Play titles Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshô  In Japanese
Tôryû Azuma Bunshô  In Japanese
Common title Sakura Hime  In Japanese
Authors Tsuruya Nanboku IV
Sakurada Jisuke II
Segawa Jokô II

Tsuruya Nanboku IV's drama "Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshô" was premiered in 3rd lunar month of 1817 at the Kawarasakiza [casting]. It was very successful but was not revived during the Edo period. It was revived twice before World War II, in October 1927 at the Hongôza (more details) and in September 1930 at the Meijiza (more details). 29 years later, the third revival was supervised by the writer Mishima Yukio and staged in November 1959 at the Kabukiza (more details). Finally, it was revived in March 1967 at the National Theatre (more details), with a fourth script written by the Kabuki scholar Gunji Masakatsu. This production, which is without doubt the biggest success of the National Theatre, became the definitive version of "Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshô". A few features, which were not in the original version, like the epilogue, were added by Gunji Masakatsu.


The original version of "Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshô" was made up of a prologue and six acts (9 scenes). The current version is made up of one prologue, 4 acts and 1 epilogue.

Key words Jidai-sewamono
Mimeguri Jinja

Prologue: at Chigo-ga-Fuchi Beach near Kamakura

Priest Seigen is involved in a love affair with a young acolyte named Shiragiku. Due to this homosexual attachment, Seigen has neglected his priestly duties to such an extent that the pair have decided to commit suicide together by leaping off a cliff at Enoshima.

At the edge of the cliff, they each take part of a small incense container, Shiragiku taking the lid that is inscribed with Seigen's name and Seigen taking the lower part of the box that bears the name of Shiragiku. Shiragiku prays to be born a woman in his next life so that he will be able to become Seigen's lawful wife, and he leaps into the water. An eerie light rises up from the sea and a white heron flies up from the shadow of the cliff. Seigen is frightened and draws back, losing his chance to join Shiragiku in death.

Act I Scene 1: in Shinkiyomizu Temple in Kamakura

Seventeen years later, the head of the noble Yoshida family has been murdered and a family heirloom scroll has been stolen. Princess Sakura, the only daughter of the Yoshida family, is betrothed to Iruma Akugorô, whom she has never met and who, unknown to anyone, is the villain that stole the scroll as part of his plot to usurp the Yoshida heritage.

Princess Sakura was raped in the dark by a professional killer named Gonsuke who killed both her father and her brother, and she has given birth to Gonsuke's child, though she is completely unaware of his identity. Also, since birth, Princess Sakura's left hand has been closed in a tight fist, a serious handicap for a young lady of her social position.

Due to her misfortunes, Princess Sakura has decided to become a nun. She approaches Seigen, who is now head priest of Hase Temple, and explains her plight, showing him her closed fist, and asks him to perform her investiture ceremony. In response, Seigen murmurs a prayer and Princess Sakura's hand miraculously opens, dropping the incense box lid that bears Seigen's name.

Seigen realizes that Princess Sakura is the reincarnated Shiragiku, due to the appearance of the incense box lid, and the fact that this is her seventeenth birthday and the same day that Shiragiku died exactly seventeen years ago.

Though her affliction is cured, Princess Sakura insists on going through with her plans, encouraged by Seigen's agreement to perform her investiture ceremony.

Princess Sakura's only surviving brother Matsuwaka is desperately searching for her to enlist her aid in discovering the heirloom scroll, as it must be brought forth by the next morning in order to prevent confiscation of the Yoshida estate by the Shôgun.

Princess Sakura's lady-in-waiting Nagaura is having a secret rendezvous with Priest Zangetsu who hopes to oust Seigen and take his place as head priest. Zangetsu slinks out of Nagaura's arms when approaching voices are heard.

In spite of his betrothal, Akugorô previously refused to actually marry Princess Sakura due to her clenched hand, but changes his mind when he hears that she has been cured of her affliction. It is he who has come to beg Nagaura's assistance in convincing Princess Sakura to become his wife immediately.

Gonsuke also arrives on the scene to deliver the heirloom scroll that Akugorô had ordered him to obtain. A loyal Yoshida maid tries to grab the scroll from the villains, but they kill her.

Act I Scene 2: in the hermitage at Sakuradani

Princess Sakura is preparing to take the tonsure when Gonsuke arrives with a love letter to her from Akugorô. Gonsuke, who is unaware that Princess Sakura is the woman he raped on that dark night when he broke into the Yoshida mansion as a burglar, falls for her at first sight. Gonsuke is pleased when she adamantly refuses to see Akugorô, but he tries to convince her to read Akugorô's letter in order to spend more time by her side. He tells an amusing story during which he rolls up his sleeve, revealing the tattoo on his upper arm. Princess Sakura is astonished when she sees the tattoo. Though it is about time for Priest Seigen to arrive to perform the final ceremony, she dismisses her attendants from the room.

When they are alone, she rolls up her own sleeve, showing Gonsuke an identical copy of his tattoo on her own upper arm, explaining that she saw his tattoo in a flash of light just as he left her on that fateful night; that she subsequently found herself hopelessly in love with him and had the same tattoo inscribed on her arm as a memento; and further, that she had borne him a son who was secretly sent away to be raised in safe anonymity.

Akugorô arrives searching for Gonsuke, but Gonsuke manages to escape before Akugorô sees him. Zangetsu, just back from another rendezvous with Nagaura, breaks into Princess Sakura's room and accuses her of defiling the temple with her lovemaking. He also finds the incense box lid inscribed with the name of Seigen among her possessions.

