Aoi no Ue (葵上)

A robe is laid at the front of the stage at the Oshima Nohgakudo in preparation for a performance of “Aoi no Ue.”

Contributed by David Surtasky

Aoi no Ue (summary)

A fourth category play attributed to Zeami

(At the front of the stage is laid a kosode representing the stricken Lady Aoi.)

A courtier arrives and announces that he serves the retired Emperor. One of the daughters of the family and formal wife of Hikaru Genji, Lady Aoi, has become possessed. Priests and exorcists have been brought to try and relieve her suffering, but all to no account. The shinto priestess Teruhi has been summoned to practice her craft – the art of azusa-yumi to determine what manner of spirit has inhabited the Lady Aoi. The courtier asks Teruhi to draw out the invasive spirit by plucking her catalpa bow.

Priestess Teruhi plucks her bow and chants a mantra of purification, calling the possessing spirit forth.

The living spirit of Rokujō no Miyasudokoro (Lady Rokujō) appears having been attracted by the actions of Priestess Teruhi. The former lover of Hikaru Genji, Lady Rokujō speaks, saying that her life is unstable like the wheel on a broken carriage, and that the wheel of her karma turns round and round in anguish due to some sins from a previous life. She talks of the instability and fragility of life, and reveals that she is sad and embittered. Referencing an incident between herself and Lady Aoi that occurred at the Kamo festival, she feels ashamed. (At the Kamo festival the Lady Rokujō’s ox carriage had been jostled from its place by the ox cart team of Lady Aoi.)

Teruhi speaks of the phantom that only she can see, describing her as a noble lady riding in a broken carriage. The courtier guesses as the spirit’s identity, but wants the priestess to ask the spirit to reveal itself. The spirit of Rokujō begins to speak through the body of Priestess Teruhi and announces her identity and the causes of her jealous vengeance:

Explaining that while she was Genji’s lover she had respect, she enjoyed parties among the cherry blossoms and the coming of spring in the royal court. She was envied for her association with Prince Genji, and her days were full of joy – but seemingly all at once Genji’s love faded away and she felt her life become but a pale reflection of the past. She declares her anger and bitterness towards the Lady Aoi.

Lady Rokujō’s expression of resentment grows until she begins to beat Lady Aoi (in the manner that a senior wife might beat her husband’s young lover.)  She says that no matter how much Aoi might scream out in agony, that at least still she can be with Genji and feel his love for as long as she lives. Having been abandoned by Genji, Lady Rokujō is consumed by hateful and jealous thoughts towards Lady Aoi, and feels that even though she cannot be with Genji any longer that her love for him has continued to grow, and that she shames herself now for longing even for his shadow. Rokujō threatens to take Aoi away in her phantom broken carriage, but instead departs herself.

The courtier orders a local man to hurry and get the mountain priest Yokawa-no-kohijiri so that he might be able to exorcise the vengeful spirit from the lady. The priest, engaged in his ascetic practices and training in the secret art of sanmitsu-no-gyōhō is approached by the local man who requests his help with Lady Aoi’s suffering. The priest agrees to the request and sets off at once.

“Where is she who is suffering?” inquires the priest, clad in the robes that identify him as a practitioner of Shugen-dō. “She lies in the large room,” replies the courtier. The priest begins his prayers.

Lady Rokujō reappears in the guise of a jealous ogre (wearing the Hannya mask.) The priest describes the wardrobe of the Shugen-dō followers, his linen robe and his red wood rosary. He rubs the rosary producing jangling sounds with it and begins to chant a mantra. A spiritual battle between priest and ogre ensues.

The ogre threatens the priest, who is unafraid due to his belief in the holy power of the Buddha. He calls out to the five myō-ō, and indicates that any who truly listen to his preaching and brings that understanding into their hearts will surely become enlightened. The battle rages between them.

Eventually the sutra reaches the heart of Lady Rokujō and her aspect as an ogre is calmed. She adopts an attitude of acceptance and the bodhisattva welcomes her. Through the great mercy of Buddha, Lady Rokujō can now be released from her resentment and attain an enlightened state.

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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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