Contributed by David Surtasky
A first category play by Zeami Motokiyo
Quite some time ago a Priest from Aso Shrine in Kyushu was traveling with his companions. The Priest was called Tomonari, and he had decided to pay a visit to Miyako in order to view the many famous shrines and temples there, as many people often do.
Now Aso Shrine was in the middle of the island of Kyushu in the south, and so it was quite some distance that they had decided to travel. They had girded on their traveling cloaks, and went away to the east, eventually boarding a boat to cross the Inland Sea. Although they were somewhat concerned about going on such a long trip, the spring winds were pleasant and it seemed as if they traveled in no time at all.
Their boat grew close to Takasago Bay, in Harima. It was really a charming sight. The brisk salt breeze was blowing, the sun was just beginning to set, there was the sound of a temple bell ringing in the distance, and the waves kissed the beach hidden from view in the evening mist.
An Old Man and an Old Woman were standing on the shore. With their snow-white hair, they appeared most aged, almost like cranes standing and looking out at the sea. Although perhaps their lives might be lonesome, they had the company of the winds, and the rustling of the pine trees on the beach. Above Takasago Bay, a venerable pine was growing, and the Old Couple had devoted their lives to sweeping the pine needles from under the tree and ensuring its cleanliness and purity.
Having arrived at Takasago Bay, the Priest Tomonari saw the Old Couple. “Pardon me, sir, might I ask you a question?” “Certainly,” replied the Old Man. Tomonari continued, “Which of these trees is the famous Takasago Pine?” “Takasago Pine is right here! We’ve just swept the needles from beneath it,” said the Old Man.
“This is very interesting,” said Tomonari, “I have been told that the Takasago Pine is one of a pair, the other being the Sumiyoshi Pine. How can this be, since Takasago is here in Harima and Sumiyoshi so far away in Settsu?”
“You’re familiar with the Kokinshū, the collection of great poetry? It tells the story that the pines of Takasago and Sumiyoshi grew from a single root, and then split in two. So, it is said, that these aged pines have grown from one to be two. I myself am from Sumiyoshi, but my companion here is from the area.” explained the Old Man. Turning to the Old Woman, he said “My dear, why don’t you tell these travelers something about the Takasago Pine?”
“Obviously you are a couple,” said Tomonari “How is it that you live so far apart, separated by mountains, rivers and oceans and yet are together as one?”
“What a silly thing to say,” replied the Old Woman, “Although we might often be be separated by great distance, if we understand one another and are hearts are true, it as if we are not separated at all, don’t you see?” “Yes, this is so,” said the Old Man “You should contemplate this matter, and comprehend it well.”
Even though the pines of Takasago and Sumiyoshi lacked real emotions, still they were as twins. “I travel the old paths from Sumiyoshi each year to visit,” said the Old Man “and in so doing she and I have walked together. We may be apart, but as you can see, we still are as one. We’ve grown old together, and so it might be said that we are like the pines.” “The Takasago Pine represents the time of the past, when the great poems were written,” explained the Old Woman, “and the Sumiyoshi Pine represents the time of the present. In respecting and celebrating this union, we respect and celebrate our times, and the peaceful reign of the Emperor.”
The sun had just now set far away in the west, and a lovely glow settled over Takasago Bay. The Takasago Pine shimmered with the fading light, and the early spring evening was calm and pleasant.
“Although the sun has set, and I don’t wish to keep you, could you tell some more about the Takasago Pine?” said Tomonari.
“If you wish,” replied the Old Man, “Even though it is said that trees have no heart or senses, still they know to bloom each spring and bring forth fruit each fall. They are one with the seasons of the year. Although many trees change their colors through the season, the pines are unchanging. When winter comes, the green pine needles remain the same, almost as if they might be that way for a thousand years. Many believe that the Takasago Pine blooms once every thousand years, and that it may bloom ten times through its lifetime.”
