ANDO HIROSHIGE
BASIL STEWART: A GUIDE TO JAPANESE PRINTS


CHAPTER XXXII

THE SUGAWARA TRAGEDY

A DRAMA which was, and still is, as popular in the kabuki-shibai as the Chushingura, is the Sugawara Denju Tenorai Kagami (Penmanship as Taught by the Chancellor Sugawara, a somewhat fanciful title), written mainly by Takeda Izumo (1691-1756), who succeeded Chikamatsu as playwright for the Takemoto Theatre, Osaka, in collaboration with Miyoshi Shoraku, Namiki Senryu, and Koizumo, and was first performed in 1746.

This play is very long, and for this reason one single act, considered the masterpiece of the tragedy, is generally given alone, known as Matsu (The Pine Tree ), or Terakoya (The Village School-house ).

As a subject of illustration, however, there does not appear to have been the demand for it that its popularity as a play would have led one to expect, when one considers the numerous prints there are still in existence of the Chushingura. Occasional prints are met with of actors in the part of characters from the play, or of some of the characters in the story upon which it is founded.

An almost complete set of scenes, similar to the scenes from the Chushingura, and the only set of this nature of which the writer has been able to find any record, are described and illustrated in this chapter.

This is an excellent, and very rare, set by SADAHIDE, a good idea of which is given by the coloured reproduction of the best plate in the set at page 302.* Ten plates are here described, but it is presumed the set originally consisted of twelve, the number of acts in the play, though search has not revealed more than the ten, and the plates themselves not being numbered, as the Chushingura scenes always are, they afford no evidence on the point.

The play takes for its theme the story of the misfortunes of Sugawara- no-Michizane (A.D. 847-903), who became chancellor to the Emperor Daigo, was falsely accused of treason by the machinations of his rival, Fujiwara-no-Tokihira (Shihei in the drama), and banished to Tsukushi, where he died in poverty and exile in 903.

CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY

Sugawara-no-Michizane, Minister of the Right (Udai-jin) to Emperor Uda.
Fujiwara-no-Tokihira, Minister of the Left (Sadai-jin), enemy and rival of Michizane.
Kiyotsura, an accomplice of Tokihira's.
Matsuo (Pine)
Umeo (Plum)
Sakura-maru (Cherry)
)
)
)
Triplets, sons of Shirata-yu, a farmer and servant to Michizane, who becomes their godfather; all faithful retainers to Michizane.
O-Chiyo, wife of Matsuo, and Kotaro, his son, aged 8.
O-ya-ye, wife of Sakura-maru.
––(?), wife of Umeo.
Kanshusai, Michizane's son, and
Lady Sugawara (Minazura-hime) his mother
)
)
both hiding from Tokihira in Matsuo's house
Takebe Genzo, a vassal and former pupil of Michizane, who keeps a village school near Kyoto, at Seryu.
Tonami, his wife.
Shundo Gemba, emissary of Tokihira.
Village school children, their parents, and soldiers.

The play deals with the vengeance taken by the three brothers for the banishment and death of their lord, Michizane, and in particular the sacrifice by Matsuo, who, the better to carry out his plans, had nominally entered the service of Tokihira, of the life of his only son to save that of Kanshusai and prevent the extinction of the Sugawara clan.

