Tonsuring the performer: Image, text, and narrative in the ballad-drama Sshizuka

Elizabeth Oyler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay explores the portrayal of the famous shirabyōshi dancer Shizuka in an illustrated, hand-copied book (nara ehon) dating from the late sixteenth century. The text for the nara ehon, taken from a somewhat earlier ballad-drama (kōwakamai), describes Shizuka's capture by her lover's brother and enemy, the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo. In the tale, Shizuka and her mother are taken from the capital to Kamakura, Yoritomo's headquarters. Shizuka bravely refuses to reveal her lover's whereabouts, spending her time in captivity defiantly demonstrating her formidable skills and erudition to Yoritomo and his retinue. By contrast, the illustrations of the text provide a counter-narrative stressing the loss and suffering that Shizuka endures during her time in Kamakura, ignoring some of the most famous parts of the narrative, including a defiant dance she performs at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine in front of Yoritomo and his men. I focus on the juxtaposition between text and image in this work, stressing the discontinuities between the two, especially in comparison with other, near-contemporary nara ehon versions whose illustrations more closely follow the text. I argue that the increasing enclosure and control of women during the late medieval period is reflected in the portrayals of Shizuka and her mother, whom we see only in captivity or on forced journeys that could end in death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-317
Number of pages23
JournalJapanese Journal of Religious Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 23 2009


  • Kamakura shogunate
  • Minamoto Yoritomo
  • Minamoto Yoshitsune
  • Nara ehon
  • Shirabyōshi
  • Shizuka

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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