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  Yamaoka Tesshu

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Let me introduce you the story of princess Yaegaki. The princess is the heroine of a five-act drama named Honcho Nijushiko, the 24 models of filial piety. This historical drama was first performed in 1766 as a – Bunraku (文楽) – traditional Japanese puppet theater also called Ningyō jōruri.

Later on the drama rapidly became the source of numerous Kabuki (歌舞伎) versions. Yaegaki-hime is a very famous Kabuki character and one of the 3 important princesses in Japanese folklore – Sanhime – and onnagata (女形) woman’s role.

The drama takes place during Japan’s sengoku jidai (戦国時代 – Japanese civil war era) 1467–1573. The play’s complicated plot begins in 1550 with the assassination of Ashikaga Yoshiharu shogun in Kyoto. At that time battle raged against two military commanders Takeda Shingen and Uesugi/Nagao Kenshin. Shingen was the Kai province’s lord (now Yamanashi) and Kenshin the Echigo province’s lord (now part of Niigata). They fought five major battles called the Battles of Kawanakajima. The fourth battle is for sure the most famous because of the fight between Shingen and Kenshin, Takeda Shingen using a Gunbai (団扇) Japanese war fan to defend himself.

They became bitter enemies after Kenshin “Borrowed” Shingen’s precious helmet which was blessed by Suwa god and decided to keep it. It is said that a samurai wearing this helmet would always win and that in case of danger it would also call 808 Kitsune – Gods’s messengers foxes – to protect his owner.

The two most famous scenes of the drama are one called Jushuko in which Yaegaki-hime vows her love to Takeda Katsuyori who has entered Kenshin’s palace in disguise and the other one called Kitsunebi in which the power of Suwa god helps Yaegaki-hime who is going to warn Katsuyori about the pursuers sent by Kenshin.

At the end, possessed by the mysterious power of the helmet and guarded by two white foxes, Yaegaki-hime sets out to pursue her lover across the frozen Lake Suwa and flies off to Katsuyori. Katsuyori was saved, Takeda and Kenshin made peace and Princess Yaegaki and Katsuyori got married and live happily ever after.

*** The above article does not narrate the entire drama and it’s five act of course so if you want to know a bit more about one of the most grandiose bunraku play, here are a few links: