Written by Shitakaze Umeno and Yasuzo Chikematsu, this play was first staged at the Higashi-no-Shibai Theater in Osaka in 1785.
Mayumi, wife of the warlord Otonari, pays homage as her husband's proxy at the Sumiyoshi Shrine on the seashore in the present Kobe to pray for success of the forthcoming expedition to Korea planned by the supreme warlord Hisayoshi. In her retinue are Yasaburo, a handsome warrior, and his sweetheart Okiku.
Presently Mokusokan, a Korean general, arrives by boat and speaks ill of Hisayoshi, saying that the deity to whom the shrine is dedicated is angry at his maladministration. Yasaburo is provoked and starts quarreling with him. Mayumi interferes and suggests that Mokusokan and Okiku each pull the reins of a sacred white horse of the shrine from opposite sides to divine the military fortune of Japan and Korea in the coming war. Strange to say, the horse does not budge an inch toward Mokusokan however hard he may pull, while Okiku finds it quite easy to move the horse at will. Mokusokan admits his defeat and asks to be accepted as a retainer of Mayumi's husband through her good offices.
In front of the Hikosan Gongen Shrine in the Province of Buzen in Kyushu, a woodcutter named Rokusuke seats himself on a rock after worshipping from a distance.
No sooner has he begun smoking than a turtledove with its wing pierced by an arrow falls to the ground in front of him. Taking pity on it, Rokusuke removes the arrow and makes the bird fly back to freedom.
Soon two bow-carrying warriors, Enami and Hayakawa, appear and accuse Rokusuke of interfering with their hunting. The bird was intended as food for their master's falcon.
Turning a deaf ear to Rokusuke's apology, the warriors try to take him by force to their master's house for questioning. When he resists their attempted arrest, they fall over backward almost of themselves. Terrified by his enormous strength, they take to night, though still talking big as they pick up their bows and arrows.
As he begins to leave, Rokusuke is called by a dignified-looking warrior, who, after introducing himself as Dengoemon. a retainer of the Lord of Kokura, asks him to go with him to meet his master who wishes to employ him as a fencing instructor. Dengoemon also says that Rokusuke's service is badly needed because the warriors under his master's command are going to take part in the planned expedition to Korea.
Rokusuke declares that he does not want to be tied to anyone because he has to take care of his aged mother. Dengoemon goes away reluctantly after asking Rokusuke to seek employment with his master if his mother should die. Presently a gray-haired old man appears from a nearby forest and, announcing himself as a divine messenger, gives Rokusuke a scroll describing the secret of the art of fencing. Glad of this unexpected gift, Rokusuke hurries back to his home.
The two warriors who had previously tried to arrest Rokusuke reappear and congratulate the old man on his success in handing the precious scroll to Rokusuke. The old man removes his hat and white garment to show that he is in fact Ichimisai, Okiku's father and a fencing master in the employ of Lord Otonari.
A boisterous feast is going on in the mansion of the warlord Otonari in celebration of his appointment as Hisayoshi's deputy in the coming expedition to Korea. After performing a dance to entertain the merrymakers, Okiku retires to the anteroom and is soon joined by Yasaburo. Though they have a four-year-old son named Yasamatsu, she has had to entrust him to the care of her servant Tomohei because she is not officially married to Yasaburo and is serving as Mayumi's lady-in-waiting. She laments over her misfortune in not being able to meet Yasaburo and Yasamatsu openly.
Presently a servant enters to announce the arrival of a small boy who is going to entertain the party with his mimicry of a monkey. Mayumi and her ladies-in-waiting enter to enjoy the show. When the boy, wearing a monkey's mask, and his attendant arrive, Okiku soon recognizes the attendant as Tomohei and the boy as her own son. Though she does her best to conceal her excitement, it somehow becomes obvious to Mayumi that the boy is Okiku's son Yasamatsu.
When the boy finishes his dance, Mayumi withdraws apparently to give Okiku a chance to meet her son privately. Okiku embraces her son, though not identifying herself as his mother. Yasazaemon, Yasaburo's father, enters. He tells Yasaburo and Okiku that they are being called by Mayumi and gives the boy a present from her, consisting of fwe rolls of crimson crepe and a sum of money.
