Tsuchigumo [土蜘蛛]

Contributed by David Surtasky

Tsuchigumo [土蜘蛛]

A fifth category play by an unknown author.

Many years ago in Kyoto, the faithful servant Kochō sought out a doctor of the Imperial Court. Her lord, Minamoto no Raikō, had become gravely ill and could not leave his bed.  Greatly concerned for her lord’s health, she had sought some medicine, and now she hurried back to Raikō’s home. As she rushed along the road looking at the faintest wisps of cloud in the sky, it made her think about how truly fleeting the waking world was.

heian-kyoHaving swiftly arrived at the estate, Kochō announced herself to the guards. “Please tell Lord Raikō that I’ve arrived, with medicine to ease his suffering.”

Meanwhile, in his room, Minamoto no Raikō felt miserable. He contemplated how frail life was as he slumped in his bed. Even his bed covers felt heavy as stones. His ailment was a mystery, and he sat quite alone knowing there was no one to be blamed for his pitiable state. One of the guards arrived at his door, bowed respectfully, and said: “Pardon me, my lord Raikō. The Lady Kochō has returned from the doctor with medicine that he has prescribed. Will you see her now?”

“Tell her to come in at once,” replied Raikō. Entering the room, Kochō bowed. “My lord,” she said “I have returned from the Imperial Court with medicine from the doctor. How do you feel?” Raikō was ashen. “Worse today than yesterday,” he said, “my body and spirit are failing. Just now I’m waiting for my last breath.” Kochō felt alarmed and replied, “Please don’t speak in that way. Being ill is always difficult, but surely with this medicine you’ll feel better in no time.”

“I haven’t given up quite yet,” Raikō murmured, “Although each day I’ve tried different remedies, nothing seems to work. Now I can’t tell the difference between night and day, and feel so sick that it seems time itself has stopped. Here, all alone, I can only think about my illness. My chest feels heavy as lead, and I’m filled with inestimable sadness.” Though the night had been clear, with a full and gleaming moon, now a mist began to rise. In a moment the moon was obscured behind the clouds.

Just then a mysterious Monk appeared in the room. “Good evening, my Lord Raikō!” he said, “You don’t seem to be quite well. How do you feel?” “How strange!” exclaimed Raikō “Who in the world are you? It is rude of you to appear in my room, unannounced and in the middle of the night. How did you come past my guards?”

Slyly the Monk replied, “Your suffering has nothing to do with me,” and then quoted an old poem from the Kokinshu; a poem about a spider. Fearing it was a fevered dream, Raikō puzzled over this odd occurrence; this unknown mendicant spouting poetry in his room at such an unreasonable hour, when suddenly the Monk began to disgorge thousands of spider webs. Now it was clear! This was, in fact, a monstrous Spider of some sort who’d come just to torment him! Now the cause of his sickness seemed clear.

katanaEven in his weakened state, Raikō could not permit this monster to live. From beside his pillow he drew the fabled sword of the Genji clan Hiza-maru and slashed at the bloated figure of the enormous spider! But the spider was quick and crafty, and deftly evaded each blow. Raikō attacked again and again, slicing through the spider webs that now filled the room. Crying out in a loud voice, Raikō shouted with fury. As swiftly as it had arrived, the spider disappeared.

Now the warrior Hitorimusha rushed into the room. He knelt down and said, “I heard you shout Lord Raikō, what has happened?” Exhausted, Raikō bade him come closer. “Just past the darkest hour of night,” explained Raikō “an unknown Monk appeared in my room. How strange, I thought. When I questioned this unforgivable rudeness, the Monk recited the poem from the Kokinshu: ‘my lover will visit tonight, the spider tells me so’ and then unexpectedly transformed into a giant spider! It spewed noxious webs attempting to trap me, but I slashed at it with Hiza-maru. Just as suddenly the monster disappeared into the night mist. Surely this is due to the excellence of this peerless sword! From now on I shall call it: Kumo-kiri (“Spider Slasher”.) How inexplicable this incident is!”

Astonished by the story, Hitorimusha replied: “Amazing. How curious indeed. Certainly your sword is without equal, but it would be worthless in lesser hands!” Looking about the now disheveled room, Hitorimusha noticed stains on the floor. “Lord Raikō,” he said, “You’ve wounded the creature. Look at this blood covering the floor! Give me your permission to track down this Spider and put an end to its miserable life!” Raikō was in no condition to continue the fight. “Go!” he said, and Hitorimusha dashed off in pursuit.

Joined by his retainers, Hitorimusha relayed the amazing events of the night. Off they went together to track the wounded creature. Following the trail of blood they came at last to a frightful mound; here was the Spider’s nest. The soil, the trees, and every grain of sand ~ all belonged to the Emperor they served: therefore they could not suffer this atrocious demon to live in the same land.

“I am Hitorimusha!” the warrior announced his name, “All that is evil shall be vanquished by my sword! Tear apart this mound, and we shall unearth this foul thing!” The retainers were heartened by Hitorimusha’s valiant spirit, and together they broke apart the mound, shikamithrowing the stones about like pebbles. At last the Spider appeared, looming up above them, its eyes glaring frightfully.

“I am the spirit of the Ground Spider,” the apparition cried, “For a thousand times ten thousand years I have dwelt on Mount Kazuraki. Now I have come to disrupt the Emperor’s reign. Come, try to take my life if you dare!” The Spider cast its webs in every direction. The retainers were snared in the sticky silk, falling to the ground, they were tangled up both arms and legs.

Hitorimusha was undeterred, and dodged the encumbering webs. Rallying his followers, he strove and pressed the attack. The battle was waged fiercely with the spiteful spirit, and the glitter of the sharpened swords flashed in the Spider’s eyes. Throwing caution to the wind Hitorimusha closed with the creature, and slashing precisely, he severed its vile neck. In triumph the warriors returned to the Capital.


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 Tsuchigumo [土蜘蛛]

  1. Pingback: Spiders & Special Effects | Noh Training Project UK

  2. Pingback: Monster of the Week: Giant Spiders | The Supernatural Fox Sisters

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