Play title Yamatogana Ariwara Keizu  In Japanese
Authors Asada Icch˘
Namiki Soryű (Namiki Senryű II)
Toyotake Jinroku (Toyotake ďritsu)

The play "Yamatogana Ariwara Keizu" was originally written for the puppet theater (Bunraku) and staged for the first time in the 12th lunar month of 1752 in ďsaka at the Toyotakeza. It was quickly adapted for Kabuki for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1753, in Ky˘to at the Minamigawa no Shibai [casting].


The play "Yamatogana Ariwara Keizu" was originally made up of 5 acts. The fourth act is the sole surviving act and is commonly called "Ranpei Monogurui" ("Ranpei's madness").

Key words Ariwara no Yukihira
Gidayű Ky˘gen

Scene 1: at the Palace of Lord Ariwara no Yukihira

The assignment of lord Ariwara no Yukihira was to safely keep one of the imperial symbols but the treasure has been stolen from him. As a result he was exiled for a while to the shores of Suma, where he fell in love with the salt-making diver Matsukaze. He was later forgiven by the Imperial House and had the right to return to his palace in Ky˘to. Unfortunately for Yukihira, the separation from his beloved Matsukaze has made him sick. Yukihira's wife Minase Gozen understands that the best cure for her husband is not some medicines but to find a way to bring Matsukaze from Suma to Ky˘to. Unfortunately for both Minase Gozen and Yukihira, the real Matsukaze has died and the only remaining hope is a woman named Oriku, who is said to be the perfect image of Matsukaze. Yukihira's yakko Ranpei is sent to fetch her.

Ranpei returns to the palace, leading Matsukaze's substitute Oriku and Yomosaku, who is in reality Oriku's husband but is introduced to Yukihira as Matsukaze's brother. We suddenly hear that a prisoner, an enemy of the Ariwara clan, has given his guards the slip and escaped. Yukihira orders Ranpei's young son Shigez˘ to seek for the fugitive, but Ranpei, who is terribly afraid for his son's safety, asks to be sent on the mission himself instead of Shigez˘. Yukihira, however, refuses his request and reminds Ranpei of his weakness: he is driven into a frenzy madness every time a sword is drawn. It goes without saying that somebody with such a strange illness can't run after a fugitive. In reality, Ranpei makes a pretense of being mad. This subterfuge has helped him to get close to lord Yukihira.

Shigez˘ rushes valiantly on the fugitive's tail, leaving an extremely worried Ranpei behind him. In the meantime Yukihira, who believes that Oriku is really Matsukaze, enjoys a reunion with her, but the love meeting is comical due to Oriku's discomfort at the situation and her difficulties to speak to a daimy˘. Yukihira, who would appreciate a more intimate atmosphere, tries to send Ranpei off on an errand but Ranpei does not react to his lord's order because his mind is still on his son. Yukihira angrily bares his sword, provoking Ranpei's strange and wild crisis at the view of the naked blade of the drawn sword. Oriku steps in between Yukihira and the crazy Ranpei. Yukihira understands that Ranpei is not responsible for his illness, sheathes his sword. Ranpei resumes his normal attitude and deeply apologizes to his lord. Yukihira finally succeeds in sending him off.

Yukihira requests Oriku to play some koto for him. He is not long in beginning to doze. Oriku takes it as an opportunity to signal to Yomosaku who is hiding nearby. Yomosaku is about to strike Yukihira with his sword, but the lord senses the danger in time, defends himself and defeats Yomosaku, who is taken captive by Yukihira's soldiers. Ranpei is back on stage with Shigez˘, bearing the severed head of the fugitive. Yomosaku is questioned and confesses that he is in reality the son of a man, who was killed by Yukihira, and had been seeking revenge.

Yukihira does not remember the killing of anybody, but says that he will give Yomosaku a chance to take revenge on the killing of his father by fighting a duel, not against Yukihira himself, but against Ranpei. The yakko says that his illness prevents him from fighting anyone, but Yukihira reminds him that he seemed to be eager to fight instead of his son a few minutes ago. He repeats his order and leaves the stage, with Ranpei and Yomosaku who are supposed to fight a duel to the death. Yomosaku is the first to bare his sword and Ranpei recognizes it as the famous sword Amakuni. Yomosaku's sword is the larger Amakuni sword, the companion piece of the shorter Amakuni sword, which is Ranpei's one. Both men realize on the spot that the other is none other than his own brother. The brothers enjoy a happy reunion and go off together, plotting to attack and kill Yukihira.

Scene 2: in the Garden of the Palace

Scene 2 begins with a spectacular and colorful fight scene using ladders, jumping from the roof of a well, somersaults and many mie poses. Ranpei's energetic leaping and full-throated yells adds to the dramatic tension. He is now dressed in a red and white checkered kimono with a black and gold obi, and fights against men wearing red, white and blue kimono and purple obi, with red undergarments. All this took place against a backdrop of a blue lake in the center of a garden in autumn leaf colors. Other stunts included a struggle atop a high ladder positioned at the head of the hanamichi, and Ranpei being held aloft on a horizontally positioned ladder and then being turned upside down and swung back 180 degrees to upright again.

Ranpei is finally defeated and brought to Yukihira and Yomosaku, who now reveals himself to be neither Yomosaku nor Ranpei's brother, but a warrior on Yukihira's side, who had used the Amakuni sword to uncover Ranpei's subterfuge and reveal his true identity. Yomosaku also tells Ranpei that the fugitive, who was killed earlier by Shigez˘, was in fact Ranpei's real brother Yoshizumi.

The wounded Ranpei is forced to acknowledge that his conspiracy has failed, but he refuses to give up the imperial symbol which he had stolen in a previous scene. Shigez˘ is summoned by Yukihira, who promotes the young boy to the status of a full-fledged retainer. He orders Shigez˘ to bind Ranpei. Shigez˘ hesitates but Ranpei's love for Shigez˘ is stronger than his hate for Yukihira. He takes out the stolen treasure and hands it to Shigez˘, who can return it to Yukihira. Ranpei is about to commit suicide but is stopped by Yomosaku, who urges Ranpei to give up the fight and become a monk. The valiant Ranpei agrees, bringing "Ranpei Monogurui" to an end.

The first paragraph of scene 2 is courtesy of Jean Wilson (November 1999)


The role of the yakko Ranpei is closely associated to the Onoe Sh˘roku line of actors.

The actors Ichikawa Shinsha I (top/left), Ichikawa Danjűr˘ VIII (top/right), Kawarasaki Ch˘jűr˘ III (bottom/left), Onoe Sh˘roku (bottom/middle) and Ichikawa Kodanji IV (bottom/right) playing the roles of Matsukaze, Ariwara no Yukihira, Shigez˘, Ranpei and Yomosaku in the drama "Saiwai Ariwara Keizu", which was staged in the 10th lunar month of 1849 at the Kawarasakiza (print made by Utagawa Toyokuni III)

Prints & Illustrations

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