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

PlaysLeading Plays

Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho( The Scarlet Princesss and Her Story in the East )



This play is the work of playwright Tsuruya Namboku IV. After going unperformed for decades, it was revived before World War II and staged frequently over the years thereafter. Many aspects of, causes and effects, and ghosts, which were Namboku's specialty, are incorporated into many parts of the play, which has many highlights.

The tale opens with a love suicide attempt by the monk Seigen and his young page Shiragikumaru in the waters off the island of Enoshima.

Seigen does not die. Seventeen years later, he becomes a high-ranking priest and he recognizes princess named Sakurahime the daughter of Yoshida clan as the reincarnation of his beloved Shiragikumaru. The princess has given birth to the child of Tsurigane Gonsuke, a thief who broke into her home. She has come to Seigen’s temple to become a nun in atonement for being unable to forget Gonsuke, but meets Gonsuke again at the hermitage where she is staying.

Stunning plot twists follow. Seigen is captivated by the image of Shiragikumaru in the princess, while Sakurahime struggles to rebuild her life after being thrown out by her family once her continuing involvement with Gonsuke is revealed.

Highlight 1

November 1993
National Theatre, Large Theatre
“Sakurahime Azuma Bunsho” ‘Sakuradani Soan’ scene
Sakurahime: Nakamura Jakuemon IV
Gonsuke: Matsumoto Koshiro IX (Matsumoto Hakuo II)

Kabuki love scenes (nureba) are normally performed in stylized movements to music. The love scenes between the princess and Gonsuke at the hermitage in the ‘Sakuradani Soan’ (The Cherry Hermitage) scene features bold but formalized dance-like movements. It begins with sentimental solo vocal music saying, “Even love inspired by beautiful flowers is but a fleeting fancy.” (Koiniyoru hanamo omoino hitokumori.)

Highlight 2

Edo Period (17th to 19th centuries), language use differed by greatly according to social status. Although Sakurahime was the daughter of a feudal lord, in a later scene at ‘Gonsuke sumika’ (Gonsuke’s House) scene she is a prostitute who has taken the name Furin Ohime and speaks in the crude style of her low standing. However, words typically spoken by princesses and other court nobles are mixed in, triggering reminders of her past. Such irregular and often meandering dialogue is the unique idea of the playwright Namboku, who was noted for his wit.