Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Transformation of the Image of Kusunoki
Masashige’s Wife in Early Modern Japan

LEE Chung-Ho

(The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies,
Department of Comparative Literature and Culture, The University of Tokyo)

Key words:

Kusunoki Masashige, wife of Masashige, Taiheiki, good wife and wise mother, jidai jōruri

As he appears in the Taiheiki, Kusunoki Masashige is a military official who had a combination of the three virtues of wisdom, benevolence, and valor, and he is broadly known as a medieval hero who gave his life for the Emperor. After the passing of the Edo era, the instructive aspect of Kusunoki Masashige came to be emphasized, and this was the primary reason for dissemination of his legend.

In the Taiheiki, the wife of Masashige persuades their son Masatsura, who is distraught over the death on the battlefield of his father, not to kill himself by reminding him of the meaning of the instruction which Masashige had left behind. With this episode as starting point, the wife of Masashige afterward became known to society as, in the Meiji-era phrase, “a good wife and wise mother.”

However, in the Rijinshō, a retelling of the Taiheiki tales that was popular in the first half of the Edo era, the text treating Masashige’s legend consists mainly of war talk and military science. It omits the scene in which the wife of Masashige taught her son the dying injunctions of his father and instead inserts the episode about the confrontation between the enemy camp and the members of Masashige’s household over the treatment of Masashige’s severed head. This substitution for the extensive description of Masashige’s wife in the Taiheiki is seen as an example of the relegation of the existence of females to secondary position when the main subject is war talk.

In contrast to the Rijinshō, the wife of Masashige appeared for the purpose of edification in the lesson books of the early Edo period addressed to women. In the instruction for women, Honchō jokan, the episode about the wife of Masashige in the original text of the Taiheiki is quoted in simplified form to suit the nature of instruction for women, the major purpose of which was to teach the example of a mother reasoning with her son to correct his wrongs.

In the jidai jōruri genre, the image of the wife of Masashige is formed a little differently. In Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s Yoshino miyako onna Kusunoki, the wife of Masashige appears as in previous versions as a good wife and wise mother who disciplines her son to succeed to the legacy of her deceased husband, but in addition she is described as a sturdily built woman with physical strength and a strong character. Here, unlike the typical woman who sacrifices herself for a man in the jidai jōruri genre, the image of a strong woman who overcomes the troubles of war is granted to the wife of Masashige.

In another example of this genre, Nanboku ikusa mondō, the authors, Nishizawa Ippû and Tanaka Senryû, added a new feature. In their account, the wife of Masashige preaches at the son for indulging in sex with women. The point at which she preaches at him for his wrongdoing is the same as in the Taiheiki. But in addition to the description of the son as a womanizer, there is another change: It is the servant Nakiotoko who delivers the admonition on behalf of the wife of Masashige. This can be said to be a new conception.

In short, although the wife of Masashige maintained the image of good wife and wise mother from the medieval Taiheiki through the early modern jidai jōruri genre, over time new elements were added to the image and accepted.