When all have gone, Okiku re-enters to see if her child is still there. Takumi, a fencing expert in the employ of Otonari, enters and tells her that he is head over heels in love with her. But she repels his amorous advances. Ichimisai enters and, after telling Okiku to withdraw, admonishes Takumi for his shameless act. Far from offering an apology, however, Takumi demands that Ichimisai agree to his intended marriage to Okiku. As Ichimisai retires without yielding an inch, Takumi vows to himself to kill Ichimisai if he does not give in. At this moment Tozo, a retainer of Otonari, enters. He advises Takumi in a whisper to challenge Ichimisai to a fencing contest in the presence of their lord and, availing himself of this opportunity, to beat him to death.
When the two wicked warriors have gone, Mokusokan arrives with a wooden box in his hand. Received by Mayumi, he offers her the box as a token of his entreaty to be employed by Otonari. He explains that the box contains a map of Korea that will prove useful in the proposed expedition. Otonari also enters to see the map and listens intently to Mokusokan as he offers a strategic suggestion concerning the expedition. His talk is interrupted, however, by the sudden entry of a man of scholarly appearance from a bush. Laughing at what he calls a downright lie, the intruder asserts that the map does not represent the actual topography at all.
Angry at his accusation, Mokusokan attempts to kill him with his sword. As they begin fighting, Otonari orders his men to arrest them. Takumi and Ichimisai enter and arrest Mokusokan and the intruder respectively.
A stout-looking warrior enters to announce the visit of Hisayoshi to the house. Introducing himself as Sakurai, a retainer of Hisayoshi, he offers to Otonari a sword named "Kawazumaru" as a present from Hisayoshi. According to Sakurai, the sword was originally in the possession of Harunaga, the supreme warlord assassinated by Mitsuhide, One of the warlords under him. Hisayoshi avenged Harunaga's death by defeating Mitsuhide in the battle of Yamazaki. Had Otonari attacked Hisayoshi from behind on that occasion, Hisayoshi would not have been able to defeat Mitsuhide so easily. Hisayoshi is thankful for Otonari's sympathetic neutrality, which helped him step into Harunaga's shoes and get the whole country under his control. Hence this handsome present to Otonari.
After the messenger has taken his leave, Otonari reverently holds the gift in his hands and wonders where Hisayoshi is. Thereupon the arrested intruder surprises everyone present by announcing that he is Hisayoshi himself. He unties the rope binding him and takes oft his hat to show his true identity.
At Hisayoshi's order, Takumi takes Mokusokan to the prison to question him. Otonari proposes to offer sake to Hisayoshi. The two warlords and Mayumi are about to proceed to the main hall when Yasaburo hurriedly enters to announce that Mokusokan has broken out of the prison by some subtle means and escaped, taking with him Mayumi's sword. By way of apology he tries to commit suicide but is dissuaded by Otonari, who advises him to atone for his blunder by distinguishing himself in the coming expedition.
Takumi asks Otonari to let him have a fencing match with Ichimisai in his presence. With Otonari consenting, Takumi and Ichimisai fight with wooden swords. Takumi is defeated. Realizing that he cannot beat Ichimisai in an open fight, Takumi secretly consults with Tozo and decides upon a plan to ambush him.
After they have gone, Mokusokan reappears and approaches the "Kawazumaru" sword displayed in the room's place of honor. Wishing to steal it, he unsheathes it to find that it is not the “real" Kawazumaru "but a new sword of little worth. Disappointed, he tries to go away, promising himself that he will definitely behead both Hisayoshi and Otonari in the near future.
He is called from behind, however, by Hisayoshi who knows that Mokusokan is in fact Shihoden, one of the leading retainers of Mitsuhide, whom he defeated in the battle of Yamazaki. The false "Kawazumaru" sword was used by Hisayoshi as a ruse to confirm Shihoden's true identity.
Now that his identity has been discovered, Shihoden courageously stabs his abdomen with a sword. When a warrior approaches him to cut oft his head to save his death agony, he declares that he does not want to be killed by anyone but Takumi. Left alone with Takumi, he asks him whether he is Mitsuhide's son. Takumi angrily denies this and beheads him at one stroke.
Taking Mayumi's sword from his body, Takumi tries to flee but is interrupted by Yasaburo and several other warriors. Takumi makes good his escape, however, with the help of Shihoden's ghost appearing over the fence.
