Kanawa (鉄輪)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Kanawa (鉄輪)

A fourth category play by an unknown author

shintoMany, many years ago there was a certain Shinto Priest who attended to the Kibune Shrine. Now this shrine was north of Kyoto, on Mount Kurama, and quite a long walk from the center of the capital. One night in early fall this Priest was awakened by an disturbing dream that commanded him to deliver a message to a beautiful Woman, a princess perhaps, who came to the shrine to worship late every night. In his dream he saw the aspects of it clearly in his mind, and understood delivering the message as a divine command. So, he set himself to wait by the gates of the shrine for her arrival.

As was foretold in the dream, a beautiful Woman was making her way to the shrine. She had been walking all the way from Kyoto, dressed in her traveling robe. As she walked, she spoke to herself: “Once the love I held in my heart for my husband was boundless, but now it has been destroyed. An old poem says ‘Even if I’m hitching a horse to a spider’s web, I’ll never pay heed to a faithless man, because his heart won’t ever be attached to mine.’ Like this poem I believed I’d never give my heart to someone faithless. Instead, I’ve come to realize that I couldn’t look beyond his never-ending falsehoods. Now, deep regret shrouds my heart, and I’m overcome with anguish. I’m making my way to Kibune Shrine to pray to the deity enshrined there. Please, grant my earnest desire, and punish my husband’s disloyalty. Just like a swiftly flowing river, I hurry on to Kibune Shrine.”

Beyond the well-known roads of the capital, and past the desolate and lonely Tadasu-no-kawara she went. Looking at Mizoro-ike Pond, she felt as if she had nowhere to turn. Through the dewy grass of Ichiharano she went, reminded of how her life was now like deigandew, impermanent and quick to dry, then turn to dust. She reached the Kurama River, spread before her in darkness under the light of a waning moon. Crossing the bridge, she made her way to Kibune Shrine.

The Shinto Priest was waiting for her. “Pardon,” he said “Aren’t you the woman from Kyoto who comes every night? I’ve something important I must tell you. This very night I was visited with a divine command in my dreams. The deity has said: your fervent desires have been heard, and you no longer need to visit the shrine. Since you wish to visit punishment on your unfaithful husband, you can do so by becoming a demon. Hurry home and make a red kimono. Put on the kimono, and cover your face in rouge. Place an iron crown upon your head, putting three candles upon it. By lighting the candles and filling your heart with rage you will be transformed into a demon, and can visit retribution on the one who has foresworn you. Hurry now, and realize this divination.” The Priest was shocked at his own words, frightened by the terrible implications of what he had just said.

“No,” said the Woman “This can’t be. Certainly you have me confused with someone else.” The Priest’s unease only increased; “No” he declared, “you are clearly the woman from my dream. Even now you have begun to take on a demonic form. Please, go quickly from this place. Return to your home and fulfill the prophesy!” The Priest began to tremble, and his heart to quaver. In great fear he hastened off to escape the woman, and hid within the shrine. “How strange!” the Woman declared, “but if this is the deity’s prophecy then I must follow their command.” So saying, she turned and hurried home.

Before she even had finished speaking, the Woman’s form began to change. Despite her great beauty she took on a frightening aspect. Her glossy black hair stood straight on end! In the sky above, dark clouds swirled and black sheets of rain pelted the earth, torturous raijinwinds began to blow, and thunder shook the firmament. “Our abiding love,” she cried out to herself “which we thought even the thunder god could not destroy, has now at last been torn asunder. My heart is filled with bitterness, and I will become a demon in order reap my revenge. Oh, despicable husband, you will pay the price for callously trampling my heart underfoot.”

Meanwhile, in the Shimogyō district of Kyoto, a Man was experiencing anguish from incredible nightmares. Now this Man was the former husband of the beautiful Woman who visited the shrine. He decided that he should seek out a yin-yang diviner named Abe no Seimei to ask him for help, and to uncover the reason for his unsettling dreams.

Having traveled swiftly to Abe no Seimei’s house, the Man cried out “Pardon me, please, is there anyone who can help me?” “Who is there?” Seimei called out. The Man replied “I am a Man from Shimogyō, and have been relentlessly tortured by nightmares of late. Please, can you help me to understand the reason?”

“It isn’t necessary for me to deduce your dreams,” said Seimei “Clearly you’re suffering from the malevolence of a woman! What’s more, this very night your life is at risk. Only you can tell me the reason for this …”

With a heavy sigh the Man said, “It is true. There is no reason for me to hide it. I divorced my first wife, and have now married someone else. Do you think this is the reason for my nightmares?” “Beyond doubt,” stated Seimei “Your divorced wife has prayed without rest houseto Buddha and the gods, and through her tireless efforts her prayers have been heard. As a result there is little that I can do for you, or your new wife, if the gods themselves have turned against you.”

