Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy


Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami

A masterpiece featuring three interwoven tales of parent-child separation

Sugawara Michizane, sent into exile, has secretly left his son with a teacher in a small village school. When the enemy learns of this arrangement, he commands that the boy be beheaded, and sends Matsuomaru, the only one who has seen the boy, to verify the head. The story then takes an unexpected and tragic turn.


by Kaneda Eiichi

Arranged rendezvous leads to tragedy

The riverbank of Kyoto’s Kamo River on a peaceful spring day. The emperor’s brother Tokio comes in a palanquin for a secret rendezvous with Sugawara’s adopted daughter Kariya. As the lovers are unable to see each other openly, the minister’s servant Sakuramaru and his wife Yae have arranged the meeting. If this were to become known, it would be a major scandal. A spy has spotted them and brings in men to attack, but Sakuramaru fends them off as the lovers escape.

【Left】[from left]Yae(Nakamura Tokizo)、Kariya(Kataoka Takataro)、Tokiyo shinno(Otani Tomoemon)、Sakuramaru(Nakamura Baigyoku) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Yae(Nakamura Fukusuke) February 2009 Kabukiza Theatre


Treasured calligraphy scroll passes to Genzo

Sugawara, a master of calligraphy, is ordered by the emperor to pass his secrets on. He calls in Genzo, a former servant and pupil. Genzo has been disowned and cast out due to a love affair with a palace worker, and the couple now run a small village school. Nevertheless, because of his outstanding calligraphic skills, Genzo has been chosen to receive the scroll with the secrets. When Sugawara turns up at the palace, he is informed by the evil senior minister Fujiwara Shihei that he is being exiled because of his daughter’s indiscretions. Genzo manages to escape hurriedly with Sugawara’s small son.

【Left】Sugawara Michizane(Kataoka Nizaemon) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Takebe Genzo(Nakamura Baigyoku)、Sachuben Mareyo(Nakamura Tozo)、Sugawara Michizane(Kataoka Nizaemon) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】[from left]Arashima Chikara(Nakamura Matsue)、Tonami(Nakamura Shibajaku)、Takebe Genzo(Nakamura Baigyoku) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre


Miracle of wooden statue

On the way to his place of exile, Sugawara stops by his family’s home. Kariya enters in order to apologize for her rendezvous with her lover, the source of her father’s troubles, but is beaten by her mother. From the other room, they hear Sugawara calling for the mother to stop. But when they look, all they find is a wooden statue that had been carved by the minister. Sugawara departs the next morning with his guards. It turns out that the guards are actually spies sent by Shihei to kill the minister. As the family responds frantically, Sugawara emerges from the inner room. He reveals that what the guards took away was the wooden statue, which had a soul that gave the illusion of life.

【Left】Sugawara Michizane(Kataoka Nizaemon) March 2006 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】[from left]Sugawara Michizane(Kataoka Nizaemon)、Kakuju(Bando Tamasaburo)、Kariya(Kataoka Takataro) March 2010 Kabukiza Theatre


Triplets serving different masters

Shiratayu, who serves Sugawara, had triplet sons. The oldest, Umeomaru, serves Minister Sugawara; the middle, Matsuomaru, serves the enemy Shihei; and the youngest, Sakuramaru, serves the emperor’s brother. Sugawara and the emperor’s brother were ejected from power due to Shihei’s manipulations, which enrages Umeomaru and Sakuramaru. As Shihei’s palanquin passes, the two brothers run to block it. Matsuomaru intervenes, and Shihei himself appears from the palanquin with an intimidating presence. Shihei tells the brothers he will spare them for now thanks to Matsuomaru’s intervention, and the brothers promise to put off all thoughts of revenge until after their father’s 70th birthday celebrations.

【Left】[from left]Sakuramaru(Nakamura Shikan)、Umeomaru(Nakamura Kichiemon) January 2010 Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Sakuramaru(Onoe Kikugoro)、Matsuomaru(Matsumoto Koshiro)、Umeomaru(Ichikawa Danjuro) March 2000 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】Fujiwara Shihei(Nakamura Tomijuro) January 2010 Kabukiza Theatre


The Celebration

Deep in the countryside at Sugawara’s second household, which is being cared for by the triplets’ father. The garden is filled with plum, pine and cherry trees. Today is the celebration of the father’s 70th birthday, and the triplets’ wives are all working hard in preparation. Umeomaru and Matsuomaru have an argument about the recent incident and accidentally break a cherry branch, a bad omen. After the two feuding brothers leave, Sakura appears. His father gives him a dagger. It was Sakuramaru’s arrangement of the secret rendezvous that caused the downfall not only of the emperor’s brother but also Sugawara, to whom Sakuramaru’s father is indebted. Sakuramaru has thus made up his mind to commit suicide in repentance. The broken branch of the cherry tree (sakura) foreshadowed his fate.

【Left】[from left]Yae(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Chiyo(Nakamura Shibajaku)、Haru(Nakamura Senjaku) September 2005 Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Umeomaru(Nakamura Kasho)、Matsuomaru(Nakamura Hashinosuke) September 2005 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】[from left]Sakuramaru(Nakamura Tokizo)、Yae(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Shiratayu(Ichikawa Danshiro) September 2005 Kabukiza Theatre


The Village School

Genzo is hiding Sugawara’s son at his school. Shihei discovers the ruse and orders the boy beheaded. Genzo is determined to kill someone else in the boy’s place in hopes of passing off that head as the real thing, but no one in the school is appropriate. Suddenly a new boy with a refined countenance comes to the school asking to join. Genzo, satisfied at his good fortune, welcomes him and exercises his plan. When Matsuomaru comes for the inspection, Genzo presents the head and waits tensely to see if the scheme works. Matsuomaru looks and proclaims it the correct head, then leaves the school. Genzo and his wife are relieved. Soon the boy’s mother comes to pick her child up. Having little choice but to kill her in order to protect their secret, they are about to make their move when, to their astonishment, she asks if he served his duty as Sugawara’s substitute. Matsuomaru then returns as well and states that their son indeed performed a great service. We realize that the substitute was in fact their own son, purposely offered as a sacrifice to allow Matsuomaru to demonstrate his loyalty to his benefactor Sugawara.

【Left】[from left]Tonami(Nakamura Fukusuke)、Takebe Genzo(Bando Mitsugoro)、Yotaro(Bando Kametoshi) May 2013  Kabukiza Theatre 【Center】[from left]Takebe Genzo(Nakamura Kichiemon)、松王丸(Matsumoto Koshiro) September 2006 Kabukiza Theatre 【Right】[from left]Matsuomaru(Kataoka Nizaemon)、Chiyo(Bando Tamasaburo) October 2014 Kabukiza Theatre


Umeomaru goes to Dazaifu

Often omitted in modern productions. Sugawara is living a peaceful life in exile in Kyushu under the care of the triplets’ father. When Umeomaru visits him and tells him of Shihei’s plans to take the throne, his anger is uncontrollable. He turns into a thunder god and heads for Kyoto to destroy Shihei.