Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (菅原伝授手習鑑)

"Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" (Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy) (classic word: 傳授) was Gidayu-bushi (musical narrative of the puppet theatre) and a program of ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) and Kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors) played along with it. It portrayed the overthrowing incident of SUGAWARA no Michizane during the Heian period and the lives of people around him.

It is a popular program that is often played around the fourth act even today. The part of fourth act, "Terakoya" (temple elementary school during the Edo period) is often played in the Kabuki, and it is one of the representative act that lead in number of performances.

Referred Incidents

The incident of overthrowing SUGAWARA no Michizane during Heian Period (the Shotai Incident).

The legend of Tenjin (heavenly gods) and the local belief concerning it (Tenjin worship).

It was the real topic of triplets born in Osaka while trying to think up of the play.

A long work was created using these as a base.
In addition, it is built upon a previous work "Tenjin-ki" (the Record of Tenjin)

Leading Works

"Tenjin-ki" written by Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU. It was published in 1714.


This work and Gidayu Kyogen (Kabuki adaptations of puppet plays) received great popularity by showing the greatly worshipped academic god Tenjin in the form of SUGAWARA no Michizane, and having the story told from the point of view of a servant of a nobles with triplets to show the influence of political turmoil to the public, and having the theatrical like turn of events. It was the first work that was evaluated as three greatest Gidayu Kyogen works along with"Yoshitsune Senbonzakura" (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees) and "Kanadehon Chushingura" (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers).

Writer and First Performance

Writers: It was a collaboration between Izumo TAKEDA, Shoraku MIYOSHI, and Sosuke NAMIKI.

World (Evading from Vagueness): ocho-mono (stories dealing with the pre-feudal period of Imperial rule)
First performance at Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area). Ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater): the Takemoto-za theater in Osaka in September 1746. Kabuki: Nakamura Kiyosaburo-za Theater in Kyoto in October 1746. The first performance at Edo. Ningyo joruri: Hizen-za Theater in Sakai Town in March 1747. Kabuki: Nakamura Theater in Sakai Town in June 1747.

The first performance was a great hit and left unique record at that time by having the first performances of both Ningyo joruri and kabuki both at Kamigata and Edo within a year. It became a long performance period which lasted for over eight months at the Nakamura Theater in Edo.


The characters of Kabuki adaptation of "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" were as follows:


SUGAWARA no Michizane was his model (in history, '丞相' (Chancellor) was pronounced as 'Josho' but the work called it as 'Shojo'). He was a udaijin (Minister of Right) that was both noble as well as being intelligent and faced a tragic fate.

FUJIWARA no Shihei

He was modeled after Fujiwara no Shihei (the actual '時平' was pronounced as 'Tokihira' but the work called him as 'Shihei'). He was the sadaijin (minister of left) and was a political enemy of Kanshojo. He schemed to monopolize the government.

Princess Kariya

She was the adopted daughter of Kanshojo.


He was the son of Kanshojo. Seven years old.


She was a strict old woman who was the aunt of Kanshojo and the real mother of Princess Kariya. She was considered to be a hard role to play in Kabuki and counted as one of three great old women.

Crown Prince Tokiyo

He was modeled after Cloistered Imperial Prince Shinjaku. He was the younger brother of the emperor.


He was the disciple of Kanshojo but was expulsed for causing trouble in the past and currently manages terakoya.

She was the wife of Genzo.

Shirokuro, who retired to be Shiratayu.

He was the father of the triplet. He was originally a peasant but spent his retirement life at Sada Village. Triplets became the servants (caretaker of ox for ox carts) of the aristocrats due to Kanshojo.


He was the second eldest of the triplets. He was the servant of Kanshojo and had strong arms.

She was the wife of Umeomaru.


He was the eldest of the triplets. He was the servant of Fujiwara no Shihei and was the most intelligent of the brothers.

She was the wife of Matsuomaru.

He was the child of Matsuomaru and Chiyo.


He was the youngest of the triplets. He was the servant of Crown Prince Tokiyo and had a kind personality.

She was the wife of Sakuramaru.

The Format of Performances

Ningyo joruri is performed exactly according to the format written in gidayu-bushi.

Toshikyogen (performance of an entire play) was rare in Kabuki and was often performed alone in popular scenes. In that case, another title besides the formal kabuki title of "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" was used.

The Fighting Act to Sakuramaru Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) Act is performed as "ga no iwai" (rite of passage celebrated at various ages to pray for long life) in Kabuki. Entering Temple-Terakoya Act referred as "Terakoya" in Kabuki. Pulling Carriage Act is referred in the name of "Kurumabiki" in Kabuki.

Structure of the Play and Plot

First Act

Daijo (prologue) and Ouchi Act: Kanshusai chided the tyrannical rule of Fujiwara no Shihei and Shihei grudged because of it.

The Act of Kanshusai: During the time when worshiping the Kamo-jinja Shrine, Sakuramaru couples proctored for the meeting between the lovers Crown Prince Tokiyo and Princess Kariya but the secret meeting was revealed.