The memory of the unfortunate statesman, Sugawara-no-Michizane, is surrounded by a halo of romance which affords an insight into Japanese character. He belonged to an ancient family of professional litterateurs, and had none of the titles which in that age were commonly considered essential to official preferment. By extraordinary scholarship, singular sweetness of disposition, and unswerving fidelity to justice and truth, he won a high reputation, and had he been content with the fame his writings brought him, and with promoting the cause of scholarship, through the medium of a school which he endowed, he might have ended his days in peace. But, in an evil hour, he accepted office, and thus found himself required to discharge the duties of statesmanship at a time of extreme difficulty, when an immense interval separated rich and poor . . . when the nobles were crushing the people with merciless taxes, and when the finances of the Court were in extreme disorder. Michizane, a gentle conservative, was not fitted to cope with these difficulties, and his situation at Court was complicated by the favour of an ex-Emperor (Uda) who had abdicated, but still sought to take part in the administration, and by the jealousy of the Fujiwara representative, Tokihira, an impetuous, arrogant, but highly gifted nobleman. These two . . . became the central figures in a very unequal struggle. . . . The end was inevitable. Michizane, falsely accused of conspiring to obtain the throne for his grandson – an Imperial prince had married his (adopted) daughter – was banished, and his family and friends either killed or reduced to serfdom.
The story is not remarkable. It contains no great crises nor dazzling incidents. Yet if Michizane had been the most brilliant statesman and the most successful general ever possessed by Japan, his name could not have been handed down through all generations of his countrymen with greater veneration and affection. – Brinkley, Japan: its History, Arts, and Literature.

Having said so much by way of introduction, we will now take up the story from the scenes illustrated in the set by Sadahide.

(Each plate has a variously coloured border – green, blue, or orange – on which appears the Sugawara crest at intervals. Title on a red narrow upright label, as title of play given above; signed Sadahide on a yellow gourd-shaped label; publisher's seal of Senichi, and kiwame seal; early work, c. 1840.)

1. Scene at the Palace of Shishiden, Kyoto. Tokihira seated at the top of a flight of steps receiving the Chinese Ambassador who prostrates himself before him; on Tokihira's right is seated Michizane as Minister of the Right, and behind, hidden by a partly rolled-up screen, is the Emperor. On each side of the pathway leading to the steps squat the imperial bodyguard of archers.

The Chinese Ambassador has been sent by the Chinese Emperor to request a portrait of the Emperor Daigo. As, however, Daigo is ill, Tokihira proposes to pose in his stead; but Michizane objects that wearing the imperial insignia might be construed as an omen that Tokihira would one day become Emperor, and considers that the younger brother of Daigo, Tokyo Shinno, should impersonate him. Later on Tokyo Shinno meets the adopted daughter of Michizane, and marries her, thus giving Tokihira the chance of raising the accusation against him that he was plotting against Daigo, and endeavouring to secure the succession to his grandson. On the strength of this charge, Michizane is banished to exile.

2. Two episodes appear to be illustrated in this scene. Michizane's house in Kyoto, by the shores of a lake, before he became Chancellor. He is here shown in his capacity of tutor teaching Takebe Genzo, a loyal retainer, who afterwards became tutor of his son, Kanshusai. The uncouth youth sprawling on the veranda is not Kanshusai, nor is he Genzo's son, as the latter has no son; whom he represents is uncertain.

Behind, Michizane is shown taking leave of his wife and adopted daughter, on departing for Court when appointed Minister to the Emperor.

3. Sakura-maru introducing Michizane's adopted daughter, accompanied by Minazuru-hime, to Tokyo Shinno, younger brother of the Emperor Daigo, who is seated in his travelling wagon.

Hilly landscape through which flows a deep blue stream; the masterpiece of the set. (See Plate H, page 302.)

As explained above, it is the marriage of his daughter to Tokyo that gives Tokihira the opportunity of denouncing Michizane, and which leads to his undoing.

4. Michizane going into exile, to the grief of his aged mother and his wife; at the foot of the steps kneels Terukuni, a faithful retainer.

The episode by the edge of the water, one man preparing to throw a large chest into the lake, and another restraining him, has not been identified.

5. Scene at the house of Shirata-yu, a farmer, and faithful servant to Michizane.

The three brothers, Matsuo, Sakura-maru, and Umeo, with their respective wives, have come to their father's house to congratulate him on the anniversary of his birthday.

