Atsumori Essays

Zeami 1363-1443

(Full name Zeami Motokiyo)

Zeami is the foremost nō dramatist and theorist, whose plays and treatises are largely responsible for transforming no from a rustic form of entertainment into a high art. He is credited with having written 240 plays, some 100 of which still survive and are regularly performed. In addition, his treatises are regarded as a significant contribution not only to the dramatic arts but to Japanese aesthetics as a whole.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Zeami was born near Nara, Japan, the son of Kan'ami, an eminent practitioner of the Kanze form of no drama. As a child Zeami performed in his father's troupe, where he attracted the notice of the Shōgun Ashikaga Yokimitsu and the renowned poet Nijō Yoshimoto. It is believed that through the influence of these two prominent figures Zeami received an excellent education, for his treatises demonstrate a wider knowledge of literature and philosophy than was typical of one who pursued the lowly profession of actor. Kan'ami died when his son was only twenty-two, leaving him responsible for the troupe. At this time Zeami wrote his first treatise, Fūshikaden (Teachings on Style and the Flower), to preserve and pass on his father's teachings. As they had under his father, Zeami and his troupe received the patronage of Yokumitsu until the shōgun's death in 1408. Yokumitsu's successor, Yoshimochi, seems to have been indifferent to Zeami, but when he died in 1428 and his younger brother, Yoshinori, assumed power, Zeami's fortunes declined sharply. In 1432, when Zeami was seventy, his elder son, Motomasa, died—possibly he was murdered—and the shōgunate authorities made Zeami's cousin, On'ami, head of the family troupe. (Zeami himself had retired from acting a decade earlier to become a Buddhist monk.) Two years later Zeami was exiled to the island of Sado for reasons that remain un-clear, but possibly because of his opposition to On'ami. After the death of the Shōgun Yoshinori in 1441, Zeami was pardoned,and he returned to the mainland. He died two years later in Kyoto.

MAJOR WORKS

Of the 100 surviving plays attributed to Zeami, many, such as Aoi no Ue (The Lady Aoi), Nishikigi (The Brocade Tree), and Takasago, remain essential works in the nō repertory. Nō theater is performed on a bare stage with few props. The actors—all of whom are male—are clothed in splendid costumes and wear elaborate masks to portray an old man, a woman, a supernatural being, or other standard figures. The acting style is formal and stylized and incorporates elements of dance. A small orchestra of drums and flutes provides musical accompaniment. There are typically two acts to each play, and the protagonist (Shite) appears in both, depicting different facets of the character. In addition to the Shite, characters in a nō play may include the Waki, or supporting character, and the Tsure, or followers. A chorus often comments on the action. Historically, five nō plays—separated by comic interludes called Kyūgen—were performed together in a single program.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Historians and scholars of nō theater all concur that Zeami, continuing the work begun by his father, developed nō from a low form of popular entertainment into a brilliant art form that seamlessly combines dance, song, mime, and poetry. As demonstrated in his plays and expressed in his treatises, Zeami infused nō with religious significance derived from Zen Buddhism. The concept of yūgen—a complex idea that indicates beauty, grace, depth—was particularly important to Zeami. For him, yūgen was in-separable from nō and was the wellspring of its spirituality. Makoto Ueda has observed that in Zeami's theories yūgen is "the inner beauty of an object outwardly ex-pressed by means of art. It is the manifestation of the 'primary meaning' which lies in the mysterious depth of things. In this sense it is identical with truth—the truth caught by the artist's 'soul'." It is this fusion of art and spirituality, critics agree, that lies at the heart of Zeami's greatness.

[Note: Having read a book that recently greatly reminded me of Japanese culture today, I figured it would be time to post one of my essays that shows my interest in Japanese military history, drama, and culture that also serves as a general sample of my historical approach.]

