Meiboku Sendai Hagi (The Disputed Succession of the Date Family) (伽羅先代萩)

"Meiboku Sendai Hagi" (The Disputed Succession of the Date Family) is a play for Ningyo Joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) and Kabuki, based on Date Sodo (the Date family disturbance). It is commonly called "Sendai Hagi."

Summary of Date Sodo

Date Sodo, the theme of this play, is a dispute that arose among the Date family from 1660 to 1671, during the Manji and Kanbun eras. As for its historical facts, refer to Date Sodo and other relevant sections.

According to rumors, the story is basically as follows.

Tsunamune DATE, the third head of the Date family in Sendai, became crazy for Takao-dayu (a courtesan) in Yoshiwara and indulged himself in pleasure at the red-light district so that he was forced to retire. It was a trap by planned by the group of Munesuke HARADA, chief retainer plotting to usurp the headship, and Munekatsu DATE who was behind the scenes. The group of Kai (common name of Munekatsu HARADA) attempted to poison Tsunamura DATE who had succeeded Tsunamune's position, but loyal retainers prevented it. Muneshige DATE, the head of loyal retainers, complained about the wrongdoings of Kai and Hyobu (common name of Munekatsu DATE) to the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). At the inquiry held at the mansion of Tadakiyo SAKAI, Uta no Kami (Director of the Bureau of Music; here it means Tadakiyo SAKAI) who was associated with Hyobu, supported Hyobu and Kai, but incorruptible Shigenori ITAKURA judged in favor of Aki (common name of Muneshige DATE). Kai, drawing his sword in despair, killed Aki, but was also killed in return. Thus the peace was restored for the Date family.

The plays about Date Sodo, including this play, basically follow this story.

Establishment of Current 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi'

The first Kabuki play based on Date Sodo was 'Taihei Onna Imagawa' first performed in the new year of 1713 at Ichimura-za Theater in Edo.

After that, many Kabuki plays about Date Sodo were performed. There were three particularly important plays among them: a Kabuki play 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' (written by Kamesuke NAGAWA and others) performed during April 1777 at Naka no Shibai (the Naka-za Theater) in Osaka, Kabuki play 'Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki' (Competition of the Date Clan in Okuni Kabuki) (written by a collaboration of Jisuke SAKURADA and Sensuke KASANUI) performed during July 1778 at the Nakamura-za Theater in Edo, and Ningyo Joruri play 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' (written by Kanshi MATSU and others) performed during 1785 at the Yuki-za Theater in Edo.

The Kabuki play 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' told the story of Date Sodo, but was set in the Kamakura period with a loyal wet nurse called Masaoka and her son Senmatsu as its characters. The play 'Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki' was set in the world of Onin-ki (The Records of the Onin War), where the Hosokawa clan and Yamana clan fought each other, and also adopted the story of Kasane and Yoemon, dramatizing the legend of Kasane. Among the scenes of 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' performed today, 'Bamboo Room,' 'Mansion' and 'Under the Floor' are based on the former, and other scenes are based on the respective scenes of the latter.

The Ningyo Joruri play 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' performed in 1785 was a Ningyo Joruri adaptation of the Kabuki play 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi', and the passages of Joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a shamisen accompaniment) chanted today for the scene 'Palace' are derived from this play.

As for the structure of the scenes, lines and interpretation, there are various other versions, and current structure that consists of the scenes 'Hanamizu-bashi Bridge,' 'Bamboo Room,' 'Mansion,' 'Under the Floor,' 'Confrontation' and 'Attack' has been gradually established since the mid-Meiji period.

The story of Kasane and Yoemon became a separate Kabuki play titled 'Meiboku Kasane Monogatari' (The Story of Kasane) after the Meiji period, and has been performed in Kabuki and Ningyo Joruri.

Contents of Current 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi'

The current play can be roughly divided into three parts: 'Hanamizu-bashi Bridge,' 'Bamboo Room, Mansion and Under the Floor' and 'Confrontation and Attack.'
The script of each part is derived from a different play so that the play as a whole lacks a sense of unity, but at the same time it offers a variety of attractions, which is the appeal of this play.

The story of each scene is described below along with comments.

Scene: Hanamizu-bashi (Hanamizu-bashi Bridge)

Yorikane ASHIKAGA (corresponds to Tsunamune DATE), secretly on the way back to his mansion from a red-light district, is attacked by Kanzo KUROSAWA and others who conspire with Danjo NIKKI (corresponds to Kai HARADA), but a Sumo wrestler employed by his clan, Tanizo KINUGAWA, rushes into the scene and saves him.

The scene is spectacular, with Yorikane behaving elegantly as wealthy load even in the danger, humorous movements of assassins who are confused by the dignified attitude of Yorikane, and Sumo wrestler Kinugawa moving beautifully in the fight. Sojuro SAWAMURA (the seventh) played Yorikane excellently, in an easygoing and classic style.