By order of Lord Otonari a new Shinto shrine is under construction in the Province of Suo (the present Yamaguchi Prefecture) with Ichimisai as supervisor of construction.
A doctor named Sasen visits the construction site and suddenly falls ill. Three carpenters take care of him and when he feels better take him home.
Ichimisai enters, accompanied by Tozo, assistant supervisor of construction, who used to be his pupil in fencing but changed his teacher to Takumi. Tozo apologizes to Ichimisai for his discourteous act and asks him to re-accept him as a pupil since he has been disgusted with Takumi's lowly character. Ichimisai gladly complies with his request.
A servant comes to report to Ichimisai that his daughter Osono has come from her home to see him and is now staying at a local inn. After Ichimisai has retired to his temporary house in the construction site, Tozo is visited by a shabbily clothed unemployed samurai whom he soon recognizes as Takumi. Tozo orders all his men but Ekinai to leave and informs Takumi that Ichimisai is in his temporary house. Takumi wishes to assault him immediately but is dissuaded by Tozo, who suggests that he should assassinate him with a gun since Ichimisai is a better fencer than he.
Tozo takes from Ekinai a box containing a gun and delivers it to Takumi. To prevent their plot from being discovered, Tozo slashes Ekinai to death with his sword. Takumi hides himself in a pine grove and Tozo goes back to his inn. After dark Ichimisai comes out of his temporary house and sees stars suddenly cease shining. Feeling uneasy because of this bad omen, he leaves for his home by a palanquin, accompanied by a servant holding a lantern.
Many fencing disciples of Ichimisai visit his mansion to greet his blind 13-year-old son Sannojo on the occasion of the Boys' Festival of May 5. One of them is Yasaburo, who is in love with Okiku, the boy's elder sister.
Okiku takes Yasaburo into an inner room for a tryst. Sannojo too is led into another room by his servant, leaving his mother, Oko, alone in the front room.
Presently Osono, Okiku's elder sister, returns home, heavily intoxicated. Osono asks Oko to allow Okiku to marry Yasaburo, but Oko disagrees as she believes Okiku must not precede Osono, who is also unmarried and is bound to be Ichimisai's heir in place of Sannojo, who is not qualified to succeed his father because of his blindness.
Osono then proposes that Oko adopt Yasamatsu, Okiku's illegitimate son, and make him Ichimisai's heir. Oko opposes this also. She confides to Osono for the first time that she is not her real daughter but was picked up on the roadside as an infant by Ichimisai and Oko when they were traveling to the Grand Shrine of Ise to pray for childbearing some two decades ago. Oko also reveals to Osono that the incense burner she now keeps as her treasure was found on her body when she was picked up. Oko subsequently gave birth to Okiku and Sannojo but she makes no distinction between her adopted and real children.
Osono now feels obliged to reveal a grave affair that she has so far kept secret. She has her father's palanquin brought in and its door opened. Oko is horrified to find her husband's body within. Servant Sagohei reports to Oko that he was with Osono at her inn when he was informed that Ichimisai had been shot with a gun. Together with Osono he hurried to the scene and found Ichimisai already dead. Beside the body was the servant Sachuta, also fatally wounded. Before he died Sachuta told Sagohei that Takumi assassinated Ichimisai and that Takumi's upper arm was wounded in a sword fight with Ichimisai after the gun attack. Oko, her children and servants Tomohei and Sagohei make up their minds to avenge Ichimisai's death by obtaining permission from the lord.
At this moment Tozo and Yasazaemon, Yasaburo's father, arrive as the lord's messengers. Tozo announces that Ichimisai's widow and three children are to be banished from the lord's territory as a punishment for Ichimisai's failure to live up to his responsibility as the fencing teacher for the lord. Yasazaemon reveals, however, that Tozo was an accomplice in Ichimisai's murder and has him arrested and imprisoned. Oko then asks Yasazaemon to see to it that the order for her family's banishment will be cancelled, but Yasazaemon strangely insists that the order has to be carried out. When Osono in turn appeals to Yasazaemon he orders his men to arrest her. Osono, who is an expert in fencing, easily repels them. In the end Yasazaemon himself tries to fight her, but Lord Otonari makes his appearance and tells her that he had Yasazaemon test her swordsmanship and was satisfied with the demonstration of her excellent skill. The lord not only rescinds the order for banishment but also encourages Osono and her family to avenge Ichimisai's death.
