A MILLION QUESTIONS
Port Townsend, Washington
Play: Honchō Nijūshi
Actor: Arashi Rikan III
Print Size: 9 7/8"
x 7 1/8"
Signed: Yoshitaki ga
There are copies of
at the Museum of Fine Arts
in Boston and
at the Hankyu Culture
There is a very similar print by Yoshitaki of Yaegakihime in the collection
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but in that example she is shown in a
snowy scene although the pose is very close.
The MFA example is dated from the 10th
month of 1861.
The image shown above is
basically the left
panel of a diptych by Kunisada.
Could Use Some
Help Here People!
(In the past tense
Years ago I asked
if anyone knew the exact location of a large
stone sculpture of Yaegakihime holding aloft the enchanted helmet. This
statue was situated in the middle of a body of water with a mountainous
shoreline in the background. On February 16, 2004 our correspondent and
contributor A.K. wrote and told us that it was located somewhere in Nagano prefecture and
that it was placed in Lake Suwa (諏訪湖
With this information I was able to find the exact location in the waters just
off of Suwa City (諏訪市
But I still didn't have a good photo which I could post.
AT LAST - YEARS LATER
Bryon C. at the
University of Ohio wrote to me on October 20, 2008 to say that he had found
it! See for yourself. Bryon included this URL for the Tateshina Tokyu
That sent me on an
entirely new search for a decent image. I have learned a lot in the last
five years about navigating the Internet. After a fairly quick look I
tracked down a better photo in a web site operated by Akira Komatsu.
Fortunately Akira also offered a page in English. I wrote and asked
permission to use this photo and almost immediately received an answer along
with a larger jpeg of the statue. (See below!)
Thank you A.K.,
Bryon C. and Akira. I couldn't have done this without you and consider each
of your contributions significant.
One other point:
In the last 15
years I have done a lot of traveling and camping throughout the United
States and Canada. I always took my mountain bike - I love my mountain bike
- with me so I could explore more closely both urban and natural settings.
From the crowded streets of Boston to charming or atmospheric small towns to
rarely frequented forested paths where one is lucky to see five other people
in a whole day I rode and rode and rode. Images like the one above make me
wish I were there riding like a fiend all along the shore exploring every
nook and cranny. That is what makes this picture so much sweeter: Akira
Komatsu runs a bike rental shop near Lake Suwa. So, if you are in the area
and have the same fever I do and no bike handy then visit Akira and I will
live through your experiences vicariously. You can link to Akira's site at:
The foxfire or kitsunebi (St. Elmo's
"Indeed, foxes are very fond of luring people to an unholy place by creating
a welcoming light or 'fire', so fond that the ignes fatui are called kitsune-bi, 'fox fires'. The fire is produced by the fox striking the
ground with his tail, or it may also be his luminous breath. It will either
burn quietly, like a lamp, to attract the intended victim into a phantom
house, or it will wander about like a torch and confuse the late traveller,
sometimes ensnaring him into an inextricable forest or a swampy moor. At
other times the beckoning flame will promptly extinguish at the approach of
the victim, leaving him in complete darkness far away from the road. Or it
may suddenly 'fly away
and disappear in the sea'... The breath-exhaled fire may even
'shoot forward to the distance of some two or three feet'. . . "
Quote from U.A. Casal, "The
Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan", Folklore
Studies, vol. 18, 1959, p. 10.
The above information can
also be found on our
Kesa thru Kuruma index/glossary page. For
additonal information about flames which float freely in the air should go
hitodama entry on out
Hil thru I index/glossary page.
for both the puppet theater and kabuki stage would often start with an
historical incident as a jumping off point. This could be as lofty as a high
political drama or as commonplace as the love affair of a couple which was
tragically predetermined. From there the authors would soar off into the
worlds of the supernatural*,
spiritual and sometimes inexplicable. Completely mixed together the
initial incident could become almost totally lost and forgotten in the mix.
The figure of Yaegakihime**
seen above holding the spiritually imbued helmet is just such an example.
left is a detail of a bunraku print by Toyokuni III.)
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
chose to commit suicide in his palace
in Kyōto in 1565 rather than be murdered by his enemies.
THE PUPPET PLAY
“The Twenty-four Examples of Filial Piety” (Honcho nijushiko
written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon
with the assistance of two other authors. First
performed in Osaka in 1766 the play had five acts of which only two have
survived. As with so many other puppet plays this one was soon adapted to
the kabuki stage.
summary of act II
primary figure of Act II. According to Aubrey and Giovanna Halford In The
Kabuki Handbook (p.66) "The rôle of Yaegaki-hime in this act is
considered one of the three most difficult 'princess' rôles of the stage."***
II is referred to as "The Incense Burning Scene" or Jisshiko no Ba.
The Shogun has been murdered and the Takeda and Nagao
長尾, historically known as
the Uesugi上杉, clans are backing the opposing sides.
