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Kabuki´s World 2

A treat for story lover

The kabuki repertoire has a wide range of themes, from historical events and love complications to comedy and horror. Of all kabuki plays, Kanadehon Chushingura (“The Treasury of the Forty-Seven Loyal Retainers”) has been the favorite in Japan.  The plot revolves around a feudal lord who is forced to commit ritual seppeku suicide, and his loyal followers who devise various stratagems as they prepare to avenge his death.

Love is certainly not forgotten in the kabuki repertoire. Free love was forbidden in the Edo period, and citizens had to respect the restrictions of their rank and place in society. Otherwise, it was thought that the very foundation of society would be upended. This made criminals out of couples whose love went against the restrictions. And yet, this conversely made the people of old Edo even keener to experience the drama of free love on the stage, and gave playwrights even more incentive to express it.

Here is something you would probably not read about kabuki elsewhere: in some kabuki plays, an animal is the main character. Two examples are the plays Yoshitsune Senbon-zakura: Shi-no-kiri 2 (Act IV of “Yoshitsune and the One-thousand Cherry Trees”), and Tsuri-gitsune 3 (“The Fox and the Trapper”). Many such plays were based on popular bunraku puppet plays, kabuki actors dressed as animals would not have seemed out of place.

1 Koi no Tayori Yamato Orai (“A Message of Love from Yamato”): A love story with a tragic ending. The young man has no money and is ridiculed, so he tries to save face by taking a government official’s money. This is a crime punishable by death in the Edo period. Believing there is no other option, the young man and the woman he loves vow to commit suicide together. They wander through a snowfall on the road to their death
2 Yoshitsune Senbon-zakura: Shi-no-kiri (“Act IV of “Yoshitsune and the One-Thousand Cherry Trees”): Depicts a fox’s love for his parents
3 Tsuri-gitsune (“The Fox and the Trapper”): A fox pretends to be a human, in an attempt to persuade a trapper to stop killing foxes. But the trapper’s bait is too tempting for the fox, and he ends up caught in a trap. The story comes from the Kyogen comic theater, a much older form of entertainment.

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