Battle of Coxinga (Kokusenya Kassen - 国性爺合戦) (genre )



The importance of this play in the history of the kabuki theater according to...

Zöe Kincaid wrote on page 242 in Kabuki: The Popular Stage in Japan:

"Kabuki ' s wholesale borrowing of plays from the Ningyoshibai began in 1717 . The play that started this movement was Kokusenya Kassen, or The Battle of Kokusenya, by Chikamatsu [Monzaemon]. It had as hero a warrior whose mother was Japanese and father Chinese. The warrior went over to China to restore an emperor to the throne, performing the most amazing feats. The piece was full of Chinese ideas, and as a breath of the outside world, must have been appreciated at this time."

Modern scholarship says:

"Kabuki borrowings from jôruri date back at least to the 1660's, but they increase substantially at this time. Jôruri developed from a narrating tradition -- katarimon 語り物-- and the focus on on the story and its recitation was maintained in the union with puppetry, the puppets functioning as illustrations, in a sense, to the story. With the story primary, and its development on paper the method of play creation, logical plots and beautiful words were understandably central to the jôruri traditions. Kabuki, on the other hand, began with short, ribald skits; the story did not matter so much as the showing of it. As kabuki practitioners increasingly paid attention to the plots of plays, they looked to jôruri for how to create them. They borrowed aspects of structure and language, often by adapting plays wholesale. In the case of Edo kabuki, increased efforts at play composition were also supported by importing Kamigata playwrights who had experience in creating plays of relative complexity and coherence." [The choice of bold type in this passage is ours and not the authors.]

Quoted from: Creating Kabuki Plays: Context for Kezairoku, "Valuable Notes on Playwriting" by Katherine Saltzman-Li, p. 44.


Donald Keene wrote in Worlds Without Walls on pages 564-565:

"This play opens at the Chinese court. The villainous Ri Tōten, urging the emperor to acept humiliating conditions of peace with the Tartars, gouges out his left eye as proof of his absolute loyalty. Later we learn that this gesture was in fact a signal to the Tartars that he would betray the country to them. The Tartars soon arrive in force. The loyal minister Go Sankei attempts to defend the emperor and empress, but he stands alone against the enemy hordes. The empress, who is momentarily expecting to birth, is struck by a bullet and dies. Go Sankei is so determined to preserve the succession that he performs a caesarean operation on the dead empress and delivers the baby. Realizing, however, that the Tartars will never relent in their search for the missing heir if they find the empress's body without an infant in her womb, he kills his own baby and pushes it into the empresses abdomen. "Noble child," he cries, "you have been blessed by fortune! You were lucky to have been born at a time when you could die in place of the prince destined to become our emperor." In the meantime, Go Sankei's wife has safely escorted the emperor's sister, Princess Sendan, to the coast, before she herself is killed by the Tartars.

In the second act we see Watōnai, the future Coxinga. He is a fisherman who lives on the coast near Hirado. The boat bearing Princess Sendan is washed ashore on that very coast, and she informs him (he understands Chinese because his father came to Japan from China) of the disasters she has witnessed. Watōnai and his parents leave at once for China, resolved to oust the usurpers. In the second scene Watōnai and his mother struggle through a bamboo forest in China, heading for the castle where his half-sister lives. Suddenly a great tiger springs out on them. Watōnai grapples with the beast, but it is subdued only when his mother points at the tiger a sacred charm from the Great Shrine at Ise. A force of Chinese soldiers appears, and this time Watōnai and the join to conquer them.

The third act, by contrast, is devoted mainly to a "human" situation and involves little fantasy. Watōnai's half-sister, Kinshōjo, is the wife of General Kanki, Lord of the Castle of the Lions. At first she is delighted to learn that her long-lost family has arrived from Japan, but before long she is forced to mediate between Watōnai's insistence that Kanki join him, and Kanki's refusal to be swayed by a request emanating from his wife's family. Kanki gives Watōnai the new name Coxinga, Lord if the Imperial Surname.

The fourth act is taken up with supernatural doings. Go Sankei, wandering in the mountains with the baby prince he had saved, encounters two immortals who reveal to him in a vision the triumphs of Coxinga has won all over China. Five years flash by in a moment. Now Go Sankei is joined by Coxinga's father and by Princess Sendan, who returned from Japan. They are quickly surrounded by Tartars, but a miraculous bridge of clouds spans the gorge between them and they cross safely. When the Tartars follow them onto the bridge it collapses, and they plunge to their deaths.

The last act depicts Coxinga's decisive battle with the Tartars and his victory. Ri Tōten is killed and the young prince is enthroned as the emperor. The play concludes: "This joy they owe to the divine, and the saintly virtues of the Emperor of Great Japan, a land endowed with perpetual blessings which will prosper forever." "