Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba

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Advertising board for Ise Ondo outside Kabuki-za, April 2017

Ise Ondo Koi no Netaba is a kabuki sewamono play by Chikamatsu Tokuzô, Tatsuoka Mansaku, and Namiki Shôzô II, which debuted on 1796/7/25 at the Kado no Shibai in Osaka. The title roughly translates as "The Ise Dances and Love's Dull Blade"[1], though it has been given the English titles "The Quest of Shimosaka"[2] and "The Vengeful Sword"[3] as well.

The play takes place primarily at the Aburaya, a house of assignation in the town of Furuichi[4] near Ise shrine, and features a cursed Shimosaka sword which, once it is drawn, must taste blood. The hero, Mitsugi, aids Manjirô, in searching for his family's heirloom Shimosaka sword, and eventually finds it at the Aburaya, which they both frequent. Through the machinations of the teahouse's proprietess or chief maid, Manno, Mitsugi finds himself dumped by his lover, Okon. Taunted by Manno to strike her with his scabbard to express his anger with her, he does so, but the scabbard splits, and the sword cuts the woman's neck; the curse is never explicitly discussed at all in the play, but Mitsugi is possessed by it, and goes on a killing spree, killing nearly everyone in the brothel.

Ise Ondo is a summer play, both set during the summer and traditionally performed during the summer, when it is believed the chills the audience feels at the horror of the bloodbath will cool them off. Most of the characters wear summer yukata, and visual and verbal references are made to the summer heat.

Like many sewamono, the play is based on a real incident, in this case a mass murder which occurred on the 4th day of the 5th month, that same year. A local doctor by the name of Magofuku Itsuki (age 27), sparked by jealousy, went on a drunken killing spree in the Aburaya, a local Furuichi brothel. It ended with three dead and six wounded; among those killed was a maid by the name of Oman (note that the chief maid or proprietess of the Aburaya in the play is named Manno). Itsuki committed suicide two days later at the home of his uncle, a low-ranking Ise shrine priest. His lover, the courtesan Okon (age 16 at the time), survived the incident, dying of illness at age 49.[5]

Though Ise Ondo is said to have been written in three days, making it an ichiyazuke or "pickled overnight" play, it in fact debuted roughly two and a half months after the incident, and after a local rural theatre in Matsuzaka had already begun showing a play based on the event.

The debut performance was produced by Kado no Shibai zamoto Fujikawa Hachizô III, and featured Nakayama Bunshichi II, Yoshizawa Iroha I, and Nakayama Bungorô I in the lead roles of, respectively, Mitsugi, Okon, and Manno.[6]

In a reverse from the more common situation of kabuki plays being based on those from the puppet theatre, a ningyô jôruri version of Ise Ondo first debuted in 1838.

Today, the Aburaya and Inner Courtyard/Garden scenes of Act III are most often performed, with the Futami-ga-Ura scene from Act I being quite common as well. Act IV is rarely if ever performed at all these days, and so the ending of Act III has been modified to serve as the ending of the play. In addition, two styles or traditions of performing Ise Ondo have emerged, one in Kamigata, established by Ichikawa Danzô V, and a different style or tradition in Edo, tracing back to Onoe Kikugorô III.


  • Manjirô - a low-ranking Ise shrine priest, who has lost the sword and is seeking it (nimaime)
  • Mitsugi - a samurai in the service of Manjirô's father (pintokona)
  • Okon - a courtesan; Mitsugi's lover
  • Okishi - a courtesan; Manjirô's lover
  • Oshika - a homely courtesan
  • Manno - the conniving proprietess at the Aburaya
  • Sennô - a courtesan
  • Kisuke - the head cook at the Aburaya, who is loyal to Mitsugi
  • Rinpei - a yakko (footman) in the service of Mitsugi
  • Daizô and Jôshirô - two men in the service of Tokushima no Iwaji, seeking to keep the sword from Manjirô
  • Tokushima no Iwaji and Aidamaya Kitaroku - two men from Awa no kuni, who have stolen the sword


There is a fair bit of backstory which fleshes out the connections between the characters, their individual backstories, and helps explain the situation at the start of the play. Much of this is presumably known to scholarship primarily from scenes that are no longer performed, variant versions of the play no longer performed, and/or sources such as contemporary Edo period publications.

The daimyo of Awa had in his service a samurai to whom he entrusted a precious Shimosaka sword. However, the sword caused the death of the samurai and his son, leaving only the samurai's grandson, Fukuoka Mitsugi, alive. Fearing the evil sword, Mitsugi's aunt disposed of the sword secretly and fled with her nephew to Ise, where they began to live under assumed names.

