Kokaji (小鍛冶)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Kokaji (小鍛冶) (summary)

 A fifth category play, author unknown

 Quite some time ago in the city of Kyoto, the Fujiwara Emperor Ichijō had a dream. It was a dream clouded in deep mystery, and afterwards he felt compelled to commission a sacred sword. As a result he sent his retainer Tachibana no Michinari to visit the renowned sword-maker Sanjō Kokaji Munechika and demand of him the crafting of an excellent and spiritual weapon.

Michinari went to Sanjō Kokaji Munechika’s house to deliver the Imperial request. Munechika received the request with respect, but gravely indicated that he simply couldn’t complete the task. He felt that such an exceptional sword could only be crafted by the skill of two men, and that he had no partner with skills capable of the task. As an Imperial servant, Michinari was not impressed with Munechika’s excuses and told him that this was a divinely appointed task and that he should proceed without delay.

Being wary of failing the Emperor, Munechika accepted with great reluctance. He knew he could only succeed if he had the intervention of powers greater than himself, so he proceeded to the great Inari Shrine so he might pray for help. On his way up the hillside to the shrine a young boy stopped him, called out his name and asked him about his newly appointed task. With great surprise Munechika asked the boy how he could possibly know about such a thing. The boy replied that such spiritual matters were quite hard to keep secret, and that if Munechika would simply rely on Emperor’s wisdom that he would certainly prevail.

The boy told Munechika the story of several famous swords, both Chinese and Japanese. He told of the virtues of their divine powers. The august prince Yamato Takeru-no-mikoto, a powerful figure who had set out to clear the Eastern Provinces of bandits and barbarians, in particular wielded such a famous sword. At a certain point in the autumn of his campaign, his enemies set fire to the tinder-dry grasses that surrounded Yamato Takeru-no-mikoto, hoping to dismay him prior to their attack. Undeterred, Yamato Takeru-no-mikoto drew his sword and mowed down the grasses with such force that the spirit of the sword came forth and started a fire-storm consuming his hapless enemies instead. That sword, the famous Kusanagi (“Grass Cutting Sword”) brought peace to the land. If Munechika would have the proper faith, he too would be capable of making such a sword.

Having told his story, the boy instructed Munechika to return to his home and sanctify a platform in preparation to forge the sword, and that in due time he would come and be his partner in the endeavor. In great wonder at the boy’s words, Munechika watched as the boy disappeared off in the direction of holy Mount Inari.

Munechika returned to his home and put on his best clothing. He prepared a platform, enclosed it with shimenawa to ensure its purity and placed images of the deity of Inari at its corners. He prayed sincerely to the deities, begging for their help not for his own sake, but instead for the sake of the Emperor. He prayed most devoutly, asking most courteously for their intervention and his success.

To the sound of music the deity of Inari appeared, and dashed with divine energy into Munechika’s home. Leaping up onto the platform with the sword-maker, the deity acted like a disciple and paid his respects then asked Munechika to bring out the blade. With the deity as Munechika’s apprentice the two of them together began to hammer on the blade, the joyful sound echoed both across the span of the heavens and in the depths of the earth. Munechika and his celestial partner hammered the blade to perfection.

Having forged the Imperial sword, they both set about engraving their names on either side of it. Now the blade was called Kogitsune-maru (“Little Fox”) and was deemed to be the best and most sacred sword in the entire world. The deity himself, the boy revealed as Inari Myōjin delivered the sword into the astonished hands of the Imperial servant and said a fond good-bye to Munechika. Inari Myōjin leapt onto a passing cloud and flew back to the east, back to the summit of Mount Inari.


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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2 Responses to Kokaji (小鍛冶)

  1. Linda Yemoto says:

    What a beautiful summary. I’ve been looking for this story for quite a while.

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