Yoshitsune Senbonzakura (Yoshitsune and One Thousand Cherry Trees) (義経千本桜)

Yoshitsune Senbonzakura is a program of ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) or Kabuki of Gidayu-bushi (musical narrative of the puppet theatre) or performed along with Gidayu-bushi. A work of the Edo period. It describes the revenge by a busho (Japanese military commander) of the Taira family and the people involved in it as well as their happiness and sadness, starting from the exile of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune from the capital after the Genpei War.
Tsunogaki (subtitle) is 'Daimotsu Funa Yakura/Yoshino Hanayagura.'
Shinokiri (literally cut into four parts) generally indicates the fourth section of kiriba (one part of gidayu), Kawatusra Hogen yakata (Scene of Kawatsura Hogen's palace) of this work. Also, Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi (Scene of travel of Hatsune) of this work is known as a common name of Yoshino yama.

Actual incident

MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune ran away when he was expelled from the Horikawa residence in Kyoto due to his conflicts with his older brother MINAMOTO no Yoritomo after the Genpei War.
(Kyoto -> Daimotsu-ura in Settsu Province -> Yoshino in Yamato Province)

Battle in the Genpei War (Yashima and Dannoura)

Based on these incidents, the author created a drama containing a complicated story. Also, a part of the second section is based on the Funa Benkei (Benkei in the Boat) of Noh (traditional masked dance-drama) play.

Preceding works

"Heike Monogatari" (The tale of the Heike), a war chronicle. Author unknown, Kamakura period.

"Gikeiki" (a military epic about the life of Yoshitsune), a war chronicle. Author unknown, from the period of the Northern and Southern Courts. Other biographies about MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune.

"Funabenkei," a Noh play. Written by Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE, Muromachi period.


Although Yoshitsune is the main character, he is so to speak a keystone to which many other characters are connected. Things mainly told in the story are about the enemies of the Genpei War including TAIRA no Tomomori, TAIRA no Koremori and TAIRA no Noritsune who were supposed to be dead, a family of common people in Yoshino, and a imposter pretending to be Tadanobu SATO, a vassal of Yoshitsune's. Therefore, the three stories about TAIRA no Tomomori, a family in Yoshino and the fake Tadanobu are performed in turn.

The legend of Yoshitsune, which had already been popular as the hero of a tragedy, was recreated with an excellent narrative and became a huge hit. Along with "Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami" (Sugawara's secrets of calligraphy) and "Kanadehon Chushingura" (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers), which were created subsequently, Yoshitsune Senbonzakura came to be referred to as one of the three greatest works of Gidayu Kyogen (Kabuki adaptations of puppet plays).

Author and the original performance

Author: a collaborative work created by Izumo TAKEDA the second, Shoraku MIYOSHI and Sosuke NAMIKI.

Genre: Genpeimono (stories written on the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan)/Hoganmono (stories written on Yoshitsune)

Ningyo joruri December 1747, Osaka Takemotoza (the puppet theater in Osaka)

Kabuki May 1748, Edo Nakamura-za Theater

The debut performance was thought to be 'one of the best hits ever' ("Jorurifu") and since then it is often performed as Ningyo joruri and Kabuki as a popular play even today. This play is, especially the sections of Toriimae and others, performed not only for commercial purposes but also in jishibai performance (amateur performance by local residents).


MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune

Kuro Hogan. He fought well in the Genpei War, and was later pursued by his older brother Yoritomo, the supreme commander of the Minamoto clan. Based on the legend of Yoshitsune, he is described as a hero who was rational and perfect for a sho (commander) of an army.

Musashibo Benkei

Strong and peerless warrior-priest. The best retainer of Yoshitsune's.


Yoshitsune's favorite concubine and Shirabyoshi (Japanese traditional dancer). She was commended with a Hatsune no tsuzumi (hand drum) made with the skins of male and female foxes that had lived for a thousand years of kalpa by Yoshitsune.

Genkuro Gitsune

Children of the foxes that had been used to make the Hatsune no tsuzumi.

Tadanobu SATO

A retainer of Yoshitsune, who was entrusted by the Fujiwara clan in Mutsu Province. His brother Tsugunobu SATO died in the Battle of Yashima.

