Uri nusubito 瓜盗人

The Melon Thief

orig. 1927-1928

by Yamaguchi Ryōshū

IHL Cat. #2698


Depicting a scene in the play Uri Nusubito 瓜盗人 (The Melon Thief) from the print collection "Kyōgenga taikan." Originally published in 1927-1928, this collection's print may be from the original edition or one of the later editions using the original blocks, issued in 1966 and again in 1976.

URI NUSUBITO 瓜盗人 (The Melon Thief)

Source: Source:  A Guide to Kyogen, Don Kenny, Hinoki Shoten, 1968, p. 283-284.

Shite [lead role] THIEF

Ado [supporting role] FARMER

The Farmer comes out to tend his melon patch, sees the melons are nearly ripe, and puts up a fence and a scarecrow to scare away birds and beasts.

A Man down on his luck, who is not really a thief at all, decides to try his hand at stealing melons. He breaks through the fence and begins looking for melons. It is night and he has trouble finding any. He has heard that the way to find melons at night is to roll around in the patch. He rolls around, finds several nice melons, and finally runs into the scarecrow. Thinking it is a real person, he begs for his life explaining he is not a real thief, but just a man down on his luck who has come to borrow a few melons. When the scarecrow doesn't move or answer, the Thief realizes his mistake. In anger at being tricked, he knocks the scarecrow down, pulls up the melon vines, and leaves with several melons.

The Farmer comes back the next morning, and finds that he has been robbed. Since a thief always returns to the scene of his crime, the Farmer dresses himself up as the scarecrow and waits. The Thief sure enough comes back for more melons, sees the scarecrow, but this time is not only not frightened, but since it is so well made decides to use it as his partner, and get in a little practice of the song and dance, which depicts a demon and a sinner in hell, which he will perform on a float in the coming festival. While he is thus playing with the scarecrow, he discovers his mistake, and takes off at a dead run with the Farmer close at his heels.

In the Ōkura script, the Thief has stolen melons from the same patch the night before, given them to someone who like them so well that they asked for more, so he has come back to fill the order. He jumps over the fence. Thus the night when the Farmer poses as the scarecrow is the third time the Thief comes. The rest is the same as the Izumi script.

Performance of Uri Nusubito in 2007 at Osaka Shoin Women's University

What is Kygen

In formal terms it is "the medieval comic form [dating from the mid-14th century] that evolved alongside the serious noh and, like noh, became a seminal influence on kabuki and puppet theater."[1] While "noh is usually about gods and spirits . . .  kyōgen is always about human beings."[2] It is noh's comedic counterpart, "sandwiched between two noh plays, or even between two halves of a single drama."[3] Today, there are two schools of kyōgen, the Ōkura school 大蔵流  and the Izumi school 和泉流.

"The kyōgen doings are based on a slender repertoire of situations. [About 260 plays.] A lord has a stupid servant (always called Tarō Kaja. . .) who cannot tell a fan from an umbrella [as in the play "Suehirogari"], or who inadvertently gives away to his mistress his master's philanderings, or who drinks up all the sake and fills up the bottles with hot water and then tries to talk the master into thinking he is getting drunk. Tarō is joined by a large cast of comic characters, each as distinctive as himself, each sublimely stupid, as gloriously sly, as eternally innocent. [I]t is our foibles that kyōgen celebrates.[4]

[1] New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten, Samuel Leiter, Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 374.

[2] A Guide to Kyogen, Don Kenny, Hinoki Shoten, 1968, p. 7. 

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid., p. 8.

Print Details

Tsūen (通円)

蓼洲作 Ryōshū saku with Ryōshū seal

Print as it was originally issued (1927-1928), tipped into a volume of Kyōgenga taikan.