Hashitomi (半蔀)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Hashitomi (半蔀)

 A third category play (attributed to Naitō Saemon)

One summer many years ago a Monk from Unrin-in Temple in Miyako was undergoing his ascetic training. Each day he offered flowers to the Buddha. As he neared the end of his training he decided that he would make a special offering to console the flowers. Knowing that flowers were not sentient beings, he felt that he should still make an offering since he knew he should pray for all living things in the world: flowers, the earth, even mighty trees so that they all might have the chance for enlightenment and Buddhahood.

offeringAs the Monk was gathering up flowers, a Woman approached the temple. She was also bringing an offering of flowers to the Buddha. The bouquet that she bore intrigued the Monk. There among the other blossoms was a striking white one. He asked the Woman, what is the name of this flower? The Woman replied that knowing the names of flowers was like knowing the names of people, and she was not terribly surprised that he didn’t know the name. The flower bloomed on the fence of a humble house and was called the moonflower.

fan_flowerThe Monk inquired of the Woman’s name. She replied that she had come from behind the flower. Surprised, the Monk inquired again, wondering if the Woman who’d come to take part in the ceremony for flowers might be someone from beyond this world. Again he asked her name. She replied that, yes, she did have a name but that it was nothing more than a thing of the past for the deceased. She said she lived somewhere near Gōjō, and saying such she vanished behind the bouquet of flowers leaving just a fragrance behind.

In wonder, the Monk stood silently until a man from the area came by. Telling the man of the strange occurrence that he’d just seen, the man from the area said that it reminded him of the story of Hikaru Genji and Lady Yūgao. This story had taken place near Gōjō and involved the moonflower. Perhaps, the man said, there was some connection between the mysterious Woman and this story.

Engaged by the story and in great wonder at the mysterious occurrence, the Monk traveled to the area of Gōjō in Kyoto. Having swiftly arrived he came upon the Woman’s house. He was reminded of a poem about a poor man who had neither rice, nor any sake and whose house was girded by tall grasses and was fallen into ruin.

woman_maskAppearing before the Monk again the Woman, Lady Yūgao, spoke of the bushes that had grown at the foot of her gate, and the fireflies glimpsed out her window. The sound of a stream from deep in the mountain was like the sound of raindrops striking the door and little different from the falling of her tears. The autumn moon had risen hazy in the eastern sky, a stormy wind rattled the bamboo fence and the evening view was lonesome indeed. The Lady Yūgao spoke to the Monk as if he were in a dream. The Monk was moved by her pitiable state, and so moved offered up his prayers. The Lady Yūgao spoke of her great love for Hikaru Genji:

Once, while the handsome Hikaru Genji traveled through Gōjō the flowers growing on the bamboo lattice outside Lady Yūgao’s house fascinated him. He had his retainer address the Lady, and ask about the name of the flower. The Lady Yūgao replied it was the moonflower, and burned incense and offered the flower to Genji on a white fan. Because of the flower, and the gift of the fan, the two became lovers. Hikaru Genji came and visited her from time to time even though she was of lowly birth, and the Lady Yūgao loved him deeply. Their fate was not to be together for long, and eventually Genji did not return.

wild_flowerLady Yūgau danced slowly and solemnly for the Monk, expressing her great longing and desire for the graceful Hikaru Genji. She asked the Monk to pray for the release of her soul from the pangs of attachment for her lost lover. Pray for me, she implored as the temple bell began to ring for the dawn and echo through the valley. As the lady disappeared behind the flower-bedecked lattice of her ruined house, the Monk realized it had all just been a dream. The spirit of Lady Yūgao faded away like the morning mists before the rising sun.

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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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One Response to Hashitomi (半蔀)

  1. Pingback: 今何時、我々は何処ですか | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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