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The story of the actor Ikushima Shingorō (生島新五郎之話) with Lady Ejima
- from the series New Selections of Eastern Brocade Pictures

Identifier: 1885c Yoshitoshi Shingoro.jpg

Based on a true historical love affair from the year 1714. Kabuki21.com quotes Zoë Kincaid in her 1965 book Kabuki: The Popular Stage of Japan, page 107: "one of the most tragic figures among these old actors, was born in Ōsaka, and came to Edo during his years of stage apprenticeship. He acted almost exclusively at the Yamamuraza. He was 44 years of age when his love affair with a lady of the Shôgun's Court caused him to be banished from Edo, and for twenty years he lived in his place of exile, never returning to the scene of his stage triumphs. A modern play has been made concerning this unfortunate actor, who, according to the gossip of the time, was more sought after by the venturesome Court lady than disposed to seek her himself."

Kabuki21 gives a more expansive account, also based on Kincaid as the source: "The Ejima-Ikushima affair (1714)

Some time in 1714, Ikushima Shingorō was playing at the Yamamuraza with much success. At the same time, one of the most prominent among the ladies-in-waiting in the castle was to be sent to pray at the temple of Zōjōji Temple, as a representative of the mother of Shōgun Ietsugu. Owing to the fact that several daimyō, or feudal lords, and hatamoto, or direct vassals of the Shôgun, had selected this day to repair to the temple to take part in Buddhist services, the Court lady's visit was postponed, and Ejima chosen to fulfil the duty.

Accordingly she sent a messenger to acquaint the priests that she intended to arrive very early in the morning, and that no preparations would be necessary for her reception. She would, however, find it highly gratifying if arrangements could be made whereby she and her party could pay a visit to a theatre in Sakai-chō. As might have been expected, the reply of the priests to this missive was that the theatre part of the lady's programme was impossible, since it was outside their jurisdiction.

This made Ejima very angry, and she arranged matters to suit herself. There was a young clerk, or banto, in the employ of a Yedo dry-goods establishment, and he was accustomed to go to the castle regularly for orders. Here was a likely person to carry out her commands, and he was accordingly commissioned to prepare the gallery of the Yamamuraza for a party of one hundred persons.

As planned Ejima proceeded to Zōjōji, but hurrying over her spiritual duties, and presenting but a portion of the money, materials, and other gifts that were designed for the priests, she kept the remainder to be distributed as personal favours at the theatre. She was accompanied by several other ladies-in-waiting of first rank, as well as those who occupied lesser positions in the secluded world of the Shōgun's household; also by male attendants.

The arrival of this company at the Yamamuraza must have presented a most unusual spectacle in theatre street. Yamamura Chōdayū, the proprietor of the theatre, with the leading actors, Ikushima Shingorō and Nakamura Seigorō, clad in ceremonial costumes, welcomed the distinguished visitors at the entrance to the theatre. During an interval between the plays a feast was held, and Ejima, who became slightly intoxicated, spilled a bottle of sake, the contents of which fell down on the heads of a party below. It happened to be a samurai of the Satsuma clan accompanied by his wife. Although one of Ejima's party apologised, the irate samurai left the theatre.

Ejima was advised to return to the castle without delay, but she would not listen, determined to enjoy the adventure to the utmost. Yamamura Chōdayū invited the ladies to his private residence, where Nakamura Seigorō and his wife assisted in the entertainment. This young woman was very beautiful, a graceful dancer as well as accomplished shamisen player, and had often been called to the castle to amuse the Shōgun's mother.

It was not until late at night that Ejima retired, returning to the castle, and entering by an inconspicuous gate. Ejima, who was a bold and independent character, 33 years of age, with an income of 600 koku of rice to her credit, patched up a story of the day's proceedings for the benefit of the Shōgun's mother, omitting all reference to her wild escapade at the theatre.

In due time the whole matter came to the knowledge of the officials, when it was discovered that Ejima had been carrying on relations with Ikushima Shingorō for seven years, and that she had taken one of this actor's daughters into the service of the Court under the false pretence that the girl was from a samurai family.

The Government dealt severely with all those who had participated in the carousal. Ejima was sentenced to exile on a lonely island, her fate being softened at a later date through the clemency of the Shôgun's mother, who pleaded for her, when she was taken into the custody of the daimyô of the Province of Shinano. It was the custom of these days for the entire family to suffer when one member had committed an offence, and consequently the death penalty was meted out to Ejima's elder brother, while a young brother was exiled. Other relatives shared in the punishment.

As for Yamamura Chōdayū, Ikushima Shingorô, and Nakamura Seigorō, they, too, were exiled. The Yamamuraza was first deprived of its licence, then the building was demolished and the property confiscated by the Government. Such was the end of the Yamamuraza, for it never dared to raise its head again among the Edo shibai."

"Donald Shively wrote in A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance, p. 49: "During the early years of the eighteenth century the most talked-about actor in Edo was Ikushima Shingorō (1671-1743). A contemporary work on actors says that he specialized in love scenes, of which he was considered the founder, and that he played them 'realistically' and provocatively. Another book says he 'presented love scenes on the stage, in the audience to be pleased. He is said to have been extraordinarily handsome, and the women of Edo were wild about him. The one among them most smitten was Ejima (sometimes called Enoshima), one of the highest lady officials of the women's quarters of the shogun's castle, who served the mother of the seventh shogun , letsugu (1709-1716)."

Shively added that Ikushima was exiled to Miyake-jima for eighteen years - some say it was thirty years - and was only pardoned the year before he died. Ejima was sent off to Shinshū. The Yamamura-za, one of the most popular theaters in Edo for more than a decade "...was closed on the sixth day of the second month, the building demolished, and the assets confiscated." (p. 50) For the next 150 years of Tokugawa rule there were only three major kabuki theaters in Edo.

After the closure and destruction of the Yamamura-za the other three major theaters were also closed for a while. They were only allowed to reopen after the 24 most important kabuki actors submitted written statements that none of them would violate any of the governments rules. The size of the boxes were pared down and restricted; private passages from backstage and teahouses were forbidden; the boxes were not allowed to hang shades for privacy; the roofs of the theaters were made less impermeable; costuming was to be less sumptuous; no performances were to run past 5 PM; and the construction of nearby teahouses were to be made less permanent. Four years later, after numerous complaints, the theater owners were allowed to reinstall wood shingles over the stage and boxes.

Donald Keene noted on page 132 of The Blue-eyed Tarōkaja: A Donald Keene Anthology that Ejima was originally sentenced to death for her transgression, but her sentence was lessened to exile."A total of fifteen hundred people who had in some way been involved in the crime were punished, including several small children. Two people were put to death.

Eshima was thirty-three at the time. She remained in her cell in Takatō under heavy guard until her death in 1741, a total of twenty-seven years." Keene adds that she was fed only vegetables and broth and was buried in an unmarked grave. Her name appears nowhere in the cemetery. He speculates that her faith in Nichiren Buddhism is what sustained her throughout her confinement.

This diptych is one from a set of 23 published between 1885-89. Ing and Schaap in their Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi 1839-1892 list it as #16 on page 137 - unillustrated.


Illustrated in black and white in a one-sixth-page reproduction in Yoshitoshi: The Splendid Decadant by Shinichi Segi, p. 68.


There is another copy of this diptych in the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History.

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