Tomoe (巴)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Tomoe (巴) (synopsis)

 A Second-category play. Author unknown.

A Buddhist monk from a mountain village in the Kiso region has decided to travel to Kyoto. Changing into his traveling cloak, he gathers his attendants and departs. They pass through Mino and Owari provinces spending their nights at various inns. Eventually they reach the shore of Lake Biwa.

They arrive on the day of a festival for the deity in Awazugahara and meet a woman who is visiting there to pray. The monk observes the woman and expresses surprise that she is crying, inquiring with her about her distress. She quotes a poem attributed to Saigyō saying “Although I know not who is enshrined here, the divinity of the deity brings tears to my eyes.” The monk reflects on her gentleness. The woman inquires about where the monk’s party has traveled.

Learning they have come from Kiso, the woman tells them that the warlord Kiso Yoshinaka is enshrined here, and calls upon him to pray. She requests that the party stay under a pine tree and recite a sutra for the consolation of Yoshinaka mentioning the bond they must have since they’ve come from the same region. The temple bell tolls in the gathering dusk, the sound mingling with the murmur of waves on Lake Biwa. As loneliness embraces the surroundings, the woman announces that she is ghost and without revealing her identity disappears into the twilight.

A local villager appears. When questioned by the monk, he reveals that the woman they’ve just met must be the spirit of Yoshinaka’s companion: Lady Tomoe. He advises them to pray for the lady. The monks proceed to pray for the deceased.

As darkness falls the spirit of Lady Tomoe reappears, and recounts her suffering. The monks see the lady clad in full battle armor. The Lady reveals her name and speaks of her resentment; since she was a woman she was not permitted to be at Lord Yoshinaka’s side during his final moments. Her resentment has tied her to this world.

Lady Tomoe desired to die in battle with Yoshinaka, to brandish her bow and pass bravely while achieving a feat to be remembered.  She speaks of her obligation to her lord, and tells the story of his last battle:

It had been January, and the snow still lay on the ground. Pursued by his enemies, Yoshinaka had given his horse full reign but the poor animal had run deep into a muddy field covered with thin ice. The weight of his armor sank him down in the mud, and he couldn’t reach firm ground. Lady Tomoe rushed to her lord’s side and found him wounded, and helped him to rest beneath the very pine tree the monks had sheltered under.

Tomoe encouraged Yoshinaka to commit suicide to save his honor, saying that she would follow him in death. Yoshinaka refused her, telling her that if she killed herself her would sever his bonds with her and not forgive her in this life or the next. He gave her a kimono and amulet, instructing her to take them to Kiso. By this time they were surrounded by enemies – “Look! ” they cried, “it is the female warrior Tomoe. Let’s not fail in this chance to kill her!”

As her enemies closed up around her, Tomoe embraced the need for battle. She drew her sword and feigned fear in order to draw her enemies nearer. Her foe unwisely charged, and Tomoe cut them down. She slashed swiftly at her enemies and downed them like a stormy wind dashing flowers to the earth. She slew several and the rest retreated in fear.

Returning to the pine tree, Tomoe discovered Yoshinaka had indeed taken his own life. Lying beside him were his kimono and amulet. Gathering up these tokens, she bade farewell, but overcome by grief could barely move. Eventually she departed, stopping at the beach of Awazu and cut the belt from her armor, and placed her armor on the ground. She removed her headdress, and donned the kimono. Hidden near her breast was Yoshinaka’s short sword. Wearing kimono and rain hat she escaped to the village of Kiso with tears as her only companion. Lady Tomoe finishes her story, and begs the monks to pray for her release from the obsession of regret and guilt.


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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1 Response to Tomoe (巴)

  1. Pingback: Haunted. | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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