Ejima-Ikushima Affair

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The Ejima-Ikushima Affair which took place in 1714 was among the most (in)famous scandals to strike the shogun's Ôoku, and the kabuki world. The incident concerns a romantic affair between Ejima,[1] a lady in the service of Shogun Tokugawa Ietsugu's mother, and Ikushima Shingorô, a kabuki actor.

The events of the incident inspired numerous popular retellings, leaving the authenticity of the details unclear. However, one version of the narrative relates that on 1714/1/12, Ejima led a group of ladies from the Ôoku on a proxy pilgrimage to the Tokugawa clan family temple of Zôjô-ji, in the Shiba district of Edo. Afterwards, they were meant to enjoy tea or food with the abbot, but instead Ejima and eleven others snuck away to the Yamamura-za, where they watched a kabuki performance, and called upon a number of actors to join them in their box, to eat, drink, and chat. These actors included Ikushima Shingorô, with whom Ejima had already been romantically involved for something like nine years. According to some accounts, the court ladies gifted to the actors a number of fine robes and other things which were meant to be given as offerings to the temple.

This was scandalous because the social classes were not meant to mix and mingle, and actors and ladies of the Ôoku in particular were both obliged by law to remain rather secluded within their respective spaces and isolated from interaction with those of other classes. When the authorities heard of this party at the Yamamura-za, and of Ejima's nine-year-long relationship with Ikushima, most of those involved were sentenced to either banishment or execution. Many of the court ladies involved were exiled into the care of various daimyô, and Ikushima was banished to Miyakejima, one of the Izu Islands, where he remained for many years before finally being pardoned.[2] The artists Kaigetsudô Ando and Hanabusa Itchô were among those exiled as well.[3] Further, the Yamamura-za was closed on 2/6 of that year, torn down, and its assets seized; for the remainder of the Edo period there would be only three licensed kabuki theaters in Edo, where there had been four. The other three theaters were forced to close at this time as well, and were permitted to reopen on 4/9, under a new set of restrictions which limited, chiefly, the extensiveness, lavishness, and sturdiness of the theater buildings, presumably in order to discourage the theaters from being able to host lavish parties, banning second- and third-story reception rooms, back passages, bamboo blinds which could be used to hide the occupants of VIP seats, and lavish teahouse facilities. By the 1720s, however, the theaters had gradually managed to receive grudging allowances for most of those things banned in 1714, once again expanding their theaters into larger and sturdier spaces.


  • Donald Shively, "Bakufu Versus Kabuki," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18, no. 3/4 (1955), 348-350.
  1. 絵島 or 江島, sometimes read as Enoshima.
  2. Shively writes that Ikushima spent 18 years on the island, being pardoned only the year before his death. However, counting 18 years from 1714 brings us only to 1732, and Ikushima lived until 1743. Counting backwards eighteen years from 1742 (the year before his death) would mean he wasn't sentenced and exiled until 1724, a full ten years after the incident.
  3. Christine Guth, Art of Edo Japan, Yale University Press (1996), 98.