the river. They continue to speak proudly and disdainfully to each other, but secretly, each is almost certain that their own child will choose death, rather than to give in to Iruka. However, on the surface, each speaks as if they are going to persuade their children to obey Iruka. They agree to throw the flowering branches into the river to show that their children will obey Iruka.
Now the action turns to Mt. Imo and the world of women. Sadaka tells Hinadori that Iruka wants her as his wife. Alone with her daughter, she says that she knows Hinadori loves Koganosuke. She does not scold her daughter, but if she does not go into service to Iruka, Koganosuke will surely die. Sacrificing herself by going to be Iruka's wife is the only way to save his life. Reluctantly, Hinadori agrees and Sadaka says she will redo her daughter's hair to go into service in the imperial court.
On Mt. Se, Daihanji tells Koganosuke that when he heard that Uneme was alive, he immediately knew Koganosuke had hidden her and said she was dead to keep Iruka from getting her. Koganosuke says he cannot go into Iruka's service because he knows he will be tortured until he reveals where she is. Instead, he asks his father for permission to commit ritual suicide. Daihanji has no choice but to agree, but as a father, this decision is agonizing.
Back on Mt. Imo, Sadaka has finished dressing Hinadori's hair and takes the empress doll from the display to compare Hinadori to it. Hinadori cannot stand to see this doll and hits it with her kimono sleeves. The head falls off and Sadaka decides to tell her that she lied when she said she would make Hinadori go to be Iruka's bride. She will cut off Hinadori's head and present that instead. Hinadori is overjoyed that she can remain faithful to Koganosuke. Sadaka praises her daughter for her resolve, even though it breaks her heart this must happen. The screens on Mt. Se open and now the action continues on both sides of the river. Koganosuke makes a quick prayer and stabs himself. Daihanji asks why he did not wait. Koganosuke says he wanted to do it immediately. But his one concern is that if she hears that Koganosuke is dead, Hinadori will commit suicide. Daihanji agrees to throw the branch of flowering blossoms into the river, signifying that instead, Koganosuke will go on living. Mother and daughter see the branch, rejoice that Koganosuke will live and prepare for the end. Sadaka hesitates to cut off Hinadori's head and throws the flowering branch showing that she will go into Iruka's service. Koganosuke and Daihanji see this and are happy and prepare for the end. Finally Sadaka beheads Hinadori and her cry of anguish echoes all around. Daihanji rushes outside and in gestures learn what has happened. They tried desperately to save the life of the other's child, but despite this, they both died.
Sadaka says that since the two young people wanted so desperately to be united, she will send her daughter's head across the river so that she can symbolically be married to Koganosuke before he dies. Sadaka has her ladies-in-waiting throw all the furniture of the doll display into the river, which is like all the things in a bridal procession. Sadaka puts death make-up on Hinadori's head, puts it in the doll palanquin and sends it across the river floating on a miniature koto zither. A wedding is sealed with a toast of sake; the last parting at death is marked with a toast of water. By performing the wedding ceremony with water, Daihanji combines wedding and funeral at once. The two parents lament this tragic fate and the act ends as Daihanji prepares to take the two heads to Iruka.