INVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts KabukiINVITATION TO KABUKI Guide to Japanese Traditional Performing Arts Kabuki

PlaysLeading Plays

Aotozoshi Hana no Nishikie(The Five Thieves)

Sewa-mono / Common names: "Shiranami gonin otoko" "Bentenkozo"

SummaryThe Fates of Five Thieves

“Shiranami Gonin Otoko” is a popular work by playwright Kawatake Mokuami, famed for shiranami-mono (plays featuring thieves as the main characters). This story tells the fates of five such thieves—Nippon Daemon, Benten Kozo Kikunosuke, Nango Rikimaru, Akaboshi Juzaburo and Tadanobu Rihei.

The typical production of this play focuses on two separate scenes. The first is the ‘Hamamatsuya Misesaki’ scene, taking part in front of the Hamamatsuya kimono fabric shop. Benten Kozo, disguised as the daughter of samurai, attempts to swindle the store into paying him money. The second scene is known as ‘Inasegawa Seizoroi’ referring to the gathering of the five thieves by the Inase River. Only these two scenes are performed during most productions, using the title “Benten Musume Meo no Shiranami”(Benten the Thief Disguised as a Young Lady).

The Kabuki actor, Onoe Kikugoro V, first played the Benten Kozo in 1862, at the young age of nineteen. Thanks to his great success in that role, following generations of actors named Onoe Kikugoro have played the part over the years.

HighlightBenten Kozo Reveals His Name

March 1984
National Theatre, Large Theatre
“Aotozoshi Hana no Nishikie” ‘Hamamatsuya Misesaki’ scene
Bentenkozo Kikunosuke: Onoe Kikugoro VII

Benten Kozo arrives at the Hamamatsuya and attempts to cheat the business out of money. When a shop clerk realizes that he is a man and not a young lady, Benten Kozo reveals his real name. This famous speech begins with the words “You don’t know? I’ll let you know!”. The entire talk is delivered in the seven-and-five-syllable meter style of certain Japanese poetry, and is delightful to hear.

Actors playing Benten Kozo in this scene give lovely and refined performances and adopt various detailed kata (forms). That includes the delivery of spoken lines and the skillful handling of tenugui towels, traditional tobacco pipes and other colorful stage props.