(TOP)           (BACK) 

What is Kabuki-tic sentiment? -V
the logic of revenge


1)   Revenge by the people whose relative was killed

There is the big genre called “Revenge play” in plays and literary arts in Edo era. "Kanadehon Chūshingura" (仮名手本忠臣蔵)  and "Kotobuki Soga no Taimen" (寿曽我対面) are the representative plays as both Revenge play and Kabuki play. There are many other products in Revenge plays. The genre has truly a huge variety.

Revenges did not occur only in Edo era. However people remember Edo era when speaking of revenge and in the same way remember revenge when speaking of Edo era. In fact many revenges occurred in Edo era. There may be a reason why Edo era has tied with revenges especially. It may be related to the specialty of Edo era. What of Revenge play in Kabuki caught and intoxicated hearts of people?

In many cases, revenge reasons were related to murder cases. Revenge means that the family members whose relative was killed retaliate by killing enemies. The revenger reports to the government office and sets out on a trip to retaliate with the permission. Meanwhile, the enemy escapes far and disappears. So it is not easy for the revenger to find out the enemy. The revenger looks for the enemy at big cities like Edo or Osaka, or goes around the countries where the enemy seems to hidden depending on rumors. A revenge trip is an indescribable thorny one. He is beaten by wind or snow, has to endure sufferings from illness and go round fields and mountains. Of course it is necessary to raise money.If his fund runs out, he has to look for the enemy working temporarily as watari-chugen (渡り中間, itinerant servants) or daily employment. In terrible cases the revenger looks for the enemy becoming a beggar

What on earth were revengers’ purposes? With what kind of thought did they continue their trips keeping their feeling of revenge? Folklorist Shinobu Orikuchi (折口信夫) wrote on these questions “it is easy enough! If you think revenge is for murdered people, your thought is careless. If revenges had have been for their loved persons, revenges could not have lasted for a long time”. In his article “folklore of revenge” (1951) there are many suggestions.

Shinobu Orikuchi wrote below.

Most of murdered persons are dead bleeding. Although people think murders are bad. In those cases, such a thought are based on modern people thinking. At the side of gods bleeding persons who are murdered are bad. It may be hard to understand this, but Gods dislike bleeding.

It is right for people to die a natural death given by Gods. If the death is natural, it should be happy and people bless it. This thought is one of not only Japan but also any country. This is the desirable way of dying.

The case that the death is not natural is problematic. It means the death like being killed or dying in an accident. Since the murdered person does not think that he would die, his soul could not recognize his death or would refuse it as he regrets the present life. Although his body is dead, his soul is not dead completely. Gods dislike this half-finished condition. In this way the murdered person has been cursed.

If this condition is left as it is, the spell will extend to his close relatives. Therefore the close relative of the murdered person pursues and kills the enemy. The murdered person’s curse is removed by this revenge. This thought process may be peculiar to Japanese people. In fact the revenge is the action that the revenger does for himself. According to this, we can understand the folkloric background of revenges that had lasted for a long time  

2) Kabuki-tic sentiment and revenge

Then how should we think the fact that revenge cases increased suddenly in Edo era? The reason should be thought only from the point of view of the individual issue against the society after all. Kabuki-tic sentiment is the key to understand it. Kabuki-tic sentiment is an expression of the consciousness as self-awareness in society. However, in it the consciousness as self-awareness was not recognized as the social right. The feeling that personal claims spouted out as the emotional form is Kabuki-tic sentiment which is the character of Edo era.

In revenge, the problem of cursed close relatives is caught at very emotional level as an expression of consciousness as self-awareness in Edo era. If we think of whether the revenge should be or not implemented to decipher the spell, the revenge depends on revenger’s creed. However, if the revenge should be forced in the social atmosphere or people should criticize the revenger as an undutiful child or a disgrace to his parent when the revenge is not carried out, it should be related to revenger’s honor. The revenge becomes the honor issue.

The root of Kabuki-tic sentiment is a personal feeling that his honor is satisfied or vindicated*. This feeling is connected to personal pride closely. Implementing revenge is related to vindicating his honor. In other words, consciousness of the spell in revenge and his pride are amplified in Kabuki-tic sentiment. This is the reason why revenges increased rapidly in Edo era. The revenge is the expression of Kabuki-tic sentiment in personal and folklore-like form

*Please refer to “What isKabuki-tic sentiment? No.2

Like revengers have their honor, their enemies have their honor or pride too. Enemies run around to avoid being killed. And people who are going to protect them come out because their honor would be harmed if enemies are revenged. Both revengers and enemies become excited in Kabuki-tic sentiment. This is the character of revenge in Edo era.

Is revenge right or wrong? Saying more clearly, is it meaningful or meaningless? People in those days must have thought this problem a little. Although some people who noticed this problem would have stopped the revenge, they must have had a hard time. However courageous people increased gradually.

