Play title T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan  In Japanese
Author Tsuruya Nanboku IV

The ghost play "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" was staged for the first time in the 7th lunar month of 1825 at the Nakamuraza [casting]. It was a nibanme drama for the classic "Kanadehon Chűshingura". Usually the ichibanme drama was staged in its entirety, then the nibanme was staged in turn. For the first production of "Kanadehon Chűshingura"/"T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" it was decided to interweave the 2 dramas, with a full staging on two days: the first day started with "Kanadehon Chűshingura" from Act I to Act VI, followed by "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" from Act I to Act III (the Onb˘ canal scene). The following day started with the Onb˘ canal scene, followed by "Kanadehon Chűshingura" from Act VII to act XI, then came Act IV and Act V of "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" to conclude the program.


The original version of "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" was made up of 5 acts divided in 11 scenes. Nowadays it is made up of 5 acts roughly divided in 14 scenes:

Act Scene In Japanese In English
I 1 浅草観音額堂 In the Precincts of the Kannon Pavilion in Asakusa
  2 宅悦地獄宿 Takuetsu's Hell Inn
  3 浅草観音裏地蔵前 In Front of the Jiz˘ in the Back of the Kannon Pavilion
  4 浅草観音裏田圃 The Paddy Field in the Back of the Kannon Pavilion
II 1 四谷伊右衛門浪宅 At Iemon's Home in Yotsuya
  2 伊藤喜兵衛宅 At It˘ Kihŕ's Home
  3 元の浪宅 Back at Iemon's Home
III 1 砂村隠亡堀 The Onb˘ Canal in Sunamura
IV 1 深川三角屋敷 At the Misumi House in Fukagawa
  2 小汐田隠れ家 The Refuge of the Oshioda Family
V 1 The Dream
  2 蛇山庵室 The Snake Mountain Hermitage
  3 庵室外 Outside the Hermitage
  4 仇討 The Revenge
You need a Japanese Language Kit installed within your system in order to be able to read the characters

A standard performance of "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan" includes act I, act II, act III and the Snake Mountain Hermitage scenes of act V.

Key words Adauchi

In Act 1 Tamiya Iemon, a r˘nin (ômasterless samuraiö) has a violent argument with Yotsuya Samon, his father-in-law, who urges him to separate from Oiwa. Soon afterwards Iemon kills Samon. Naosuke, a hawker of medicine lusts for Osode, the sister of Oiwa and the wife of Sat˘ Yomoshichi. Yomoshichi is in disguise as a hawker of haberdashery because he is a member of a group pursuing a vendetta to avenge the death of his master. Naosuke discovers Osode in a brothel run by Takuetsu but is interrupted in his wooing by Yomoshichi. Unable to pay the fee demanded by Takuetsu, he is driven out of the brothel and also suffers the derision of Yomoshichi and Osode. At the same time that Iemon commits his foul deed Naosuke kills Okuda Sh˘zabur˘, his former master, whom he mistakes for Yomoshichi. Iemon and Naosuke then deceive Oiwa and Osode into believing that they will avenge the deaths. Iemon reunites with Oiwa, and Naosuke enters into a common-law marriage with Osode as the price of their agreement to the vendetta.

Act 2 opens with Iemon, miserable in his marriage to Oiwa. Oume, the granddaughter of It˘ Kihŕ, is lovelorn for him. The It˘ family disfigures Oiwa with a poison, in the guise of medicine, in order to sway Iemon to abandon Oiwa for marriage to Oume. The stratagem bears immediate fruit. Iemon coerces Takuetsu, by now his servant, to rape Oiwa so that Iemon will have grounds for divorce. Takuetsu cannot bring himself to rape and, instead, forces Oiwa to peer at herself in a mirror. Oiwa realises that the It˘ family has deceived her. In the famous kamisuki (ôhaircombingö) scene Oiwa attempts to make herself presentable for a visit to the It˘ mansion. As she combs, the hair comes away in her hand in clumps and blood drips from the strands to the ground. Takuetsu obstructs her departure and Oiwa accidentally cuts her throat with a sword. Oiwa dies cursing Iemon. In the third plot Kobotoke Kohei, the former servant of Iemon, steals the traditional medicine of the Tamiya family from his master. Iemon catches Kohei and murders him. Then he orders his cronies to nail the bodies of Oiwa and Kohei to the opposite sides of a door and to throw the door into a river. The motive is to link Oiwa and Kohei as lovers. At the close of Act 2 Iemon kills Oume and It˘ on the night of the wedding due to tricks by the ghosts of Oiwa and Kohei.

