Ama (海女)

Contributed by David Surtasky

(Editor’s note: below is a summary of the play “Ama” in accompaniment to David Crandall’s translation/adaptation of the famous scene “Tama-no-Dan.”)

Ama (海女) (summary)

A fifth category play, author unkown

The Fujiwara minister Fusazaki travels to Shido-no-ura Bay in order to hold a Buddhist memorial service for his deceased mother. With his retainers he travels forth from the capital Kyoto. After passing Koya they sail out toward Awaji Island and finally arrive at the bay. In this distance they see a figure, not knowing whether it is a man or woman. They decide to wait for their arrival and speak with them.

A woman arrives with sickle and seaweed in hand. She is a diver from the village of Amano, someone who cuts seaweed from the ocean bed. She speaks about the pain in her heart, and recounts the techniques of other divers of Ise Province.

Fusazaki’s retainer speaks with the woman, and asks that she cut seaweed for his master. The diver offers the seaweed that she carries, but the retainer indicates that the minister only wants the seaweed cut since it interferes with him seeing the reflection of the moon. This request reminds her of an old story:  the diver speaks of a shining sacred jewel stolen and taken to the Dragon King’s Palace off the shore of Amano. The jewel contained the aspect of the Buddha and was called Menkô-fuhai-no-tama and was being brought from T’ang Dynasty China to Kofukuji Temple in Nara when it was stolen. The minister Fujiwara no Fuhito, charged with its transport, after the theft decided to seclude himself on the shore of the bay and married a local diver girl. In time they had a child: the minister Lord Fusazaki.

Minister Fusazaki realizes that the story is about him, and that he is truly the son of a diver girl and that his mother was not of noble birth. The diver, embarrassed by this revelation indicates that she will keep her silence and not sully the minister’s good name. Undeterred, the retainers ask the diver to recount the story of the recovery of the jewel:

The Lord Tankai had asked the diver to recover the jewel. She told him that if she could take it back, then he must promise that their son become his successor. He agreed and the diver was determined to risk her life for the potential glory of her son. She brandished a sword, and girded a rope around her waist telling her companions that if she can recover the jewel she will tug on the rope and have them pull her back to the surface.

She dove into the ocean, the waves like clouds or smoke. She could not see to the blackness of the very bottom. Surrounded by endless darkness she worried whether, as a mere mortal, she could outwit the supernatural denizens of the Dragon King’s Palace. Sneaking into the Palace she saw the jewel ensconced in a sacred tower surrounded by incense and flowers. Guarding the tower were the Eight Great Dragon Kings as well as numerous fish and fearsome sharks. She realized that she could not escape death and felt pangs of longing for her beloved home on the shore where her son and husband waited.

Crying in sadness she prayed to the Bodhisattva of Mercy, and charged ahead. She cut her forehead with her sword and leapt into the Palace. The evil dragons stepped back in surprise and in their indecision she managed to seize the jewel. Again with the sword she cut into her body below her breasts and stuffed the jewel into the gaping wound. The dead are taboo at the Dragon King’s Palace, and so perceiving her as such, the dragons did not want to approach her. She pulled on the rope and her companions drew her to the surface.

While being drawn back she was attacked by the dragons and her body was torn and wounded by their fierce claws and teeth. Lord Tankai lamented terribly – he had lost both his beloved wife and the sacred jewel. With her dying breath the diver told him what she’d done, and revealed the jewel hidden within her flesh. Lord Tankai kept his promise, and their son became his successor.

Having told the story the diver reveals that she is truly the spirit of minister Fusazaki’s mother. With the arriving dawn, she gives a letter to her son and begs him to read it before she sinks beneath the waves.

Minister Fusazaki proceeds with his mother’s memorial service. His retainers encourage him to open her letter and read it. In her letter she says that the underworld is dark, and she begs her son to pray for her repose. Fusazaki prays for his mother and offers flowers at the temple, he recites the Lotus Sutra and holds memorial services.

Due to the virtues of the Lotus Sutra the diver reappears as a Dragon Lady. She praises the sutra, and asks that it continue to be read. The celestial beings, the dragon kings and the Eight guardians of the Law of Buddha witness her transformation into Buddhahood.  A fast dance is performed to the sound of the Banshiki-hayamai expressing the joy of attaining enlightenment.


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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One Response to Ama (海女)

  1. Pingback: Tama-no-Dan | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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