Introduction

“In 1185, nearly seven centuries before, the contest was between men of a common country. It was the slaughter of brother by brother. The guerdon of ambition of supremacy. The Taira clan were at bay, driven, persued, and hunted to the sea-shore. Like a wounded stag that turns upon its persuers, the clan were about to give final battle; by its wager they were deciding their future destiny—a grave in a bloody sea, or peace under victory. They had collected five hundred vessels. They hurried on board their aged fathers and mothers, their wives and children. Among them were gentle ladies from the palace, whose silken robes seemed sadly out of place in the crowded junks. There were mothers, with babes at breast, and little children, too young to know the awful passions that kindle man against man. Among the crowd were the widow and daughter of Kiyomori, the former a nun, the latter an empress dowager, with the dethroned mikado, a child of six years old. With them were the sacred insignia of imperial power, the sword and ball [1].” With this richness of poetic detail, the late 19th century Western historian of Japan described the host of the Taira before their final defeat in the naval battle in the Straits of Shimonseki, showing the grandeur of the Taira in their final moment as well as the terrible contrast between deadly combat and refined ladies, elderly family members, and small children.

In a play attributed to the Buddhist monk Zeami, a noted Japanese dramatist in the style of theater known as No (or Noh) Drama, part of the lead-up to that battle is described in the following way: “No, he was on horseback. The horse named Inoue-guro was one of the finest. More than two thousand meters over the sea waves easily he swam and saved the master’s life. However, on board there was no room left, so nobody would take the horse up onto the ship. so again to the cost swam back the horse, and as if in grief over the separation from the master, turning to the sea, gave a loud neigh, pawed the air with his feet and stood still. “Even the beast has a feeling heart,” thinking thus, those looking on were moved to pity [2].” We can see likewise that the portrayal of the crowded Taira host, huddled in boats and seeking to avert their doom, was meant to evoke pity in the hearts of those who afterwards were to hear or read the accounts of their doomed bravery.

Whether one reads the historical romance known as the Heike Monogatari, the historians of the Gempei War, or the Noh Dramas of Zeami dealing with the Taira warrior ghosts seeking release from the horrors of wrongful clinging to this earth, the fall of the Taira in 1185 still evokes feelings of grandeur and tragedy, long after their bodies fell into the Straits of Shimonseki to the despair of suicide at having lost or death through the arrows of the Minamoto archers. What sort of point are these diverse authors trying to make in their presentation of the fall of the Taira in their histories? What can we, over 800 years after the fall of the Taira, expect to gain from their tragic and total fall? It is the purpose of this paper to examine the treatment of the fall of the Taira in the Heike Monogatari, history, and Noh Drama so that we may unravel the reasons why the Fall of the Taira remains popular so long after it occurred, and what sort of lessons different authors have drawn from the same events. In what ways do the texts we have influence the way the fall of the Taira is remembered?

Examining The History of the Fall of the Taira

The primary source for the history of the fall of the Taira is the Heike Monogotori, otherwise known as the Tale of the Wars of the Gempei. It is from that source that both the secondary sources and the No Dramas themselves draw. Therefore, it is necessary, in order to understand the historical context of the fall of the Taira, what is said about those events in the primary source as well as what the secondary historical sources make of that information. We can examine, therefore, the potential biases in the historical accounts, in order to illuminate potential agendas various historians have concerning the war between the Taira and Minomoto families. However, before we examine the Heike Monogatari, it would be worthwhile to at least briefly examine the Saito Mussashi-bo Benkei, as it deals with the same conflict and is also a primary document.

Saito Mussashi-bo Benkei (Tales of the Wars of the Gempei)

While this particular source, in theory, involves the time period in question, the War between the Taira and Minomoto, its usefulness as a source is not as great as that of the Heike Monogatari, for several reasons. One reason is that the Noh dramas are not based at all off of this source. For another, the commonly available translation, from James Seguin de Benneville, is only translated up to 1160AD [3], making its usefulness limited. Finally, the quality of the translation itself is somewhat suspect. For example, one need only read the opening of this book to realize that it is not an easy source to read: “The Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity sat in her awful weaving-hall seeing to the weaving of the august garments of the Deities……She commanded saying: ‘The Luxuriant-Reed-Plans-the-Land-of-Fresh-Rice-Ears-of-a-Thousand-Autumns, of Long-Five-Hundred-Autumns is the land which my august child His Augustness Truly-Conquerer-I-Conquer-Conquering-Swift-Heavenly-Great-Great-Ears shall govern [4].’” Needless to say, the lack of coverage of the relevant portion of the war of the Gempei and its lack of quality in translation, and its lack of importance compared to the Heike Monogatari make it less important by far in comparison to the Heike Monogatari. Therefore, nothing more needs to be said about this source.

Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike)
On the other hand, unlike the Saito Musshashi-bo Benkei, the Heiki Monogatari is a source of extreme importance for both the Noh Dramas and the secondary histories. For one, this book is the source for all four of the Taira Warrior Ghost plays attributed to Zeami. For that alone it would be worthy of serious discussion. For another, this source is the primary source for the secondary histories, and as such its perspective is worthy of examination, since it gives us what we principally know about the conflict between the Taira and the Minamoto. Therefore, it is worthwhile to examine what incidents from the Heike Monogatari are particularly important for the Noh Dramas as well as the perspective this source bring to the fall of the Taira.

The four Taira warrior ghost plays, which will be analyzed shortly, all spring from a very small portion of the Heke Monogatari, that involving the battle of Ichinotani and its aftermath. The Noh Drama Tadanori, for example, is taken from Chapter Nine, Section 14, entitled, “The Death of Tadanori [5].” The Noh Drama Atsumori is taken from Chapter Nine, Section 16, entitled, “The Death of Atsumori [6].” The Noh Drama Tomokaira, including the notable incident of the loyal horse, is taken from Chapter Nine, Section 17, entitled, “The Death of Tomokaira [7].” Finally, the Noh Drama Michimori, involving the suicide of Kozaisho, is taken from Chapter Nine, Section 19, entitled, “Kozaisho’s Suidide [8].” For whatever reason, therefore, the entire Taira Warrior Ghost Noh Dramas are taken from a very small section of the Heike Monogatari, namely the defeat that drove them from the soil of Japan and into boats, awaiting the final epic defeat at the battle of Shimonseki. The fact that the Noh Dramas concentrate on this particular battle and its aftermath signify something important, though before that importance can be determined it will be necessary to examine Noh dramas themselves more closely.

Even in translation, the Heike Monogatari deserves recognition for its high literary qualities. The work is dramatic, featuring a compelling cast of characters, riveting dialogue, moving poetry, and powerful action (including a lot of fighting and dying). Furthermore, the work itself is a unified artistic whole, as it begins and ends with powerful Buddhist references. It begins: “The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like the dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind [9].” It ends: “The parting brought agonies of inconsolable grief to the two attendants who had never left her side since her days as Empress. They had nowhere to turn for help, the grasses of old ties having long withered; nonetheless, they contrived most touchingly to perform the periodic memorial services. People said both of them attained the Naga Girl’s wisdom, emulated King Bimbisara’s wife, and achieved their goal of rebirth in the Pure Land [10].” So, in the beginning we see the moral of the story laid out: the impermanence of glory and the fall of the proud, and in the end, we see that fall, and that search for true enlightenment after the glories of this mortal life have departed. The work is therefore infused with both a religious and moral point as well as a high degree of literary excellence, even as it describes brutal acts of war. The Tale of the Heike, in viewing the fall of the Taira as the fall of the proud and the impermanence of success, is an epic native Japanese tragedy, not unlike that of the Greek tragedians concerned with the fall of man through excessive hubris (pride).

The Secondary Histories

From the primary documents, such as the Heike Monogatari, the secondary histories summarize and explain the record of the period with their own particular areas of interest. Two histories illuminate the different ways in which historians treat the Heike Monogatari concerning the fall of the Taira. For some historians, the Heike Monogatari is a work of history to be commended for its bringing Japanese history alive to people of all walks of life in Japan. Other historians, though, view the Heike Monogatari critically even as they depend on it.