The Old Man continued; “Once the famous Fujiwara no Nagatō spoke concerning the way of Japanese poetry. He said: ‘All living creatures and even non-sentient beings have poetry residing within them. The sound of trees, the moving grass, the earth and sand, wind, and ever flowing water ~ all of these things embody the soul of poetry. In the spring, a wind from the east makes the forest sing. The wind from the north in the fall blends with the call of insects. All of these sound are poems in and of themselves.’ In this way, you can see that the Takasago Pine is itself a great poem. It is said that even as far away as China, the people know and revere this tree.”
The Old Man really had quite a lot to say. “An old poem says: ‘At Takasago, from the peak of Onoe, I hear the temple bell. Will the night-time frost remain, until the light of day?’ Even as winter approaches, the green needles of the Takasago Pine maintain their jade luster. If we were to stop here morning and night in order to sweep the needles, it would never end. The needles of the pine renew perpetually. When you look upon this tree, can you not understand that people will speak of it for a thousand years to come?”
Tomonari was grateful for the Old Man sharing his wisdom about the famous tree, and it made him think of many things, of life, and love and poetry itself. “Thank you, good sir,” he said, “your dignity is as great as this tree. But, without seeming rude, may I please ask you your names?”
“There is no point in hiding anymore,” exclaimed the Old Man, “We are the spirits of the Twin Pines, Takasago and Sumiyoshi. We stand here before you, incarnate for just a time, as a loving couple. The trees and grass have no beating heart, but in this current time of peace, all of them want to live forever under the beneficent Emperor’s reign. Now we’re going to Sumiyoshi, but come there quickly, and we’ll wait for you to arrive!” So saying the Old Man and Woman leapt into a waiting boat, and were whisked away, swiftly out beyond the horizon.
Tomonari and his retainers were astonished. Just then a Man from the Area arrived, and Tomonari recounted what they’d just witnessed. “This is most auspicious,” said the Man “to have been in the presence of the deities of Takasago and Sumiyoshi. You must take their advice without delay, and hurry on to Sumiyoshi. I myself have a small boat which I’ve just completed making! Please, allow me to take you to Sumiyoshi. If I were to take a Priest from Aso Shrine aboard this boat, someone who has actually spoken to the deities, then my boat would be blessed for a thousand years and always safely reach its destination! Come, the winds are favorable, lets be off at once! ”
Quickly they clambered aboard, and the sail was lifted. The boat was pushed off onto the rising tide under the light of a full and glorious moon. Swiftly they traveled, eager to arrive at Sumiyoshi.
In almost no time at all they arrived at Sumiyoshi and the shore of Suminoe. Appearing before them in divine splendor was the Deity of that place.
“Although many ages by the count of man have gone by since I first saw this Pine Tree, still even I wonder how long this tree has remained here?” said the Deity of Sumiyoshi. “Now, we praise His Excellency the Emperor, and are well pleased by his auspicious reign of peace. We shall dance a dance of the Gods! Heavenly servants; strike the drums and blow the flute! Play the music of ancient days, and let us celebrate our fortune.”
Long ago the Deity Izanagi purified himself at Aoki-ga-hara after returning from the dead, and between the tossing waves the Deity of Sumiyoshi had been born, made incarnate in the sacred pine. Spring had spread across the land, yet on the beach of Asaka tufts of snow still remained. The green needles of the aged pine glowed, and the Deity of Sumiyoshi took them up in his hand and began to dance. He broke a twig with a new plum blossom and placed it in his hair, the petals turning like new winter snow and scattering on his robe. Voices of maidens filled the air, as the drums were beat in ancient rhythm. The green of the pine reflected in the blue of the ocean.
The Deity of Sumiyoshi danced vigorously, but with great dignity. He waved the sleeves of his sacred robes and drove all demons and unkindness away into the darkness. Drawing his arms together, he gathered luck and happiness for all to share. The wind in the pines of Takasago and Sumiyoshi sang with life and joy, and all who were present, near and far, were blessed.