Ougi Byoushi Ōoka Seidan (Famous Cases of Ōoka)

Kunichika: Nakamura Kanjaku III, Ichikawa Sadanji I, Bandō Hikosaburō V & Onoe Kikugorō V in the play “Ougi Byoushi Ōoka Seidan” (“Famous Cases of Ōoka”?) performed at the Morita-za theatre from the 28th January 1875

Ougi Byoushi Ōoka Seidan (Famous Cases of Ōoka) is part of a family of plays about the life and times of Ōoka Tadasuke, an Edo period chief of police (he also often acted as judge and jury too!). He seems to have been quite a character, as is demonstrated by one of his famous cases: 

From his Wiki page: One of the most famous stories is called “The Case of the Stolen Smell” where he heard the case of a paranoid innkeeper who accused a poor student of literally stealing the fumes of his cooking by eating when the innkeeper was cooking to flavour his dull food. Although his colleagues advised Ōoka to throw the case out as ridiculous, he decided to hear it. The judge resolved the matter by ordering the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other, and ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money.

The print at the top of the page concerns a real life drama called the Ten’ichibō Affair – more about the play can be found here: http://www.kabuki21.com/tenichibo_ooka_seidan.php

Act I, Scene 1: Hirano-mura Kannōin (At the Kannōin Temple in the Village of Hirano)

Sakubē is a farmer who is so in debt that he plans to sell his daughter (Oshimo) as a courtesan in the pleasure quarters to pay his debts. He goes to the temple where she works as a maid and asks Kannōin the priest to release her from his service. Kannōin secretly coverts Oshimo so he agrees to loan 50 ryō (a huge sum then) to the farmer in exchange for letting her continue working for him. 

Kannōin now in a position of strength tries to blackmail Oshimo into being his lover by threatening to ask for the money back and ruining her father. She is already in love with the servant Kyūsuke and so refuses the priest who goes off in a rage to ask for his money back. 

Kyūsuke returns from an errand and Oshimo explains her predicament. Kyūsuke suggests she accept the priest’s offer but she said she’d rather die than be separated from Kyūsuke. Kyūsuke says that coincidentally he has just received a letter from his family telling him that his mother is sick and he plans to go home to be with her. He suggests Oshimo goes with him to save her from Kannōin but unwittingly as they go he drops the letter from home.

Act I, Scene 2: Osan Babā Sumai (At the House of the Old Woman Osan)

Hōtaku is one of Kannōin’s deciples who was orphaned at the age of 7 before being taken in by the temple. An old woman called Osan has been very kind to him since his childhood because he reminds her of a grandson she lost at childbirth. Kannōin suggests that he visits Osan to bring her food and sake. Osan is happy to see him and they chat pleasantly – she is particularly excited to hear that Hōtaku was born on exactly the same day and year that her dead grandson was. On prompting she says that a small packet in the corner of her room contains an amazing secret. Her daughter had been in service to a daimyo and had become pregnant by one of the lord’s charges. She had been sent home because of her humble background but her lover had given her a gift of a note and a sword that would prove the bearers identity when he came of age. Sadly though the child and mother had died in childbirth. 

Hōtaku is enthralled by the story and encourages her to drink more and more sake until she falls asleep, whereupon he strangles her to death and takes the packet with its letter and sword, plus a packet of rat poison that she had mentioned was fatal to humans too. 

Act I, scene 3: Moto no Kannōin (Back at the Kannōin Temple)

Hōtaku arrives back at the temple where he finds Kyūsuke’s letter and realises that he has eloped with Oshimo. Kannōin returns saying he has been unable to find Sakubē to get his money back. When he learns of the elopement he suspects that they have all plotted together to trick him out of his money, He asks Hōtaku to prepare him a cup of tea, which he does except he laces it with some of the rat poison. Kannōin drinks it and is soon writhing in agony and foaming from the mouth Hōtaku feigns concern and shouts to the neighbours to come. Otami who lives next door runs in just as Kannōin blurts out that he thinks this is all the doing of Kyūsuke, Otami and Sakubē and asks that they take revenge on them for him, before he falls dead. 

Otami runs to inform the other villagers while Hōtaku steals Kannōin’s money – so far everything is working out well for him. He is just about to leave when Otami returns and so he drops the money and sits on it to hide it. 

Act II, scene 1: Kishū Kada no Ura (At the Kada Bay in Kishū)

Kyūsuke and Oshimo are on the road to his family home, travelling in pre-dawn darkness by the side of Kada Bay. They are worried that someone is following so when they see a light coming up behind them they hide in the bushes and watch.

