Contributed by David Surtasky
Momijigari (紅葉狩) (summary)
A fifth category play by Kanze Nobumitsu
A delicate and elegant Noble Lady and her companions once traveled deep into the mountains in order to view the autumn leaves of gold and crimson. They lived in the local area, although they felt their condition was a sad one. Their fine house had fallen into ruin, and there was no one to attend them, or even to remember whom they were. The days had come and gone, the summer had passed, and the flowers in the garden had faded.
Still, the season was wonderful. Looking at the burnished leaves, the morning dew darkened them. The small stream was covered in a carpet of red. The Ladies rested under a fine spreading tree admiring the beauty around them. A light rain fell, hardly more than a drizzle, pattering against the foliage, and the crimson and gold of the leaves darkened further, glowing against the soon setting sun. In the distance the plaintive cry of a deer seeking it’s mate could be heard. What an excellent autumn view!
In the fields below the mountain, Taira no Koremochi and his Retainers were hunting deer. Being careful to keep downwind of their prey, they made their way through the tall grass and onto the steep mountain path. As they climbed the mountain, clad in its rich brocade of fall colors, Koremochi on horseback could see the group of Ladies under the tree. Calling one of his Retainers to him, he instructed them to go and find out who they might be. The Retainer made off swiftly. As he approached them the women drew up a curtain around where they were seated, and quickly set out a folding screen, concealing themselves from view. Respectfully asking their names, the only thing they would tell him was that they were in the company of a “certain Noble Lady.”
Koremochi felt this strange. He could not remember that there was anyone noble who lived in the area. He thought to himself that it was rude to simply pass them by on his horse, to ride his company past them and interrupt their autumn viewing party. He dismounted his horse, and he and his retainers went round on a steep path so as not to disturb them.
The Noble Lady called out to Koremochi. I know that I’m easy to ignore, she said, and as a result I thought that we’d be unnoticed here on the mountainside. Koremochi replied that, although he didn’t know who she was, he presumed that she must be someone of noble birth, and so he was proceeding with politeness. Smiling demurely behind her fan, the Noble Lady, expressed that it must be fate that had brought them together on this remote path – why didn’t he stop and visit for just a little while?
Thank you, but no, said Koremochi. Intent on his hunting, he and his Retainers began to move off. This is very unkind, said the Noble Lady: You and I should shelter here from the rain under the same tree. You and I should drink water from the same stream. Although you’re only passing by you shouldn’t ignore the bond that has brought us here. Please, join our party. The Noble Lady clutched at Koremochi’s sleeve. Finally he agreed.
There, on the mountainside under the gold and crimson leaves, it was a charming scene indeed. The Noble Lady invited Koremochi to share some sake with her. He did so, and began to admire her elegant features. The leaves were piled on the moss-covered rocks, looking almost like a red gold sleeve, inviting him to lay down his head. Although Koremochi had sworn the Buddhist precept not to drink, once he had had a cup, the next cup came easier. The beauty of the Noble Lady was otherworldly, and the longer Koremochi stayed with her the more the feelings of his heart were stirred. Time passed, and as the evening wore on the Lady began to dance as gently and gracefully as a falling snow, the sleeves of her robe swinging in time.
Crimson and gold, the leaves. Rich scarlet, vermillion tumbling on emerald moss. A light rain, little more than a mist falling. The sky darkened and Koremochi was lulled to sleep by the warm sake and the rhythm of the dance. The flute and the drums, the gentle rain, and the swaying figure of the Noble Lady silhouetted against the last ginger rays of the sun. Waiting for the moon. Lost in a dream.
Meanwhile, the Deity Takeuchi looked on with concern. Koremochi had been sent by the Emperor to Mount Togakushi to slay the demon that resided there, and instead he had succumbed to her wiles. The Bodhisattva Hachiman instructed the Deity to swiftly visit Koremochi in his dream, to break him from his reverie and warn him of the danger. Koremochi had been lulled to sleep by the very demon that he’d been sent to dispatch. Deity Takeuchi took with him a holy sword granted him by Hachiman so that Koremochi could overcome his deceptive foe.
Koremochi woke with a start. He’d certainly drunk himself into a shameful state, however in his sleep he’d been visited by the Deity and been given the holy sword. At he sat up lightning coursed over the sky, blinding in its intensity. Thunder shook the earth and frightful winds began to blow.
Transformed to their true appearance – the Noble Lady and her companions were the most horrific of demons! One of them leaped to the peak of a craggy rock and began to vomit flame; another flew into the air and began to hurl down sparks and fire! Surrounding Koremochi, a terrible burning and noxious black smoke. Striding forth from the smoke, a demon ten feet tall with horns like burning branches, its eyes of fearful bronze and glistening like the moon or the sun. Oh, how horrible! Who could stand fast in the face of such distress?
Taira no Koremochi was calm, and prayed to Hachiman while drawing the holy sword. The Demon of Mount Togakushi rushed at him, intent on tearing him limb from limb. Koremochi countered, stabbing at the center of the beast with great skill. Grasping at Koremochi’s head the Demon attempted to fly off. Koremochi brandished his sword, and the Demon now cringed in fear, retreating to the safety of some rocks. Dragging the vile creature from its perch, Koremochi threw the Demon to the ground and ran it through.
It was said that Koremochi was very brave in slaying the awful demon.