Seigen arrives to carry out the ceremony to make Princess Sakura a nun. Akugorô and Zangetsu accuse Seigen of being Princess Sakura's lover, using the incense box lid as proof. Since he is convinced that Princess Sakura is the reincarnation of his beloved Shiragiku, he does not deny the accusation, though he is aware that it will mean his downfall.

Act II Scene 1: by the Inase River

Seigen and Princess Sakura have been punished for their alleged illicit affair and now live in a hovel on the bunks of lease River. The peasant couple who were entrusted with Princess Sakura's baby have heard of her disgrace and bring it to her, refusing to be involved any longer, Seigen pleads with Princess Sakura to become his wife. She demurs due to her love for Gonsuke. Akugorô comes to take Princess Sakura away with him. He grabs her baby and threatens to kill it if she will not come with him and runs off with the baby. In a struggle with Akugorô's henchman Matsui Gengo over Princess Sakura, Seigen is thrown into the river, clutching one of Princess Sakura's sleeves that has torn off.

Awazu Shichirô, a loyal Yoshida family retainer, runs after Akugorô. When confronted by Shichirô, Akugorô lays the baby on the ground to draw his sword, dropping a letter in the process. Shichirô picks up the letter and finds it is from Gonsuke and addressed to Akugorô. Akugorô manages to get the letter back and runs off, with Yoshida Matsuwaka and Shichirô in hot pursuit.

Seigen climbs up out of the river with the sleeve in his teeth. He picks up the crying baby and runs off calling for Princess Sakura.

Act II Scene 2: on the riverbank of the Mimeguri Shrine

Some days later, Seigen and Princess Sakura pass each other in the dark. Seigen is in rags but he still has the baby with him. The baby begins crying and Seigen stops to light a fire, using Princess Sakura's sleeve as fuel, Princess Sakura hears the baby, and looking back, she thinks that she recognizes Seigen. They catch each other's eye just when a strong gust of wind blows out the fire, leaving them in total darkness again.

Act III: in the hermitage at Iwabuchi

More time passes. Seigen has taken ill, but he still keeps the baby his side. He is now staying with Zangetsu and Nagaura in a hovel. Zangetsu and Nagaura give the baby to a woman who happens to pass by. Then they poison Seigen, beat him up and search through his belongings but are disappointed when all they find is the bottom half of the incense box, which they toss aside. Nagaura goes off to find a grave digger for Seigen's body.

A slave-trader comes by with Princess Sakura who is now in rags. Zangetsu plots with the slave-trader to dress Princess Sakura in better clothes and sell her as a geisha, giving her what she recognizes as one of her own kimonos that Nagaura had stolen from her.

Nagaura comes back with a grave digger who is none other than Gonsuke. Everybody recognizes each other, there is a struggle, and Zangetsu and Nagaura flee, leaving the house in the possession of Gonsuke and Princess Sakura.

Gonsuke goes off to make arrangements for selling Princess Sakura as a geisha, making her believe that he is going to find a better place for them to live together. After he leaves, Princess Sakura finds the incense box. Seigen regains consciousness and tries to embrace Princess Sakura but she fends him off with a knife. In the struggle, she drops the knife in the grave, and Seigen falls into the grave and dies impaled on the knife.

When Gonsuke comes back and starts to leave with Princess Sakura, Seigen's ghost rises from the grave and tries to stop them, but they get away.

Act IV: at Gonsuke's lodging at Yama-no-shuku

Gonsuke has become a landlord in the Asakusa district of Edo. The woman who took care of the baby earlier lives in the same neighborhood but is too poor to keep it any longer. Gonsuke, totally unaware that it is his own child, agrees to take charge of it, intending to take the money that the neighbors have collected for its care and abandon the baby somewhere.

Princess Sakura is thrown out of the geisha quarters for her aristocratic manner and due to rumors that a ghost appears nightly at her bedside. She is brought back to Gonsuke and he sends the woman who had cared for the baby, to the geisha house in her place. When Gonsuke and Princess Sakura are left alone, she shows no interest in the baby, not recognizing it as her own, or as Gonsuke's.

Gonsuke sympathetically lets her go to bed alone in a separate room and leaves a knife with her to fend off the ghost if it appears. Seigen's ghost ap pears and tells her that the baby is her own, but Princess Sakura rails at him and chases him away with the knife.

Princess Sakura is hugging the baby when Gonsuke comes home drunk. In his drunken state he brags about having stolen the Yoshida family heirloom scroll and killing Princess Sakura's father and one of her brothers. Gonsuke realizes that he has talked too much, but Princess Sakura seems unmoved and seductively offers him more to drink. She gets him so drunk that he falls into bed and passes out. Then she takes the scroll, kills the baby and stabs Gonsuke through the bedcovers.

Epilogue: at the Sanja Shrine

The Asakusa Sanja Festival is in full swing. Princess Sakura is carried along the street in a huge basket by loyal retainers. A gang of thugs surrounds them, trying to take Princess Sakura into custody on charges of murder. But her brother Matsuwaka and the loyal Yoshida retainer Shichirô suddenly come to her rescue. Now the scroll has been returned to the Yoshida family and the evil conspirators have been exposed, bringing a happy ending to the gruesome saga.

Source: Don Kenny

The actors Iwai Hanshirô V and Ichikawa Danjûrô VII playing the roles of Princess Sakura and Seigen in the drama "Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshô", which was staged in the 3rd lunar month of 1817 at the Kawarasakiza (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni I)

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