Hōtaku approaches carrying a big basket on his back – he left the village with all his neighbours wishing him well, thinking he will go and avenge the death of Kannōin but in fact he plans to go directly to Edo and claim to be the long lost son of Tokugawa Yoshimune. First though he must get rid of the identity of Hōtaku. Along the way he is attacked by some wild dogs so he kills one and takes off his old clothes and smears them with the dog’s blood and then disposes of the dog’s body in the water. Then he changes into new clothes from his basket and sets the scene by dropping Kyūsuke’s letter next to the blood-stained clothes, making it look like the evil Kyūsuke has murdered Hōtaku too. He is now a simple pilgrim travelling to to worship at the Ise Shrine … but Kyūsuke and Oshimo have seen all of this and they pass by unseen by him and continue on their way. 

The village head man Hirano Jin’emon stumbles on the scene and finds the blood-stained clothes and letter and, exactly as Hōtaku planned, he concludes that Kyūsuke has murdered Hōtaku. 

Act III, scene 1: Mino-no-Kuni Nagahora Jōrakuin Hondō (In the Main Hall of the Jōrakuin Temple in Nagahora in the Province of Mino)

Hōtaku has travelled on and now has a band of followers who believe his story about being the illegitimate son of the shōgun. He has now settled down at the Jōrakuin Temple in Mino with his two main followers Akasaka Daizen and Fujii Sakyō. Hōtaku is starting to adopt a princely manner and his 2 followers and Tenchū , the temple abbot, are treating him accordingly. Tenchū joins his band of followers and they all drink plenty of sake to celebrate their endeavour. They are all shocked though when Hōtaku gets up and tells them he is a fake – that the sword and letter are genuine but he isn’t, and then proceeds to tell them how he got here. All 3 followers agree to continue even though he is a fake because they will all profit if he is accepted, and die if he is found out. 

Tenchū mentions that a former retainer, Yamanouchi Iganosuke, of a high-ranking minister is in retirement at the temple. He suggests bringing him into the conspiracy because his knowledge of the ways of the daimyō will be very useful to them. Yamanouchi has been overhearing this discussion and comes in to tell them that he has no intention of joining them – he would if Hōtaku was genuine but he won’t help a fake. Hōtaku falls at his feet and demands that he kill him now – this impresses Yamanouchi so much that he eventually agrees to help. 

Act IV, scene 1: Ōoka-tei Oku no Ma (In the Inner Room of the Ōoka Mansion)

When he arrives in Edo Hōtaku quickly takes the name of Ten’ichibō and registers his claim to be the illegitimate son of the Shōgun, handing over the letter and sword as proof. Matsudaira Izu-no-Kami, the magistrate in charge, has the items examined and is convinced that the claim is genuine. The Shōgun himself is also convinced and there plans under way for him to meet Hōtaku. However, to Ōoka Echizen-no-Kami Tadasuke the case is not clear and he asks for more inventigations to be done. Ōoka holds the position of minami machi bugyō, or southern city regional official. It is his job to act as major, judge and investigator. Both the magistrate and the Shōgun are angry about this interference and have sent officials to remonstrate with Ōoka and confine him to his mansion under house-arrest.

Ōoka can see that the tone of their messages mean only one thing – he will soon be asked to commit suicide for his impertinence. His retainers beg him to commit suicide before the letter arrives to avoid disgracing his family. If he kills himself quickly then his family may be allowed to retain their status and wealth. Ōoka is sure that Ten’ichibō will bring great disgrace on the Shōgun and he realises that his only hope is to bring this problem to the attention of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. 

Act IV, scene 2: Ōoka-tei Mujōmon (Outside the Funeral Gate of the Ōoka Mansion)

Outside a small back “funeral gate” to the Ōoka mansion stands a guard whose sole job is to check any dead people who leave the estate. The guard is quite upset to be told that a dead person is due to emerge and soon the gate opens and a palanquin emerges carried by 3 bearers. He demands the names of all the bearers and the body but they refuse to answer very sternly. On being pushed they give names that the audience will recognise as famous fictional characters in kabuki plays. The guard knows he is being teased but he doesn’t fancy checking a body so he lets them pass. Of course the palanquin contains Ōoka and is born by his chief retainers. He is breaking the Shōgun’s orders to remain in house arrest so this is very dangerous.

Act IV, scene 3: Mito-ke Okuden (In the Inner Pavilion of the Mito Clan)

It is late and Tokugawa Tsunaeda, the daimyō of the Mito domain, is about to retire for the evening when his assistant Yamanobe Chikara tells him that magistrate Ōoka Echizen-no-Kami has arrived on urgent business and would like to speak to him. Tsunaeda agrees to see him.