Kinugawa kills Takao-dayu to stop Yorikane's debauchery in the script derived from 'Date Kurabe Okuni Kabuki,' while 'Meiboku Kasane Monogatari' tells about his connection with Kasane who is a younger sister of Takao.

There is also a script about the murder of Takao by Yorikane, which is performed on rare occasions (for example, during November 1998 at National Theater of Japan).

Scene: Take no Ma (Bamboo Room)

Masaoka is the wet nurse of Tsuruchiyo who has succeeded to Yorikane's position (corresponds to Kamechiyo, the heir of Tsunamune). In order to protect her young lord from rebellious retainers, she keeps men away from him, telling them that he suffers from men's illness, and she herself prepares his meals and guards him with her son of similar age, Senmatsu. Yashio, younger sister of Danjo NIKKI, Okinoi and Matsushima, wives of his retainers, come to the mansion to visit him. Yashio, who plots to assassinate Tsuruchiyo, conspires with female doctor Komaki and ninja Katota to accuse Masaoka falsely of plotting the assassination of Tsuruchiyo, but fails due to the defense by Okinoi and denial by Tsuruchiyo.

Although this scene and 'Mansion' originally constituted one single scene, this scene is performed purely in Kabuki acting without Joruri.

For the performance of the whole play, the scene is often omitted.

Scene: Goten (Mansion)

Tsuruchiyo and Senmatsu are hungry because they have not eaten due to a series of problems, and Masaoka starts preparing rice with tea utensils. Masaoka feels sorry for Tsuruchiyo, who is a daimyo (Japanese feudal lord), yet cannot eat sufficiently in such a difficult situation. As they have a talk, the rice is ready to eat, but when they are having a meal, Sakae Gozen, wife of Sozen YAMANA (corresponds to Sakai Uta no Kami) who is Kanrei (shogunal deputy) and supports the rebellious retainers, comes along with sweets and offers them to Tsuruchiyo. Although Masaoka is worried that they may be poisoned, she cannot intervene, out of regard for the Kanrei family, and then Senmatsu rushes into the scene, grabs and eats the sweets, and suffers from the poison. Yashio, being afraid that her poisoning attempt may be disclosed, stabs at Senmatsu's throat with a knife and kills him, but Masaoka protects Tsuruchiyo without changing her face. Sakae Gozen, having seen her attitude, believes that Tsuruchiyo and Senmatsu have been swapped, and consigns to Masaoka a scroll, which is the covenant of conspiracy among the group of Danjo. Having seen Sakae Gozen leave, Masaoka returns to herself as mother and holds the dead body of Senmatsu, praising him for having performed the role of poison tester as she has taught him and mourns his tragic fate resulting from being the son of a samurai. Then she is attacked by Yashio, whom she kills in return to avenge the death of Senmatsu, but the scroll is taken away by a mouse.

This scene is the biggest climax of the whole play, and 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' often means this scene. Although it is a popular story in Kabuki and Ningyo Joruri that one protects his or her lord at the sacrifice of his or her own child, some audiences feel strange about it.

Masaoka is considered to be one of the most difficult female roles, and has been played by great past and current actors of female roles. This role has both the strength of suppressing the love between parent and child and the weakness of mother caring for her child so that depends on each actor and interpretation, the image of Masaoka varies.

As for the scene in which Sakae Gozen believes that the children have been swapped, the original script of Ningyo Joruri 'Meiboku Sendai Hagi' says that it is because Komaki, who in fact supports the loyal retainers, has lied about it to Sakae Gozen, and on some occasions Komaki appears and discloses it before the curtain fall of 'Mansion' (for example, the performance in November 2004 at Shochiku-za Theater).

As for the scene of 'Preparation of Rice' in which Masaoka talks with two children until Sakae Gozen appears, the actor playing Masaoka demonstrates tea ceremony, but there is not much story in it and the scene is often shortened.

Although Yashio is often played by an actor who usually plays a male role, he is required to have the acting skills equivalent to that of the actor playing Masaoka. In this sense, Ganjiro NAKAMURA (the second) and Kanzaburo NAKAMURA (the seventeenth) were two great actors for Yashio, for their dramatic acting typical to Maruhonmono play (Kabuki adaptation of Ningyo Joruri play), strength and charms.

Scene: Yukashita (Under the Floor)

Arajishi Otokonosuke is a loyal retainer, but has been kept away from his lord because of false slander against him, and secretly guards the mansion from under the floor.
He appears as he stamps the mouse holding the scroll in its mouth (the one which has appeared just before the curtain fall of 'Mansion'), and says, "how suspicious!"
The mouse, having been beaten with an iron fan, runs away from Otokonosuke, and returns to his true form in smoke as Danjo NIKKI, with a wound between his eyebrows and the scroll in his teeth, making a magic gesture with his hands. Danjo puts the scroll in his pocket and leaves with a daring smile.

Changing dramatically from 'Mansion' in which main characters are females and Gidayu (a style of Joruri) is played, this is a great scene in which a rough and fierce hero confronts a mysterious male villain, using stage settings like Seri (trap-door lift at the stage) and Suppon (small Seri near the section where Hanamichi [passage through audience to stage] joins the stage).

