History of “Tsunayakata”
First debuted in Shintomiza in 1883. Song Writer: Kawatake Mokuami. Music: Kineya Shojiro.
This traditional Japanese dance was adapted from the traditional myth “Watanabe no Tsuna.”
Dance versions of the “Watanabe no Tsuna” story were inherited as dance titles such as “Ibaragi” or “Tsunayakata.” Ichikawa-sohke 18-ban was a dance group that carefully nurtured these and other popular stories without allowing other companies to perform them.
As a result, these other companies would make slight adjustments in the stories, change their names and create their own versions. This allowed many dance companies to perform their versions of “Tsunayakata” throughout Japan.
“Tsunayakata” literally means “A house of Tsuna” and “Tsuna” is a part of the protagonist name, Watanabe no Tsuna. This traditional myth related to the Watanabe Family and the demon was told though the generations. And the stories of “Watanabe no Tsuna” vary a little bit by region.
Even as recently as 40 years ago, in Niigata Prefecture, the Kayabuki yane (roof) which is usually left open on the sides for ventilating smoke, was constructed without openings in the Watanabe household to prevent entry by Demons.
In Ohji in Tokyo area, a story related to “Watanabe no Tsuna” and a demon has been passed on. Ohji Inari-Jinja is famous for the story of foxes. Legend has it that foxes throughout Japan would gather at this particular temple once a year.
This shrine has no written record of the ‘Watanabe no Tsuna” story but had a painting that depicted it. It was a masterpiece by Shibata Korezane, famous artist in end of Edo period, showing the scene of the demon fleeing with his severed arm.
The original story of “Watanabe no Tsuna” dates back to around 1200 years ago, and it featured locations such as Modori-Bashi in Kyoto, Oeyama, and Rashomon. This was also the time of the famous Astrologer named “Abe no Seimei.”
Humans have five fingers while demons traditionally have only three. The two extra digits symbolize love and wisdom. The three vices/fingers they have in common symbolize greed, jealousy and pettiness.
The demon in “Tsunayakata” should have only three fingers, but in changing its appearance to a nanny (Uba); it was thought that it also had wisdom and therefore was given a fourth finger; only missing love.
In “Modoribashi,” Watanabe no Tsuna was fooled by a demon disguised as a beautiful woman named Sayuri until he saw her reflection in the river. He regained his composure and struck out his sword and was able to cut off the demons right arm.
In “Tsunayaka” and “Ibaragi,” the left arm was cut off which was a very important difference as most people are traditionally right-handed and could function without a left arm.
Story of “Tsunayakata”
The dance “Tsunayakata” is a continuation from the dance, “Modoribashi.” It is the tale that follows the heroic encounter of the young samurai Watanabe no Tsuna. Watnabe no Tsuna severs one of the Oni-demon’s arms on the bridge of Modoribashi and takes it back with him as a prize.
Abe no Seimei, an onmyoji (Astrologist) warns Tsuna, “No matter what happens, keep the gates closed. The demon will come to reclaim his arm within seven days.” Tsuna obeys and turns everyone at the gates away.
Mashiba, Tsuna’s nanny, comes to visit him from Tsu City (currently in Okayama Prefecture). Tsuna keeps the gates closed, explaining why he cannot let her enter.
However, Mashiba continues to plead with him to open the gates. She recounts how she carried him as a baby and fanned him during the hot summer nights, kept him close to her on cold winter nights and protected and nurtured him.
She bemoans how disgraceful it is to not allow her entry and does not remember raising a child without empathy or compassion.
Finally moved by her words, Watanabe no Tsuna opens the gates and allows her in. The demon, disguised as the Uba, hides its true feelings while they celebrate their reunion with stories, song and dance until she convinces Tsuna to show her the demon’s severed arm.
The box is brought out and the arm is displayed. The demon sheds its disguise and escapes with the arm.
In the final moments of the dance, Tsuna performs the “Mie” move, holding a sword and opening his mouth wide. This is a type of dramatic ending that has perfected through the efforts of countless dancers throughout history.