Ōoka explains about the Ten’ichibō vase and his worries that it will cause a scandal for the Shōgun if, as he feels, Matsudaira’s hasty decision proves to be wrong. The sword and letter are authentic but he is sure that Ten’ichibō seems to be an impostor. After listening Tsunaeda agrees to speak to the Shōgun and ask for more investigation to be done and asks Ōoka to lead the investigation of Ten’ichibō’s background. He also tells him that if the Shōgun’s envoy asks for his suicide then he is to ignore that demand. 

Remembering that Ōoka has effectively escaped captivity and cannot get back in to his own mansion without making this obvious. he arranges for Yamanobe to visit Ōoka’s mansion and for Ōoka to go in disguise as his attendant. This should allow Ōoka to slip in undetected. 

Act V, scene 1: Bugyō Yashiki-nai Hiro Shoin (In the Large Study Room inside the Mansion of the Magistrate)

The Shōgun orders Ōoka to make the necessary reinvestigations and Ten’ichibō and his 3 followers are called in for questioning. Ten’ichibō starts to try to control the proceedings by demanding that Ōoka show his the respect he is due but Ōoka reminds him that he is working on behalf of the Shōgun, showing his superiority.

Ōoka interrogates Ten’ichibō, who gives him a lot of facts that he has fabricated with the help of his followers. Yamanouchi Iganosuke is the brains behind the conspiracy and he answers most of the questions. Ōoka continues to insist that Ten’ichibō is an imposter but Yamanouchi brazenly challenges him to prove it insisting that Ten’ichibō is the image of the Shōgun in his youth. Ōoka asks how Yamanouchi could know how the young Shōgun looked when at the time he was a low-ranking retainer. Yamanouchi has answers for everything and says that he taught him calligraphy when he worked for the Shōgun’s mother in the Kūjō family. Ōoka cannot prove if this is true or false. 

Ōoka continues his questioning but Yamanouchi is too good and comes up with answers to everything that is thrown at him. Ōoka finally has to admit defeat and apologises for inconveniencing them and says he will make arrangements for Ten’ichibō to meet his father Tokugawa Yoshimune.

Act VI, scene 1: Ōoka-tei Oku no Ma (In the Inner Room of the Ōoka Mansion)

Ōoka is still convinced personally that Ten’ichibō is an imposter and stalls for time to allow his investigators to go to Kishū and investigate Ten’ichibō’s background. He says he is sick and needs 10 days before he can arrange the meeting between Ten’ichibō and the Shōgun. 

Ten days later Ōoka is eagerly awaiting the return of his men but no word arrives so he prepares to commit suicide as this would be the only course open to him, his wife Ozawa and his son Tadaemon. They dress in white and prepare to meet their fate but at the last moment his retainers arrive with good news. They have learned that Ten’ichibō’s real name is Hōtaku and he is a temple servant. They have witness called Kyūsuke who not only knows him by sight but actually witnessed his ruse with the dead dog. Ōoka is overjoyed.

Act VII, scene 1: Ōoka Yakutaku Okuden (In the Inner Pavilion of the Ōoka official Residence)

Ōoka summons Ten’ichibō again but this time shows him great respect, saying that arrangements are being made for him to meet his father. Ten’ichibō and his followers seem greatly relieved. Ōoka says that as a formality and as a matter of protocol he just needs the letter and sword so that he can present them to the Shōgun before the meeting. Ten’ichibō finally agrees and hands over the sword and letter. He then tells Ten’ichibō that the Shōgun has made him a gift of a garment, which is brought in on a ceremonial tray. When opens the parcel he is shocked to see the blood-stained garments he had left by the track and he feigns insult that he has been given such an insulting item. Ōoka questions him but he denies any knowledge of the garment. 

Then Kyūsuke is brought in and he immediately calls over to Ten’ichibō calling him by the name Hōtaku. Ten’ichibō pretends not to know him but Kyūsuke says he has lived with him for many years under the same roof. He adds that he knows that Hōtaku has a mark on his shoulder that will prove who he is. 

By this time Ten’ichibō and his followers know the game is up and they hear that Yamanouchi, who is not present, has committed suicide earlier that day, knowing that they would be found out. The conspirators are arrested on the spot. 

Kunichika: Nakamura Kanjaku III, Nakamura Tokizō I, Suketakaya Takasuke IV & Ichikawa Kuzō III in the play “Ōoka shirabe meiyo no hon Setsu”(?) based on “Ōoka Seidan” (Famous Cases of Ōoka) performed at the ?Hisamatsu theatre, from November 1879.

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