“Oh, please,” begged the Man “Can you not say a prayer for me? Even one would be of great comfort, and might offer some protection.”

Seimei replied dolefully “I shall do what is possible. It’s clear to me that both your lives are meant to end tonight. We must transfer your life energy into an effigy! Hurry now, and make ready an offering to the gods!” The Man rushed off to prepare.

Soon arriving at the Man’s house, Seimei brought with him two large dolls woven from grass. “We must transfer your inevitable fate to these effigies!” he said “I will place them on this three tiered shelf, along with some five-colored wands in each corner and many offerings. In each of these dolls I have placed your names. Now I must pray …” With great devotion, Seimei prayed to the gods: “From the time of the beginning, from when the deities Izanagi and Izanami made love to each other in their celestial chambers, the way of husband and wife has been taught to us. With this tradition, why should a demon interrupt the way of the world, and bring short a life, which was not yet meant to come to an end? It should not be, it must not be.”

Calling out to the deities of both great and minor shrines, in the heavens as well as the earth, calling out to the Bodhisattvas and the Myōō, protectors of the law of Buddha, the many spirits, the nine planets (rulers of our fate), the Big Dipper and all twenty eight hand-of-godconstellations, Seimei cried out in a loud voice. He poured forth his prayers upon the deities of Shinto, and the Wisdom Kings, the Buddhas and as he did so the wind began to blow. The sky was traced by lightening, and thunder rattled the house, and the holy wands on the shelf began to dance and shake.

As the Priest had foretold, the beautiful Woman had transformed herself into a Demon. She suddenly appeared at the Man’s house, sweeping through the door like a horse on fire. In her hair was the iron crown, with three lit candles burning brightly, her face red with fury, and her kimono twisting wildly in the wind like flames.

“The flowers of spring open to the warm and inviting winds,” intoned the Demon “yet they are impermanent and their petals are scattered by the season’s turning. Above the mountains in the east the moon rises, but soon has retired behind the mountains of the west. The flowers and the moon, all things of this earth, may last but a little while. Your unkindness will come back to you, as the wheel of an ox cart turns. Now, you shall pay for your faithlessness. Now, the hurt you visited upon me I return to you!”

Like fireflies, the candles glittered atop the iron crown. Moving to sit near the pillow of her former husband, the Demon sobbed, saying “Hello, my love. How do you do? How long has it been since we lay together in this very bed?” In her hand, the Demon held a beating stick. She raised it up now in anger tinged with great sadness. “When we were married, I believed it would be for a thousand years,” she said “but instead you’ve dashed my heart for no reason other than your own selfishness. Having been dismissed by you, my sorrow overwhelms me, while still I cry tears of love.”

kanawaMocking you. Missing you. Blaming you. Each day and night, wakeful or sleeping, suffering without end. Revenge. Revenge for the fallen, revenge for the forgotten, revenge for all those cast aside. These thoughts whirled like black leaves tossed by gales in the Demon’s mind. “I must take your life,” the Demon said “and the gods forgive me, you pitiable man!”

In an old poem it was said; between every man and woman that love draws near, there may still yet be sorrow. If resentment and anguish smolder for years, then it can be no wonder that obsessive love would turn even a princess into a demon.

“Now, you will forfeit your life!” the Demon raised her hateful stick, and grasped the effigy of the new wife. She twisted the effigy’s hair in her hand, and struck at its head over and over. “We don’t know whether the world is real, or a dream. Karma must return to you, and you shall pay the price for my resentment. Is there a lesson you have learned? No? Then let me teach you!”

The Demon turned then to the effigy of her former husband. “Who is more to blame than this cruel and selfish man? I must take your life, and put an end to all this suffering!”

As she approached the doll, abruptly the Sanjūban-shin (the thirty deities that protect the holy Sutra) emerged from the holy wands at the four corners of the shelf. Rising up, they swirled around her while commanding her to leave. With their divine will, they commanded the Demon to leave.

“No! Oh, no!” the Demon lamented, “Now I myself am punished by the gods. I cannot kill my faithless husband, and divine retribution is instead turned upon me!” So saying she staggered about, great weakness falling upon her. Filled with rage, and boundless sadness, she lurched and swayed like grass torn by a gale. “I will return,” the Demon cried, “For now you are spared. I will return, my resentment never ending.” With these words her form became like mist, thinner and thinner, until she blew away like an unwelcome dream.



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.
This entry was posted in Noh Play Synopses, Noh plays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Kanawa (鉄輪)

  1. Pingback: Reika-sama – 130 | お兄ちゃん、やめてぇ!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s