William Elliot Griffis’ The Mikado’s Empire, an early history of Japan written in English, is an example of a history that views the Heike Monogatari with a great deal of respect and honor. For one, Professor Griffis specifically mentions the Heike Monogatari as an extremely popular work of fiction that makes the time period of the Taira come alive to a wide audience of Japanese readers of all classes [11]. For another, Professor Griffis describes the final fall of the Taira at Shimonseki in the language of the Heike Monogatari, such as we saw in the introduction. Compare, for example, the picture of the boats filled with women and children dressed in fine robes awaiting their death at sea [12] with the more elaborate, but similar, description of the clothing worn by the Taira waiting in boats just before the Battle of Shimonseki [13]. Nonetheless, despite this great respect for and use of the Tale of the Heike, Professor Griffis entirely ignores the battle of Ichinotani, focusing instead on the fall of Taira fortresses like the Fukuwara Palace and the castle of Yashima instead [14]. This would indicate that while Professor Griffis respects the source material of the Heike Monogatari, he uses only that which serves his narrative purposes, and given the broad scope of his history, it is understandable that certain incidents are left out that would be of particular interest to Japanese playwrights.

Other historians, though, are far more critical of the Heike Monogatari, even as they depend on it for source material. George Sansom’s history is one example. Even though this historian, unlike Professor Griffis, mentions the battle of Ichinotani, the mention serves to insult the historical value of romances like the Heike Monogatari, by saying that the record that the Minamoto had 70,000 warriors fighting at the battle is an impossible size for an army, and that such exaggerations are a typical feature of the Heike Monogatari and other works like it [15]. Characteristically, Sansom argues that the sources of the time were wrong in giving large numbers of troops to both sides, arguing that instead of 20,000 Taira soldiers and 70,000 Minamoto soldiers that the forces engaged included only about 5,000 Taira warriors and no more than 3,000 Minamoto warriors [16]. On what grounds these numbers are to be revised, the historian does not say. Nonetheless, the historian is particularly hostile to this particular source, saying that the “ Heike Monogatari despite its exaggerations and its obvious bias is essential for the study of medieval Japan [17].” Here we see a historian insulting a source, even as he remains dependent on it.
Gempei Warrior Ghost Plays

Zeami is thought to have written four warrior ghost plays, each of which we will examine in turn. Not only are the plots of each No drama important with regards to the Gempei War, but the dramas reveal a particularly literate view of war. In particular, each warrior ghost play has a ghost stranded on earth because of “wrongful clinging” and each demonstrates a different facet of the Gempei wars. Nonetheless, before examining each of these No Dramas, it would be useful to examine some of the elements of Zeami’s conception of drama to provide the cultural and religious backdrop to the Gempei Warrior Ghost plays.

Introduction to No Drama

Before we can begin to analyze the specific warrior ghost No Dramas, it is first necessary to understand some of the foundations of Zeami’s dramas. For one, it is necessary to examine the nature and purpose of Zeami’s dramas. For another, it is necessary to examine the ambiguous relationship between religion and art in Zeami’s works, as well as the form and structure of No Drama. In doing so, we may put the Warrior Ghost plays of Zeami in a proper historical and cultural context even as we seek to understand the relationship between the War of the Gempei and Japanese high culture.

Japanese art is created for human beings rather than God, and so it is not surprising that the idea of Japanese No Drama explores ambiguous and paradoxical elements. For one, though Zeami himself came from a rural farming family, his writing exhibited considerable urban sophistication. Likewise, ideals of madness and elegance are mixed, as are those of static beauty and mobility, as well as realism and refinement [18]. In the acting demanded by his plays, Zeami sought his actors as having to embody both imitation and becoming, both mask and face, while remaining aware of the contradiction between the two [19]. Since Zeami sought to deal with ambiguities and contradictions, he desired his art, instead of a compromise, to represent a dramatic tension between various contradictory elements.