The Act of Hippo Denju (Passing on the Secrets of Calligraphy): Kanshojo received the imperial edict of Hippo Denju. He removed TAIRA no Mareyo, who had the title of Sachuben (middle controller of the left), that tried to monopolize the technique of calligraphy, and Genzo TAKEBE was given one volume that has been passed down.

It was determined that secret meeting at Kamo shrine was thought to be the usurp of Kanshojo and his exile was decided. In the middle of it, his son Kanshusai was rescued from crisis of arrest.

Second Act

Michiyuki Kotobano Amaikae: Keigoto (shosagoto (dance in Kabuki))
Sakuramaru who became poor and began to sell candies sends Crown Prince Tokiyo and Princess Kariya to Kanshojo's place.

Yasui Shiomachi (waiting for favorable tides) Act: While the ship headed for Kyushu waited for the tide at the sea port of Yasui, Settsu Province, Kanshojo went for the Kakuju no yakata (Kakuju's residence) (later Domyo-ji Temple).

Tsue Sekkan (The Punishment with the Cane) Act: Princess Kariya asked to see her father's face one last time before parting. She received word from Kanshojo and believed that her wish to meet was granted but there was only a wooden statue of chancellor in the room.

Tonteko Act: The servant of Shihei schemed to assassinate Kanshojo using chicken. Tatsuta, who was the older sister of Princess Kariya, gets caught up in this, and was assassinated.

Vestige to Chancellor Act: Due to a scheme, Kanshojo rode a carriage which was a faked invitation. However, a miracle happened to rescue the chancellor and evil was defeated.

Third Act

Kurumabiki (Carriage pulling) Act: Umeomaru and Sakuramaru lost a master and tried to attack an ox cart of Shihei. Matsuomaru tries to stop this. However, both of them could not move after seeing the might of Shihei who made an appearance.

Chasen Zake (literally, tea whisk sake) Act: The triplets and their wives gathered to celebrate their father who turned 70 years old, and changed his name to Shiratayu.

Fighting Act: Matsuomaru working under an enemy and Umeomaru who disapproved of it began fighting. They break the cherry tree loved by the deceased Kanshojo from the fight.

The seppuku of Sakuramaru Act: Matsuomaru asked to be dismissed from the family, and Umeomaru asked to travel to Chikushi. Sakuramaru decides to commit suicide in order to take a responsibility of the incident. Shiratayu grieves for having his sons leave before him.

Fourth Act

Mount Tenpai Act: Kanshojo spent his exile days at Chikushi, but heard the scheme of Shihei from Umeomaru, and his anger exploded. He transformed into Tenjin and moved up to heaven from Mount Tenpai.

Kitasaga Act: The wife of Kanshojo, who hid with Yae in Kitasaga (Kyoto City), was attacked but rescued by yamabushi (a mountain priest).

Entering Temple Act: A well behaving child led by his polite mother came and entered the Terakoya (that hosted Kanshusai) of Genzo in the Seryo Village, which was located on outskirts of Kyoto.

Terakoya Act: The searching party for Kanshusai finally reached Genzo. Genzo tried to scheme with his life at risk, but the one that appeared to arrest him was Matsuomaru, who knew well of the situation. It almost seemed as he was going to be killed, but in the last minute, he finds out that Matsuomaru also adored Kanshojo. Kanshusai managed to escape from peril, but the sacrifice he made was great.

Act Five

The Ochi Tenpen (extraordinary natural phenomenon) Act: Shihei was defeated due to the power of Tenjin, and Kanshusai reestablished the Sugawara House, and Kanshojo received Shoichii (Senior First Rank).

First Act

The reason why ox carts often appeared starting with the Kamo-tsutsumi Mound act was that ox was believed to be the messenger of Tenjin and connected to Tenjin Worship.

Second Act

The episode at Kakuju no yakata was an act that contained parting Kanshojo father and son, assassination, endangered Kanshojo, and considered to be the most complex act among Gidayu Kyogen with lots of places to take note of. Also, since there were various characters, kabuki required a grand scale casts, and was hard to perform since not many were fit to play the role of Kanshojo. In addition, tayu (leading actor in a Noh play) of joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a samisen accompaniment) that acted alone required high skills.

Kanshojo was a great role that required grace and dignity, and historically famous actors such as Danjuro ICHIKAWA (ninth generation), Nizaemon KATAOKA (11th generation), Utaemon NAKAMURA (fifth generation), Ganjiro NAKAMURA (first generation), and Koshiro MATSUMOTO (seventh generation) played the role.
Recently, Kanshojo of thirteen generation Nizaemon KATAOKA received the great reputation as 'superior than human work.'

Carriage Pulling Act

Three different characters of Umeomaru, Matsuomaru, and Sakuramaru performed according to their tachiyaku (a leading male-role actor) roles, and was a performance that condensed the ceremonial beauty of kabuki. Shihei was a ruler that schemed for the absolute rule, and had a kabuki role of being the evil kuge (noble) and appeared with the unique appearance of kugeare (wild kuge (noble) Kabuki make-up style).

