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Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Ejima-Ikushima Affair

As mentioned in yesterday's blog about the Island That Could Kill You (see HERE), I mentioned that Miyake-jima had once been a penal (tee-hee) colony for Japanese dissidents the government didn't feel like killing for whatever transgression may have occurred.

(Ed. Note: All names in this story are surname first.) 

In one instance, there was a royal scandal—the Ejima-Ikushima affair (江島生島事件 Ejima Ikushima jiken) in 1714 that involved the Shôgun's harem and a Kabuki actor.

I know, I know… you're thinking some actor entered the harem and had his way with one of the Shogun's special ladies… but no… rather it involved political jealousy.

Our story begins, innocently enough, when Ejima, a 33-year-old high-ranking lady in the Ōoku (the great interior, 大奥… basically, this is the Shôgun's harem in Edo-jo [Edo Castle]), went to visit the grave of Tokugawa Ienobu, the sixth Shôgun of the Tokugawa dynasty, who had died on November 12, 1712 (born June 11, 1662).

You might be thinking that Ejima may have had a thing for the late-Shôgun, and who knows, maybe she did, but in this case, and on this date of February 26, 1714, she visited the grave as a proxy for her superior, Gekkō-in at Zōjōji Temple in Edo (now Tokyo).

Gekkō-in had been a lady-in-waiting (one of the women the Shôgun could sleep with) to Shôgun Tokugawa Ienobu, and was also the mother of the then-current Shôgun Tokugawa Ietsugu (born August 8,1709 - died June 19, 1716). Note that she was NOT the wife of the previous Shôgun.

Why couldn't Gekkō-in go and visit the grave herself? Apparently she was double-booked that day, as she had to accompany several daimyō (feudal lords) and hatamoto (direct vassals of the Shôgun) to take part in a prearranged Buddhist service.

So… why couldn't she simply postpone her visit by one day? Why send Ejima in her place? My blood's not blue enough to provide an answer… but it must have been an important enough date in Gekkō-in's mind as something to not be missed.

Never send a girl to do a woman's work.

Ejima sent a messenger to the priests at the Zōjōji Temple to tell them she would arrive very early in the morning of February 26, and that they didn't need to perform any special duties. She did, however, ask the priests (via the messenger) if they could secure a place for her and her party at the local kabuki theater.

Really? Ask a holy man if they can get seats for the seductive prowess of kabuki theater? Ejima may have been pretty, but she wasn't very well acquainted with how things work in the real world. 

Naturally, the priests informed her that this jaunt to the theater wasn't something they could help her with.

Ejima got angry and made the arrangements herself, getting a clerk (banto) at a local dry-goods shop—but one who regularly took orders from the castle—to make arrangements at the Yamamuraza kabuki theater to expect 100 guests, which included several other ladies-in-waiting and other women in the Shôgun's employ, not to mention many male attendants.

Still… this was Ejima's show.

Ejima visited the grave as requested, but she didn't really give it her all… by that I mean she didn't present all of the money, materials and gifts to the priests as was expected, but instead decided to keep some to be used as 'gifts' at the theater.

Of course, knowing that 100 persons of royal background were at the show, meant that kabuki actors Ikushima Shingorō and Nakamura Seigorō and theater owner Yamamura Chōdayū fell over themselves to welcome the entourage.

Now, there's probably another reason why today's modern ballet doesn't allow bottles of booze to accompany its patrons during a show, but during a break in the kabuki play, an already drunk Ejima spilled a bottle of sake (rice wine) onto the patrons below… including a Satsuma clan samurai and his wife… and while Ejima profusely apologized, the samurai was pissed and left the building.

Often when something embarrassing happens, the drunk offender sobers up a bit, but not Ejima.

Despite recommendations that they all leave immediately and head back to the castle, Ejima paraphrasingly said 'Screw you, guys! We're staying here and enjoying the rest of the show! I looooves me some kabuki!"


Later, Yamamura Chōdayū the theater owner in an attempt to curry favor, invited all the ladies over to his home and to his private tea house, where the 44-year-old kabuki actor Nakamura Seigorō and his wife were present to entertain the distinguished guests. The wife had been known to dance and play shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed lute with a square body, played with a large plectrum) for the entertainment of the current Shôgun's mother… IE Gekkō-in, the woman who asked Ejima to go make nice-nice to the spirit of the current Shôgun's father, but note that she wasn't the wife of the Shôgun. Got it? I know there's a lot of names.

