The original of this reproduced manuscript, 'Kunijo Kabuki Ekotoba' (IIIustrated Manuscript of Kuni's Kabuki), property of the Kyoto University Library, is one of the most important and distinguished materials for the study of the Kabuki, a classical play in Japan, established at the opening of the Tokugawa period about 350 years ago.
In the third year of Kaei, 1850, the manuscript was found in Kinsa's house, Oshikoji Street in Kyoto, together with many other waste papers. Then the manuscript passed through many hands, without increasing its fame nor reputation, until it became, in the third year of Taisho, 1914, the property of the Kyoto University Library, where it soon became one of the most estimated sources of historical studies of the play in Japan.
The Japanese classical play, Kabuki, was founded by a maiden named Kuni, in service for lzumo Shrine, who became the first Kabuki actress. Her life and the dates of her birth and death are still uncertain.
Some Japanese scholars in this field are of the opinion that she lived the rest of her lonely life in a convent in her birthplace, Kizuki, Izumo Province, and died in 1607 or 1613, at the age of 87. As the founder of the Kabuki she won, in her lifetime, a great reputation throughout the country.
The No and the Kyogen plays which preceeded the Kabuki play were meant only for the upper and nobler classes of that time. The Kabuki found its own place in our dramaturgical history as the first popular type of stage entertainment in Japan given for the enjoyment of the commons.
Beside the manuscript reproduced here we have today only three illustrated manuscripts of same sort in existence. They are 'Okuni Kabuki Kozu' (Older Illustrations of Kuni's Kabuki), 'Kabuki Soshi' (Story Book of Kabuki) and 'Kabuki Soshi Emaki' (Illustrated Scroll of Kabuki), all from early ages of the Tokugawa period done by different artists, varying in their forms and contents. The original of our present reproduction excels these three others because of its earlier date and its excellent authorship with his exceptional skill in the composition of pictures and his well-trained penmanship describing the scenes of the play.
This type of manuscript is called Naraehon (Picture books edited in Nara), because they were produced by a group of painters, Edokoro, at the Kasuga and other shrines in the city of Nara.
The Naraehon is also called Tanakazaribon (Ornamental books for saloon shelves), and is a kind of books made for ornamental purposes; so the pictures are painted with gold, silver and other beautiful materials which are made from colorful natural stones.
The manuscript begins with a picture showing the entrance of a Kabuki theatre shuttered with a bamboo fence. We have here, exceptionally, no explanatory writing corresponding to this illustration and it is not certain whether it was omitted originally or not.
The second illustration shows a scene of Kuni's father praying for her peaceful journey up to Kyoto, the capital at the time, before the vermillion-Iacquered gate of lzumo Shrine.
Following scenes are: Kuni en route to the capital; Kuni enjoying a spring day in Kyoto among the people singing and drinking joyously under cherry-blossoms; Kuni dancing and repeating in her song the name of Buddha before her crowded spectators, when suddenly appears the dead spirit of Sanza Nagoya, attracted by Kuni's song; Kuni singing and dancing with Sanza Nagoya, together with a restaurant maid and a clown, and the last is the scene of a round dance of all these four.
We find many spectators from all classes of people, high and low, young and old, especially in the last scene, enjoying Kuni's dance in a garden under full blown cherry-blossoms.
As to Sanza Nagoya, it is said that he was a joint actor to Kuni or her husband, but the details remain uncertain. We know, however, from some materials he died in the nineth year of Keicho, 1605, in Tsuyama district.
One of the most interesting points this unique manuscript reveals is the mode of staging at that time. Kuni's Kabuki was called Kabuki Dance, not Kabuki Play. So the transition of Kabuki from dance to play is an interesting subject of dramaturgical study. We can find in this manuscript precisely the manner of staging of Kuni's Kabuki in its striking likeness to that of the No Play, its predecessor.