Ebira (箙)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Ebira (箙) (summary)

A second category play by an unknown author.

Once a Monk and his companions set out from far Kyushu on their way to Kyoto. Never having viewed the sites of the capital, they were eager to travel there so they could visit the many famous places. They made their way by boat over the sea, the clouds of their home trailing away over the waters behind them. Passing by Suma beach they saw the smoke from the salt kilns rising up into the air. Further they went, eventually reaching the Ikuta-gawa, and finally came to the shore.

branch_2It was early spring and the plum blossoms were in full bloom. As the Monks paused in their journey to admire the lovely blossoms, a Man appeared. Lost in reverie, the Man was thinking about the passage of time – how quickly it flowed, just like the Ikuta-gawa: leaves and blossoms were transient, but their passing and reappearance was a reminder of lasting nature of the universe. Before our very eyes people change and cannot be considered to be the person that they were even only moments before. Even the Ikuta-gawa might be considered a sea of delusion. Looking at the flowers the Man felt the world could be little more than the fragments of a dream.

One of the Monks noticed the man standing there, lost in his thoughts. The Monk spoke to the Man, mentioning the blooming plum tree, and asked if the Man knew the name of the it? Yes, replied the Man, the tree was called “Ebira no Ume” (Plum of the Quiver.) This was very interesting, said the Monk, that the tree should have such a name; could the Man tell him the story of why this was so?

The Man told him the story of the plum tree’s name:

Long ago in the forest around Ikuta the Genji and Heike clans had fought each other. It was said that the Heike brought more than one hundred thousand troops to the field. A certain warrior, Kajiwara no Genda Kagesue, had fought on the side of the Genji. The day of the fiercest fighting Kagesue broke a twig from a plum tree, and placed the twig, blossom and all into his bow quiver. He fought with bravery and the plum branch made him easy to pick out among the milling warriors. Kagesue gave great respect back to the plum tree, greatly pleasing the Bodhisattva Hachiman (the god of warriors.) Since that time the tree they stood in front of was known as Ebira no Ume in honor of Kagesue’s valor.

branch_3The Monk felt the tree was an excellent symbol for the now departed warrior Kagesue. Yes, said the Man, it was good to look upon the tree and the blossoms and remember such a brave and renowned figure. As the sun began to set, golden against the sky, the Man continued on with his story:

The Heike had gathered their troops from many provinces, and fortified a castle in the valley of Ichino-tani. There were so many of them that they filled the vale, their ships floating in Suma Bay, their numerous red flags flew bravely in the wind looking like fire burning across the land. The sea on one side fronted the castle at Ichino-tani with the mountains behind it. It was early February when the young sakura blossoms could not yet open from the thin snow, but the eager plum blossoms were blooming. What an auspicious sign!

The Genji had split their troops, sixty thousand strong, into two forces, and without warning had poured into the valley. They rode their cavalry down the between the pines on the mountain. An impossible task! Like cranes they were, spreading their wings and flying swiftly forward. Below the Genji, in the bay, the red flags of the Heike looked like the torches on night fishing boats. The great battle was engaged.

branch_1The sun had set, and dusk settled over the forest. It was a wonderful story, but the Monks wondered if the Man could give them lodging for the night? The Man said wait here, under these plum flowers, under this tree, for I am the master of these blossoms. You expect us to believe you’re the master of this flowering tree, declared the Monk? Having nothing more to hide, the Man revealed that he was not of the waking world – instead that he himself was the spirit of Kagesue. There must have been a bond between the Monks and Kagesue that they should have met together under the plum tree. Rest here tonight, Kagesue said, under the spreading limbs of the tree where the bush warbler rests. With these words Kagesue faded away like a mist, like a fleeting cloud.

Heeding Kagesue’s request, the Monks laid down under the tree on their traveling cloaks, the sound of the rushing Ikuta-gawa lulling them to sleep. In their dreams the warrior Kagesue appeared, resplendent in his armor and full battle regalia. Kagesue’s spirit spoke to them of the world beyond this life.

It was said that after death one part of our spirit departs back to heaven, while one part may remain bound on earth. Kagesue’s attachment to the world meant his spirit could not fully leave. As a warrior he was condemned to Asura Hell. At the battle of Ikuta where he had fallen, blood had run over the earth like a river, like waves of red that washed away the shields of the fallen. I am Kajiwara no Genda Kagesue, eldest son and heir of Heizo Kagetoki! Meeting the Monks face to face in their dreams, he begged them to pray for his soul’s consolation. Kagesue had felt the fatal sting of the Heike’s steel. In the realm of Asura Hell warriors were tormented, the ground quaked and a rain of swords dashed against their heads, mountains trembled, oceans crashed as storm driven winds lashed the sky and thunderous lightning shattered the firmament.

branch_5During the battle Kagesue had fixed the plum tree branch in his quiver. Like the earliest flowers of spring he meant to be the first to break through to the enemy. The plum blossoms fell like a driving snow. The Heike saw Kagesue’s bravery, his desire to engage – eight of their finest warriors surrounded him. Kagesue’s helmet was stricken from his head, his hair flowing wildly. Along with his comrades the Genji warrior fought bravely, they slashed with determination at their foes.

Pray for my soul, Kagesue implored the Monks. Like a flower fading, like a bird going back to its nest, the spirit of Kagesue faded from the Monk’s dream. Pray for me he said, disappearing back to the underworld.


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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