Iwafune (岩船)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Iwafune (岩船)

A first category play by an unknown author

One autumn, in ancient days, an Officer of the Emperor’s court was making his way to the beach at Sumiyoshi. He and his servants traveled swiftly through the peaceful land governed by the grace of the Emperor. Things were so well ordered in those days that people seldom locked their doors, the ocean waves were calm, and even the wind was respectful in rustling through the trees. It was a serene and peaceful time indeed.

marketThe Officer had been ordered to Sumiyoshi so that he might visit the new port. A market had been built there, ready to receive uncommon and special treasures from the Mainland. Gifts and rare items of jade, gold and fine pottery were delivered to Sumiyoshi, many of them bound for the Emperor’s pleasure.

At the port of Sumiyoshi there was a child dressed in Chinese fashion. “Although we’re some distance from the Capital,” thought the Child, “still this is a pleasant place to be. It is said that many years ago the Emperor had sworn an oath before the deity of Sumiyoshi here, promising to govern in peace. As the great pines remain green for a thousand years, so the Emperor’s reign has remained green.” It was wonderful. The tide was up, and the moon shone brightly, the sweet-salt breeze blew gently from the ocean. The Child decided that he would venture down to the market, to see the marvelous goods there gathered from China, Korea and Japan.

The Officer stood at the port market, admiring all the fine wares. He noticed the Child, who stood out somewhat from many other people. Here was a child in Chinese clothing speaking Japanese! In the Child’s hand was a silver plate, with a sparkling jewel in the middle! How curious.

do_oji“Who might you be, and why are you here?” said the Officer to the Child. “I’ve come to celebrate the reign of the Emperor!” replied the Child, “Here, see this inestimable jewel? I’ve brought it as a gift for him. Would you kindly accept it, and deliver it to his August Lord?” “Certainly!” exclaimed the Officer, “What a wonderful gift. Please, tell me who you are, so that I might relay it to the Emperor, that I may say who it is that has offered him such a valuable treasure.”

“It is a bit importune that you should ask my name,” replied the Child “Please simply accept that this jewel has come far from China, and that it will help the Emperor to fulfill his greatest desires.” This answer was astonishing to the Officer. He had just been presented with the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, an incomparable prize of great worth. Surely the Emperor’s reign was blessed.

“Look here at the bustling market, the four great gates, the chrysanthemums and happiness of the people…” said the Child “Surely you realize that even one beautiful spring night is in itself beyond any price. How can this preciousness even compare to mere material things?”

Bolts of fabric, fabulous scrolls with intricate calligraphy, many offerings to the deity. Fine houses and shop stalls lined the elegant road leading down to the bay. The moon was rising. In the distance, an empty boat floated among the gentle waves. Was it headed to the shore, or further out into the ocean? What a beautiful, and moving view.

kurohige“Look,” said the Child “the Sacred Stone Boat is heading towards the shore.” “How could you know such a thing?” asked the Officer.

“The Sacred Stone Boat arrives, laden with treasures from the Pure Land of the West, all destined for his Majesty. Through the clouds, like waves, it has traveled and soon will settle here at this beach,” declared the Child, “For I am Amano-sagume, he who rows the Boat.” with these words, a sudden wind arose and the child disappeared off into the air.

The Sacred Stone Boat arrived. Since the time when only the deities existed on the Earth, Amano-sagume had rowed the boat through the heavens and the seas.

Now, fearsome in his countenance, rising up from the ocean, was a Dragon Deity. “I am the protector of the Emperor. I am the great dragon deity of Japan. By order of the many deities, I protect the Sacred Stone Boat. I embrace this sacred task.” Saying so, the Dragon dragon_kingDeity displayed great dignity while guiding the Boat to shore. えいや、えいや、えいさら、えいさ!The Boat pulled through the waves, Amano-sagume himself keeping time with a drum. The winds gathered. えいさ、えいさら、えいさ! The Eight Dragon Kings flew towards the beach; they themselves grasped the ropes and heaved to, with the tide, with the waves, landing the Sacred Stone Boat on the shores of the prosperous land.

More gifts, brought in sincerity by the Dragon Kings, spilled toward earth like a fountain; gold, silver, and precious gems burst forth and covered the beach, the mound soon as tall as a mountain. The deities protected the Emperor, and his reign of peace stretched on for ten thousand years.


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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1 Response to Iwafune (岩船)

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

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