Mitsugi was then adopted by an Ise Shrine priest, but was taught by his aunt to still have allegiance to Awa, and specifically to the daimyo’s Chief Counselor, who his father had served directly under.

Meanwhile, the daimyo of Awa had died and was succeeded by a child, whose uncle, Hachisuke Kajikawa Daigaku,[7] sought to seize power for himself, but was prevented from doing so by the Chief Counselor.

The sword was lost for many years, but when rumors arose of it being up for sale in Ise, the daimyo's Chief Counsellor sent his son, Imada Manjirô, to retrieve the daimyo's heirloom. He did so, purchasing the sword, but then met the courtesan Okishi, and in staying in Furuichi (and paying for his visits to the teahouse) to spend time with his newfound love, he accumulated a considerable amount of debt. Presumably seeing no other option, and persuaded by Jôshirô that this was a good idea, he pawned the sword for the money to pay what he owed. He kept the certificate of authenticity, however.

In order to get the Chief Counselor out of his way and seize power in Awa, Hachisuke Daigaku was determined to prevent Manjirô's retrieval of the Shimosaka sword and thus disgrace the Chief Counselor, Manjirô’s father. To these ends, Daigaku sent his top spy, a samurai named Tokushima Iwaji, to steal the Shimosaka sword and the certificate providing its authenticity, from Manjirô. Iwaji was successful in somehow tricking Manjirô into giving up the certificate but the pawnbroker, and the sword, had vanished. Mitsugi heard of Manjirô's predicament and came to his aid.

Mitsugi has managed to retrieve the sword but has not, as of the beginning of the play, been able to find the certificate. He decides his first priority is to get Manjirô to safety.[8]

Plot Summary

Act I

Scene One: The Chase[9]

The play opens on a country road, where Daizô and Jôshirô provide exposition, describing their plot to trick Manjirô into pawning the heirloom Aoi-Shimosaka sword, and getting disowned for losing it, so that their master can take control of Awa. They reveal that Tokushima no Iwaji has the certificate of authenticity for the sword, and Jôshirô gives Daizô a letter to deliver to Iwaji.

Rinpei, a footman in the service of Manjirô, sneaks up on the pair and overhears everything. He tries to grab the letter, but it drops to the ground, and in the course of an elaborate chase scene, Daizô makes off with the letter, with Jôshirô close behind; the curtain closes as Rinpei chases after the pair.

Scene Three: Futami-ga-ura

The next scene takes place at Futami Bay, a site famous throughout Japan for the wedded rocks in the bay, tied together by large ropes. This is one of the more frequently performed scenes from this play.

It opens with Mitsugi and Manjirô entering along the hanamichi at night, Mitsugi holding a lantern and leading Manjirô carefully along the dark road as they discuss their search for the sword. Reaching shichisan, Mitsugi briefly introduces himself, and then the couple enter the stage proper. Jôshirô runs on, bumping into Manjirô, and then running off; Manjirô explains to Mitsugi that Jôshirô was the one who took the Shimosaka sword from him, to pawn it for him. Rinpei then enters, and gives Manjirô half of the letter, which has apparently been torn, before continuing off after Jôshirô, seeking to obtain the other half.

Manjirô reads the half of the letter he has - it describes the basics of the plot, but does not mention any names. Just then, Rinpei returns, restraining Jôshirô with both hands, and holding the remaining half of the letter in his mouth. Mitsugi takes it and passes it to Manjirô, holding up the lantern, but before Manjirô can read the remainder of the letter, Daizô sneaks up behind them, knocking the lantern to the ground, dropping all the characters into darkness, and marking the beginning of a long danmari sequence.

While the characters onstage are perfectly visible to the audience, within the context of the play, it is all but pitch black. The characters grope around in the dark, with Daizô and Jôshirô seeking to attack Mitsugi, Manjirô and Rinpei, and to get the letter back, while Mitsugi and Rinpei try to protect Manjirô. They cut mie several times in the course of the sequence. Eventually, Mitsugi grabs two figures in the dark, and calls out for Manjirô and Rinpei. Determining that Manjirô is safely with Rinpei, and that he is holding Daizô and Jôshirô, he calls for Rinpei to take Manjirô away, and then continues to fight Daizô and Jôshirô in the dark, deftly avoiding their attacks, and eventually throwing them to the ground. He sits atop them just as the sun rises, allowing him to read the letter, which he then dangles just out of Daizô's reach, establishing a set group pose as the curtain closes.

Act II

Act Two is rarely, if ever, performed today. [I have been unable to find a plot summary of this Act.]