Despite the humanistic ideals of No drama, religion figures prominently both in Zeami’s life and in his writings. For one, No drama itself was founded in 10th century AD as a means of spreading Buddhist teachings, making No drama a religious art form [20]. Even some of the advice that Zeami gives actors has a religious bent to it, including the comment that in Buddhism to receive the law is easy, but to obey it is difficult, relating this explicitly moral teaching to the need of actors to realize their own flaws and avoid stubbornness to their own ideas [21]. It should be noted that in Zeami’s own life, tradition records that in 1412 Zeami was led to perform ten plays at the Shrine of Inari so that a moneylender could be healed of a deathly illness, and that within ten years of this revelation Zeami himself had become a monk [22]. We may see, therefore, that the religious influence of Buddhism on No drama, especially the dramas of Zeami, was quite profound. We can only expect that this religious influence was reflected in his writings, including the plays about the Gempei Wars.
Also, it should be expected that the form and structure of No drama should influence the portrayal of war in Zeami’s dramas. Zeami himself described three elements to the writing of a No play: seed (source materials, like the Tales of the Wars of the Gempei), construction (the division of the play into three parts and five acts, as well as the writing of music for the play, and the choice of dances). The third part is composition, which is the writing of the dialogue for the characters. Included in this was the choice of a famous poem or song in the closing to help with the resolution of the events of the play [23]. It can be seen from Zeami’s own explanation of the elements of No drama that the plays themselves are very formal and governed by a very strict format, of which this description has only been as brief as possible. With this structure in mind, let us examine the four Gempei Warrior Ghost plays, and seek to understand what they say about the fall of the Taira.
Atsumori

Atsumori is a No drama that explicitly contrasts cultural and military values and seeks to overcome the conflict between the Taira and Minamoto in mutual admiration of courage and culture. First we will examine the characters and plot of this play, and then we will examine what element of “wrongful clinging” is explored in this play. Finally, we will briefly examine the relationship between drama and the conception of war explored in this particular play.

The main characters in this play are Rensho, a monk that was formerly a Minamoto warrior, and the warrior ghost of Atsumori, who the monk had killed during the Gempei war. The other characters, a youth, a villager, and two or three companions of the monk, are obviously minor characters. The play begins with the monk Rensho discussing how he has renounced the world and its concerns, but his meeting a youth strikes his memory of the young Taira warrior Atsumori, whom he killed in battle. Rensho is then led by a villager to the place on the beach where the duel took place, and there the villager recalls the duel, At this point the monk prays for Atsumori to find enlightenment, at which point the ghost of Atsumori realizes that he and Rensho are not enemies, but friends [24]. The play ends not in hostility or conflict, but reconciliation.

In this particular play the aspect of wrongful clinging present in the ghost of Atsumori that is most notable is the fact that it is sins that are preventing Atsumori from finding release, and it is the forgiveness of those sins for which the monk Rensho prays. By praying for his enemy, the ghost he summons of the young man whom he murdered is thus led to understand that the monk wishes for his well being, and so he can view the monk as a friend rather than a foe [25]. Religion therefore has a very strong importance in this play, as it is the desire of the monk for the forgiveness of Atsumori’s sins and for his salvation that leads to their reconciliation.

Despite this religious focus in the main plot, Atsumori has a lot to say about the relationship between military and cultural values. For one, the contrast between Atsumori and Rensho is explicitly a contrast between a hopelessly outnumbered but highly cultured young man who brought a flute with him to battle and a battle-hardened older warrior, whose disgust with the warrior’s calling leads him to renounce the world and become a monk [26]. For one, the longing of the warrior for the cultural values represented by his foe means that for Zeami, the values of cultural excellence triumph over the values of military strength, regardless of what happens on the battlefield. This is confirmed by the fact that this play’s ending is about reconciliation, the religious virtues of salvation from sin trump the martial values of triumph on the battlefield. These plot elements mean that military has a subsidiary value in Zeami’s conception of worth. This would seem to indicate that part of the purpose of the Warrior Ghost plays for Zeami is to criticize those who would place military values on the top of the hierarchy, while instead granting first place to cultural and religious concerns.

