Heike nyogo no shima (The Heike and the Island of Women) (平家女護島)

"Heike nyogo no shima" (The Heike and the Island of Women) is ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) created by Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU. It is based on ""Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike) and Yokyoku (Noh song), "Shunkan," and was significantly reformed. On August 12, 1719, it was performed at Osaka Takemotoza (the puppet theater in Osaka) for the first time. Soon after, it was performed at a Kabuki Theatre.

In Nidanme (the second act) of the play, `Toba no tsukurimichi no ba (Scene of constructing a road in Toba) Kikaiga-shima Island,' is famous, and today, only this part is performed with the title commonly known as "Shunkan."


Shunkan Sozu

FUJIWARA no Naritsune (Tanba no Shosho Naritsune)

TAIRA no Yasuyori (Hei Hangan Yasuyori)

Ama no Chidori

The wife of Naritsune, a fictional character

Seno Kaneyasu (Seno no Taro Kaneyasu)

The envoy of the shogun, akuyaku (villain's role)

Tan zaemon no jo Motoyasu

The envoy of the shogun,

Characters only known by their name


The wife of Shukan

Taira no kiyomori

Taira no Shigemori


Three years has already passed since the three, Shunkan, Naritsune, and Yasuyori, who contrived the Shishigatani plot to overturn the Taira family, were transported to Kikai ga-shima Island. The period of their sentence was not defined, and they had to stay in the island until they died. They had no prospects of getting any food. They managed to survive by selling sulfur to boats which rarely came and eating seaweed.

The story unfolded as Naritsune confessed to the other two that he would marry Chidori, a woman diver living on the island. The three and Chidori were happy that something good had happened since they had been sent to the island.

Then, a boat from the capital appeared, and Seno, the shogun's envoy, came down from inside the boat. Seni told them that they had been granted amnesty. TAIRA no Kiyomori had granted amnesty because of Kenreimonin's pregnancy. They were joyful and wondered if they were dreaming. However, only Shunkan's name was not listed in the letter of amnesty. Shunkan repeatedly looked for his name in the letter of amnesty, but it wasn't there.

Shunkan had betrayed Kiyomori even though Shunkan was in Kiyomori's favor. Kiyomori's anger was deep, and therefore, Kiyomori didn't grant Shunkan amnesty. Seno coldly told them.

He was stricken and cried out as the happy news unexpectedly turned to disaster. Then, another envoy of the shogun, Motoyasu came down from the boat, and he said that a letter of amnesty was given to Shunkan, too. TAIRA no Shigemori, who couldn't bear to see that Shunkan had not been granted amnesty, had written another letter of amnesty for Shunkan. Now, everyone could go home. The three were relieved, and got on the boat, then, Seno stopped chidori getting on the boat. Seno, again, coldly said that Chidori, who would be the fourth, was not allowed to get on the boat as it was written that `The three can get on the boat' in the letter of amnesty.

Again, Chidori and the three were placed in despair, and Seno continued. According to Seno, Shunkan's wife azuma-ya had been killed by the order of Kiyomori while Shunkan was on the island under sentence. It was seno that had killed Azuma-ya. Living again with his wife in the capital. Now that his dream was shattered, he was overwhelmed in despair.
Shunkan, who didn't want to go back to the capital without his wife, asked Seno to let Chidori get on the boat instead of Shunkan of him
However, Seno rejected it, and hurled abuse at Shunkan. Shunkan's thoughts became intense, and he killed Seno. Then, Shunkan asked Motoyasu to have Chidori get on the boat for him as he would remain on the island for having killed Seno.

Thus, Chidori was allowed to get on the boat, and the boat departed leaving Shukan behind. However, as the boat started to move, Shunkan was overwhelmed by a burst of loneliness, and went out of his mind. He pulled the rope of the boat to stop it, but the boat mercilessly left. He cried out in his anxiety due to loneliness and despair, and went after the boat, but the waves blocked him. He kept shouting at the boat until the boat was out of sight. Even after the boat was far enough to be unable to hear his voice, then he climbed up on a rock to keep tracing the direction of the boat. Eventually, the boat disappeared. This came to an end when Shunkan screamed in despair.

The relationship with "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike)

"Shunkan" is based on the third volume, `Ashizuri' (stamp the ground in frustration) of "Heike Monogatari," but the story was extensively reformed.

In "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike), only Shunkan remains on the island, which is the same ending as "shunkan." In "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike), Motoyasu read aloud the letter of amnesty with no feeling, and then the boat departed without Shunkan. Shunkan stamped the ground with tears like a child, but the boat was cruelly gone.

In the scene of `Ashizuri' (stamping the ground) of "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike), Shunkan was determined to remain in the island by force. This comes from the nature of "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike) which is referred to as the literature of transience, and the weakness of Shunkan who was tossed about by the fate was emphasized. On the other hand, in "Shunkan," Shunkan remained on the island on his own will even after he killed someone. It may be said that there was a big gap in the way of depicting Shunkan between "Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike) and "Shunkan."


CHIKAMATSU had a good reputation for this play, in which the weakness and lingering affection of Shunkan, who remained in the island on his own will, but suddenly, he started to scream as soon as the boat departed, was depicted, without ending the story at the time Shunkan decided to remain in the island.

In Kabuki, the stage was covered in a light brown cloth to express the land at the beginning of the play, while the cloth was removed and the stage immediately turned out to be the sea when Shunkan climbed on a rock turning to the audience in the last scene, which brought about a great producing effect.

`Shosadate' (Tchimawari which is incorporated into Buyo works), the scene of Shunkan having a sword fight with Seno in time of Joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a shamisen accompaniment) is one of highlights of the play.

The story is set in Kikai ga-shima Island, which is made more realistic by using a lot of Satsuma dialect in the dialogue of Chidori.

[Original Japanese]