While the lord is praying for the repose of Ichimisai's soul, Sannojo commits suicide to join his father in the other world. By the lord's order Osono beheads Tozo and offers his severed head to her dying brother. With Yasaburo assigned to take care of the house, Oko, Osono, Okiku and Yasamatsu set out on their journey for the accomplishment of their mission to avenge Ichimisai's death. The lord gives them two swords, a halberd and a handsome sum of money to cover their travelling expenses.
Parting with Oko and Osono, who are to take a separate course, Okiku travels around the country with Yasamatsu and servant Tomohei to search for Takumi. One day toward evening they arrive at Suma Beach. Okiku and Yasamatsu rest and Tomohei goes away to hire a palanquin for them as they are very tired. As it happens to be the day of the Obon Festival for departed souls, Okiku hangs an improvised lantern from a branch of a pine tree as a token of prayer.
Presently she is visited by a samurai, whom she soon recognizes as Takumi. Taking advantage of this chance meeting, Takumi tries to seduce her. Okiku blows out the light and, pretending to comply with his wish, suddenly attacks him with a drawn sword but is killed by him.
Tomohei comes back to find Okiku already dead. To his relief, however, he sees Yasamatsu unhurt because Okiku had hidden him in her trunk before attacking Takumi.
Takumi preys on passers-by by his rigged gambling. When one of the victims accuses him of fraud, Takumi beats him up. He then exchanges pleasantries with street girls and goes away.
Sagohei, an old servant to Osono, appears and, giving money to the street girls, asks them to go away immediately. After they have gone, Osono arrives in a palanquin and pretending to be a street girl, solicits passers-by. The inserts her hand into their sleeves and feels their arms as a means of identifying Takumi, who has a scar in the upper arm.
She makes her try first on a samurai and then on a sumo wrestler. The third person approached by her happens to be Dengoemon, a former fencing disciple of Ichimisai and now chief retainer of the Lord of Kokura. He recognizes Osono as Ichimisai's daughter and gives her a wooden travelling certificate that would enable her to pass through barriers on her tour in search of Takumi.
After Dengoemon has gone, Tomohei arrives and tells Osono that Takumi killed Okiku. As evidence he shows a small bag containing Takumi's navel string that he found beside Okiku's body. He then kills himself by way of apology for his failure to protect Okiku from Takumi's attack. Just before he breathes his last, Tomohei throws Takumi's navel string into a pond. In no time clouds of spray rise from the pond and a strange sound issues from the incense burner in Osono's bosom.
Takumi reappears as if drawn by a supernatural power. He realizes by intuition that he is the son of the late Mitsuhide, as Shihoden suggested before he died at Otonari's mansion. Believing that his deceased father threw his precious "Kawazumaru" sword into this pond and that he now wants Takumi to recover it, he looks for and finds the sword under floating weeds.
Soon after he has picked up the sword Osono approaches Takumi, pretending to be a street girl and tries to rob him of the sword. Takumi resists. As the two struggle for its possession, the sword jumps onto a gourd trellis. They too climb onto the trellis and continue fighting. At last Takumi makes good his escape, taking the precious sword with him.
Three woodcutters visit Rokusuke in his hut in the Sugisaka Cemetery on a hilltop where he is praying for the repose of the soul of his mother who died 49 days ago. They take their leave after being treated to tea by Rokusuke.
A samurai carrying an old woman on his back arrives and takes rest near the hut. Rokusuke, impressed with his kindness, asks him where they are going. The samurai says he is travelling around, seeking employment with a warlord. When Rokusuke tells his name the samurai is pleasantly surprised, for he has seen a notice board saying anyone who defeats Rokusuke in a fencing contest will be employed as a fencing teacher by the Lord of Kokura.
The samurai says that the old woman is his mother who is deaf and seriously ill. As her days are numbered, he wishes to please her by getting a job before she dies. He asks Rokusuke to favor him with a pretended defeat in a fencing contest. Bereft of his own mother only recently, Rokusuke sympathizes with the stranger and promises to do as he asks.
