the Thousand Cherry Trees
‘Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees’, together with ‘Sugawara’s Secrets of Calligraphy’ and ‘The Treasury of Loyal Retainers’, is one of the three great masterpieces of Kabuki. Since its premiere it has been refined by numerous actors through the ages and, to this day, it is still performed frequently as one of Kabuki’s most popular plays.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune
A great general of the Genji Clan. He was a central figure in the suppression of the enemy Heike but, suspected of rebellion by his elder brother Yoritomo, supreme commander of the Genji, and due to Benkei’s impetuous behaviour, he is forced to leave the capital.
Yoshitsune’s beloved concubine. When Yoshitsune is forced to flee the capital, she pleads to go with him but is not permitted. After receiving the hand drum named ‘Hatsune’ (‘The First Sound’) as a keepsake, she waits longingly for Yoshitsune’s return in the capital. Hearing of his presence on Mount Yoshino, she can wait no longer and sets off on a journey to Mount Yoshino with Tadanobu.
The Fox Tadanobu
The one who saves Shizuka from crisis at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Having been ordered to guard Shizuka, he accompanies her on the journey to Mount Yoshino but, now and then along the way, he displays suspicious behaviour. Upon cross-examination, he reveals himself to be a fox.
Before the Torii Gate
Suspected of treason by his elder brother Yoritomo, Yoshitsune is pursued by his men and flees the capital with a group of retainers. They arrive at Fushimi. When Yoshitsune’s concubine Shizuka Gozen follows them, Yoshitsune persuades her to remain in the capital. Leaving his own keepsake, the drum ‘Hatsune’ in her care, he departs. Left on her own, Shizuka is about to be taken prisoner by Yoritomo’s men when Yoshitsune’s retainer Satō Tadanobu rushes in to rescue her. When Yoshitsune reappears, he instructs Tadanobu to guard Shizuka before continuing his escape to Kyushu.
The Journey of the ‘Hatsune’Drum
A path through the hills of Yoshino, now covered in cherry blossoms at their height. Shizuka and Tadanobu continue their journey in search of Yoshitsune. Bidding her rest a while among the mountains, Tadanobu relates to Shizuka the circumstances of his elder brother Satō Tsuginobu’s death in battle.
At the Mansion of Kawatsura Hōgen
While Yoshitsune is taking refuge at the home of Kawatsura Hōgen, the real Tadanobu arrives. He causes suspicion by claiming to know nothing of Shizuka’s whereabouts. Eventually, Shizuka appears with another Tadanobu. In reality, this second Tadanobu is a fox. Knowing that the skins of its parents were used to make the ‘Hatsune’ drum, it took on Tadanobu’s form so that it could accompany Shizuka. Moved by the fox’s love for its parents, Yoshitsune gives him the drum. The fox is overjoyed and returns with the drum to its old home in the wild.