Scene One: Aburaya

The Aburaya scene, among the most frequently performed scenes from the play, is among the most popular and famous examples in kabuki of an enkiri scene, in which two lovers cut off (kiri) their relationship (en).

It takes place at the Aburaya teahouse, and opens with Kitaroku, a merchant in league with Tokushima no Iwaji, arriving back at the teahouse from enjoying a kabuki performance. He heads into the back room (not visible on stage) to join Iwaji's party, which is already ongoing.

Manjirô enters at the end of the hanamichi, explaining aloud that it has been several days since he saw Mitsugi, and has no idea where the sword or the letter are, so he has come here to visit his lover, Okishi, in the hopes that she might know something.

Okishi happens to emerge from the party, and lets Manjirô in. He explains quickly everything that has been going on, and Okishi tells him that Mitsugi has been to the teahouse a number of times in the past few days, looking for Manjirô. Sennô, another courtesan of the Aburaya, emerges from the party, looking for Okishi, while Manjirô withdraws and hides, making his way to nearby Dairinji, so as to remain out of sight of Sennô just long enough that he can then turn around and come back.

After he exits, Mitsugi enters on the hanamichi. He makes his way to the teahouse and asks Okishi as to Manjirô's whereabouts. He tells her he has obtained the Shimosaka sword, but rather than going to Dairin-ji to meet up with Manjirô, Okishi convinces him to stay, assuring him that Manjirô will be back soon, and that if he leaves for the temple, they might cross paths and miss one another.

She tells Mitsugi about the party in the back, and that Iwaji and Kitaroku plan to buy out the contracts of herself and Okon, Mitsugi's lover, and to return to Awa the next day with the two women. Having seen the letter, Mitsugi figures out that the men from Awa in the back room must be those who plotted against Manjirô, and that they must have the certificate of authenticity, which he needs.

Just as he is resolving to stay longer - in the front room, so as to not interrupt the party or give himself away to Iwaji and Kitaroku - Manno, the proprietess or chief maid of the teahouse, emerges and tells him he cannot stay if he does not call on a girl. He expresses a wish to see Okon, but Manno refuses, saying that she is out at another teahouse, and has not yet returned. He presses her, but is refused, and ultimately gives in, telling Manno to call whichever girl she pleases, so long as he can stay. She then asks to take his sword - it is customary to leave one's sword when entering a teahouse - but he refuses, wishing to not be parted from the Shimosaka he has worked so hard to obtain. Ultimately, Kisuke, the cook, offers to take it for him, explaining after Manno leaves that he once served Manjirô's father, and thus is quite loyal to Manjirô as well. Mitsugi then explains to Kisuke the entire story, about the sword, and about the men from Awa in the back room who plotted against Manjirô and who still possess the certificate of authenticity.

Kitaroku then sneaks over to the swords, and switches the scabbards, so that when Mitsugi leaves for the night, he'll take another sword with him, not realizing, and will leave the Shimosaka behind. Kisuke spies this, however, and rather than switch the swords back, plans to give Mitsugi the Shimosaka when he leaves, making it look as though he took the wrong sword.

The homely courtesan Oshika then enters, having been called by Manno to wait upon Mitsugi. It quickly emerges that she has been receiving love letters which she believes have been from Mitsugi. She also believes that Mitsugi requested her specifically tonight, though Mitsugi denies all of it, and expresses considerable confusion at the mention of a lengthy series of exchanges of love letters, which he has seen none of.

As their argument reaches a peak, Iwaji emerges from the back room along with the remainder of his party - Okon, Okishi, Kitaroku, and a number of other men and courtesans.

Okon accuses Mitsugi of intentionally taking advantage of her being unavailable to call upon another girl. Iwaji and Kitaroku chime in, supporting her accusations of disloyalty. Mitsugi tries to explain all that happened, how Manno lied about Okon not having returned yet, and how Manno then refused to let him stay without calling on another girl, and called upon Oshika for him. He puts down Oshika in the process, as he tries to explain to Okon that he would never choose to call upon her; Oshika, offended, declares her love for Mitsugi, and bursts into tears, everyone - Oshika, Okon, Iwaji, and Kitaroku - making the situation very difficult for Mitsugi, who is caught in the middle.

They return to talk about the letters, and it comes out that Oshika lent money to Mitsugi, which he never repaid; Mitsugi remains confused, insisting he knows nothing about any of this. Oshika pulls out one of the letters and begins to read from it, at which point Mitsugi points out that it is not in his handwriting, and asks who the go-between was for the exchange of these letters - Oshika reveals it was Manno.