Jiro SURUGA/Rokuro KAMEI/Hachiro KATAOKA/Saburo ISE

The main retainers of Yoshitsune. Referred to as the Four Great Retainers of MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune.

Tokaiya Ginpei: actually TAIRA no Tomomori.

Ginpei who runs a boathouse in Daimotsu-ura was actually Shin-chunagon Tomomori (New vice-councilor of state Tomomori) who was thought to have died by drowning himself in Dannoura. He aims to attack Yoshitsune and his party who visit his boathouse as guests.

Oryu: actually Naishi no suke no tsubone (a court lady of the first rank)

The wife of Ginpei. Actually Naishi no suke no tsubone, menoto (a woman providing breast-feeding to a highborn baby) of the Emperor Antoku.

Oyasu: actually Antoku-Tei

Only daughter of Ginpei. Actually the Emperor Antoku who was thought to have died by drowning herself in Dannoura. Her grandfather TAIRA no Kiyomori made her en emperor although she was female.

Wakaba no naishi

The wife of TAIRA no Koremori. She is hiding in Kitasaga with her little son Rokudaigimi.

TAIRA no Rokudai

Son of TAIRA no Koremori and the sixth generation of the direct line of the head of the Taira clan.

Shume no Kokingo Takesato

Common name is Kokingo. A vassal of TAIRA no Koremori. Protects Wakaba no naishi and Rokudaigimi.

Igami no Gonta

Being isolated by the people in the village and making money by blackmailing people. Has a wife and children. Son of Yazaemon (to be explained later) but is disinherited.


Runs a sushi shop in Yoshino called Tsurubezushi. Used to be a sailor in the past and owes TAIRA no Shigemori.
/His wife


Daughter of Yazaemon
Younger sister of Gonta. A well-tempered poster girl for Tsurubezushi and adores and dreams about marrying the assistant manager Yasuke, who is a man of a gentle manner.

Yasuke: actually TAIRA no Koremori.

An assistant manager of Tsurubezushi, but actually TAIRA no Koremori, Sanmi no chujo (lieutenant general of Sakone-fu with the third rank) and the first son of TAIRA no Shigemori. Yazaemon gives shelter to him.

Kawatsura Hogen

Kengyo (temple or shrine administrator) of Yoshino yama (Mt. Yoshino). Gives shelter to Yoshitsune and his party in his residence.

Kakuhan of Yokokawa: actually TAIRA no Noritsune.

A believer of Yoshino yama, but actually Noto no kami (the governor of Noto Province) Noritsune. Conspires to revenge Yoshitsune.

Performance style

In Ningyo joruri, it is performed following the setting written in the text of Gidayubushi. However, in Kabuki, some of the scene titles are different from the section names in the text (example 1). The whole play is not performed very often; instead, some of the most interesting scenes are performed independently. Also, sometimes one of the three main stories are selected and the relevant scenes are performed (example 2).

Example 1
Section of Fushimi Inari => Toriimae
Section of Shiinoki => Konomi
Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi => Yoshino yama Although this is the first scene of the fourth section in the text, when the whole play is performed in Kabuki, it is often performed after the section of Daimotsu-ura.

Example 2
When the performance consists of a story about the fake Nobutada.

Toriimae, Michiyuki, and Kawatsura Hogen yakata (residence) are performed in sequence.

When the performance consists of a story about Igami no Gonta.

Konomi, death of Kokingo on the battle field, and sushi shop are performed in sequence.

Structure of the play and the outline

First section
Daijo (prologue) section of Sento Imperial PalaceCloistered Emperor Goshirakawa gives a Hatsune no tsuzumi to Yoshitsune, as reward grants of the battle. Sadaisho (Major Captain the Left Division of Inner Palace Guards) FUJIWARA no Tomokata, who is a favorite retainer of the Cloistered Emperor, pretended that it was an order from a retired emperor and ordered Yoshitsune to subdue Yoritomo.

Section of KitasagaWakaba no naishi, who was hiding in Kitasaga with Rokudaigimi, was attacked but able to get away thanks to Kokingo's wit.