Shirata-yu is a servant in the employ of Michizane, and possessed three trees, a plum, a cherry, and a pine, of which he was very fond. Triplets are born to him, and Michizane consents to be their godfather, and they are named after these three trees. When they grow up they are made samurai and enter the service of their godfather.

When Michizane is exiled, Matsuo, the better to serve his lord's cause, takes service with Tokihira, who is completely deceived and, enlisting his aid, reveals to Matsuo his plans for the murder of Michizane's son, Kanshusai, and the complete overthrow of the Sugawara family.

So clever is Matsuo's dissimulation that even his own parents and brothers are deceived, and he is reviled by all and accused of disloyalty to his lord (an unpardonable offence) and disinherited by his family.

In this scene he is being set upon by Sakura-maru, the two fighting with their father's rice-bales.

In the end Matsuo proves the most loyal of the three, as, in devotion to the Sugawara clan, and to save its extinction, he willingly substitutes his own child, Kotaro, who is killed instead. Of the other two brothers Umeo follows his lord into exile, and kills the man sent by Tokihira to murder Michizane in the island of Tsukushi, while Sakura-maru is killed in defending his lord's cause.

6. Tokihira, a furious figure in white robes, standing on his dismantled chariot, casts a spell over Umeo and Sakura-maru, who have broken and trampled the shafts and the covering of the chariot and were on the point of killing him, but his spell renders them helpless. Matsuo makes as though to attack his brothers in defence of Tokihira. The scene is laid outside a temple, part of the torii before it appearing in the background in a grove of trees. (See Plate 55.)

This scene will also be found illustrated in a very fine four-sheet print by Toyokuni, a copy of which is in the British Museum.

7. We now come to what is the most famous act in the whole drama, and the one which is often given separately under the title of Matsu (The Pine Tree), Matsud being the hero of it, or Terakoya (The School-house), from the principal scene being laid in Genzo's school at Seryu.

The act is divided into two scenes, the first being laid in Matsuo's home in Kyoto, where the wife of Michizane is in hiding from Tokihira.

Shundo Gemba, Tokihira's chief emissary, suddenly arrives after dark at Matsuo's house with a message to Matsuo to the effect that Kanshusai's hiding-place had been discovered at Genzo's school, who passed him off as his own son, and Tokihira's orders were that he (Matsuo), being the only one on their side who knew the boy, was to go to the school and identify him from amongst the other pupils, and bring his head as a trophy to Lord Tokihira.

By way of reward for this service you will be created Lord of Harima. There is no time to be lost, so you must make preparations at once. Adding that they are to meet at Genzo's school-house the following morning to carry out the identification, Gemba takes his departure.

It is after this interview that Matsuo determines to sacrifice his own son, who is the same age as Kanshusai and very like him in appearance, by sending him to the school, and himself identifying him as Michizane's son. For this purpose he takes his wife and Lady Sugawara into his confidence, and the former immediately prepares to take Kotaro, to whom everything has been explained and who expresses a perfect willingness to die for his lord's son, to Genzo's school.

The scene now changes to Genzo's school, where Kanshusai is studying with other pupils, and excels them all, inheriting the ability of his father.

O-Chiyo arrives with her son while Genzo is absent, and is received instead by his wife Tonami. Just after O-Chiyo leaves, Genzo returns rather low in spirit, as he has just come from Gemba's house whither he had been invited as if to a feast given to the village mayor, and told that it was known he was secreting Michizane's son in his school and passing him off as his own child, and that unless he killed him at once and brought his head to Gemba, he would be attacked, his school raided and Kanshusai killed.

Genzo pretends to assent, and decides to sacrifice one of his pupils instead, but knowing the plebeian character of them all, he does not see how he could possibly palm any of them off as Kanshusai; hence his state of mind on his return.

At this juncture, however, his eye lights upon the new pupil just arrived (O-Chiyo does not reveal the identity of herself or of Kotaro to Tonami when she brings her son to the school), and struck with the resemblance between him and Kanshusai decides to take the former as a substitute, and risk Matsuo's noticing the change. In the event of Matsud discovering the ruse, Genzo determines to kill him at once and then try and cut his way through Gemba's soldiers with Kanshusai, or both be killed in the attempt.