Mitsugi attempts to confront Manno, but she just insists upon her version of events - that it was Mitsugi who wrote the letters, and that she did pass along Oshika's money to him - suggesting that Mitsugi is the one who is lying, trying to cover for himself because he would not want to admit in front of Okon that he was having an affair with Oshika. This escalates until Mitsugi is standing over Manno, who, seeing him essentially powerless because he neither has a sword, nor would hit a woman in any case, taunts him. He relents, but Iwaji and Kitaroku continue the taunting, until Okon joins in, accusing him of everything that Manno accused him of, growing upset that he would call on Oshika, that he would send her love letters, and borrow money from her. Mitsugi insists that this is all Manno's doing, and that he is innocent, but Okon remains upset with him.

Fed up, Mitsugi calls for Kisuke, who hands him the Shimosaka sword, disguised in another sword's scabbard. As Mitsugi makes to leave the teahouse, Okon calls after him, and announces she is severing her ties with him.

She returns to the party, where Iwaji and Kitaroku reveal that they have been disguised as each other all along, and reveal as well their plot to steal the Shimosaka sword. Seeing the certificate of authenticity, Okon insists it must be a love letter, and demands to see it. She declares that she won't go back to Awa with him and marry him if he won't show her the document.

Kitaroku, Iwaji, and Manno celebrate briefly having tricked Mitsugi into taking the wrong sword before realizing that they were the ones who were duped, and that Mitsugi has in fact made off with the Shimosaka blade. Manno sends Kisuke after Mitsugi, claiming that he was accidentally given the wrong sword, but then realizes Kisuke's connection to Mitsugi, and chases after him.

Mitsugi returns, thinking he has the wrong sword, and gets into an argument with Manno over the swords, as he demands to be given his sword back, which she cannot give him since Kisuke has it, and she demands the sword he has, knowing it to be the Shimosaka and intending to give it to Iwaji. The argument escalates until she taunts him to hit her with the scabbard; he taps her lightly, just to satisfy her taunt, but the scabbard splits, and the Shimosaka sword bites into her neck. Manno instinctively puts her hand to her neck, where he struck, and seeing the blood, starts screaming "Murder!", until Mitsugi cuts her down.

Mitsugi begins his murderous rampage, killing Oshika next, and then heading upstairs to attack Iwaji in his bed.

Scene Two: Okuniwa

The Ise Ondo dances for which the play is named have begun in the inner courtyard garden. The curtain opens on the dance, which is interrupted a few moments later as Mitsugi bursts onto the scene, swinging his sword. He fights Iwaji and Kitaroku, eventually killing them both.

Okon enters, and Mitsugi raises the sword to strike her, but stops himself, recognizing her, and snapping out of being possessed by the sword. She gives him the certificate of authenticity, which she had obtained, but Mitsugi, still not realizing that he holds the Shimosaka sword, and thinking it lost, goes to kill himself. Okon stops him as Kisuke enters, and explains how he switched the swords and that the sword he holds in his hand is the Shimosaka.

Today, Act IV is not performed either in kabuki or bunraku, and Act III has been altered to make it the ending of the play. Following the bloodbath, Mitsugi, Kisuke, and Okon pose, successful at having obtained the sword, and the curtain closes, leaving quite unclear the moral or practical consequences of Mitsugi's rampage.

Act IV

In this rarely performed scene, Iwaji survives and flees from the Aburaya; Mitsugi flees as well, in a rainstorm, to his aunt's house. He remains unaware that the sword he is holding, with which he killed so many, is the Shimosaka blade he has been searching for. Manjirô arrives, asking after the sword, and Mitsugi, apologizing for his failure to obtain the blade, stabs himself. Kisuke then arrives, and explains how he switched the swords, and that the one Mitsugi has here is in fact the Shimosaka.

Iwaji then arrives, and attempts to steal the sword, but is killed by Mitsugi. Mitsugi's wounds are determined not to be fatal, and the play ends on a happy note, with Manjirô and Mitsugi alive and successful in obtaining the sword, though the fate of Okon remains unclear.


  1. Jones. p319.
  2. Theatrical Events at the University of Hawaii. University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  3. Kennedy Theatre 2010-2011. University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  4. Today part of Ise city.
  5. "Aburaya sôdô." Dairinji Homepage. 2008. Accessed 22 November 2010.
  6. Kadoza. Accessed 20 November 2010.
  7. An obvious reference to the Hachisuka clan which governed Awa, but with the name slightly changed to avoid censors; mention of contemporary figures in kabuki, especially high-ranking samurai, was forbidden at the time.
  8. Halford, Aubrey and Giovanna. The Kabuki Handbook. Charles Tuttle Company, 1956. pp107-108.
  9. Some of the scene numbers may have been changed, as the translations upon which this article is based omit scenes that were in the original.