The God of learning is Tenjin, the deification of Sugawara no Michizane. The Ningyojoruri, the puppet play “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”was created based on legends regarding Michizane, and was first performed in August 1746 during the Edo period at the Takemoto-za, a puppet theater in Osaka.
The popularity of Ningyojoruri, which is today referred to as“Bunraku”had reached its peak around this period, and the three masterpieces of “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees)”,“Kanadehon Chushingura (The Treasury of 47 Loyal Retainers)”, and“Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami”were born around the same time.
This piece was developed based on the incident of the Minister of Right, Sugawara no Michizane(845-903), a successful politician of the Heian period, who was exiled from Kyoto to Dazaifu in Kyushu as a result of a conspiracy against him made by the Minister of Left, Fujiwara no Tokihira.
Interesting topics of the time such as when the imperial court provided a reward for the birth of triplets in Tenma, Osaka in the summer when the play was first performed are also added to give amusement to the story.
The story centers on the conflict between the good and evil of Kan Shojo and Fujiwara no Shihei. After the scene where Kan Shojo passes on his calligraphy technique to his disciple, which is also used for the title of the play, various human dramas take place while focusing on the struggles and separation of parents and children who have become involved in a political dispute. In the end Shihei and his clan are slayed by Kan Shojo and comrades, who is enraged after learning of their plot and transforms into Raijin (the Thunder God). Later on the spirit of Kan Shojo is deified as Tenjin. This is a work of poetic justice portraying the struggles of those caught in between loyalty and love. Its strong message still continues to appeal to us after so many years.