After the samurai and his mother have gone and Rokusuke has left to draw water in a brook at the foot of the hill, Sagohei and Yasamatsu enter, followed by two highway robbers. Threatened by the robbers, Sagohei tries to fight them off after pushing Yasamatsu into the hut. He is, however, fatally wounded. When Rokusuke comes back Sagohei breathes his last after pointing at the hut without saying a word.
Rokusuke finds Yasamatsu in the hut and takes care of him. Though asked by Rokusuke, Yasamatsu, being a very small boy, is unable to tell his name.
As he has promised, Rokusuke is deliberately defeated in a fencing contest by the unemployed samurai, whom he met in the Sugisaka Cemetery. The "victor," who calls himself Danjo, proudly goes away to take service with the Lord of Kokura.
An old woman visits the house and begs to be allowed to rest for a while. Learning from Rokusuke that he has lost both his parents, she offers to become his mother. She also offers him money but he gently bids her wait in an inner room while he thinks the proposal over.
Yasamatsu, whom Rokusuke has been taking care of since he picked him up in the Sugisaka Cemetery, comes back from his play in the neighborhood. Rokusuke kindly sees to it that the boy has a comfortable nap.
Walking the road past Rokusuke's house appears a mendicant priest, his head in a hood of basketwork that is the traditional mask. Actually this "priest” adopted this disguise in order Osono who has to pursue her search for Takumi more effectively.
Suddenly Osono notices a kimono on display in front of the house and recognizes it as that of her nephew, Yasamatsu. As she takes it in her hands, some neighbors, seeing her, think she is stealing it and rush to surround her. However, for Osono, skilled swordsman as she is, it is easy to rout them simply with her flute.
Rokusuke has seen all this from inside the house and realizes that a true priest could never show such skill. He calls out to Osono roughly and she enters the garden and draws forth not a flute this time but a sword that has been hidden inside it. As she moves to strike again the man whom she assumes, on the evidence of the kimono, to be the murderer of little Yasamatsu's guardian, Rokusuke parries the stroke and shouts that he is innocent.
He tells this strange "priest", who talks like a woman and fights like a man, how he found Yasamatsu and took him in. Osono demands his name and on his reply all her animosity changes suddenly to affection. Rokusuke is none other than the man her father Ichimisai had said, just before his death, that he wanted her to marry.
Now Rokusuke learns for the first time of Ichimisai's murder by Takumi and reveals in turn that when Ichimisai gave him his certificate of swordsmanship he told him that he should marry Osono-then only a child-and take on the name of Ichimisai as a worthy successor to that master fencer.
Now the old woman who had sought rest in the house reappears and reveals herself to be Ichimisai's widow, Osono's mother and Yasamatsu's grandmother. To honor her dead husband's wishes she helps Osono and Rokusuke exchange their nuptial vows in cups of sake.
Villagers appear carrying the corpse of an old woman slain by a bandit and beg Rokusuke to avenge the crime. They say that the victim is the mother of one of them, Onoemon, but Rokusuke recognizes the corpse as that of the "mother" of Danjo.
He tells Osono and her mother of this strange puzzle and as they learn the details of his duel the two women realize that "Danjo" was Takumi in disguise. Now that their sworn enemy has been found, Osono, her mother, Rokusuke, and Yasamatsu leave to exact revenge.
Takumi, now employed in his assumed name of "Danjo" as the fencing teacher for Tatsunami, the Lord of Kokura, is considerably intoxicated, having been treated to size by his lord in celebration of his appointment.
Rokusuke enters to demand that Takumi have a fencing match with him, for their previous contest was a rigged one. Takumi refuses but Dengoemon, chief retainer of the lord, tells Takumi that the lord would be dishonored if his fencing teacher refused to accept a challenge.
Takumi then attacks Rokusuke with a sword without warning. Rokusuke draws his sword to fight back, but his sword breaks mysteriously. Rokusuke believes that Takumi's sword is the famed "Kawazumaru", and that his own sword was overwhelmed by its prestige.
The fact that Takumi possesses the "Kawazumaru" sword convinces Dengoemon of his true identity. With Dengoemon officially permitting Ichimisai's bereaved family to revenge his death, Rokusuke slashes Takumi fatally. Osono and Yasamatsu give him the coup de grace.
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