Kotobuki Soga no Taimen (寿曽我対面)

Kotobuki Soga no Taimen (Soga Brother's Confrontation with the Enemy) (Chinese characters in orthographic style: 壽曾我對面) is a program of the Kabuki Kyogen (comic drama) theater. It is also referred to as "Kichirei Kotobuki no Soga," as well as in abbreviated versions "Soga no Taimen" and "Taimen." It is a period piece and a one-act play. It was first premiered at the Nakamura-za theater in Edo in February 1676.

The Story Line

Suketsune KUDO, who was a senior retainer of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, is appointed as a general magistrate for Fuji no Makigari (Hunting session at Mt. Fuji), and there are daimyo (territorial lords), the courtesan Oiso no Tora, and Kewaizaka no shosho who came to celebrate at his mansion. Yoshihide ASAHINA (Asahina KOBAYASHI) brings two young men into the scene. They recognize them as the brothers SOGA no Juro and SOGA no Goro, the orphaned sons of Sukeyasu KAWAZU who was killed by Kudo in the past. Asahina calms down the brothers who are agitated to see the enemy who killed their father, and Kudo gives them a pass for the hunting ground, which is an identity card for the hunting session, and promises to see them again.


Although it was originally premiered at the Nakamura-za theater in Edo in February 1676, ever since a tradition to perform the Soga Kyogen series for the new year's program was established during Kyoho era, it became the play to be performed as Kiri Kyogen (a single-act afterpiece), which was performed at the end of the multi-act historical play. Since then, it has been performed as a festive play to celebrate the coming spring, and there are different versions, which is said to be as much as 1,000 versions, of various renditions. The current script was organized by Mokuami KAWATAKE, and it is based on the performance of March, 1903. There used to be scenes which featured characters who are related to the Soga Kyogen series such as 'Tsuruoka ishidan no ba' and 'Kio hinka no ba,' but now the former is rarely performed and the latter is not performed at all.

It is a stylistically beautiful play both from visual and musical points of view, as all the major characters of Kabuki appear on the stage such as Kudo as zato (leader of troupe), Juro as wagoto (the mediator), Goro as aragoto (the aggressive character), Asahina as the clown, Tora as tateoyama (the leading actor in a female role), Shosho as wakaoyama (the young actor in a female role), Hachiman as the enemy, and Omi as the leading male actor, and Kio as jitsugoto (the tragic character). Goro, in particular, is known as the archetypal hero.

Various Renditions

It is a play with a strong show aspect, and its various versions were performed every year during Edo period. According to Yasuji Toita, there was the 'Tsurigitsune syle' as well as the versions in which Kudo has the condition of Nyctalopia or a koto (a long Japanese zither with thirteen strings) is played with shoji (opaque sliding screens). There was also a version called 'Yuki no Taimen' (Confrontation in Snow), which had the theme of the Sakuradamongai Incident ("Meisaku Kabuki Zenshu," vol. 13, Tokyo Sogen Shinsha, 1969). In the current version, Asahina is sometimes played by an actor of female roles as 'Maizuru, the sister of Kobayashi' depending on the availability of the actors. In Osaka, there was a time when Tamizo ONOUE the Third played MINAMOTO no Yoritomo as a guest actor for Tamizo's retirement performance.

There is a slight difference of staging between the Kanto and Kansai regions; in Kansai, Mount Fuji is seen in the distance between the fusuma sliding doors in the scene where Kudo talks about the last hour of the brothers' father.


The poses at the curtain fall have auspicious names as follows; the standing pose of Kudo (Tsuru no mie or crane's pose), Juro, Goro, and Asahina's Fujisan no mie (pose of Mt. Fuji), and the prostration of Kio (Kame no mie or turtle's pose).

Kudo bows when he goes on the raised platform of the stage in order to pay respect to the licensed theatre during Edo period.

Asahina's costumes and makeup as well as his special lines called 'Mosa kotoba' were originally the idea of Denkuro NAKAMURA the First, the Kabuki actor from the seventeenth century.

The tradition passed on by word of mouth has it that when the movement of Goro's feet draws the pattern of mimasu (three squares), which is the crest of Danjuro ICHIKAWA, the movement of Juro's one foot draws an inward circle and the other foot draws an outward circle in response.

Goro's makeup, which is called "mukimi kuma," is the same makeup as Hanakawado Sukeroku in the play "Sukeroku;" this is because of the role setting in which Sukeroku is actually SOGA no Goro, therefore the makeup of the two must match.

When the brothers come on stage, narabi daimyo (the actors who dressed as daimyo and sit among the audience) call out 'Arya, Korya, Dekee (Dokkoi).'
This is repeated seven times from the point Goro comes out from the curtain until the point when he lowers himself by bending his knees. It is repeated five times from the point where he appears from suppon (a stage setting through which actors appears on a stage from a trap cellar) on the main passage through the audience until he arrives at the stage. It is repeated three times until he strikes a pose on the stage.

Kudo is generally played by the leader of the troupe or someone of the equal status, and although the role does not require much movement, it is required that the actor has a presence which overpowers that of other actors. Among the actors who played Kudo in the past and recently, Utaemon NAKAMURA the Fifth and Kizaemon KATAOKA the Thirteenth, despite his physical difficulty, were famous for their exquisite presences on stage. According to Utaemon NAKAMURA the Fifth, 'The role of Kudo must be expressed through the position of the body and the presence. It is a role with an importance, and the actor must have the ability to unite the entire play.
….it is not expressed through the movements, but through his dignity only.'

For the performance of March 1903, Kudo was played by Danjuro ICHIKAWA the Nineth, Goro was played by the young Kikugoro ONOUE the Sixth, Juro was played by Baiko ONOUE the Sixth, and Hachiman was played by Hikosaburo BANDO the Sixth. Danjuro's intention was to cheer up the three actors who had just lost their father Kikugoro ONOUE the Fifth in February. For the stage announcement, Danjuro asked the audience for 'their favor and patronage for the weak and the orphaned,' and during the play when he says Kudo's line 'I wonder, your faces, who did you take them after?,' it is said he had tears in his eyes.


Soga no Juro: A young samurai who plans on the revenge on Kudo, the enemy of his father. He is gentle and calm.

SOGA no Goro: The younger brother of Juro. He is active and strong-willed.

Oiso no Tora: A courtesan. She is sympathetic towards the brothers.

Kewaizaka no shosho: A courtesan.

Saburo ASAHINA (Asahina KOBAYASHI): The clown; he is a samurai who brings the brothers to Kudo.

Shinzaemon KIO: The retainer of the brothers.

Omi no Kotota: The retainer of Kudo.

Saburo HACHIMAN: The retainer of Kudo.

Suketsune KUDO: The retainer of Yoritomo and the enemy of the Soga brothers' father.

[Original Japanese]