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

PlaysLeading Plays

Heike Nyogonoshima( The Heike Clan and the Island of Women )

Jidai-mono / Common name: Shunkan


The play is the work of the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, it was partially based on “The Tale of the Heike Clan”. Today, the scene performed portrays the character Shunkan and others of a group exiled to Kikaigashima (Kikai Island) who were found guilty of plotting to overthrow Taira no Kiyomori, a leader of the Heike clan. The work is more commonly known as “Shunkan”.

In the story, a ship from the capital city arrives at the island to take back three of the exiles, who have been pardoned. They are Shunkan, Tanba no Shosho Naritsune, and Heihangan Yasuyori. However, Shunkan despairs when he learns that his wife, who he had to leave behind, has been killed. Bitter and angry, Shunkan kills Senoono Taro the envoy from Kyoto and he offers his place on the ship to Chidori, a female diver who is now the wife of Naritsune. Left alone on the island, Shunkan watches the ship sail away until it vanishes from sight.


October 1995
National Theatre, Large Theatre
“Heike Nyogonoshima” ‘Kikaigashima’ scene
Shunkan: Nakamura Kichiemon II

Two methods are used to effectively convey Shunkan’s misery at being left alone on the island: the revolving stage and a large piece of cloth painted with images of waves.

The revolving stage begins to move as Shunkan climbs a rocky mountain to watch the ship leave. The wave-painted cloth covers the part of the stage the audience can see, leaving only the cliff Shunkan is standing on visible. These two techniques highlight the deep loneliness and sorrow that Shunkan is feeling.

When Shunkan reaches out to hold onto a pine tree branch to help him keep watching the ship in the distance, the branch breaks, and he squats down. As the act comes to a close, we are left with a truly lasting sense of the profound grief in Shunkan’s heart.