Motomezuka (求塚)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Motomezuka (求塚) (summary)

A fourth category play attributed to Kan’nami

As is sometimes the case, a group of Monks traveled from the west, making their way to Kyoto. Drawing their traveling cloaks about them, they went by land and sea. Over the tree-covered mountains, by boat along the ocean shore, going swiftly towards their goal, eventually they came to the village of Ikuta, near the forest and the river. Although they knew the name of the place, they knew very little about it. When they arrived they saw a group of Young Women from the Village. Although it was still quite cold, being early yet in the spring, the Young Women were going out to gather spring herbs.

ironThere in the fields of Ikuta, the first herbs were growing. The brisk morning wind was cold through the clear and azure sky, and the sleeves of the Young Women’s robes blew back and forth. In the forest the first buds were beginning to form, but deeper in the mountains snow still clung to the pines. Perhaps, the Young Women thought, in the Capital the season was already warm, but it was not so in Ikuta. It was their lot to venture out into the still frozen meadows in search of the herbs. Even if the road were covered in snow, the Young Women would know their way. If they waited too long, until the last snows had melted, the herbs would grow too old to be useful. Although spring had not come in its full bounty, they made their way into the field.

One of the Monks approached the Young Women and asked, is this place called Ikuta? Of course replied a Maiden; you already seem to know the name of the place. Can’t you see the famous shroud-covered forest? The stream you’ve just passed is the Ikuta-gawa, green and cold rushing from the mountains to the sea. The river is green, like the first hint of spring.

Ikuta indeed, said the Monk. The trees, the river, the sea. These are famous places we have heard of, even far in the west. Look – the mist covers the meadows – but where is the Sought-for-Grave?

The Sought-for-Grave? We’ve heard of such a thing, the Maiden responded, but really we know nothing about it.  You shouldn’t waste your time here, but should be on your way. The Monk’s behavior made her think of an old poem, one that extolled the charms of watching the Village Girls plucking herbs in the early spring, of travelers hesitating on their journey, delaying to watch. How foolish! These Monks should be on their way! There was little time before they reached the Capital, should they not rather be going?

The sleeves of the Village Girls were cold, the snow un-melted, the herbs covered still in sleet. A thin ice remained on the marsh, the watercress hidden beneath it. Although it was spring, the snow on the fields made it seem like winter. Cold was the spring, bleak was the wind, and ice was in the breeze as it tossed the white-capped waves of the river. The Village Girls hurried through their task, and ignoring the Monks, gathered up their herbs and headed off towards their homes.

mossThe Maiden stayed behind. Curious, the Monk asked why, when the others have left, are you still here? You asked about the Sought-for-Grave, she replied, if you really wish to see it follow me. They went just a short way through the meadow, coming upon a mossy grave mound, little more than a heap of dirt. Here. This is the Sought-for-Grave, the Maiden said. Why does it have this name the Monk asked? The Maiden told him the story of the grave:

Many years ago there was a girl named Unai who lived in the village. There were two young men, Sasada and Chinu, both of whom were in love with her. On a fateful day both of them sent her a love letter, both of them expressing their passion and their undying love. This made Unai terribly unhappy – if she accepted one, then the other would be overcome with jealousy. She was compassionate, and felt she could give herself to neither. Her parents had a different idea, and set the two young men against each other, telling them that if they competed then the winner would have the hand of the beautiful Unai – but they were too evenly matched, and came to a tie in every competition. Even when they both shot arrows at mandarin ducks on the river, both arrows wound up in the same wing of the same bird. Looking at the duck, Unai thought about the bird and its mate, how they had no doubt cherished their lives together, but now were destroyed because of her. In her upset and her unhappiness Unai determined to take her own life. She flung herself into the Ikuta-gawa and drowned, the sleeves of her robe spreading out like broken wings. When Sasada and Chinu discovered what had happened, they were grief-stricken. The world, and this life, was now truly pointless. In their remorse they attacked and killed one another, putting an end to their unbidden rivalry once and for all.

The guilt of their deaths is mine to bare, said the Maiden. Please, stay and pray for my soul. So saying, she grew thin as smoke and vanished into the grave mound.

figurePerplexed and confused by what they had witnessed, the Monks stood in the chill meadow looking at the grave in silence. A Man from the Area came along, and asked them what they were doing. They told him of what they’d just seen. The Man told the story of the pitiable Unai, of her unfortunate demise, of the guilt that she carried and her attachment to the world. The Man urged the Monks to pray for her release from suffering.

As the sun set, the Monks began to pray for Unai’s soul. That she might have peace, if even only for a short moment. They prayed for her enlightenment, that she might escape another turn on the wheel of karma. In the gathering shadows around the grave mound, Unai emerged.

In the drenched robes of her death, Unai looked mournfully at the gathered Monks. Few people visited her grave, since there was nothing surrounding it but wide and open meadows. Only wild animals looking for bones might visit, or displaced ghosts that hover with the wind in the pines. Life on earth was short indeed.

It was said that a man’s soul might suffer in a single day, or a single night, Eight hundred million passions or unwelcome thoughts. How much more torment had Unai suffered, having passed from the world so many years ago? She longed to return to the world, but instead would remain, forever beneath the moss of her grave in the shadows cast by the long and unkempt grasses. Her dwelling now was the Burning House (the waking world,) trapped there by her attachments.

cordThe Monks were moved by her inner pain, and begged her to give up her obsession – discard worldly concerns and escape the punishment of the afterworld. The world could be one of manifest evil, a hell on earth, a realm of hungry ghosts and unwanted monsters, the sufferings of life, age, sickness and finally death.

Unai thanked the Monks for their prayers. She was bound in endless torment, but their words were like a small ray of light in the dark, black smoke of the Hell of Burning. However, her fear was still clinging to her heart. In the distance she saw Sasada, and then Chinu, her long departed suitors. They approached her, each grasping one of her hands: “Come with me! Come be with me!” they exclaimed. She lacked the strength to escape. As their ghosts flew off, she saw before her a mandarin duck – changed into an iron bird – its beak of cruel steel, its claws like blades, tearing at her skull and devouring the marrow of her bones!

Spectral flames surrounded the grave mound, each tongue a human soul turning into demonic form. With fierce lashes they chased her. Unai tried to flee, but discovered the ocean before her and a sea of fire behind. To her left, to her right, trapped between ocean and fire she had nowhere to turn. Now, in the Burning House she pressed herself against a yase_onnacolumn for relief, only for it to catch fire in turn. Her arms embraced a pillar of flame and smoke; she collapsed and then was raised once more. The demons of hell slashed at her with their unkind whips. Stumbling, she suffered over and over the inescapable torments of the Eight Great Hells. Look upon them and repent your sins! The Monks trembled at the fearsome vision:

The Hell of Unending Wounds, the Hell of Iron Cords, the unclimbable Mountain of Swords, the Hell of Boiling Oil, the Hell of Piercing Screams, the Hell of Awful Burning, the Hell of Unending Fires, and at last the Bottomless Pit wherein she tumbled like a burning leaf caught in a fiery draft.

Darkness returned. The flames die downed. The demons disappeared. Now she returned to the Burning House. Where is the place where she once rested? Looking disconsolately, where is the Sought-for-Grave? Back into the shadow of grass and moss she descended, back into the grave mound. As dew on the meadow, like mist over the mountain she disappeared, vanished from sight. Unai returned to the Sought-for-Grave.


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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2 Responses to Motomezuka (求塚)

  1. Pingback: Haunted. | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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

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