He therefore sends the two boys into an inner room to play together and gives the other pupils a holiday.

Shortly afterwards Matsuo and Gemba arrive at the school, followed by the parents of the pupils.

Matsuo takes his seat in front and Gemba behind, and each villager calls out his son, till all in turn have been searchingly inspected and allowed to go.

This is the episode here illustrated.

Gemba and Matsuo then demand Genzo to produce the head of Kanshusai at once.

It shall be done! replied Genzo, and going into the inner room where Kanshusai and Kotaro had been playing together (on arrival of Gemba and Matsuo, Genzo hides Kanshusai in a cavity below the floor; covering the place over with the thick floor mats), strikes off the latter's head, and brings it before Matsuo and Gemba on a white wooden tray under a cover.

While Matsud deliberately examines the head of his own son, Genzo's eyes are riveted upon him, his hand on his sword-hilt, ready in an instant to cut down Matsuo the moment he realizes the deception that has been practised upon him.

At last Matsuo, after carefully and searchingly examining the head, pronounces the momentous verdict: Undoubtedly this is the head of Kanshusai, son of the Lord Sugawara, at the same time replacing the cover over it.

Gemba, now delighted that the gruesome deed has been done, carries off the head in triumph to Tokihira, followed by Matsuo, who, however, presently returns (his wife meantime reappears on the scene, which causes complications to arise between her and Genzo), and explains the whole situation, how he himself had decided that Kotaro should impersonate Michizane's son, knowing what desperate straits Genzo would be in when ordered to deliver up Kanshusai's head and unable to find a substitute, yet equally unable to commit such a crime as the murder of his young lord.

The scene closes with the reunion of Lady Sugawara with her son and their flight to Kawachi, the stronghold of the Sugawara family.

From this point Matsuo disappears from the play.

8. Michizane is here shown in exile in the island of Tsukushi riding on a black ox and reading to his driver.

The two figures behind fighting on the seashore cannot be identified. Tokihira does send a man to murder Michizane while in exile, who is killed by Umeo, but they do not refer to this incident, as neither figure represents Umeo.

9. Michizane praying for a thunderstorm to destroy his enemies; below Umeo, who follows him into banishment, overcoming three sailors, armed with oars, who had attacked him. Here again the allusion is not at all clear, and does not appear to fit in with the ascertained facts of the story, in which Ume5 kills the man (not a sailor) sent to murder Michizane.

10. Tokihira and his accomplice, Kiyotsura, being killed by lightning, caused by the prayers of Michizane, in the Palace at Kyoto, while a priest endeavours, but in vain, to quell the storm.

Curtain.

On his death, Michizane received from the repentant Emperor, Daigo, the posthumous title of Tenmangu, the God of Caligraphy, under which title he became patron saint of schoolboys, while shrines were erected throughout the country in his honour.

He is said to have written twelve books of poetry and two hundred volumes of history.

Amongst his poems is one written during his exile, and which became one of his most celebrated

The plum tree follows me through the air,
   (Umeo follows him in banishment)
Withered and dry is the cherry tree;
   (Sakura is killed defending his lord's cause)
Should then the pine tree so lofty and fair
Alone be heartless and faithless to me?

   (In allusion to Matsuo taking service with his enemy Tokihira).

But the pine tree was not heartless nor faithless, as subsequent events so amply proved.

The first line of the above poem is in allusion also to an event which took place on his departure into exile, when one of his favourite plum trees miraculously transported itself to Chikuzen, in the island of Tsukushi (hence in the play Umeo follows Michizane into exile), in response to his poem:–

When the eastern breeze passes
Load her with perfume, O blossoms of my plum trees.

This tree has since been known as Tobi Ume, the jumping plum tree.