Sakuramaru at Kamigata stressed on wagoto (the production style of a love scene) and fell crying without taking off the makeup at 'Gochinchaku' (settled down), but Sakuramaru in Tokyo took off one line kumadori (kabuki make-up) and did not fall crying. Kamigata had two backgrounds of Kamigata nodomi (scene painting of field) (the background of a rural districts) and the fence of a shrine, but Tokyo had only a shrine fence and did not shift a scene.

Umeo, Matsuo, Sakuramaru each had Tsukeuchi (sound effects made with a pair of wooden sticks to exaggerate actors' emotions or movements such as running or dropping things on the ground) in Kamigata before the World War II, and a huge sound was made when three of them made their poses.

Fighting-Seppuku of Sakuramaru Act

Story slowly continued in a place of peasants unlike the aristocratic world as before. The Shiratayu family that protected Kanshojo lived in peace but that collapsed with the change of government. The tyrannical politics made peasants to suffer. The two eldest sons left Shiratayu and bade last farewell with Sakuramaru.

The name, Shiratayu, is used in a noh play called "Domyo-ji Temple (noh play)" as well.

The color of underwear worn under kimono at the time when Sakuramaru committed seppuku differed with ideology of actors. White is mainly used in Kamigata. The first generation, Ganjiro NAKAMURA made it a cherry-pink color by putting gauze over the color red. Tokyo had a tendency to focus greatly on performance beauty and used various colors, including same white as Kamigata, or white under red (ICHIMURA Uzaemon (fifteenth generation) and Mitsugoro BANDO (seventh generation)). There was also a technique to wear pale blue (Kikugoro ONOE (sixth generation)). Classical white and red. There are various characteristics seen including modern water.

Shiratayu had a tragic and difficult role of having his clan fallen apart and oversaw the death of his son and did not lose the parental love until even to the very end. The eleventh and thirteenth generations Nizaemon KATAOKA father and child took that role.

Entering Temple-Terakoya Act

This was a tragic play that used an unique performance technique of Gidayu Kyogen of migawari (scapegoat) and modori (showing one's real good character after disguising it as a bad one).

Entering Temple act is sometimes abbreviated due to consideration of the limited show time in kabuki.

Terakoya was definitely not present during Heian Period. This was because the play was written at that time with a little consideration of following according to a historical evidence, and Terakoya and families into education used to worship the Tenjin statues, and guests during the Edo Period had a strong connection with Tenjin.

"Terakoya" was performed as Tenran Kabuki (Kabuki the royal family attend to watch) at the residence of Inoue in April 1887. All court ladies that accompanied empress cried with tears.

The child that played the role of a fool called 'Yodarekuri' (drooling kid) was lectured by Genzo and held incense and rice bowl as a punishment.
Meiji Emperor asked the chamberlain on the way home from Tenran Kabuki concerning 'Yodarekuri,' 'does that person hold incense and a rice bowl even at the house?'
No, he is Tsuruzo NAKAMURA, who makes people laugh at stage as a role of a fool but is an honest and serious man at home," to which the emperor laughed, "he's a funny man." Tsuruzo, who heard it felt that the compliment was more than what he deserved and prostrated himself on top of a tatami mat before crying.

The climax of this scene was a decapitated head, and various shapes of Matsuo was present, but lid was usually placed near the body, and one look down the head with both hands jutting out lightly.
The current standard form of performance is to look at Genzo with 'no difference,' look at Genba with 'there is no difference," closed the lid with 'Genzo', and lift up a right hand with 'well done in killing.'
The ninth generation Danjuro ICHIKAWA and Enjaku JITSUKAWA (second generation) had the flamboyant performance technique of having Genba to remove the lid, and Matsuo taking out the katana.

One actor forgot to put the head in a bucket when he performed as Genzo. Danjuro ICHIKAWA (seventh generation) was the one that played the role of Matsuo, but no head was present when lid was taken off.
Everybody froze, but Danjuro closed the lid without a word, and made Genzo leave with 'we will receive it later Genzo,' and said, 'hey, lord Genbo, it is a grave matter of beheading of your master.'
It's fine even if you forgot it,' and settled the scene with an ad lib.

Famous Lines

Genzo TAKEBE 'One which should not be done should go to the miyazukae (officials in the service of the court in ancient Japan)' (せまじきものは宮仕へ) (Terakoya Act)


They performed the 'campaign to distribute a discount tickets' at Terakoya within a city for the first performance at Edo. It was a great hit.

Actors of Kanshojo and tayu was compared with the 'lord Tenjin' worship, and they performed after purifying oneself (religiously) by abstaining from eating meat.

Koshiro MATSUMOTO (ninth generation) stated, 'I used to wonder why guests cried during plays such as 'Terakoya' where children were sacrificed when I performed as a child (after the World War II). Later, I came to conclusion that they were the remaining families of those who died during the war' (Summary, Synopsis from the Two Hundred Twenty Seventh National Theater Performance).

A Word Play by the Joruri Writer

Within the 'shochikubai' (pine, bamboo and plum trees), 'bamboo' (pronounced as take in Japanese) was not brothers but designated to be Genzo. He was written as Takebe Genzo.

Wives of the triplets had names that referred to the names of their husbands.

[Original Japanese]