Yaegakihime, the daughter of Nagao
Kenshin 謙信, had been betrothed to Takeda Katsuyori
who ostensibly had committed
suicide on the eve of his wedding because of the enmity between the two
families. In fact, he had only feigned suicide and had gotten an honorable
samurai to commit the act in his stead. The samurai surrogate was the
husband of the Nureginu
濡れ衣, Yaegakihime's first lady-in-waiting. Thrown into
all of this high drama is a sacred helmet revered by the Takeda and which
had been left in safekeeping in the hands of a shrine which handed it
over to the Nagao clan.
beginning of the act Yaegakihime is suffering from melancholy over the loss
of her fiancé. Her Father plans an evening of koto music to raise his
daughter's spirits. In the meantime, Katsuyori appears disguised as a
gardener in an effort to recover his family's heirloom helmet.
and Nureginu are both seen lamenting their losses. Katsuyori remembers that
this is the first anniversary of his supposed suicide. Yaegakihime begins to
burn a special incense called "returning soul" before a portrait of her
deceased fiancé. She promises to be faithful to him forever and implores his
spirit to speak to her just once. Both women are weeping.
leaves her room and sees the gardener. Yaegakihime looks out into the garden
and sees Katsuyori believing that her "incense" prayer has been answered,
but when she watches him comforting her lady-in-waiting she begins to think he
is actually a sentient being. When she asks him if he is Katsuyori he denies it and
swears he is only the gardener who looks like her lost love. Then
Yaegakihime accuses Nureginu and the gardener of being lovers. Nureginu
denies this at which point the princess indicates that she wants him for
herself. Nureginu says that if her mistress truly loves the gardener then
she should give him the helmet. Aha! Yaegakihime is now sure that the young
man is Katsuyori who has miraculously reappeared. He denies it. She pleads
for the truth, but he continues to say he is only the gardener. She pleads,
he denies. Thus shunned she begs Nureginu to kill her if this is not
Katsuyori. The torment is too much for all of them and the two lovers rush
toward each other.****
Nagao Kenshin sends the gardener, whom he
recognizes as Katsuyori, on a mission to deliver a letter to the other side
of Lake Suwa. He then sends others with instructions to murder Katsuyori on
his return journey. Since the lake has frozen over the travel must be made
on foot around the lake. Yaegakihime has been listening and begs her father
not to kill him. But her father demurs because he is sure that Katsuyori has
come to steal the helmet. Then he drags his weeping daughter into the palace
and the stage revolves.
The helmet is shown displayed in a pavilion
just off of the garden. Yaegakihime offers a prayer for Katsuyori's safety before
She lifts it from its shrine and although it is very heavy she is able to
lift it easily. She takes it out into the moonlit. Holding the helmet aloft
she notices that when she looks into a pond instead of the reflection of the
helmet she sees the face of a fox. She sets the helmet down and stares into
the pond but only sees the reflection of her own face. When she lifts the
helmet again the face of the fox reappears. This is when she realizes that
the helmet is possessed by fox spirits and remembers the old saw that when a
fox can cross a frozen lake it is also safe for human to do so. Yaegakihime
puts on the helmet and fox fires appear around her leading the way across
the lake. Now she can save Katsuyori.
A HEADDRESS WORTHY OF A PRINCESS
WHAT A DOLL!
When I started
doing research on Princess Yaegaki I ran across loads of Internet sites with
dolls of this figure for sale. Some were very nice, but many were what I
would describe as pedestrian. Of course, I will be the first to admit that I
don't know diddly about dolls. In fact, to be honest, I may even know less
than diddly about them. However, I was thinking at that time that it would
be nice to be able to offer the visitors to this page a good example of this
form of a good three-dimensional representation if only I could find one
that I thought would be at the least acceptable. It was obvious that
Yaegakihime dolls are and have been extremely popular for quite some
time. There must be a good example somewhere which I could use.
I was reluctant to
write to any commercial sites to see if they would let me use any of their
images and would not have done so without asking permission. Then, the other
day, today is November 2, 2005, a woman - Chloe T. - wrote me and mentioned
that she owned a good example. We corresponded for a few days before it
occurred to ask her if she could send me any images and if I liked them if I
might reproduce any of them. She seemed perfectly amenable to this and sent
me several pictures to choose from. Wow! The one shown above was so much
more than I expected and so much better than those other run-of-the-mill
ones I had seen so far. In fact, this one seems so good to me that it falls
just short of 1) having it right in front of me or 2) seeing a live joruri,
i.e., puppet play, production or 3) sitting in a kabuki theater with
an actor playing the role. Doll connoisseurs may wince at my enthusiasm, but
to me this example looks pretty damned good. And, having set it out in
nature with trees and leaves as a backdrop is a particularly nice touch.
Thank you Chloe T!
These images make a
great contribution to this page.
KUROGO - MEN IN BLACK
One of the
charms of the chuban print above is not only the puppet figure of
Yaegakihime, but also the clearly visible figures dressed and hooded in
black who are assisting in the performance. Nelson translates
黒子 as a prompter or
stagehand. Literally it translates as "black boy." Kurogo are also referred to as Koken 後見 or こけん,
assistant. (Ernst in his glossary section points out that kurogo
is an alternative term for kurombō 黒奴 or くろんぼ.) (1)
(1) The Kabuki
Theatre, by Earle Ernst, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1998, p. 285.
Nelson (5403) translates this word as negro, dark-skinned person, smut,
prompter and stagehand. Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky in The Kanji
Dictionary (4d7.2) are far less delicate with their definitions. In
fact, they use the "n" word and the term darkie plus black-clad stagehand.
There is a
caveat somewhere in here in that Leiter states: "Bunraku puppeteers wear
similar black robes and hoods." this raises the question --- for me at least
--- as to whether or not these figures can be properly referred to by this
term. If anyone reads this and knows I would like to hear from you.