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Utamaro print showing


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Onagori Kyôgen ("Farewell Performances")


Kunihiro Onagori kyôgen ("farewell play") was a term used in kabuki parlance for performances given by actors during the ninth and tenth months, corresponding to the last part of the theatrical year before some actors were scheduled to go on tour in other cities for the next season.

Related terminology could sometimes be complicated. Actors departing Osaka for Edo were referred to as kudari yakusha ("going-down actors"). When actors took the opposite route for their tours and left Edo for Kamigata (the Osaka-Kyoto region), they were, in Kamigata, referred to as nobori yakusha ("actors going up to the capital") or 'Edo nobori' ("going up to the capital from Edo"), although in Edo they were called agari yakusha ("going-up actors").

Terminology for onagori kyôgen also varied, as in Edo these plays were occasionally called aki kyôgen ("autumn plays") or kikuzuki kyôgen ("chrysanthemum-month plays") because they coincided with the Chrysanthemum Festival (ninth day of the ninth month to the fifteenth day of the tenth month). Typically such performances included episodes from popular roles as well as dances created for the special occasions. Other plays that were commonly found in onagori kyôgen included those involving kowakare or 'child separation' scenes in which a parent was forced to abandon a child, a choice of subject obviously linked to the sadness felt by theater fans who were forced to say farewell to their favorite actor before his journey.

Kunihiro kanji In the example shown here, the artist Utagawa (Ganjôsai) Kunihiro (active circa 1810s-1840s) depicted the actor Sawamura Gennosuke II (1802-1853) in the role of Hokaibô Nanakon, circa 1828. The play is unconfirmed, though it must be related to (if not the same as) Sumidagawa gonichi no omokage ("A duplicate countenance at the Sumida River"). The drama was one of various puppet and kabuki productions called Sumidagawa mono ("Sumida River plays"). Among one of the complicated subplots was the story of Hokaibô, a defrocked mendicant priest, crook, and lecher who attempts to steal an heirloom scroll painting belonging to the family of Yosuke, a young samurai. Hokaibô also tries to kidnap Yosuke's lover Okumi from yet another villain in the process of stealing her away. Hokaibô later murders Yosuke's bethrothed, Nowake, in one of kabuki's many instances in which a character promised to another is engaged in an affair with a third party. He then attempts to forcibly seduce Okumi. He fails, however, and is killed by Yosuke's friend, Jinza, a curio dealer who comes to the aid of the young lovers, who have run off and disguised themselves as herb sellers after Yosuke is unjustly accused of not repaying a debt. Finally, the ghost of the evil Hokaibô appears in the guise of Okumi alongside the real Okumi at the Sumida River ferry run by Jinza's sister, Oshizu. The ghost's true nature is revealed when it is unable to perform (as a test of identity) a dance miming private events from Okumi's life that only the true Okumi could have known.

In Kunihiro's print, published by Tenki, Hokaibô is shown in disguise as Okumi while standing under flowering cherry by the Sumida River. He holds a basket of herbs and poses during the dance that will reveal he is an impostor. The actor Sawamura II was an Edo actor who performed in Kamigata on several occasions between the years 1820 and 1835. He possessed notable ability as a dancer and onnagata ("woman's manner," a male actor in female role), and both talents are obviously on display here. © 2000-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Leiter, S.: New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki jiten. Westport: Greenward Press, 1997, pp. 11-12 and 623-626.
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