Kyoto Kanze Noh Theater

Ugetsu

Summary

Saigyō (waki) departs from Sagano, Kyoto for Sumiyoshi, Osaka to pay a devotional visit to the shrine of Sumiyoshi Myōjin (the Deity of Sumiyoshi). He arrives around sunset. Finding a hut near the shrine’s pond pavilion, he requests lodging from an old couple living there. The eave of the hut’s roof lacks half of its roofing because the old woman (tsure) is fond of gazing at the moon, while the other half is roofed completely so that the old man (mae-shite), who is fond of rain, can hear its sound. The old couple asks Saigyō if he prefers the moon or the rain, and further asks him to compose the first lines of a poem followed by the next lines, “If it were so easy / To cover the humble eaves,” as a condition to provide him with lodging. After some thought, Saigyō recites a line that goes, “Let the roof leak moonlight /Let the rain strums its boards /As you may – ”

The old couple is impressed and welcomes Saigyō into the hut. Before falling asleep, Saigyō and the old couple enjoy the beautiful autumn night: the sound of wind blowing through pine trees resembling that of light rain, leaves falling by being blown by the wind, the sound of kinuta (the mallet beating fabric), and the autumn full moon (the harvest moon).

Then, the deity of the subordinate shrine of Sumiyoshi Shrine appears and reveals that the old couple is an incarnation of the deity Sumiyoshi Myōjin. He then announces that Sumiyoshi Myōjin will reappear before Saigyō by possessing the old shrine guard.

The old shrine guard possessed by Sumiyoshi Myōjin (nochi-shite) appears, praises the virtues of waka poetry, and dances. Stating that a vast range of phenomena in the world is the source of waka poetry, the deity ascends to heaven, and the shrine guard returns to his normal self.

Highlights

Saigyō (1118-1190) was a priest who lived from the end of the Heian period to the beginning of the Kamakura period. He was originally a warrior serving Emperor Toba, at which time he was called Satō Norikiyo. He became a priest at age twenty-three and composed many waka poems as he traveled to various provinces. He was a master of poetry and the most-featured poet of the classical collection of waka poems Shin Kokin Wakashū, with ninety-four poems featured.

Ugetsu draws material from an episode about a renga poetry exchange with a nun suffering from a rain leak in the fifth book of Senjūshō, which is a Kamakura-period collection of Buddhist setsuwa stories that was formerly ascribed to Saigyō.

Ugetsu features an encounter between the talented poet Saigyō and an old couple who is an incarnation of Sumiyoshi Myōjin, who is a god of waka, and a dance performed by Sumiyoshi Myōjin to bless Saigyō. As such, the play is largely an ode to waka poetry and elegance.

The main character of the second half is the Sumiyoshi Myōjin who has possessed the old man who guards the shrine. There are two versions of this character’s costume, one being that of the old shrine guard and the other that of Sumiyoshi Myōjin, and the choice depends on whether the possessed or the possessor is to be emphasized. The shrine guard’s costume includes white hair tied at the top of the head and an okina-eboshi hat. The costume emphasizing Sumiyoshi Myōjin features white hair worn down over the shoulders and an ui-kanmuri headgear. In addition, in some cases the actor will hold a gohei (a wooden or bamboo wand decorated with zigzagging paper streamers used in Shinto rituals), while in other cases he will hold a sacred branch of an evergreen tree.

Sumiyoshi Myōjin eventually leaves the shrine guard, and this is expressed by holding up or throwing behind him the gohei or a fan. This final part of the play is also one of the highlights.

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