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

PlaysLeading Plays

Tsuyu Kosode Mukashi Hachijo( Shinza, the Barber )

Sewa-mono / Common name: Kamiyui Shinza


This sewa-mono (contemporary, domestic plays) is the work of playwright Kawatake Mokuami. It is commonly known as “Kamiyui Shinza”, the name and profession of the main character.

The devious barber Shinza convinces Chushichi, the Shirokoya lumber shop clerk—an apprentice at the business— and runs away with the mill owner’s daughter Okuma.

Shinza drives back the gang leader Yatagoro Genshichi who came to negotiate with him for releasing Okuma, but he gives in the landlord Chobei’s power. Chobei then offers 30 ryo in cash to release Okuma. Chobei deceives Shinza by only paying half the promised money and getting a half portion of bonito fish. Later, Genshichi ambushes Shinza and kills him to avenge the humiliation he suffered because of Shinza.

The play normally begins with the ‘Shirokoya Misesaki’ (The Front Room of Shirokoya Shop) scene, in which Shinza convinces Chushichi to run away with Okuma. At the end, Genshichi takes his revenge against Shinza in the ‘Fukagawa Emmado Bashi’ (By the Emmado bridge in the Fukagawa district) scene.

Highlight 1Excellent Kasazukushi (full of umbrella-related words) speech

April 1988
National Theatre, Small Theatre
“Tsuyu Kosode Mukashi Hachijo” ‘Eitaibashi Kawabata’ scene
Kamiyui Shinza: Nakamura Kankuro V (Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII)
Chushichi: Nakamura Hashinosuke III (Nakamura Shikan VIII)

In the ‘Eitai Bashi’ (By the Eitai bridge) scene, Shinza delivers a long line in which he hurls a string of vicious insults at Chushichi. This well-known sequence adopts the seven-and-five-syllable meter used in a great deal of Japanese poetry, including numerous references to umbrellas (kasa).

Highlight 2

Kabuki theatrical performances emphasize seasonal feelings. This work is set in early summer, and the first bonito fish of season vender who appears in the ‘Tomiyoshicho shinza uchi’ (Shinza’s house)’ scene is an outstanding example of seasonal feeling. People born in Edo customarily prized highly the vegetables, fruits and fish harvested at the beginning of each season. In this scene, the first bonito fish bought by Shinza becomes an important prop in the subsequent argument between Shinza and his landlord Chobe. The excellence of Mokuami's writing can be seen in his effective use of the first bonito fish for story development while simultaneously giving a seasonal feeling.