The historical Minamoto no Yorimasa (1104-1180) served eight different sovereigns in his long career, holding posts
such as hyôgo no kami (head of the arsenal). He was also a prominent poet whose works appeared in various
anthologies. In 1179 he entered the Buddhist priesthood and took the name Gen Sanmi Nyûdô.
Although he had allied himself with the Taria clan against the Minamoto during the Hôgen no ran
(Hôgen civil war; 1156-59) and the Heiji no ran (Heiji civil war; 1160), he switched allegiance and led the
Minamoto forces against the Taira in 1180. Suffering defeat at Uji, he committed suicide in the Byôdô Temple.
The legendary Yorimasa is forever associated with slaying the mythical Nue in 1153 — as recorded in the Heike
monogatari (Tale of the Heike; first quarter 13th century). Yorimasa, who was a formidable archer, spied on the emperor's
palace roof a strange winged-creature with an ape's head, tiger's claws, badger's (tanuki) back, and snake-head tail. As
the emperor was suffering from a life-threatening illness, Yorimasa suspected that the Nue was the cause. A single arrow
took down the beast, whereupon Yorimasa's retainer (Ino Hayata Tadazumi) delivered the coup de grâce with his sword.
This performance of Yorimasa by Kitsusaburô II (formerly Tokusaburô I; later Rikan II; 1788-1837) was part of a
first-year memorial program for his illustrious predecessor, Arashi Kitsusaburô I (Rikan I; 1769-9/1821). It also featured
a shûmei or accession ceremony — here the passing on of an acting name to a successor — through which
Tokusaburô I became Kitsusaburô II. As Kitsusaburô I's final performance before his fatal illness was as Yorimasa in
8/1821, the role held the utmost symbolic significance for the Arashi lineage, their fans, and the Kamigata theatrical world.
An inscription (far right column) identifies the purpose of this important event in Kamigata kabuki: Kojin Arashi Kitsusaburô
ichishûki tsuizen kyôgen (First anniversary memorial program for the deceased Arashi Kitsusaburô).
Kitsusaburô II wears voluminous, intricately patterned robes with large, white rindô mon (gentian crests)
associated with the Minamoto (Genji) clan. His headgear is called a hikitate eboshi ("bird-hat pulled upright"), one
of the pliable hats worn by samurai. In his right hand he holds a gunsen (war fan) decorated with the rising sun.
For another currently available design from Yorimasa nue monogatari, see HKS09. [Will open in new window.]
Note: Another impression of this design is featured in the 2005-06 exhibition and catalogue Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830 at the British Museum, Osaka Museum of History, and Waseda University Theatre Museum.
References: IKBYS-I, no. 352; KNP-6, p. 90; IKB-I, 2-382 KHO, no. 245; RRT, pp. 52-64.