Play title Uirô Uri  In Japanese
Authors Murase Genzaburô (1718 "Wakamidori Ikioi Soga")
Nagawa Motosuke, Matsukawa Hôsaku (1832 "Uirô Uri")
Hirayama Shinkichi (1922 "Uirô")
Kawajiri Seitan (1940 "Uirô Uri")
Noguchi Tatsuji (1985 "Uirô Uri")

"Uirô Uri" was not at the beginning a drama but a short scene, which was staged for the first time in the 1st lunar month of 1718 at the Moritaza, within Murase Genzaburô's new year drama "Wakamidori Ikioi Soga". It starred Ichikawa Danjûrô II in the role of a uirô peddler, in reality Soga Gorô Tokimune in disguise. The highlight of the scene was a 1600-ideogram long tsurane, which was recorded in the Kabuki Chronicles and "robust sales of the printed text throughout the Edo period led thousands of Japanese to learn to recite the peddlar’s tongue-twisting spiel themselves" (Laurence R. Kominz). The "Uirô Uri" scene was staged repeatedly by Ichikawa Danjûrô II and his descendants. One of the most famous performance occured in the 3rd lunar month of 1832 at the Ichimuraza. It was included in the drama "Sukeroku Yukari no Edo Zakura", which was staged for the shûmei of Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII, who played the role of the uirô peddler Toraya Tôkichi, in reality Soga Gorô Tokimune in disguise.

It was staged for the first time as an independent drama, which was entitled "Uirô", in September 1922 at the Imperial Theater, starring Ichikawa Sanshô V in the role of Soga Gorô Tokimune. The script had been written by Hirayama Shinkichi. A new version was written by Kawajiri Seitan and was staged for the shûmei of Ichikawa Ebizô IX in May 1940 at the Kabukiza. This version, which used Nagauta and Tokiwazu, did not really match the original "Uirô Uri" scene and fell into oblivion. "Uirô Uri" was finally revived by Ichikawa Danjûrô XII, who had a new script written for him by Noguchi Tatsuji. It was staged with an Ôzatsuma ensemble in May 1985, for the second month of this actor's shûmei at the Kabukiza. It was a great success and, thanks to this new version, it became a popular item in the current Kabuki repertoire.

Key words Fujisan
Kabuki Jûhachiban
Kudô Saemon Suketsune
Soga Gorô Tokimune
Soga Jûrô Sukenari

A group of footmen speak of the good fortune of their lord, Kudô Suketsune. He has been placed in charged of a great duck-hunting party, to be held here, in Ôiso in the countryside near Mt. Fuji. - an honour bestowed upon him by the shogun. The temporary curtain drops to reveal Suketsune and his retinue. They are in celebratory mood because of the honour shown to their lord. Suketsune quotes an auspicious poem which reflects the rise in his status:

"Morning sun shines down. Fading away the clouds of white. The mists of spring part. The view before us is splendid indeed."

Kobayashi no Asahina hopes that the hunting party will be successful and says how pleased he is that Suketsune has been honoured in this way. Asahina's sister Maizuru says that even the mountains seem to smile on them as the flowers bloom in spring time. Two courtesans also attend Suketsune. They are Ôiso no Tora and Kewaizaka no Shôshô, the secret lovers of Soga Jûrô Sukenari and Soga Gorô Tokimune. They insist that Suketsune assume the place of honour on the raised dais.

Just then they hear the voice of Toraya Tôkichi, a peddler selling uirô, particularly good for the stomach and throat. They are interested in this peddler as these vendors were famous for their fast-talking sales speeches and so they decide to call him. In reality, the peddler is the younger of the two brothers, Soga Gorô Tokimune, in disguise. They wish to hear his tongue-twisting sales speech.

He says that between the city of old Edo and the Kamigata region of Kyôto and Ôsaka, uirô is produced here in Odawara. The singers tell of the origins of the famous medicine, uirô and how it was first imported from China. One tablet of the drug is to be placed beneath the tongue. When it enters the stomach it will cure all manner of ailments and especially make the throat feel smooth and refreshed. It can be taken with all fish, fowl or mushrooms and he concludes that this medicine is like a blessing from heaven. The speed of the tongue-twisters will be faster than a wheel rolling down a mountain path – even faster than a spinning top – with the energy of a barefoot man running for his life. He says that his tongue too is beginning to roll along and that he is now ready to start his speech which begins with a series of syllabic games. This tongue-twisting speech, for which the whole audience has been waiting, is one of the longest and most complex in Kabuki. It is a mark of the actor's skill to deliver it with speed and clarity.

A comic retainer of Suketsune's praises the peddler's whirling tongue, asking how he manages such a difficult speech. Such a skill would surely impress the women, he says, and so he too would like to try. The peddler offers him one of the tablets but he fails miserably. Suddenly the peddler, who is clearly not who he seems, makes to confront Suketsune. As the singers tell of the produce of Odawara and of a samurai lord's process through the town, the peddler disappears from view in order for the actor to change his costume and wig. While this takes place the courtesans and Maizuru dance.

Soga Gorô Tokimune reappears, having thrown off his disguise. He calls on Suketsune to give himself up. Eighteen years he has waited for this moment They call on the footmen to attack Gorô and a tachimawari begins. Suketsune orders his soldiers to stop the fight, realising that this must be the child of the man he killed eighteen years ago. Asahina warns Gorô not to be so impatient in trying to act alone. He should wait for his brother Jûrô and so, together, they can formally declare their vendetta. Telling Gorô that he and his brother must honour their parents and act in accordance with the law, Suketsune tosses him a wooden pass of the hunting ground. By this act, Suketsune signifies that he is giving them the opportunity to find him and, if they can, carry out their vendetta at the time of the hunt. For now they agree to part and meet again at the hunting ground.


The university performance festival entitled "Japan in Motion 05" was held in Portland in June and July 2005, with the Kabuki scholar Laurence R. Kominz as Artistic Director. It included an intensive Kabuki workshop, which culminated in the English language premiere of "Uirô Uri" the 22nd of July 2005, which was staged at Portland’s Imago Theatre.

Ichikawa Sanshô V playing the role of Toraya Tôkichi, in reality Soga Gorô, in the drama "Uirô Uri" (print made by Natori Shunsen in 1926)

The actor Ichikawa Danjûrô IX playing the role of Toraya Tôkichi, in reality Soga Gorô, in the drama "Uirô Uri" (print made by Torii Kiyosada)

Matsumoto Kôshirô III performing in "Uirô Uri" in 1770

Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII performing in "Uirô Uri" in 1832

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