Modern Seven Komachi

(Imayô nana Komachi, 今様七小町)

Publisher: Ise-ya Rihei



This series of prints shows kabuki actors in roles likened to seven legends concerning Ono no Komachi, a beautiful ninth century poetess.  The seven legends are taken from the “Nanakomachinoh plays, which deal with apocryphal incidents from the poetess’s life (hence the title Nanakomachi).  The seven episodes are: Shimizu Komachi (or Kiyomizu Komachi), Amagoi Komachi (or Yamamoto Komachi), Soushi-arai Komachi, Kayoi Komachi, Oumu Komachi, Sekidera Komachi and Sotouba Komachi.  This series is listed as number 161 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The prints are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.



Komachi: Kiyomizu Komachi (Kyo, きょう)

Actor: Bandô Shuka I in a female role next to the Otowa Falls (Otowa-no-taki) at Kiyomizudera in Kyoto

Comment: In an episode from chapter 168 of Yamato monogatari (Tales of Yamato), Komachi exchanges poems with the priest Henjou at Kiyomizudera (shimizu is an alternate reading of kiyomizu).  The poem associated with this scene reads, “What is happening—does the belt fall heedlessly from the body?  The scenery of a waterfall is something that never changes.”  Representations of this motif typically show a beautiful woman paired with the Otowa Falls (Otowa-no-taki) at Kiyomizudera during the cherry-blossom season.


Komachi: Rain-prayer Komachi (Amagoi, 雨乞)

Actor: Nakamura Utaemon IV by the shore holding a fan looking at lightning over the water

Comment: Komachi ends a drought by offering the following poem as a prayer for rain, “It is only reasonable since this is the Land of the Rising Sun for the sun to shine.  Nevertheless it is also called ama-ga-shita.” (both [heaven] and [rain] reads ame/ama). Usually depicted is the petitioning Komachi by the shore of a pond in heavy rain–often with a servant holding an umbrella.


Komachi: Komachi Washing a Book (Soshi, そうし)

Actor: Sawamura Sôjûrô V seated on a bench looking apprehensively at gathering storm-clouds 

Comment: The night before a poetry contest at the Imperial Palace, Ootomo no Kuronushi overhears his rival, Ono no Komachi, recite her entry aloud to herself.  Hoping to disqualify her, he writes it into a copy of the Man’youshuu, and on the day of the competition accuses her of plagiarism.  However, Komachi washes (arai) the book (soushi), whereupon the fresh ink washed away and exposes Kuronushi’s scheme.  The poem reads, “No one has sown it–from what seed issues the floating grass which in the watery furrow of the waves sprouts and grows thick?”


Komachi:  Travelling Komachi (Kayoi, かよい)

Actor: Ichimura Uzaemon XII leaning on a palanquin

Comment: Captain Fukakusa no Shoushou fell in love with Komachi.  She promised to spend a night with him if he slept 100 nights outside her door.  The captain braves the elements for 99 nights, marking each night by notch on the carriage shaft bench, but expires on the 100th.  The poem reads, “One hundred times or more, I hear the fluttering of the snipes’ wings as I count the lonely hours till dawn when you have not come.”  Typically the captain is portrayed traveling to visiting Komachi–often by oxcart on a snowy night.


Komachi: Parrot Komachi (Omu, おうむ)

Actor: Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII on a jetty painting fans

Comment: The emperor sends a poem of pity to the aged Komachi: “Although above the clouds things do not change from how they were in the past, do you look back fondly on your time spent within the jeweled curtains”.  By changing only one word of the emperor’s poem, Komachi demonstrates that age has not dulled her wit, “Although above the clouds things do not change from how they were in the past, I do indeed look back fondly on my time spent within the jeweled curtains.”  Illustrations frequently include a parrot–often painted on a screen–because to repeat another’s words mechanically is called “parrot’s repetition”.


Komachi: Sekidera Komachi (Sekidera, せきでら)

Actor: Onoe Baikô IV in a female role crouching next to a stream

Comment: The priest of Sekidera, accompanied by a child, visited the aged Komachi to discuss poetry.  The child invited her to the temple, where the Tanabata (Star Festival) was held.  The child danced and then Komachi danced, too, forgetting her age.  The poem reads, “Wretch that I am–a floating waterweed, broken from its roots.  If a stream should beckon, I would follow it, I think.”


Komachi: Gravestone Komachi (Soto, そうと) Actor: Iwai Kumesaburô III in a female role sitting on a rock next to a stream holding a fan

Comment: A traveling monk reprimanded an old woman for resting her aged body disrespectfully on a stupa (spiritual monument representing Buddha’s body).  He found that the woman was a withered Komachi, who started to talk about the tragic love with Captain Fukakusa.  After her confession, his soul attained peace.  The poem read, “Were I in Heaven the stupa were an ill seat.  But here, in the world without, what harm is done.”  I am grateful to Ward Pieters for locating this image.


Another state of the above print