Noh “Dojo-Ji” on July 30, 2021,

at the National Noh Theatre

National Noh Theatre

Celebration of the sixtieth birthday of SAKURAMA Ujin.

 

Traditionally, one’s sixtieth birthday is a very special occasion for the Japanese. In old times, time, dates and years used to be designated by 12 Chinese Zodiac and 10 Calendar Signs, and there are 60 patterns for their combinations. People used to believe that when this full circle of 60 years came around, they would be reborn, in other words, start a new life cycle as a newborn baby.

 

SAKURAMA Ujin will perform on this important occasion one of the most representative and difficult Noh pieces, Dojo-Ji, on the stage of the National Noh Theatre.

 

Dojo-Ji” is the name of a temple in Kumano district (the southern end of the Kii Peninsula), and well known as the background of the tragedy of a young priest and a daughter of a lord in the area.

 

There are several highlights in this Noh performance. The most difficult part is when the performer has to jump into the falling bell with the right timing and in the right place, otherwise he will be severely injured by the heavy bell. After this scene, the performer has to change his costume within the narrow confines of the bell all by himself. 

Also, the part called “Ran-Byoshi” in the first half is known to be difficult to perform. In principle, the standard rhythm of Noh is based on eight beats. “Ran” means “not in order”, “disturbed” or “disordered”. This “Ran-Byoshi” is characterized by unusual steps by the Shite-performer, which could continue for half an hour. While the small hand drummer hits the drum and gives intense shouts, the Shite-performer stamps on the floor at his own intervals. Nevertheless, each step of the Shite-performer and the beats of the hand drum have to be in accord, without any predetermination. This is exceptionally difficult. 

 

The summary of the story is as follows:

(Former half)

It is a day for delivering a newly cast hanging bell to Dojo-Ji Temple. Several priests are to hold a dedication service, and no women are allowed to go into the confines of the temple. However, a woman in Shirabyoshi attire (the fashion worn by women who used to dance and sing in the old days) comes and asks whether she can also join the service.

At first, the retainer of the temple refuses her request, but after she begs him many times, he lets her in.

Then, she starts dancing under the fully opened cherry blossoms and the fresh green of the pine trees. In the meantime, the people around her fall asleep, and grasping this opportunity, the woman jumps into the hanging bell and the bell falls to the ground.

 

(Latter half)

The retainer wakes up and runs to the priest to tell him what has happened. The priest explains to the retainer the reason why no women are allowed to come in. Previously, there was the tragedy of a young priest who was not permitted to marry due to his religious beliefs and a young woman who believed that the priest was destined to be her future husband. When the young woman was chasing him, he hid himself in the bell of Dojo-Ji Temple. Then, the woman turned in to a huge snake because of her obsession with him, and coiled her long body around the bell.  The flame of her love burnt the bell with the priest inside.

After telling this story, the priest starts praying with the other priests. Then, the bell starts shaking and there appears from the bell a woman in the shape of a snake. She starts attacking the priests and the priests fight back with prayer. Finally, she can no longer endure the prayers of the priests, so she jumps into a nearby river and disappears.

 

Kyogen “Hi-no-Sake

Kyogen is a Japanese traditional comedy, usually played before or between Noh performances.

 

“Hi-no-Sake” is one of the most popular Kyogen stories. It is about two servants, Taro-Kaja and Jiro-Kaja, who love sake more than anything else.

One day, their master has to go out, and tells them to keep an eye on the rice and sake, which are kept in separate storehouses, while he is away. Taro-Kaja is assigned to the rice storehouse and Jiro-Kaja to the sake storehouse. Jiro-Kaja, however, starts drinking the sake and Taro-Kaja sees that from the window of the rice storehouse. Then, Taro-Kaja asks Jiro-Kaja to give him some sake as well. But since they are not allowed to leave their places, they come up with the idea of using a gutter, which is called “hi” in Japanese, to send sake from Jiro-Kaja’s storehouse to Taro-Kaja’s storehouse. After a while, they think it is troublesome to use the gutter, so Taro-Kaja joins Jiro-Kaja in the sake storehouse and they start a sake “banquet”. Just then their master comes back, and...