Section of Horikawa PalaceA kitsumonshi (questioner) Taro KAWAGOE comes to see Yoshitsune from Kamakura. He questions Yoshitsune about the facts that the heads of the busho of the Taira clan (Tomomori, Koremori and Noritsune) were fake and that he married Kyo no kimi, who was a princess of the Taira clan. Kyo no kimi commits suicide in order to help Yoshitsune who was in trouble. Benkei attacks the surrounding enemies and a battle started, and Yoshitsune and his party ran away from the residence.

Second section
Section of Fushimi InariYoshitsune and his party arrives at Fushimi Inari. Shizuka finally catches up with them, but Yoshitsune gives her the Hatsune no tsuzumi and leaves her there. HAYAMI no Tota who came to search, attacks Shizuka, but Tadanobu SATO appears and defeats Tota, and travels along with Shizuka.

Section of Tokai-yaYoshitsune and his party head to Kyushu and wait for a boat at Daimotsu-ura in Settsu Province. The master of the boathouse Ginpei shows his power to drive away those searching for Yoshitsune. However, this is a trick and he is actually TAIRA no Tomomori who plans to resuscitate the Taira clan with Antoku-Tei.

Section of Daimotsu-uraTomomori disguises himself as a ghost and plans to kill Yoshitsune by flying with the wind from the ocean, but Yoshitsune discovers it and Tomonori loses again. The Taira clan entrusts Antoku-Tei to Yoshitsune, and court ladies of the clan including Naishi no suke no tsubone drown themselves and finally Tomonori also drowns himself.

Third section
Section of ShiinokiWhen Wakaba no naishi comes to know that her husband TAIRA no Koremori is heading to Mt. Koya, she follows him along with Rokudaigimi and Kokingo via Yamato. They take a break at a tea stall in Shimoichi-machi, Yoshino, Yamato Province on their way, and a local bandit, Igami no Gonta, deceived them and took their money for traveling.

Section of the death of Kokingo on the battle fieldKokingo who stood up against the pursuers of FUJIWARA no Tomokata dies at last. On his way home from a villagers' meeting, Yazaemon of the sushi shop accidentally finds the dead body of Kokingo.

Section of the sushi shopThe master of the shop Yazaemon, his wife Oyone, their daughter Osato and a good-looking assistant manager Yasuke live in the Tsurubezushi. Wakaba no naishi and Rokudaigimi happens to come and spend the night there. The unexpected encounter with Yasuke, Wakaba no naishi realizes that Yasuke is actually the Sanmi no chujo Koremori. Yazaemon comes home from a villagers' meeting where he was informed that the pursuers to seek the Taira clan are in Shimoichi village. Meanwhile, a disinherited son Gonta visits his mother when his father is not home and takes some money from her. When Sengi yaku (investigator) Kagetoki KAJIWARA finally comes to the restaurant, Yazaemon moves the Koremori family to another place. Then, Gonta comes to Yazaemon and tells him that he has captured the Koremori family. Yazaemon gives in to despair. However, Gonta was actually being dutiful to his parents by risking his life. The family was saved, Koremori enters into the priesthood and heads to Mt. Koya. Yazaemon's son Gonta dies and his daughter Osato lost her fiance.

Forth section
Michiyuki Hatsune no Tabi Keigoto (shosagoto, a dance in Kabuki)
This section describes the travels of Shizuka and Tadanobu SATO heading to Yoshino.

Section of Kawatsura Hogen yakataYoshitsune is hiding in the Kawatsura Hogen yakata in Mt. Yoshino. Tadanobu SATO visits Yoshitsune there, and says that he does not know about Shizuka since he has just come back from his hometown. Yoshitsune wonders if he is telling the truth, and when Shizuka makes a sound with the Hatsune no tsuzumi, Tadanobu appears again. At the question of Shizuka, he replies that he is a child of the foxes which were used to make that tsuzumi. Yoshitsune, impressed by the heart of the fox which cares about its parents, gives that tsuzumi. TAIRA no Noritsune who dressed like an armed priest appears to revenge Yoshitsune, but determines that he will come back another time.

