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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Hayagawari (Quick-Change Techniques)


Shigeharu Hayagawari kanji Hayagawari ("quick-change technique": 早替り) were sudden transformations of character that were made possible by various stage tricks called 'keren', such as removing upper layers of clothing to reveal new costumes for the next role, or altering make-up and accessories. Face masks, which were sometimes part of bi-gender costumes, were used to quickly exhibit faces belonging to different characters, as in the case of ushiromen ("back masks") worn on the back of costumes and put into effect when turning one's back to the audience. Thus the actor was able to effect rapid changes in age, gender, occupation, and moral character.

Although hayagawari had been popular on the kabuki stages in Edo and Kamigata (Osaka-Kyoto area) since the early eighteenth century (as part of the genre known as henge-mono or "transformation pieces"), the Kamigata theaters witnessed a vogue for such devices at least as early as 1816-1817, if we can judge by surviving ukiyo-e prints. One frequently encountered type of hayagawari was the nanabake ("seven changes," also called shichi henge), which required the actor to take on seven different roles (nanayaku) within a single performance.

Hayagawari kanji The popularity of hayagawari was reflected in ukiyo-e prints through many depictions of actors in multiple roles. There was also a sub-genre of prints called hayagawari-e or "quick-change pictures," which when juxtaposed against one another and folded along alignment lines formed alternate images. Others had hinged flaps with one design that when lifted revealed an alternate design underneath. This style of print was also popular in forming erotic pictures from the elements of more decorous images. One example of a nanabake from the Osaka stage is the print above right by Ryûsai Shigeharu (1803-1853). It was published by Kichi for a performance of Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomeiri ("News of the Affair of Osome and Hisamatsu") at the Wakadaya Theater in 3/1828. Sawamura Gennosuke II (1802-53), a Edo actor who performed frequently in Osaka (see also Onagori kyôgen), is shown in dual roles as the two main characters Osome and Hisamatsu. Based on an actual love suicide circa 1708-1710, the tragedy was first recorded in the most famous of all utazaimon ("popular ballads").

The play was written by Tsuruya Nanboku IV and first performed at the Morita-za, Edo in 3/1813. The yomiuri of the play title were ("reading-selling"), vendors who sang or chanted the news, including scandals such as tales of tragic lovers. The Osome-Hisamatsu story gave rise to the expression Hisamatsu rusu ("Hisamatsu is not at home"). When inscribed on paper and attached to one's door, it served as a talisman against influenza (osomekaze). The serendipitous embedding of Osome's name in the term for influenza linked it with Hisamatsu, who, if not at home, would be elsewhere with Osome. Thus the writing and posting of Hisamatsu rusu became a fetishized expression to chase away influenza.

In the play Hisamatsu, a pawnshop apprentice, was the lover of Osome, although he was betrothed to another. The lovers become involved in foiling an evil plan which leads to a murder by Hisamatsu. As he is also guilty of illicit love, they have no choice but to journey to the Sumida river to commit double suicide (shinjû); however, they are stopped and survive in this version of the story (though not in others). Besides the roles of the lovers, Gennosuke would also have performed the roles of a geisha, palace maid, old woman, country girl, and farmer's wife. Shigeharu's design illustrates the simultaneous depiction of one actor in multiple roles, a scene during their intended final michiyuki ("road going") as they traveled at night toward the Sumida River to die. This scene was typically performed as a stylized dance sequence. The portrayal of one actor in two or more roles within a single design was a conventional conceit of ukiyo-e artists, as the actor could not, of course, actually be in two places at one time. The intention was to portray the effect of near-simultaneity of hayagawari.

Hokuei kanji Hokuei A second example of an Osaka nanabake is shown on the left. It is one of the earliest known designs by Shunkôsai Hokuei (active circa 1827-1837) and depicts Ichikawa Hakuen II (the temporary acting name of the great Edo actor Ichikawa Danjûrô VII; 1791-1859), who was appearing in Osaka after fires had destroyed all three theaters in Edo in 3/1829. On this sheet he performs the roles of Yashio and Kinugawa Tanizô in the play Date kurabe Okuni kabuki ("Competition of the Date Clan in Okuni Kabuki") at the Naka Theater in 8/1829. Published by Tenki and Iden, the sheet is inscribed shichi yaku no uchi (("From among seven roles"). Hokuei designed two other prints for this set depicting Hakuen in the remaining five roles.

The play involved a complicated adaptation of the play Meiboku sendai hagi ("Hagi, the Famous Tree at Sendai") involving the intrigues over disputed succession in the Date clan (including the infamous necromancer Nikko Danjô and the valiant samurai Arajishi Otkonosuke). The drama also detailed events surrounding the court lady Kasane and her lover Yoemon.

Hakuen's two characters are adversaries on opposing sides of the dispute. Yoshio attempts to assassinate the young male heir of the Date (now calling themselves the Ashikaga), but she is frustrated in reaching her goal and is later slain by the nurse who is harboring the child. Tanizô, a former sumô wrestler in the service of the Ashikaga, saves his lord Yorikane from assassination, although he must also murder his lord's mistress, the courtesan Takao. The subplot takes a turn when Tanizô changes his name to Yoemon and marries Takao's sister, Kasane. The vengeful spirit of Takao disfigures her sister Kasane to punish Yoemon. Ultimately he must also murder Kasane when she attacks him in a fit of jealousy. © 2000-2002 by John Fiorillo


  • De Becker, J., The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yûkwaku. Rutland 1971, p. 152.
  • Ikeda Bunko, Kamigata yakusha-e shûsei ("Collected Kamigata Actor Prints"), Ikeda Bunko, 1998, p. 83, no. 253.
  • Leiter, S.: New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenward Press, 1997, pp. 15, 74-75, and 519-20.
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