Contributed by David Surtasky
A third category play, attributed to Kan’ami (revised by Zeami)
A Buddhist priest once traveled through the provinces, and made a stop in Kyoto where he visited many famous temples and aged ruins and took in as much as he could. As autumn came and the days grew short he decided that he would travel west and in time found himself at Suma Bay. When he arrived on the windswept shore he saw a solitary pine tree with a wooden tablet affixed to it. Hanging from the tablet was a slip of paper with a poem inscribed. In wonder he asked a local villager if he would tell him the story of the tree.
The villager replied that the tree was related to the memory of two local girls, Matzukaze and Murasame. The sisters had been from the fishing village, but that they were both dead. The villager encouraged the priest to please pray for them before he was on his way.
The priest reflected on the sadness of the girls passing and that the tree was their only lasting memorial. He proceeded to pray to Amida Buddha for the girls repose, and before long the sun had gone low in the sky. Still standing on the shore and quite some distance from the village he decided that he might spend the night in a nearby salt shed.
Out of the twilight two girls appeared, each carrying a pail for salt water. They spoke of their lives at Suma Bay, their loneliness and meager circumstance, how the world and life rolled by like a brine cart on the beach. With waves lapping around their feet, the moon shone on the sleeves of their robes, wet with tears. One of the girls spoke of the waves pounding through the long nights, and how they were both without companionship. She questioned even their own existence, imagining the world like a dream and both of them nothing more than foam on the sea.
Looking at the sea they dipped brine into their buckets and were ashamed at their own reflections. They felt that if they were only dew they would disappear with the sun, but instead that they were like seaweed cast up on the beach and tangled in a heap, discarded and pointless. Even in their miserable state they reflected on the beauty of dusk over Suma, the voices of the fisher-folk and their boats glimpsed in silhouette against the rising moon, the plover birds gathering along the water’s edge. Even with the inestimable natural beauty of autumn at Suma no Ura they felt their lives to be terrible and lonely.
The girls dipped salt water from the ocean, filling their pails with brine to be boiled in the salt kiln. With the moon shining above it was as if they’d caught the moon in their buckets. One moon, two, three moons – as they loaded their pails on the cart, the smoke from the kiln rising into the autumn air.
Seeing the girls, the priest approached them and asked if he might stay the night in their hut. After being first refused because of the rude surroundings, eventually one girl realized that the priest was someone who had renounced the world and so might tolerate their poverty. She let him in.
Reflecting on the life of a traveler, the priest looked out on the solitary pine tree. He spoke about an old poem written by the once exiled courtier Yukihira and told the girls of his prayers for Matsukaze and Murasame. The girls seemed distressed by the poem and the priest asked them why. They spoke of their sadness, and of their attachment to the world. Puzzled by their behavior the priest asked about who they were.
Matsukaze and Murasame, of course. They were the ghosts of the girls the priest had prayed for, spirits of the dead buried under the pine, simple sisters from the fishing village who’d fallen in love with the courtier Yukihira while he’d stayed at Suma in exile. Yukihira had given them their names Pine Wind (Matsukaze) and Autumn Rain (Murasame), showing them his favors and trading their poor clothing for rich and scented robes.
Eventually Yukihira returned to Kyoto, leaving the sisters behind. Hoping for word from him, the only message they received was that he had died. They both loved him hopelessly although he was much above their station, and were so attached to him that they were mad with grief. In their loneliness and sadness they prayed to the gods, but to no avail. In utter misery they died.
Before his departure Yukihira had left tokens of his affections with the girls: a fine court hat and beautiful hunting cloak. These keepsakes had now become enemies, for without them they might have forgotten. In looking at these objects their anguish had become only more acute.
Gathering up the robe, the spirit of Matsukaze spoke of the destruction of her hopes and dreams and of her great longing to see Yukihira just once more. She dropped the robe, but then took it up again. Looking out at the solitary pine Matsukaze was overcome by her love of Yukihira and thought she heard him call her name. Going out into the night she stood before the pine enraptured by the vision of her lost love.
Murasame pursued her, caught at her robe and scolded her for her delusion. It was only a tree, and not Yukihira at all. Matsukaze reminded her of Yukihira’s words, of his promises to return, that if they would only wait he would come again evergreen as a pine. Standing under the tree, the pine bent over and gnarled by the sea-winds, Matsukaze said that she loved him still and danced for him in her madness.
The winds blew through the pine trees further up the beach, and the waves crashed upon the shore of Suma Bay. Pray for us, the sisters implored the priest, pray for our rest and release from attachment. As the morning came the autumn rain had passed and all that remained was the wind in the pines.