Chōbuku Soga (調伏曽我)

(Editor’s note: the below summary is principally derived from “Chōbuku Soga. A Noh Play by Miyamasu,” Laurence Bresler, Monumenta Nipponica , Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring, 1974), pp. 69-81, Published by: Sophia University.)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Chōbuku Soga (調伏曽我) (summary)

A fourth category play by Miyamasu

swordA number of years ago the Shogun Yoritomo was traveling with his retinue in Sagami province. It was their intention to go to the temple on Mount Hakone in Kanagawa by Lake Ashi in order to worship there. Things were going quite well for Yoritomo: the clouds of the east and south were smooth and pleasant, the winds were peaceful and the country was united under his rule. Surely this was like ancient days when the Emperor might climb to a high mountain and look out to see how things might be and be confident in the contented state of the land.

The group waited through a clear and starry night until they watched the dawn rise over Mount Kamakura. They traveled in the fresh morning air, the clouds reflecting the coming dawn – into the West they traveled, over Mount Ashigara they climbed and finally saw the shrouded peak of Fuji. After traveling swiftly they came at last to Mount Hakone.

Arriving at the Temple, Yoritomo and his retainers were a spectacle for everyone to behold. The Priests and layman gathered to see these famous personages. Among them was the young boy Hakoō. The Chief Priest had waited for some time for their arrival, and commented about the crowd of people and their great excitement to see the shogun.

Hakoō approached the Priest. Since the arrival of such an august a company was so rare, he asked the Priest if he would tell him the name of all those assembled. Of course there was Lord Yoritomo in the place of honor clutching his rosary, and there was Lord Hōjō his father-in-law. Also Utsunomiya no Yasaburō and the Magistrate of Oyama were present, as well as Ogawara and even the Head of the Military Council the impressive Kajiwara. One man stood out among the group, a gentlemen with a slightly sour demeanor who was waving his fan about in front of his face. Who is that man Hakoō inquired? The one who just looked at us? replied the Priest, that is none other than Suketsune. Hakoō features darkened as anger filled him.

kabutoSuketsune had noticed Hakoō watching, and coming up to him proceeded to address him: Lord Hakoō, he said, I understand that your poor father Lord Kawazu was struck down by an arrow and killed while he was hunting on Mount Akazawa. What a tragic occurrence! It is said by some that I was the one holding the bow! I must tell you these are idle rumors, and may great Hachiman himself strike me dead if I had anything to do with your father’s untimely demise.

Then who would show such enmity to my Father, Hakoō demanded? No one, replied Sukestsune, it is nothing more than the gossip of foolish people. You really shouldn’t believe a word that’s been said against me. The warrior Sukestsune was trying his best to charm the young boy, knowing full well he was responsible for the death of the poor lad’s father.  Hakoō was twisted round by the gentleman’s words, and full of dismay he felt his outrage deflate beneath him.

By this point Yoritomo had concluded his visit. He gathered up his entourage and made to depart. They all headed towards the temple gate. Full of deep emotions Hakoō alone stood weeping, staring with furious anger at the retreating back of his father’s killer. When he thought about his exchange with Sukestsune it made him even more upset that he’d allowed the older man to intimidate him. With swift conviction he seized a companion’s sword and made off towards the horse-mounted company; ready to die even under the horses feet if it meant he could exact revenge.

The Chief Priest knew no good could come of this! Such hotheaded behavior was astonishing, and surely the young boy would be bested before he even had a chance. flameRestraining Hakoō, he pulled him away from his hapless pursuit and back into the temple grounds. Calling a local Workman to him, the Chief Priest had a plan. He told the Workman, go – prepare a sacrificial altar. The Priest led Hakoō back to his chambers.

The Workman was moved by Hakoō’s plight. He was so much like his father, the late Lord Kawazu. Surely the lad knew that Suketsune would be in Lord Yoritomo’s company, and so he had questioned the Chief Priest, goading him into revealing the man’s identity. Suketsune’s calm and smooth behavior had put the boy off, causing him to question his own convictions. Watching all this, the Workman knew that the Chief Priest had a plan: that they should burn a paper image of Sukestsune on the sacrificial altar and call upon Heaven to curse this unrighteous fellow: only in this way could such a young boy overcome a much stronger adversary. So, in accordance with the plan the Workman prepared the altar.

fudo_myooThe Priests all gathered together and began to pray. Their prayers were powerful, like the edge of a sword, strong enough to strike birds in flight down from the sky. They called upon Fudō Myōō, whom they all trusted, as well as the five Wisdom Buddhas. They called upon Yakushi and the Thousand-armed Kannon. To the celestial beings they prayed. With great solemnity, at last, the fearsome Fudō Myōō appeared before them.

Fudō Myōō was the Wisdom King of the Center: he subdued demons and protected all living beings. With his host of messengers around him he revealed himself incarnate upon their very altar. The other Five Kings appeared at the corners of the altar and they all bent their will upon the paper effigy burning there. Mountains, rivers, trees and grass, the ocean itself; all trembled in the presence of this manifestation.

Bells rang out across the mountain as Fudō Myōō’s icy anger rose. The King of the south breathed fire, the King of the north brought an iron and slashing rain, Fudō Myōō himself brought forth his noose and snared the effigy of Suketsune. Fudō Myōō in his wrath brandished a sword and slashed through the paper image, separating the head from the body. In great wonder the assembled company watched, mortified by the actions of the Five Wisdom Kings. Hakoō’s desire had been fulfilled.



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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1 Response to Chōbuku Soga (調伏曽我)

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

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