Honchô nijûshikô: Okuniwa Kitsunebi no dan

Honchô nijûshikô: Okuniwa Kitsunebi no dan

Honchô nijûshikô: Okuniwa Kitsunebi no dan

Background

This work depicts a rivalry of the late 16th century’s warriors Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen. Their fight at a bank of river called Kawanakajima (in Nagano prefecture) is a well-known incident in Japanese history. The piece was written by Chikamatsu Hanji and other writers and premiered in 1766 at Takemoto-za theater in Osaka. It was influenced by a preceding work “Shinshû kawanakajima kassen (A fight at Kawanakajima, Shinshu)” written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, but recreated into a new five-act play by adding an element of assassination of Ashikaga Shogun by a local warrior Saitô Dôsan. The title ‘Honchô nijûshikô’ was named after “Nijûshikô” or the “Twenty-four paragons of filial piety” of China, since Act 3 of “Honchô nijûshikô” was taken from one of the Chinese Nijushiko episodes. The piece has still maintained a great popularity today.

Scene of ‘Fox fireballs in the inner garden’ is the latter half of the last section of Act 4 called ‘Jishuko (‘Burning incense’)’ or alternatively ‘Kenshin-yakata (‘Mansion of Kenshin’)’, which is often performed separately today. The scene is accompanied by several shamisens (three-stringed lute) and a koto (long zither) unlike an ordinary performance employing only one shamisen. Also visually, it includes such an unusual direction as quick changes of puppeteer’s costume that adds gorgeous spectacle to performance.

Synopsis

Princess Yaegaki, a daughter of a warrior Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo region (Nagano pref.), was engaged with Takeda Katsuyori, a son of Takeda Shingen of Kai area (Yamanashi pref.), through an intermediation of Ashikaga Shogun, though Kenshin and Shingen competed with each other. Someone, however, assassinated the Shogun, and suspicion of the murder fell on both families. Katsuyori tried to find a murderer but failed and was forced to die. Princess Yaegaki sank into a deep sorrow for a while but she happened to know that a vicarious person had been dead and Katsuyori was still alive disguising as a mean cultivator of flowers. Her father Kenshin also found Katsuyori was alive and sent an assassin to him.

To save Katsuyori, Princess Yaegaki tried to let him know that an assassin was approaching, but she could neither catch up with the assassin nor cross the Suwa lake by a boat to reach Katsuyori because the lake was frozen. Being stumped, she prayed to a symbolic helmet of God of Suwa, which was enshrined at an altar in the inner garden. Then suddenly, a magical fox emerged and the spirit of the fox possessed her. She, holding the helmet, ran to Katsuyori with the help of fireballs that were the incarnation of magical power of Suwa God.