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 Kataoka Nizaemon XV.


The original puppet drama was made up of 5 acts. "Shunkan", a scene frequently staged nowadays, was the final scene (kiri) of the second act.

Key words Ama
Fujiwara Naritsune
Gidayű Ky˘gen
Kan u no Mie
Senoo Kaneyasu
Shishigatani Jiken
Shishigatani no Inb˘
Shunkan (N˘)
Taira Kiyomori
Taira Yasuyori


In the days when Taira Kiyomori [1118-1181] ruled Japan, there were many attempts to overthrow him, because he was extremely arrogant and relentless in persecuting those who displeased him. One such attempt, the Shishigatani plot, was made by three men: a priest and two noblemen. Their names were Shunkan, Taira Yasuyori, and Fujiwara Naritsune. Their plot was discovered and they were apprehended at Shunkan's residence. Subsequently all three were exiled to Kikai-ga-Shima, a lonely island some distance from Kyűshű. A few years later an amnesty is granted upon the birth of a son to the Empress, Kiyomori's daughter, and the exiles are allowed to return to civilization.

Seaside at Kikai-ga-Shima Island

Shunkan and the two other men are living along a rocky shore on Kikai-ga-Shima Island. Shunkan is old and weak, but is supported by his companions, who still love and respect him. Yasuyori comes to tell him that Naritsune has fallen in love with a pretty, young diver on the island. Shunkan congratulates the young couple and bestows the name Chidori upon the young diver (ama). In the presence of such noble men the young girl cannot remain calm. Shunkan performs the marriage ceremony, but since there is no sake wine for the ceremony, the bride and groom pledge themselves to each other with sea water. Shunkan tells Chidori that if her husnand is pardoned, she will become the Lady of Tambe. Wishing to perform an auspicious dance in honor of the young couple, Shunkan grabs a paulownia leaf and begins. His age and weak physical condition prevent him from dancing well, but he laughs off his poor performance so as not to worry his companions.

At this very moment a ship approaches the island, enters the cove, and disembarks a messenger, Senoo Tar˘ Kaneyasu by name. He announces the amnesty. Mercilessly Shunkan's name is not included in the order. But when a second messenger, Tan Saemon Motoyasu, disembarks, he brings with him a second order. Because he was regarded as the leader of the failed plot, Shunkan had been excluded from the amnesty. But, on the intervention of one of Kiyomori's chief councillors, his sentence has been mitigated and he may return as far as Bizen Province in Kyűshű. He takes great delight in the news. Taking Chidori with them, the three exiles are about to board, when Kaneyasu stops them. He insists that the girl must be left behind. Protesting, Naritsune informs Kaneyasu that the girl is now his wife. But Kaneyasu continues to deny her passage. When Naritsune states that he too will remain on the island, he is taken aboard by force. Chidori is left alone on the shore.

Shunkan returns and tries to smuggle Chidori aboard the ship, but is prevented by Kaneyasu. Shunkan appeals again to his mercy, but Kaneyasu mocks him and takes pleasure in informing him that he will not find his family awaiting him in Kyűshű. He further explains that Shunkan's wife is dead, and his son has long been missing. Overcome with grief and rage, Shunkan finds new strength and, wrestling Kaneyasu's sword away from him, kills his tormentor [1]. He then thrusts Chidori on board, telling Motoyasu that, since he has now forfeited his precious pardon, Chidori can go in his place. All bid Shunkan a sad farewell, and the ship sets sail. Shunkan clings to the mooring rope (tomozuna), his last link with the homeland until it is jerked from his hands. He watches the ship grow small in the distance and climbs from rock to rock trying to keep it in sight, until at last it vanishes over the horizon.

This summary has been written by Watanabe Hisao, edited by Jeff Blair and Sh˘riya Aragor˘ [website]


"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")


[1] Shunkan strikes the famous Kan U no mie after having killed Senoo Tar˘.

The actors Ichikawa Danz˘ V, Nakamura Utaemon III and Fujikawa Tomokichi II playing the roles of Shunkan, Senoo Tar˘ Kaneyasu 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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