Koshiro MATSUMOTO (the fifth) was a star actor for Danjo NIKKI, so that paying respects to him, Danjo has a mole on his chin just as Koshiro (the fifth) had, and wears a costume with the crest of Hanabishi (rhombic flower) derived from his Kamon (family crest). After the Meiji Restoration, Danzo ICHIKAWA (the seventh), and after the end of the Second World War, Shoroku ONOE (the second) and Uzaemon ICHIMURA (the seventeenth) were major actors who gave great performances.

There is an instruction handed down orally that when Danjo makes a magic gesture after appearing from Suppon, his hand gesture should write "Oiri Kanou" (best wishes for a successful performance).

Scene: Taiketsu (Confrontation)

An old retainer Gekizaemon WATANABE (corresponds to Aki DATE), his son Minbu WATANABE, Shikanosuke YAMANAKA and Saizo SASANO, who are all loyal retainers, confront Danjo NIKKI, Onitsura OE (corresponds to Hyobu DATE) and Kanzo KUROSAWA at Monchusho (Department of Justice in the Shogun's Government). Sozen YAMANA is an outrageous judge who is in favor of Danjo and burns the evidence of a secret letter. When everyone thinks that Gekizaemon's side will lose, another judge Katsumoto HOSOKAWA (corresponds to Itakura Naizen no Kami [Head of Imperial Table Office]) appears and while paying his respect to Sozen, accuses Danjo's side of their disloyalty, ironically comparing them to a fox borrowing the tiger's might (that means a person acting arrogantly taking advantage of his powerful connections). Katsumoto himself has obtained a part of evidence of secret letter that contains a cheap trick made to signatures, and using it as a trigger, he grills Danjo briskly and leads the Gekizaemon's side to victory.

Although it is set during the times of the Onin War, the current play looks like it is set durng the Edo period, with some influence of Katsureki (a Kabuki style that emphasizes on historical facts) during the Meiji period. The core of this drama is a confrontation between the justice briskly delivered by Katsumoto, imaged as "Mei-bugyo" (excellent judge), and the smart evil represented by Danjo.

Shikanosuke YAMANAKA, Saizo SASANO and Onitsura OE had more appearances in a long script existed in the Edo period, however, as it has been shortened to the current structure of scenes, their major scenes have been lost.

Scene: Ninjo (Attack)

Having received the judgment, Danjo NIKKI, pretending to be sorry, approaches the Gekizaemon WATANABE in a waiting room and stabs him with a short sword he has secretly brought. Gekizaemon protects himself against the blade of Danjo just with a fan and almost gets killed, but Minbu and others rush into the scene to support Gekizaemon and then he kills Danjo. Katsumoto HOSOKAWA appears before them, praises Gekizaemon and others for their service and gives a certificate guaranteeing Tsuruchiyo's succession of the family headship. Gekizaemon congratulates on the fresh start of his lord's family and dances even with such a serious injury, and then dies. Katsumoto says, "Congratulations!" hiding his sorrow behind a fan.

As for the scene in which Danjo stabs Gekizaemon, Danjo apologizes Gekizaemon just before stabbing him. Then he runs to the section where Hanamichi joins the stage, puts the short sword in his teeth, pulls up the right and left sides of Hakama (skirt) with his hands, steps his right foot forward, and performs a Mie (a tense and symbolic pose at the emotional climax); this formalized tense movements have been handed down. This part is usually not performed, and in the postwar period, only Kanzaburo NAKAMURA the seventeenth performed it in 1968 at the National Theater of Japan. The scene usually starts with the retainers in a hall noticing that something has happened and injured Gekizaemon unsteadily coming out.

This scene has been stylized, with a screen of dragon in the clouds painted in black ink placed in the hall and Danjo wearing a white Juban (undershirt for Kimono), tucking up the sleeves of his Kimono with a cord used for fastening a sword to a belt, and Suami (a mesh shirt representing habergeon) next to his skin. Danjo performs a beautiful Mie here, such as Mie of single horn, raising up the short sword over his head, or Mie of heron, standing with only left foot and raising up the short sword. It has been formalized that when Gekizaemon receives the certificate from Katsumoto, he takes off his Kataginu (sleeveless formal garment for samurai) and holds the certificate with it. Danjo was played by great actors like Danjuro ICHIKAWA (the ninth) and Danzo ICHIKAWA, the seventh in the Meiji period, Koshiro MATSUMOTO (the seventh) before the Second World War, Shoroku ONOE, the second and Kanzaburo NAKAMURA, the seventeenth after the war. Now, it has been handed down to Ennosuke ICHIKAWA (the third), Nizaemon KATAOKA (the fifteenth) and so on.

In "Capricious Young Man" (Akanishi Kakita), a film produced by Nikkatsu Corporation in 1936, Chiezo KATAOKA playing Kai HARADA performed a battle scene influenced by the scene of Attack of this play. The performance of Chiezo, who was originally a Kabuki actor, made the scene great and heavy.