Fifth section
FUJIWARA no Tomokata is killed by TAIRA no Noritsune, who is killed by Tadanobu SATO, and the event is concluded.

High spot and comments

The play became diverse because the story is told as a gojitsu monogatari (stories written later) rather than a simple epic story about the Genpei War. It succeeded to provide various types of scenes by reproducing a scene of the battle, making an abstractive performance into a realistic one (i.e. making a Noh play into a Kabuki play), and creating a completely fictional story.

Second section

Section of Fushimi Inari

So-called 'Toriimae.'
This is a scene full of the beauty of style, such as the performance of aragoto (Kabuki play featuring exaggerated posture, makeup, and costume) by brave Tadanobu, humor of the dokegataki (an enemy who provokes laughter) HAYAMI no Tota, and Tachimawari (a fight) by zohyo (common soldiers). The hikkomi (exit performance) of Tadanobu at makugire (fall of the curtain) shows a peculiar move called '"fox" roppo' which is supposed to be a transfiguration of a fox.

Section of Tokai-ya

The long outerwear Ginpei is wearing is shaped like a clothing made in Ezo called attus (atsushi).

Section of Daimotsu-ura

Whereas it is based on the Funa Benkei of the Noh play, in which TAIRA no Tomomori is a ghost, Tomonori disguising himself as a ghost appears here to reproduce the scene of the Battle of Dannoura. After being defeated by Yoshitsune, the scene where TAIRA no Tomomori describes the battle by comparing Rokudo (six posthumous worlds) as 'being thirsty and wanting water in the ocean is exactly what Gakido (the Buddhist hell of starvation) is' clearly shows the nature of the Heike Monogatari (The tale of the Heike) which is featured by the strong influence by Buddhist thought.

Third Section

A character named 'Igami no Gonta' is the central character. He is an uncontrollable villain in the first half, but he turns out to be a good man who dies for the lord along with his family. This is a technique of Kabuki called 'modori' (showing one's real good character after disguising it as a bad one). In the case of Gonta, after he was stabbed by his father, he confesses his true feelings and dies in the arms of his mother. The more the love of relatives is focused upon, the more the self-sacrifice of Gonta becomes tragic.

Uzaemon ICHIMURA the 15th acted the villain of 'cheap hoodlum who couldn't make a living in Edo and came home in Yamato' very cooly, while Enjaku JITSUKAWA the second acted Gonta as a 'delinquent in the country' very naturally; they were regarded as two of the greatest performances of Gonta.

Section of the death of Kokingo on the battle field is popular for Tachimawari which is full of the beauty of style of Kabuki. It is said to be the creation of a sword fight arranger Yaenosuke BANDO who was impressed by the Tachimawari around the last scene of a silent period drama 'Orochi' (Serpent).

Section of Kawatsura Hogen yakata

The structure, which focuses on the villainy of human beings by comparing the love of animals towards their relatives with human beings where even blood-relatives fight against each other, is excellent. Since this section is often performed, in the world of Kabuki, 'Shinokiri' indicates this scene. Partly due to the fact that the main character is a fox, this section startles audiences by glaring staging called keren (playing to the gallery) such as quick change from a samurai to fox, walking on a parapet, a midair stunt (kabuki staging technique) and a sudden appearance of Tadanobu KITSUNE. During the Meiji to Showa periods, people tried to get rid of keren in order to sophisticate Kabuki. Even during such a period, this scene had been continuously performed as one of the typical keren performances.

Side story

Tsurubezushi is a shop which peddles sushi fermented with fish and vegetables. Thus, Yasuke does not make sushi nor customers eat and drink at the store.

In the second episode 'Ugoku Shitai' (The Moving Corpse) in the first season of a TV drama series 'Ninzaburo FURUHATA' screenplayed by Koki MITANI, the killer Ukon NAKAMURA the sixth (played by Masaaki SAKAI) performed Tadanobu Kitsune.

Gonta' means a rambunctious boy in Osaka dialect, which originates from 'Igami no Gonta.'

In the petroleum industry during the period from 1955 to 1964, sellers dumping petroleum products were called 'Gonta shop' after Igami no Gonta in this play.

[Original Japanese]