Later… Ejima and her entourage returned to Edo-jo (Edo Castle)… but since it was so late, they could not get back in… but found some small gate where she could enter.

The next morning, she presented her story to Gekkō-in (the Shôgun's mom), leaving out all of the stuff about the kabuki theater and after-party and being locked out.

So Ejima lied to her head lady-in-waiting, the mother of the current Shôgun

Now apparently that journey to the theater wasn't the first time that Ejima had partaken of the sensual kabuki. Apparently she had been carrying out an affair with the adulterous kabuki actor Ikushima Shingorō for seven years and had also taken one of the actors daughters into the service of the court as if she were a member of a samurai family…Holy crap! A commoner in the Royal Cort?!

Did Gekkō-in know any of this before it all leaked out? Apparently not!

Stuff came out and was used by a rival member of the inner circle within the Ōoku (harem).

Ejima's superior was, as mentioned, Gekkō-in. But Gekkō-in had a rival in Ten'ei-in, the wife of the late Shôgun Ienobu (the official wife, but NOT the mother of the current Shôgun).

Each of the two, the Mother and the Wife were part of a bigger power struggle… with one faction led by Arai Hakuseki and Manabe Akifusa, the two closest advisers to both Shôgun Ienobu and Shôgun Ietsugu. The other faction was headed by fudai daimyo and the rōjū who had been in office since the time of the fifth Shôgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.

Now… like I said, things eventually began to leak out, and Ten'ei-in decided to launch an investigation into the Ōoku - not out of respect for the process, but rather to show up her rival.

Eventually, some 1,300 people within the circle and involved with it were found to have been guilty of some transgression against the rules.

Originally, Ejima was sentenced to death, but that was pardoned down to exile on the Island That Could Kill You, aka Miyakejima… but after much pleading from her superior, Gekkō-in, she was allowed to be taken into the service of a daimyo from Shinano-ken, though "service" may be incorrect, as another report I read says she was imprisoned there under heavy guard until her death in 1741, at which time she was buried in an unmarked grave.

In the good old days, should one be convicted of a crime, the entire family was meant to suffer as well… to wipe the stain away, if you will… and as such, Ejima's oldest brother was sentenced to death by seppuku (suicide by stomach cutting or disembowelment)… but a younger brother was simply exiled, as were other relatives, to Miyakejima.

Kabuki actor Ikushima was exiled also exiled to Miyakejima… if not for his illicit affair with a member of the Ōoku, then perhaps because his daughter (the daughter of a mere actor) was allowed to gain employment within the royal Ōoku thanks to Ejima's lies.

Actor Nakamura Seigorō and kabuki theater owner Yamamura Chōdayū were also banished to the island… and to ensure the Chōdayū family could not benefit from the resale of the Yamamuraza theater, its official license was revoked, then the building was torn down, and the property confiscated by the Government.

Holy crap. I can see why people tried to be on their best behavior at all times.

As further warning to all kabuki actors, the three main theaters in the area were closed for some time until each of the 24 most important actors swore in hand-written statements that they would never, ever violate any of the Government's rules (and I would assume Government women).

Continuing, the Government instructed the kabuki theater to become less sexually suggestive… by that I mean they made it less likely a place where shenanigans could occur between the all-male acting crew and the audience (I would assume they were more concerned here about the women).

Private boxes were shrunk in size; no private passages between backstage and a tea house was allowed; private boxes could not hang shades for privacy; costuming was less sexy; no kabuki performance could run past 5PM.

As a final blow, about 100 years later, all kabuki theaters were moved farther away from Edo Castle into the Askakusa-district.

So… who won the Ōoku battle? Wife Ten'ei-in easily beat Mother Gekkō-in.

And… when Shôgun Ietsugu died (August 8, 1709 – June 19, 1716) of complications from a cold… riiiight… the original Tokugawa Ieyasu lineage died… and so… Wife Ten'ei-in then successfully supported Tokugawa Yoshimune, who became the eighth Shôgun (1716-1745, retiring/abdicating then, and eventually dying in 1751). Shôgun Tokugawa Yoshimune was elected to the position since there were no more male heirs of the original Tokugawa line.

Since then, there have been films and TV dramas about the events… oh, and quite naturally, the Ejima-Ikushima affair has been turned into a kabuki play.

Ah yes… the play's the thing,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above is an ukiyo-e woodblock print  drawn by artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and published by Tsunnashima Kamekichi. It does depict The Ejima-Ikushima Affair.

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