Hanjo (斑女)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Hanjo (斑女) [summary]

A fourth category play by Kanze Motokiyo Zeami

At one time there was a Mistress of an Inn at Nogami in the province of Mino some ways from Kyoto. At her inn she employed a number of courtesans for the pleasure of passing travelers. Among these courtesans was one named Hanago who’d been working at the inn since she was very young, and had been well trained in all the necessary arts of music, dance and fond embraces. The previous spring a particular gentleman named Yoshida no Shōshō had paid a visit on his way to the East and it so happened that Hanago had served fan_1him. One thing led to another, and it came to pass that Yoshida and Hanago exchanged fans as an expression of their love for each other. He could not stay there forever, so the man went about his business and left for the East promising to return.  Soon after his departure Hanago became very distracted, she neglected her duties and spent most of her time languishing with the fan. Since that time the guests and other girls had begun to teasingly call her Hanjo (referring to the name of a woman from ancient China who’d lost her love, and had come to think of herself as nothing more than a summer fan to be discarded once the fall had come.)

Various guests were becoming annoyed with Hanago since she refused to show them her customary favors. The Mistress of the Inn had become embarrassed at the girl’s behavior, and decided to put a stop to it. She called the distraught young woman to her:

Hanago, the Mistress said, just what do you think you’re doing? Every day all you do is sulk and your poor attitude makes your work for me impossible. You were one of my very best girls, and now look at you. Even while I’m talking to you – you just won’t pay attention. How utterly unfortunate. You’ve taken to refusing the requests of our customers, and now they’ve begun to blame me for allowing you to behave this way. I’ve had enough. You and your fan. It’s disgusting. Leave now, I release you from my service. Take your fan and go anywhere you like. Just the look of you now with that wretched thing fills me with anger. Go, please, and get out of my sight.

Meanwhile Yoshida no Shōshō had concluded his business in the east, and was making his way back to Kyoto and to Hanago. Having gone in the spring, it was a long journey and now upon his return the autumn had come. He and his retainers traveled along the coast girded in their traveling cloaks, hurrying along before the brisk winds of fall. At last they came again upon the village of Nogami, and to the Inn where Yoshida had met Hanago and fallen in love – only to discover that the poor girl was no longer there.


Hanago had become lost in her own thoughts and wandered aimlessly around the countryside filled with the anguish of her broken heart. As time had gone on she felt more and more despondent, as if her body had been hollowed out and even her soul had fled. She wondered where Yoshida was, and what he might be doing. There was no solace, not even in the autumn winds, for the disconsolate and lonely girl. She prayed to the deities, hoping for a miracle. She danced a tired and sad dance, half-crazed by the depths of her loss.

fan_2Yoshida no Shōshō and his Retainers came across the girl who had become utterly unrecognizable in her grief. One of the Retainers thought her to be a simple madwoman, and called out to her in a jolly voice – hey there, you crazy person, why don’t you amuse us all with a crazy dance? Hanago was stricken in her response, feeling that she wasn’t crazy at all and that the Retainer was lacking any human compassion with his taunting request. Couldn’t he see that like leaves dancing in the wind her heart had been cruelly tossed about by her unrequited love?

Noticing the elegant fan that she carried, the Retainer wondered aloud how a madwoman had come across such a fine possession. Hanago could hardly answer. Clutching the fan, her tears soaked the sleeves of her tattered robe. She could neither bear to discard the fan, nor could she stand to keep it.

The fan had become a terrible reminder for Hanago of both her love and her loss – she thought of the story of the Chinese woman Hanjo: Hanjo and her lover had lain in their opulent bed, their pillows next to each other, speaking words of comfort. They’d planned to grow old together, to rest side-by-side in the same tomb – but those plans were blown away by time like mists in the wind. Reflecting on the story, Hanago thought of her lover’s empty promise: that he might swiftly return to her. Looking out over the sky she thought of how Yoshida himself must be living still somewhere under the same heavens without her. As evening began to fall the wind from the mountains moved through the barren pines.

fan_3Listening to the wind, Hanago thought she could faintly hear the rumor of her love’s return. Her white fan called “Dansetsu” expressed the winter snows. She was filled with the notion that every meeting is only the beginning of a departure. Moved by such thoughts, still she was not bitter, thinking instead that in some way this was just the way of the world. Her separation from Yoshida only caused her to love him more deeply.

Yoshida no Shōshō began to wonder about the girl. He asked politely if he might be able to see her fan. Reluctantly she showed it to him. Drawing his own fan from the folds of his robe, next to his heart, he showed the fan to Hanago. In the near dark the girl could hardly see it, but by the light of the Retainer’s lamp she could make out the Yūgao blossom emblazoned upon it. This was the very fan she had given to Yoshida. By this memento she realized that her love had come to her at last. By the exchange of fans she knew that love had once more returned.



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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