Tama-no-Dan

Contributed by David Crandall

INTRODUCTION: “Tama-no-Dan is a famous segment from the noh play Ama, which recounts how a diver (a woman of humble origins) has an affair with a high court official (Fujiwara no Fuhito) and bears him a son. To ensure that her son is granted noble status, she agrees to retrieve a jewel that was stolen by the Dragon King, who keeps it in a guarded tower at the bottom of the sea. Tama-no-Dan recounts in vivid detail how the diver retrieves the jewel, facing certain death for the sake of her child. Musically and choreographically, it’s an exciting, mimetic segment that covers a wide emotional range and is often performed as a stand-alone dance piece.

I made this translation/adaptation so that it could be chanted with existing drum parts from the Kadono and Ko drum guilds. Although it generally follows Hosho singing practice, I created a new melody with a rhythmic structure that doesn’t match the original Japanese. My aim was to accentuate the natural rhythms and stresses of the English text. This approach creates novel kinds of interplay between the text and the drums.”

Tama-no-Dan

From the fifth category noh play “Ama.”
Author unknown – translated & adapted by David Crandall.

“Hold the rope—I’ll shake it when I have the jewel. Promise me you’ll pull me up with all your strength.” Thus assured, I drew a single, sharpened blade—

And plunged into the water toward the cold abyss
Thrusting forward, through the pluming waves and mist
Far out in the offing where ocean touches sky
Boundless, the surge gave way then closed behind me
I looked down, but found no sign of bottom or edge
Utterly alone, I felt the void encompass me
This was a quest beyond the reach of flesh and bone
Only a miracle could make the jewel mine

Diving deep, I came at last to the Dragon Gate,
Peered inside the courtyard crowned by a great tower
Soaring sixty fathoms high, glittering with gems
Flowers and incense were placed in offering
Wreathed around the gleaming spire that held the jewel I sought
Eight dragon kings arrayed themselves in ranks
Cruel sharks and other deadly creatures of the sea
Kept ceaseless watch; I knew I’d never leave alive

My heart ached with tender longing
My thoughts fled in blank despair to my beloved home
Far beyond the waves that now encircled me
There my son awaited me
And his father, the noble minister of state
Sweet faces I would never see again
Our final parting left my soul in tatters

Holding back my tears, I stood with grim resolve
And joined my hands together in humble supplication:
“Hear me, Bodhisattva Kannon of Shidoji!
Grant me your holy strength to do the task that I must do.”
Reverently, I touched the sacred sword of mercy to my brow
And burst into the Dragon Palace in swift attack
The guardians scattered in alarm, giving me my chance
Rushing in, I stole the jewel and quickly fled
The dragon kings raged after me in furious pursuit
But I had devised a desperate plan
I reversed my grip and turned the blade upon myself
Gashed the flesh beneath my breast and pushed the jewel in
I cast the sword aside and lay as still as death
I knew no palace denizen could tolerate a corpse
No glaring sea beast dared approach my stricken body
Darkness seeped into my eyes as I shook the rope
Sending a furtive signal to those awaiting me above
With hope and joy they kept their word and drew me up
In a crimson flash of foam, the jewel’s fate unknown…

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About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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