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
  • word tab
  • program tab
  • word tab
Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami – Terakoya / 菅原伝授手習鑑 寺子屋
—The Village School from Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy—

The full-length play was first performed in the puppet theater in 1748 and is one of a group of plays called the "Three Great Classics" together with Chushingura and Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees which were all written by the same group of three playwrights. The main plot is about the historical story of the 9th century court noble Sugawara no Michizane (called Kan Shojo in this play) who rose to the highest level in government and then was exiled due to pressure from the ruling Fujiwara clan. But after his death, his angry spirit was blamed for all kinds of disasters and he was restored to his court ranks posthumously and worshipped as the Shinto god Tenjin.

The play also shows the story of a family that served Kan Shojo and has triplets, three boys, who are named after Sugawara's three favorite trees, the pine (matsu), the plum (ume) and the cherry (sakura). The three brothers all serve different lords as carriage drivers, but are forced to different sides with the exile of Kan Shojo. The position of Matsuomaru is particularly difficult since he serves the villain, Fujiwara no Shihei, the man responsible for the exile of Kan Shojo and his dilemma becomes the tragedy shown in Terakoya.

Ichinotani Futaba Gunki – Kumagai Jinya / 一谷嫩軍記 熊谷陣屋
—Kumagai’s Battle Camp from A Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani—
Kumagai's Battle Camp is the climactic scene of a puppet play first performed in 1751 written by Namiki Sosuke, one of the playwrights that wrote the "Three Great Classics." One of the plots of the full-length play shows the historical battle between the Genji warrior Kumagai Naozane and the young Heike general Atsumori. In history, Kumagai wanted to spare Atsumori, but was forced to kill him and Kumagai eventually became a Buddhist priest. In this play, for complex reasons, Kumagai is forced to spare Atsumori, but must kill his own son in Atsumori's place.
Kuruwa Bunsho / 廓文章
—Izaemon and the Courtesan Yugiri—
The play we have now is based on a puppet play by the great Chikamatsu Monzaemon, but it really preserves the acting of Sakata Tojuro I (1647 – 1709), the man that created the wagoto style of acting. Izaemon is one of his famous roles and most of the routines in this play seem to have been specialties of Tojuro I. The original play also commemorated a real top-ranking Osaka courtesan named Yugiri who died at the height of her fame and beauty.

Please see Key Kabuki Words - Plays mentioned in the program page of "The Beauty of Onnagata"

Shin Sara Yashiki Tsuki no Amagasa – Sakanaya Sogoro / 新皿屋舗月雨暈 魚屋宗五郎
—Sogoro, the Fishmonger—
This play was first written in 1883 by Kawatake Mokuami. It dramatized the old ghost story of the "Plate mansion (sara yashiki)" where a lady-in-waiting was executed for breaking one of a set of plates and her ghost appeared nightly counting out the plates, desperately hoping that the set would be complete. But in Mokuami's play, more than the original ghost story, the focus is on the family of the dead woman, especially her brother Sogoro, an honest, upright fishmonger, but who drinks. When he finds out that his sister has been unjustly killed, he drinks and this gives him the courage to confront the lord responsible for his sister's death.
Kumo ni Magou Ueno no Hatsuhana / 天衣紛上野初花
—The Villainous Tea Priest—
This play was first written in 1881 by Kawatake Mokuami and the full-length play is about a gang of thieves. One part of the play is about a tea priest named Kochiyama (based on a historical figure) who is as strong in good as he is in villainy, using his shaved head to pretend to be an emissary from the shogun's temple to rescue a young woman from the mansion of a samurai lord. But at the same time, he takes the opportunity to accept hefty sums of money from both the girl's family and the samurai lord.

Also see the explanation of plays for the "Four Seasons of Kabuki" program of "Yuki no Yube Iriya no Azemichi."