Kayoi-Komachi (通小町)

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Contributed by David Surtasky

Kayoi-Komachi (通小町) (summary)

A fourth category play attributed to Ka’nami

stone_stairQuite some time ago there was a reclusive monk who secluded himself in the mountain village of Yase for a summer while pursuing his ascetic training. Every day a young woman paid him a visit, bringing him offerings of nuts and fruit, as well as bundles of firewood. Touched by her offerings the monk decided eventually that he would ask her for her name.

The young woman from Ichiharano knew of the monk, overhearing others who spoke of his piety and great spirituality. Daily she gathered twigs to offer him, while remembering that once the sleeves of her robes had smelled of incense. She went to Yase with the burden of her gifts.

Greeting the young woman, the monk asked her about the nuts and fruit. Sweet acorns, she replied, and chestnuts, persimmons, some plums from near her window and peaches from the garden. Small and large citrus, oranges and kumquat. She said the fragrant branch of citrus flowers reminded her of her love. Intrigued by her kindness, the monk asked for her name. Hesitantly she told him that she was just an old woman from Ichiharano where the silver grass grew, and whispering her name: “Ono-no-Komachi” she asked him to pray for her soul. On speaking her name she grew wispy and transparent, and vanished into the wind.

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The monk was stunned by this strange occurrence. Surely this couldn’t have been the spirit of Ono-no-Komachi, the famous poetess known as much for the beauty of her appearance as the beauty of her words? He thought of one of her poems that spoke of Ichiharano, of its silver grass, and decided to go there at once to pray for her soul. Departing from Yase he traveled swiftly through the overgrown fields to Ichiharano. Reaching the place, he laid out a woven rice mat and began to burn incense and offer prayers for Komachi’s enlightenment.

The spirit of Ono-no-Komachi appeared to the monk, expressed her gratitude and requested him to give her the precepts of Buddhism so that she might become a disciple. Rising up behind Komachi, without warning, was a vengeful spirit that spoke out to the monk, warning him not to share the precepts or he would surely lay a curse upon him. If the_generalKomachi were to receive the precepts, she would have been released from worldly attachment – and in so doing she would leave the waking world, and the vengeful spirit behind. The vengeful spirit begged Komachi not to receive the precepts and clutched at her sleeves.

In his exchange with the spirit of Komachi, the vengeful spirit revealed himself to be the manifestation of General Fukakusa – Komachi’s long-suffering suitor. In hearing of who he was, the monk asked the two to recount the story of General Fukakusa’s One Hundred Nights:

General Fukakusa was enamored of Ono-no-Komachi. His love for her was obsessive and complete. Indifferent to his affections, Komachi instructed him to prove his love by sleeping on the ox-cart platform of her house every night for one hundred nights. Only then would she consent to pay attention to him. Believing her request to be in earnest, General Fukakusa came on foot in secret to the ox-cart platform night after night.

Through the rain and snow, under the full moon and in the blackest hours of night, General Fukakusa came dutifully to the platform. Each night the General marked the platform so he knew how many more nights he might spend in his task. Each morning the birds cried out and the temple bells rang and the General was heart-broken. beatificFinally, the ninety-ninth night came; General Fukakusa took off his rain hat and donned his finest court hat, he cast off his raincoat and donned a robe of exquisite colors and purple hakama.

In great anticipation the General considered that he and Ono-no-Komachi should drink a cup of sake and make their vows. At that very moment it occurred to him that he should observe the Buddha’s rule, and not consume alcohol. Even if it were served in a beautiful cup like one made of moonlight, he should not flaunt the Buddha’s law. This revelation gave the general the opportunity to obtain enlightenment. Released from his resentment, and seeking atonement for his past sins, General Fukakusa and Ono-no-Komachi received the precepts of the Buddha together and so achieved their release.

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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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