Kami no Megumi Wago no Torikumi (神明恵和合取組)
Kami no Megumi Wago no Torikumi is the title of a Kabuki play. It was first staged at the Shintomi-za Kabuki theatre in March 1890. It was written by Kisui TAKESHIBA. It is commonly known as "Megumi no Kenka" (A quarrel of the Me-gumi firefighter brigade).
A play in four acts and eight scenes
It is based on the incident called "Megumi no Kenka" that actually occurred in the Shiba-daijingu Shrine in 1805. This is a simple story, in which the characters are based on real people, regarded as a typical work in the Meiji period.
Prologue: the scene at Shimazakiro (licensed quarters) in Shinagawa ・ the scene of Yatsuyamashita
At a tavern in Shinagawa called Shimazakiro, a sumo wrestler named Yotsuguruma Daihachi and some young members of the Me-gumi firefighting brigade quarrelled over something very trivial. Their quarrel was briefly settled thanks to arbitration by Tatsugoro, the leader of the Me-gumi firefighting brigade. However, a samurai, who was a fan of Yotsuguruma Daihachi, happened to be there and spoke out, "There is a big difference in degree between a sumo wrestler and a mere fireman." Tatsugoro got angry with his words, saying, "Excuse me, Sir. Sumo wrestlers and firemen are all the same human being, aren't they? Don't degrade us." Tatsugoro had a grudge against Yotsuguruma Daihachi and ambushed him at Yatsuyamashita, a suburb of Shinagawa. After the scene of Tachimawari (a stylized fight scene) of Sewa Danmari (a "fight in the dark" and a pantomime scene in a sewamono drama [domestic dramas that deal with the lives of commoners]), Kisaburo, the boss, who was just passing by in Kago (a palanquin), found Tatsugoro's wallet.
Act two: the scene at the front of a playhouse in the precincts of Shiba Shinmei Shrine
In the playhouse located in the precincts of Shinmei Shrine in Shiba, sumo wrestlers including Yotsuguruma Daihachi and Kuryuzan Namiemon quarrelled again with young members of the Me-gumi firefighter brigade. Tatsugoro, who happened to pass by, could not overlook the situation and tried to settle the quarrel; however, he backed off because the manager of the playhouse intervened to calm the quarrel.
Act three: the scene at Kisaburo's place in Sukiyagashi ・ the scene at Tatsugoro's place in Hamamatsucho
Tatsugoro, who prepared himself for the eventuality that the quarrel might be inevitable, went to Kisaburo's place in Sukiyagashi and hinted that he might part with him.
Reading what Tatsugoro had in mind, Kisaburo showed the above-mentioned wallet to him and warned, "What if something really bad happens to you?"
Embarrassed as he was, he replied that he would consult with his fellows about this matter.
Kisaboro's words weighed heavily on Tatsugoro's mind; Tatsugoro looked so indecisive that his wife Onaka pronounced a divorce between them. Tatsugoro was also blamed by Kame-emon, a sworn brother who happened to be there; Tatsugoro, who tried to control his temper, lost his patience, and spoke his mind at last, bringing out a letter of divorce he had already prepared. Apparently, he had been determined to quarrel at the risk of his life to satisfy his pride as a fireman. He asked Kame-emon to gather his men and prepared for the quarrel. He went to the Shinmei Shrine where the sumo performance was to be held after saying farewell to his wife Onaka and children, who were gazing fondly at Tatsugoro's heroic appearance.
Act four: the scene of a full array of firemen in Shinmei-cho (town) ・ the scene of a quarrel over the admission fee for the sumo performance
A big quarrel between the local firefighters led by Tatsugoro and sumo wrestlers such as Kuryuzan and Yotsuguruma took place in the precincts of the Shinmei Shrine. Kisaburo wearing two happi coats together, one for Machi bugyo (town magistate) and the other for Jisha bugyo (magistrate of temples and shrines), intervened to calm the quarrel; the situation was peaceably settled that two sides would leave the matter to the authorities.
Cast of the first performance
Tatsugoro of the Me-gumi firefighter brigade ・・・Kikugoro ONOE the fifth. Yotsuguruma Daihachi ・・・Shikan NAKAMURA the fourth. Kuryuzan Namiemon/Takidashi no Kisaburo ・・・Sadanji ICHIKAWA the first. Rogetsucho Kame-emon ・・・Matsusuke ONOE the fourth. Tatsugoro's wife Onaka ・・・Gennosuke SAWAMURA the fourth.
It is a masterpiece of the sewamono drama with a simple plot in which the everyday lives of dashing firemen are described. Especially, Act three is a supplementary work by Mokuami KAWAKITA, of which his rich description exhaustively shows his mature literary style.
Kikugoro the fifth was good at the role of a fireman such as Umekichi in "Mekuranagaya Umega Kagatobi" known as "Kagatobi" (The Firefighters of the Kaga clan) or Sashichi in "Edosodachi Omatsuri Sashichi" (The Festival and Sashichi, a Son of Edo) known as "Omatsuri Sashichi;" he left oral instructions of various ways of acting. For example, when walking, he always lifted each foot forward like walking on a high scaffolding.
Later, the role of Tatsugoro was performed by Uzaemon ICHIMURA the fifteenth, Shoroku ONOE the second, Kanzaburo NAKAMURA the seventeenth, and Kikugoro ONOE the seventh, who were all good at acting in the Edo-style sewamono drama.
Shoroku the second commented, "Since it is a quarrel of rough-spoken Edokko (a true native of Edo), it does not require things like Hara (a technique for conveying the qualities of a character without relying on the gestures or words). Especially, when acting the role of Tatsugoro, we should do it without Hara. Or rather, the form or style is the key; we have adopted a cool and smart approach." His comment clearly demonstrates past circumustances of Kabuki, in which if only the outward appearances of characters worked well, the performance would draw a large audience.