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Revenges Applauded by Ordinary People

Tale of Okabe Sanjuro (Kinsei Meigi-den Okabe Sanjyūro)
Painted by Utagawa Yoshitsuya II

Oiekyôgen are reenactments through jôruri (puppet plays) and kabuki of incidents such as family trouble in feudal households that resulted in many people losing their titles and jobs as well as stories of revenge. Of these oiekyôgen, there were two that were most loved among the people. One is called ‘sogamono’ (The Tale of Soga Brothers) the other is called ‘chûshinguramono’ (The Tale of the Faithful Samurai of Akô Domain). The Sogamono is based on a true incident which occurred in May 1194 (the 5th year of Kenkyû era). This is the tale of the revenge of Soga Jûrô and Soga Gorô who were brothers in the Kamakura period. Minamoto Yoritomo ordered a hunt to take place in the foothills of Mount Fuji and, taking advantage of the order, they avenged their father by ambushing and slaying his enemy Kudo Suketsune. These two plays were so popular in the middle of the Edo period that it was said that a year of kabuki begins were so popular that many concluded that it was always true that the first kabuki play begins at "sogamono" and the last one ends at "chûshinguramono".

[Kanadehon Chushingura]
Painted by Utagawa Toyokuni III 1849 (Kanei 2)

Revenge incidents have historically taken place the most during the Edo period. Of course, many of these incidents occurred inside the city and there remain many kawaraban (news broadsheets) depicting these. The fact that the people had such a fascination with bloodthirsty acts of revenge explains why there are many kyôgen and ukiyo-e which were inspired by revenge incidents that occurred during the Edo period.

* To view more explanation, please click the each image.