In Act 3 the remaining members of the It˘ household are annihilated. Iemon kicks Oyumi, the mother of Oume, into the Onb˘ Canal and Omaki, the servant of Oyumi drowns by accident. Naosuke arrives in disguise as Gonbŕ, an eel vendor, and blackmails Iemon into handing over a valuable document. Iemon contemplates his prospects while fishing at the Onb˘ canal*. Just as he is about to depart, the door bearing the corpses of Oiwa and Kohei drifts towards the bank of the canal. Iemon hooks the door to the embankment. In the now famous toitagaeshi ("door transformation") scene the corpses briefly come to life and reproach Iemon. The act concludes with a danmari ("pantomime"). On the embankment above the canal Iemon, Yomoshichi and Naosuke appear to fumble as they struggle for possession of a note which passes from hand to hand in the darkness. The note relates to the vendetta.

At the commencement of Act 4, Osode is selling incense and aniseed at the entrance to the Asakusa shrine. She is also taking in washing for a living. Naosuke watches while Osode washes the clothes. Suddenly, a pair of ghostly hands emerges from a washing bucket in front of him. This foreshadows the surprises in store. Naosuke applies considerable pressure to Osode to consummate their marriage and, immediately following their nureba ("passionate love scene"), Yomoshichi appears and berates Osode for adultery. Osode resigns herself to death in atonement and deceives Naosuke and Yomoshichi into mortally wounding her. She leaves a farewell note from which Naosuke learns that Osode was, in fact, his own younger sister. He also learns that he has killed his own former master instead of Yomoshichi. Naosuke finishes off Osode and then commits suicide to discharge his guilt. In a separate story the ghost of Kohei prevents the crippled Oshioda Matanoj˘ from committing suicide. Matanoj˘ is a member of the vendetta group. The ghost then gives Matanoj˘ the medicine which he has stolen for a second time from Iemon and effects a miraculous cure. This action enables the ghost of Kohei to attain rebirth in the Buddhist paradise.

The play concludes with Iemon taking refuge at Snake Mountain Hermitage from the ghost of Oiwa. Act 5, scene 1 is commonly referred to as the yumeba ("dream scene") because Iemon dreams of a time when he is once more a samurai. He encounters a young and beautiful maiden in a summer pavilion during a hunting trip and, immediately, falls in love. Iemon fails to recognise that the maiden is Oiwa. He dismisses his companion, Ch˘bŕ, in order to embark on a nureba. A short time later Ch˘bŕ returns and approaches the pavilion. He peeks through the blind and sees a hideous face; that of the ghost of Oiwa. Also, the squash on the vines which cover the pavilion transform into her visage. Ch˘bŕ flees and the ghost of Oiwa seizes Iemon and drags him down to hell. In Act 5 scene 2 J˘nen, the master of Snake Mountain Hermitage, has given sanctuary to Iemon who is on the verge of madness. J˘nen and his followers pray for Iemon with spectacular lack of success. First Oiwa kills Ch˘bŕ, and then both of the natural parents of Iemon: Okuma and Genshir˘. In despair Iemon flees the hermitage into a driving snowstorm. He literally runs into the arms of his living nemesis, Yomoshichi, who cuts him down.

Text written by Paul Kennelly, courtesy of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics

Link to the full article, available in the proceeds of the Pacific Rim Conference in Transcultural Aesthetics (June 18~20, 1997)

(*) The term Onb˘ refers to grave-keepers and cremators. It seems likely that Nanboku chose this as a name to convey the gloom of a crematorium.


During the oppressive, steamy heat of T˘ky˘'s summer, Kankur˘ staged the famous and gruesome "Yotsuya Kaidan" at the Kabukiza. Guaranteed to give anyone the chills, the story is replete with murders, ghosts and sadistic cruelty. The villain of the piece, Iemon, was played with nasty relish by Hashinosuke. Another three roles were played by Kankur˘, who did a number of quick changes and flew over roofs on wires as a vengeful ghost. Again, Kankur˘ was able to show off his forte-playing a character who has gone insane from heartbreak, tragedy and jealousy. When Kankur˘ staged this play at Shibuya's Cocoon Theater, he also used real water for a scene in which ghosts rise up out of a river. The Kabukiza's version just used the old technique of blue floor sheets and pits in the stage floor, but it was still effective.

An unusual feature of this play is the role of the stage guard, who comes out between the last two acts, fills in the missing parts of the story and clarifies who is playing what role and what relationship they have with each other. In the Edo period there was a real stage guard on duty in the theater to break up disputes between patrons. This time, Band˘ Kichiya took the role and told the audience in hushed tones: "The story is based on a true incident and it is said that the spirit of Oiwa is present somewhere in the auditorium every time the play is produced-maybe sitting behind you right now," to a response of some nervous giggles. It is also true that the actor playing Oiwa takes the precaution of paying a visit to the shrine to pay his respects, just to make sure that he doesn't encounter any trouble while performing the role.

The first act establishes Iemon, an umbrella maker by trade, as the cold-blooded murderer of his father-in-law. Then the central part of the story opens in Iemon's house, where his contented wife, Oiwa (Kankur˘), has just given birth to a child, but this idyllic scene is not fated to last long. Oume, the neighbor's daughter has fallen in love with the handsome Iemon, and with her grandfather plots to turn him against his wife and toward her. The pair send Oiwa various gifts as well as a medicine that will grossly disfigure her.

Meanwhile Iemon has gone to thank them, and although he wonders at their motives. They confess to having sent Oiwa the laced medicine, and threaten to kill themselves unless Iemon agrees to divorcing his wife and marrying Oume instead. Easily persuaded to act as they suggest, the opportunistic Iemon returns home and proceeds to grossly mistreat his hideously disfigured wife, even stripping her and the baby of their outer kimonos and grabbing the mosquito net to pawn, in order to try and force her to leave him. An old servant, Kohei, tries to dissuade him, but after having his fingers broken and hair ripped out, he is tied up and locked in a cupboard for his efforts.

Now the trouble escalates from one tragedy to the next. Iemon leaves, telling another servant to make a pass at Oiwa so that he can accuse her of adultery and get rid of her for good, Reluctantly the servant tries but Oiwa resists and in the ensuing scuffle, she draws a sword and falls against it. The servant flees, but on Iemon's return, rather than being devastated by guilt, he turns on Kohei, the old servant still locked in the cupboard, who had been the only witness to the earlier ill-treatment, and murders him. He then takes the two corpses, and has some of his cronies nail them to a door which is then dumped in the local river.

Back at Iemon's house preparations are made for the wedding. His new bride arrives in her wedding clothes and with her face covered, but when he removes the silk hood from her face, he sees not Oume's face but Oiwa's and slashes her with his sword. Only then does he realize he has killed his new wife. Turning round he runs into what he thinks is the ghost of the servant Kohei and thrusts at him with his sword, but in fact the victim turns out to be his new father-in-law.

In the final act, Iemon is wandering trance-like along the banks of the river when from the water rises a plank with Oiwa's body tied to it. When she calls out to Iemon, he pushes it back under the water, only to find it rising again with Kohei's body on it, crying out to his former master. Unable to stand it any longer, Iemon throws himself into the river.

On leaving the theater, the night certainly seemed colder and more menacing than usual.

Courtesy of Jean Wilson, review of the performance of "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan", which was produced at the Kabukiza in August 2000

The actors Band˘ Hikosabur˘ V and Kataoka Nizaemon VIII playing the roles of the ghost of Tamiya Oiwa and Tamiya Iemon in the Snake Mountain Hermitage scene of the drama "T˘kaid˘ Yotsuya Kaidan", which was staged in the 7th lunar month of 1861 at the Nakamuraza (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni III)

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