Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami, or “Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy,” is a Japanese play for Kabuki and Bunraku theater based on the tale of a Japanese politician called Sugawara no Michizane. It was first performed in August of 1746 in Osaka and was written by Namiki Sosuke, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Takeda Izumo I and II, although the story is a legend dating back much further than that.

The play tells the story of Sugawara no Michizane, referred to as Kan Shojo, who is a court noble wrongly banished from the Emperor’s court. It also tells the tales of his contemporaries and their various victories and downfalls. In the story, he vows to become an angry thunder god, and helps defeat his rival, who attempts to kill his son. He is then posthumously deified and given the title of Senior First Court Rank.

I learned about Michizane in my Japanese culture class. He was a real court official, and really did fall from favor in the court and get exiled. When he died a lonely and disgraced death, a series of plagues and misfortunes hit the capital. The Imperial Palace was hit several times by lightning and the Emperor’s sons began to die from plague and drought. The Japanese believed it was the angry spirit of Michizane that was haunting the Emperor, and a large and luxurious Shinto shrine was dedicated to him in Kyoto to appease him. He became known as Tenjin-sama, the god of scholarship, and now has many shrines dedicated to him all over Japan.

I always found the story of Tenjin-Sama very interesting and am therefor intrigued by this play. I hope I get a chance to see it performed one day in Japan in either bunraku or kabuki form. To my great dismay there are no videos on youtube of any performances of this play, which makes me want to see it live all the more.