Chikamatsu Monzaemon (近松門左衛門)

Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU (1653 - January 6, 1725) was a kabuki and joruri (ballad drama) playwright who wrote many great works during the Genroku era in the early Edo period. His real name was Nobumori SUGIMORI. He is believed to have been born in either Echizen Province, Suo Province or Nagato Province.

Monzaemon was first an in-house joruri playwright at Takemoto-za theater, later becoming a kabuki and kyogen (a generic term for a Kabuki drama) playwright midway through his career, before returning to write joruri again. His work "Shusse Kagekiyo" is said to be the forerunner of early modern age joruri. Monzaemon wrote more than 100 joruri plays. Of these, about twenty are "sewamono" (domestic dramas dealing with the lives of commoners) and the rest are "jidaimono" (historical dramas). The subject matter of sewamono included the duties and obligations, or humanity, of the townspeople. The most popular plays at that time however were jidaimono, notably "Kokusenya Kassen." Sewamono such as "Sonezaki Shinju" weren't performed again until the Showa era. At around the same time KI no Kaion also wrote a joruri play based on love suicides - the same topic used by Monzaemon - and indeed love suicides inspired by these plays became fashionable. However only until after the Meiji period were the sewamono joruri plays of Monzaemon critically acclaimed. Monzaemon is believed to have stated that the appeal of art lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal (called the 'kyojitsuhimaku' theory). This idea was introduced as Monzaemon's by Ikan HOZUMI in "Naniwa Miyage" (Souvenir of Naniwa) but there are no theories on performing art written by Monzaemon himself.

The anniversary of his death, 22 November (the date is based on the old calendar and was kept even after the introduction of the modern calendar in the Meiji era), is called CHIKAMATSU mourning, Sorinshi mourning, or Sorin mourning (Sorinshi and Sorin were his pen names) and these terms are used as seasonal words of winter in haiku poetry.

Daihannyakyo (the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra), was donated by Monzaemon to Ryuan-ji Temple, Mino City, and later rediscovered there.


Monzaemon's parents were Nobuyoshi SUGIMORI, a feudal retainer of the Echizen domain whose master was Masachika MATSUDAIRA, and Kisato, Hogen Ichiku OKAMOTO's daughter (Hogen is a title for a professional like a doctor or an artist and OKAMOTO was a doctor's family). The most likely contenders for the location of his birthplace are either Echizen or Hagi City, Nagato Province (the family line of the SUGIMORI is historically the retainer of the Mori clan, whose feudal land was in Nagato Province) but there are other contenders including Karatsu City in Hizen Province or Yodo domain. When he was a child Monzaemon's name was Jirokichi. His real name was Nobumori. Monzaemon's younger brother, Koretsune, became a doctor and later adopted the name, Ippo (or Ichiku) OKAMOTO. Monzaemon himself left health care instructions believed to be in his own handwriting in Kosai-ji Temple in Amagasaki City, Settsu Province.

When Monzaemon's father, Nobuyoshi, became masterless, they both moved to Kyoto
Then for some time there is no record except one poem by Monzaemon, together with poems by his parents and other people, included in "Takaragura" (The Treasure House) by Genrin YAMAOKA. From around the Enpo or Tenna eras he started to write for a joruri performer, Kaganojo UJI and also a kabuki performer, Tojuro SAKATA. However, because the custom of the time was that the name of a playwright was not credited with a play, Monzaemon's works were not identified. In 1683 "Yotsugi Soga" (The Soga Successor), which tells the story following the Soga brothers' revenge, was performed in the Uji-za theater. The following year Gidayu TAKEMOTO established the Takemoto-za theater and staged this play to great acclaim. This success established Monzaemon's status as a joruri writer.

Monzaemon continued to release masterpieces one after another in collaboration with Gidayu, and for the first time his name, Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU, was credited as the author of "Sasaki Okagami," staged in 1686 in the Takemoto-za theater. "Sonezaki Shinju" was released in 1703. In 1705 Izumo TAKEDA became the managing director of Takemoto-za theater, and Monzaemon wrote "Yomei Tenno Shokunin Kagami" (The Mirror of the Craftsmen of the Emperor Yomei) for its kaomisekogyo (all-star performance). He thus become an in-house playwright of the theater and moved to Osaka to focus on a new joruri play.

In 1714 Monzaemon dedicated himself to promoting the restoration of Kosai-ji Temple, Amagasaki. "Kokusenya Kassen," a jidaimono first performed in 1715, enjoyed great popularity and was staged at the Takemoto-za theater for seventeen months in a row starting from October.

His mother, Kisato, died in 1716. Monzaemon had a wife and three sons, with the second and the third sons taking jobs related to joruri.

In 1724 the feudal government, at the time, banned shinjumono performances (dramas dealing with the double suicide of lovers). This is because many people committed copycat double suicides, even though Shinjumono elicited great sympathy and became hugely popular. The following year, in November 1725, Monzaemon died at aged seventy-two.
His final poem is 'it is silly to hope that my trifling works, written in a moment as short as the time that charcoal burns to ashes, will be left to the future.'

Major works

"The complete works of CHIKAMATSU" were published in sixteen volumes by Iwanami Shoten, with Bensey Publishing also published his works.


"Shusse Kagekiyo" (Kagekiyo Victorious) in 1685

"Sonezaki Shinju" (Love suicides of Sonezaki) in 1703

"Meido no Hikyaku" (The Courier for Hades) in 1711

"Kokusenya Kassen" (The Battles of Coxinga) in 1715

"Heike Nyogo ga Shima" (The Heike and the Island of Women) in 1719

"Shinju Ten no Amijima" (The Love Suicide at Amijima) in 1720

"Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku" (The Woman-killer and the Hell of Oil) in 1721


"Keisei Hotoke no Hara" (The Courtesan on the Buddha Plain)

[Original Japanese]