The play Tenmangû aiju no meiboku (Love under the plum, pine, and cherry at the heaven filling shrine: 天満宮花梅桜松) appears to be related to, or an adaptation of, the famous puppet and kabuki play Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (Mirror of transmission and learning of Sugawara's Calligraphic Secrets: 菅原伝授手習鑑), which premiered for the puppet theater in 1746. It was based on legends surrounding the life of Sugawara Michizane (845-903: 菅原道真), also known as Kan Shôjô (菅丞相) — a celebrated scholar, poet, statesman, and calligrapher who ran afoul of the ruling Fujiwara (one of the four great clans of Japan, the others being the Tachibana, Minamoto, and Taira). He died in exile, but in 987 was deified as a Tenjin or "heavenly deity" (hence plays about him are called Tenjin mono).
In the main thread of the drama, Fujiwara no Tokihira (Shihei) was a high-ranking courtier plotting to overthrow the emperor. Through deceit he gains Sugawara's trust, then frames him for the conspiracy. (Tokihira reveals the full extent of his evil character in a celebrated and unusual scene called warai no maku or "laughing curtain," in which he utters a cruel laugh as the curtain is drawn.) Sugawara is exiled to Kyûshû, where he finally learns of Tokihira's treachery. After offering his prayers, he becomes a thunder god and sends his spirit back to the capital to kill Tokihira.
There are various connections between the Tenmangû and Sugawara jidaimono ("period pieces" or historical dramas: 時代物). For instance, the "plum, pine, and cherry" in our translation of the Tenmangû title alludes to the triplets Umeômaru, Matsuômaru, and Sakuramaru, respectively, in the Sugawara play. There is also likely a connection between the play's title and both the historical and dramaturgic Sugawara Michizane with respect to the Shinto shrine Kitano Tenmangû (北野天満宮) in Kyoto, which the imperial court built and dedicated to Sugawara Michizane in 986. Besides the roles of Fujiwara Shihei (藤原時平) and Kan Shôjô (菅丞相), other "shared" characters in the Tenmangû play are the keisei [courtesan] Aoyagi-tayû (who is actually Kobai-hime), Tsutsumibata Jûsaku, Ki no Haseo, Ikazuchi Kinbei, and Kujaku Saburô. The minor character named Jûsaku in the Sugawara play is also in the Tenmangû play. Also to be mentioned, there was yet another dramatic adaptation first performed in Osaka called Tenmangû natane no gokû (The Rapeseed Offering at the Tenma Shrine:天満宮菜種御供), which premiered in 1777. Fujiwara Shihei appears in this alternate adaptation, as does Ki no Haseo.
This appears to be a confrontation scene from early in the play (probably Act I). Shihei wears his elegant ministerial robes while Kan Shôjô wears a sokutai (束帯), complex and typically voluminous stiffened silk attire worn only by courtiers, aristocrats, and the Emperor in the imperial court. Shihei also wears a black eboshi (lit., "bird hat": 烏帽子), tall head gear made of paper or silk, stiffened with black lacquer and secured by a silk cord, in a style called kanmuri (冠), common to courtiers in kabuki jidaimono. Often white makeup is worn with the sokutai, as is the case for the role of Kan Shôjô in many kabuki productions.
There is in Shigeharu's design an entertaining element of contrast between the play of the three boys (whose faces are rendered in Shijô-school style) and the ominous, angry gazes of the two rival ministers.
The preservation of colors in this impression is excellent, with subtle shades of red, pink, and purple.
Former collection of Martin Levitz, New York, who amassed a fine collection of Osaka prints, some of which were illustrated in Dean Schwaab, Osaka Prints. New York, 1989.
References: WAS-IV, no. 383 (left sheet only); KNP-6, p. 175; IKB-I, no. 1-456; Stanleigh Jones. Jr.(ed. and trans.), Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. (This is the bunraku or puppet version.)