|Play title||Iwashi Uri Koi no Hikiami|
This delightful play, one of the few written since the Second World War to find a permanent place in the Kabuki repertoire, is a parody of more traditional plays set in the pleasure quarter. Normally, the hero falls in love with a courtesan, squanders his fortune on her, is disinherited by his family and thereby reduced to penury, faces insurmountable obstacles, and at the end leaves with his lady-love to be united in death by a double suicide; whereas in this play, the hero falls in love with a courtesan, is aided, abetted and showered with money by his father, manages to overcome all obstacles, and at the end leaves with his lady-love to be united with her in marriage.
Scene 1: The Goj˘ Bridge in Ky˘to
The sardine seller Sarugenji is lovesick. His vendor's cry of "I'm Sarugenji from Ak˘ Inlet in the Province of Ise. Buy my sardines!" is coming out as a feeble bleat, and he looks as if he's walking in a dream. In this pitiful state, he bumps into his father, Ebina Naamidabutsu, a retired fishmonger who has taken minor holy orders. His father is shocked at his state - there's no way he'll sell his sardines like this! However, Sarugenji explains that he has fallen in love with a beautiful woman whom he glimpsed in a palanquin. But his love is hopeless, as she is obviously a great lady, and he is only a humble sardine seller. Ebina becomes sympathetic. Who is this lady? he enquires. Sarugenji has discovered that she is called Hotarubi - and his father knows all about Hotarubi. She isn't a great lady, but a courtesan, and her name means "flickering firefly" because she sparkles at night! Her favours can be bought - but only by great lords, not by sardine sellers. Ebina is trying to think of a way to help his son when Rokurozaemon, a horse dealer acquaintance, appears leading a horse. The horse once belonged to a samurai, but after an injury it has come down in the world, and he is unable to sell it. This gives Ebina an idea. If Rokurozaemon will lend them his unsaleable horse, perhaps they can dress Sarugenji up as a feudal lord, let him ride this steed, and give him a retinue of fishmongers disguised as retainers. Rokurozaemon enters into the deception with enthusiasm, declaring that he will not only lend his horse, but will himself play the feudal lord's chief retainer. Of course, all the feudal lords in the area are already known, but luckily Lord Utsunomiya, who lives in a distant province, is expected to make his first trip to Kyoto very soon. Sarugenji can plausibly impersonate him. However, he needs to learn to ride the horse first. With difficulty, Sarugenji mounts - only to find he's facing the horse's tail. Obviously some practice is needed.....
Scene 2: The Goj˘ Higashi-no-T˘in House of Pleasure
Five of the courtesans are gathered around Tombo, Hotarubi's kamuro. They are trying to guess the contents of a jar which has been given to Hotarubi as a gift. It proves to contain shells, each of which has a verse of a classical poem written on it. The game is to match the first and last verses of the poem, and Hotarubi enters to show them how to play. It's an upper class game, and she is the only one who has played it before. As they play, she notices a strange gardener outside. She thinks she has never seen him before, yet she finds something disturbing about him. Her doubts are interrupted by the Proprietor of the House of Pleasure, entering to tell them to prepare for the anticipated visit of Lord Utsunomiya. The girls leave, and Ebina enters along the hanamichi. He knows the area well - but hasn't been there since he took religious vows. He tells the Proprietor, who is an old acquaintance, that he is the forerunner of Lord Utsunomiya, whom he happened to meet, and proceeds to soften things up for his son's impending visit.
Sarugenji, disguised as a somewhat inept feudal lord, arrives complete with horse and spurious retinue. He is bowled over by the beauty of the courtesans - but wants to know which one is Hotarubi, of whose beauty he has heard. Two of the girls both claim to be her, causing some confusion. However, the real Hotarubi enters and takes charge of the situation. She shares some sake with Sarugenji, who is so overcome that he drinks far too much. One of the courtesans, Usugumo, is rather suspicious of this "feudal lord". She claims it is a custom of the House for newcomers to entertain them, and calls for a tale of the brave warrior's deeds in battle. This causes some consternation, but Sarugenji rises to the occasion and, in a parody of a classical monogatari, mimes and recites a battle of the fishes, in which all of the protagonists are fish, with arrows being shot through their fins, and unborn children still being roe in the womb.
Usugumo is unconvinced by a battle in which warriors are named Red Snapper and Flounder, but Sarugenji dismisses her doubts, and is left alone with Hotarubi. Unfortunately, his over-indulgence in sake results in his promptly falling asleep. Hotarubi - who has been strangely drawn to him - is put out, and remarks that all the men she has ever had as clients before have been demons. Now she has a client who is kind and charming and he's ignoring her and sleeping. But Sarugenji begins to talk in his sleep. Hotarubi tries to make out what he is saying - and it is his sardine vendor's cry. Could it be that he is not a feudal lord but a sardine seller? Come to think of it, he does rather smell of fish.....
When Sarugenji wakes, she interrogates him about what he has said. Sarugenji passes off every part of his vendor's spiel as being lines from classical poetry - a subject on which he seems surprisingly well-informed for a sardine seller! Ultimately he manages to convince her that he really is a daimy˘ - and she bursts into tears. Sarugenji can't understand this, but Hotarubi tells him her story. She is the daughter of the Lord of Tankaku Castle. Some years ago, she heard the call of a sardine seller in the distance, and fell in love with his beautiful voice. Rushing out of the castle, she tried to find him. However, she failed to do so, became lost, and night fell. An apparently kind traveller then offered her assistance - but instead of helping her, he sold her to this House of Pleasure, and she has been here ever since. She had begun to think that fate had returned her sardine seller love to her, but as it seems he truly is a feudal lord, the only way out of her misery is to die. She seizes Sarugenji's sword, but is stopped from killing herself by Sarugenji immediately declaring his real identity. Ebina and the others rush in to confirm his claim. Sarugenji declares she will be his wife that very day, but the Proprietor of the House points out that first she needs to be redeemed with 200 gold pieces.
All are pondering this apparently insurmountable problem when Jirota enters. He is a samurai retainer from Tankaku Castle - and was previously seen as the strange gardener, in which disguise he has been trying to find Hotarubi to return her home to her parents. He is leading the fishmongers-disguised-as-retainers, all tied together like convicts. Of course, he has 250 gold pieces with which to redeem Hotarubi, who immediately begins to play the great lady. She orders the fishmongers untied, the remaining 50 pieces of gold to be given to Rokurozaemon in payment for his unsaleable horse, and that she and everyone else learn Sarugenji's sales cry. As she is to be married, she cannot return to Tankaku Castle, since once a girl leaves home to become a bride she can never again return to her parents' house. However, she promises to sell some sardines outside the castle walls so that her parents may see her once again in this way.
Jirota is so demoralised that he draws his sword and attempts to kill himself. But his sword has grown so rusty that he is left resolutely alive, and the play ends very happily as Sarugenji and Hotarubi exit along the hanamichi to get married - and to sell sardines.
This summary was written by Marion Hudson (April 2010).
This play was staged several times during the Sh˘wa era, with the stars Nakamura Kanzabur˘ XVII and Nakamura Utaemon VI in the roles of Sarugenji and the Princess. During the Heisei era, the leading roles were successfully taken over by Nakamura Kankur˘ V (Kanzabur˘ XVIII) and Band˘ Tamasabur˘ V.
Iwashi Uri Koi no Hikiami
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