Play title Heike Nyogo no Shima  In Japanese
Author Chikamatsu Monzaemon I

The play "Heike Nyogo no Shima" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 8th lunar month of 1719 in ďsaka at the Takemotoza. It was adapted to Kabuki the following year and staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1720 in ďsaka at the Naka no Shibai [casting]. It quickly became a classic and the role of Shunkan was closely associated to the Ichikawa Danz˘ line of actors, from Ichikawa Danz˘ III to Ichikawa Danz˘ VI. Great 20th century performers of Shunkan were Nakamura Kanzabur˘ XVII, Nakamura Kan'emon III, Nakamura Kichiemon I, Ichikawa En'˘ I or Kataoka Nizaemon XIII. Nowadays best performers are Nakamura Kichiemon II, Matsumoto K˘shir˘ IX and Nakamura Tomijűr˘ V.


The original puppet drama is made up of 5 acts. "Shunkan", a scene frequently staged nowadays, is the final scene of the second act. Others scenes are rarely staged (occasional revival at the National Theatre).

Key words Gidayű Ky˘gen

The play is a tragedy which takes its theme from part of the "Tales of the Heike." Shunkan, Naritsune and Yasuyori have been exiled to an island for leading a plot against the Heike leader, Kiyomori. After three years, two envoys from Kiyomori arrive by ship and announce a pardon--but only for Naritsune and Yasuyori. The obnoxious envoy, Senoo Tar˘ Kaneyasu, assures Shunkan scornfully that he did not forget Shunkan's name; it is not on the amnesty letter because he is not to be pardoned. However, the other envoy, Tanzaemon Motoyasu, has a letter from Kiyomori's son which countermands his father's order and permits Shunkan to return as far as the coast. Shunkan's despair turns to joy but it is short-lived. Senoo coldly informs Shunkan that his wife has been executed by Kiyomori. All reason to return to mainland thus evaporates, and so Shunkan tries to plead with Senoo for Naritsune's new wife, Chidori, whom he has just married on the island, to be allowed to go in his place, but when Senoo refuses, Shunkan kills him. This new crime ensures that he will have to remain an exile for the remainder of his days, and the play ends with the tragic figure of Shunkan waving in isolation to the departing ship, which is carrying away his only three companions, until it disappears completely from sight.

Text courtesy of Jean Wilson (1998)


"The author was much influenced by the play "Shunkan", which portrays Shunkan's loneliness when abandoned on an island." (Aubrey and Giovanna Halford in "The Kabuki Handbook")

The actors Ichikawa Danz˘ V, Nakamura Utaemon III and Fujikawa Tomokichi II playing the roles of Shunkan, Senoo Tar˘ and Chidori in the drama "Heike Nyogo no Shima", which was staged at the Kado no Shibai in the 9th lunar month of 1824 (print made by Asayama Shibakuni)

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