This play premiered in 1806 in Osaka as a jôruri (puppet play), with the first kabuki adaptation following in 1811. Lady Tamamo no Mae is a nine-tailed fox who kills a young woman named Hatsuhana whom the Emperor Toba has summoned to court, then assumes her identity and gains employment as a lady-in-waiting. She soon becomes the Emperor’s favorite concubine.
She later joins Prince Usugumo (the emperor's elder brother) in a plot to dethrone Toba and agrees to use her supernatural powers to aid him. When the Emperor becomes ill, the chief astrologer of the court, Abe no Seimei [Yasunari], discovers — thanks to a gust of wind blowing out all the candles and lamps in the palace — that in the absence of illumination Lady Tamamo emits light from her body. He is convinced that she is a fox-witch whose pernicious magical powers have afflicted the emperor. He sets a trap by inviting her to a prayer service to save the emperor, where he unsheathes a magical sword, threatening to slay her. She is forced to admit her true identity, assumes her fox form — a spectacular, nine-tailed, white fox — and flies away, with Yasunari in pursuit. During her escape Tamamo no Mae assumes various forms (a country girl, a masseur, a god of thunder, a man, a street girl, a courtesan, and once again Lady Tamamo).
Collaborative Design: This dramatic design is the product of two artists, Yoshikuni (right sheet) and his pupil Hikokuni (left sheet). It portrays Yasunari shining his lantern upon Tamamo no Mae as beams of light emanate from her body. She holds a folding fan (ôgi) whose open blades seem to echo the effect of her supernatural illumination. Tsurusuke I, the actor playing Tamamo no Mae, would later become Nakamura Utaemon IV.
References: IKBYS-III, no. 541; SCH, no. 66.