At first institutionalizing revenge that were rampant in those days has been tried. Although there are many books writing that there were much revenges because revenges was legalized and was recognized officially in Edo era, they are mistaken terribly. Ed shogunate was suffering from dealing with revenge. How should revenge be positioned socially? How should it judge revenges? Ed shogunate tried to regulate them through legal processes.

On the other hand, Confucianism says that one should not live under the same heaven with the enemy who has slain his father *. As the backbone of the morality in the feudal system are loyalty and filial piety in Confucianism, Edo shogunate cannot deny the revenge that a child kills his parent’s enemy. This thought made the revenge perform more frequently. If the shogunate regulates all of it, it means the denial of loyalty and filial piety and could lead to collapse of the morality. Therefore the shogunate accepted revenge unwillingly but tried to regulate it through rules.

*Refer to Liji Qu Li I

The law in the early period of Ed era accepted revenge if the revenger reported it to the government office but prohibited the re-revenge as there is no end. All cases were not accepted even if the revenge was reported. The case to pay off the grudge of the person who was insulted was not accepted. The case for parent to kill his son’s enemy was not, either.

3) Why is “Sukeroku” a revenge play?

The commentary on  “Sukeroku Yukari no Edozakura”

By the way, the case that Soga (曽我) brothers slew their enemy Suketsune Kudo (工藤祐経) in the encampment for the hunt of the foot of Mt.Fuji in 1193 is very famous. This was the brothers’ revenge for their father Sukeyasu Ito (伊東祐泰) who was murdered. This story became "the Soga story" and spread to people in those days as a legend. Their father was killed when they were children, they carried out the revenge at last while experiencing a lot of hardship for a long time. People in Edo era thought this story showed the lesson that dreams come true someday by making efforts with strong wills and respected them as Gods

Therefore it was a promise of Edo Kabuki that the New Year performance began with Soga play. The Soga brothers revenge was a certain festival. A lot of plays related to Soga story were made in Edo era. People in those days would not satisfy Kabuki plays which were not related to Soga story. This phenomenon was peculiar to Edo Kabuki and was not to Kabuki in Osaka or Kyoto.

This shows Soga brother characters were very popular among Edo people. Moreover it shows that Soga play was the proof of Edo Kabuki being the play for Edo common people by common people. "Sukeroku Yukari no Edozakura" (助六由縁江戸桜) in “Kabuki Juhachiban” (歌舞伎十八番)*is one of Soga play. Its main character Sukeroku was set to be Tokimune Goro Soga (曽我五郎時致) who was a younger brother in facts and infiltrate in Yoshiwara with his name changed. But this setting is not meaningful and inevitable for modern audience. Why is Sukeroku Revenge play?

* aset of 18 kabuki plays, strongly associated with the Ichikawa Danjūrō line

The Character Sukeroku was from the case of love suicide of “Sukeroku Yorozuya” (万屋助六) and “Agemaki” (揚巻) who was a harlot of Ogiya (扇屋) at Shimabara (島原) of Kyoto. It happened in 1674 in Osaka. The original story was in Kamigata (上方:KyotoOsaka area). when Danjuro ICHIKAWA the second (二代目団十郎) performed Sukeroku at first time in Edo, the story had not been set as a Soga play yet. Sukeroku has been set as Goro Soga at the second performance which was three years later than the first performance. When Danjuro played Sukeroku who had been born in Kamigata, setting, Sukeroku as Goro Soga might be necessary to declare that he had completely changed Sukeroku as a character of Edo Kabuki. Danjuro might try to make Edo audience recognize Sukeroku as a representative of Edo people. It seems to be necessary to imagine such process.

Of course it is a big factor that the faith in Soga brothers penetrated among Edo people as for the prosperity of Soga play in Edo Kabuki. Therefore preforming Soga play which was local favorite play naturally led to gaining popularity. The tendency to play only Soga play came out because the troupes which were good at Soga play became popular in Edo and gradually overwhelmed other troupes.

Kabuki plays had not been performed all year around in early period. At that time Kabuki was performed once or twice in a year but the number of the performance increased as the extra performance. In early period the audience might be fixed. As the interval of the performance was wide, there were no wonder that the play was performed again and again. Performances in those days were planned by changing the contents of Soga play a little

Dramatic art is not established with a certain purpose and is not developed by polishing up its essence. In trial and error, Dramatic art takes certain things in and takes other things out and is changing or flowing without a purpose. In later years that process would be seen as changing or focusing in to one direction

As such, with various subjects tried and taken in while maintaining the form of Soga play as a framework, hit plays grow up into one genre with originality. We can observe this process in Kabuki history. it could be thought that this process was necessary for a certain subject to be recognized as one of Edo Kabuki play by Edo people


Written by Yamamoto Kichinosuke
Translated by Rakunosuke
All rights reserved.

   (TOP)          (BACK)

inserted by FC2 system