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Arashi Rikaku II (二代目嵐璃珏) as a Sanbasō marionette (Ayatsuri Sanbasō - あやつり三番叟)

Identifier: 1850c Kuniyoshi puppet

Note that Sanbasō is often spelled Sambasō.


This print commemorates a performance of Yanagi no Ito Hiku ya Gohiiki (柳絲引御摂), a play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, at the Kawarazaki Theater in Edo in 1863.


Sanbasō performances, often using puppets, had a long tradition with basically a religious significance. These originally were enacted for the sake of both the gods and the humans with both in attendance. They were used for both purification rites and to invoke the good will of the gods as protection against future calamities.

In time Sanbasō was linked to the Nō theater which also was imbued with spiritual undertones. Naturally, by the time Kuniyoshi created this print Sanbasō has entered into the realm of kabuki too. In what way and how it was used and viewed we cannot say for sure, but it clearly had a role to play.


"During the Tokugawa period, every kabuki program began at dawn with a sophisticated ritual dance featuring the character of Sanbasō. Performed by a low-ranking actor, the dance was built around three short scenes (dan): 'waving sleeves and stamping' (momi no dan), the conventional 'jumping like a crow' (karasutobi), and the 'bell-tree' (suzu no dan), in which the dancer shakes a wand covered with small bells. It would be hours before the major stars appeared and the main play began, so only the most determined fans would attend. Today the dance is performed regularly for the New Year's production, and occasionally at other times as well.

Kabuki's various Sanbasō dances have their origin in the ritual play Okina, which in turn derives from early agricultural rituals intended to ensure prosperity. 'Okina' means 'old man,' and the central character symbolizes longevity and eternal youth. Okina exhibits many features that are different from proper, marking it as sui generis: the main actor (shite) puts on his mask in front of the audience; the steps at the front of the stage are used for an entrance; the music includes percussion patterns not found in any other nō play; and the dance has no plot. The nō performance begins with Senzai, played by the secondary actor (waki), taking the Okina mask from a small onstage altar. After the shite dons the Okina mask, he performs a short, solemn dance and leaves the stage. An actor of comic kyogen roles playing Sanbasō then dances a light-spirited imitation or parody of Okina's movements. Sanbasō is known as the 'black Okina,' since he wears a black version of the old-man mask." Quoted from: Kabuki Plays on Stage: Darkness and Desire, 1804-1864, p. 52.

"...the Sanbasō dance became kabuki's single most important ceremonial dance. In time, it was developed into a variety of independent dances that incorporated all kinds of humorous and entertaining episodes. Sanbasō with His Tongue Stuck Out was the first of these variations." Ibid.

In a play entitled Sanbasō with His Tongue Stuck Out "...Sanbasō is a marionette whose strings get tangled, or competes in athletic and comic routines, or visits the pleasure quarters." Ibid., p. 53


Professor Leiter writes specifically about this play and this actor. "This piece was taken by Arashi Rikaku II to Edo's Kawarazaki-za a year later. The text was revised by Shinoda Sasuke and the music by Kineya Yajûrô IV, with Bandô Sadajirô coming up from Osaka to collaborate. Senzai and Okina are performed as springwork puppets while Sanbasô, who appeared from out of a box, danced in imitation of them as a string-operated marionette. The kôken, playing the manipulator, acted out the untangling and cutting of his strings as Sanbasô spun rapidly around. When Onoe Kikugorô V danced Sanbasô in 1899 at the Kabuki-za, he revised the piece and had Okina and Senzai dance as humans, and also abbreviated their dancing. This remains the method still used."

Quoted from: New Kabuki Encyclopedia, p. 547.

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