Tadanori

Like Atsumori, Tadanori is a No drama about a warrior who died in the battle of Ichinotani. In Tadamori we have a clear harmony between the identity of the titular warrior ghost as a warrior and as a poet. Here we have another case of “wrongful clinging” by a Taira warrior ghost, but this particular ghost lingers not because of his defeat in war, but because of his desire to be immortalized through poetry. Also, this play clearly demonstrates the values of a warrior as described by Zeami in distinctive ways. This play was also considered by Zeami to be among his finest works, which goes to demonstrate the importance of poetry to the cultured Japanese playwright [27].

In this particular play, the characters are a monk who has given up poetry (rather ironic, given the theme of this play), two or three of his companions, an old man, a villager, and the ghost of Tadanori [28]. The action of the play is as follows: a monk and his companions journey from the Kyoto area to the Suma shore, where the Taira were destroyed at the end of the War of the Gempei. Upon their arrival to the Suma shore, they meet an old man who describes how salt is made and compares the salt to the tears of grieving for the dead lost offshore. Then a young man tells the monk the story of a cherry-tree (ripe with literary allusions), which was the tree of Tadanori, whose sad story is then recalled. Afterward, the ghost of Tadanori and the Monk talk about how Tadanori’s wrongful clinging to the earth was due to his desire for immortality through recognition for his poetic skill, ending with the poem that was anonymously published. At this point, his immortality assured through the monk’s realization of the importance of poetry, Tadanori’s ghost finds release [29]. In this play, therefore, we see a clear dramatization of the importance of poetry to the life of a cultured Japanese warrior.

The wrongful clinging of the ghost of Tadanori involves a problem of poetry and politics, even as the cherry tree in Tadanori’s last poem is both the place where he died and the embodiment of poetry. Tadanori’s ambition as a poet was to be included in the Senzaishu, an imperial collection of poems, but his being a Taira warrior (outlawed as an ‘enemy of the court’) prevented him and any other Taira warrior from being named in the imperial anthology of poetry, even though Tadanori’s master was compiling the work. Tadanori begged for his poem to be included, and it was done so as ‘Anonymous,’ thus denying Tadanori his chance at poetic immortality. Since poetry was the highest art of the Japanese [30], this extreme desire to be remembered for an amazing poem was seen as exemplary, rather than unusual.

This particular play reveals a lot about the harmony between the identity of Tadanori as a warrior and as a poet. There is no contradiction seen between Tadanori’s identity as a warrior and as a poet. The identity of a poet was considered higher than that of a warrior, but Tadanori’s excellence included both realms [31]. Here we see that the values of the artist (in this case a poet) are seen as more important than the values of a warrior. It is not because of defeat in war that Tadanori’s soul clings to this earth, but because of his loss of reputation as a poet due to the vagaries of politics. In this play we see the influence of war and politics on art in a way that is particularly profound, even as we see how for a warrior poetry could be even more important than war.

Michimori

Like the two previous Taira warrior ghost plays we have discussed, Michimori deals with the aftermath of the battle of Ichinotani. Unlike the other two plays, though, this one deals primarily with the wife of the slain Taira warrior, and deals with romantic love, a subject largely unexplored in the previous No plays based from the Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Wars of the Gempei). In this particular play, the wrongful clinging that both Michimori and his wife Kiyotsuni experience is due to their romantic love for each other. This play is notable in the attention given to women who must mourn their husbands and share in the hardships of war, providing an unusual dramatic perspective of warfare.
In order to understand the uniqueness of Michimori it is necessary to detail its characters and plot. The characters in Michimori are a couple of monks, the ghosts of Michimori and his wife Kozaisho, and a local man. The play begins with a monk who is visiting the straights of Awa, reflecting on the temporary nature of life and the solace souls try to find. The spirits of the warrior and his wife reflect on the shuras the monks are chanting, as well as on the fall of the Heike and the suicide of Kozaisho, who drowned herself. Then the monks reflect on their desire that Kozaisho find enlightenment, as well as on their desire for Michimori and his enemy, who killed each other, to find mercy as well [32]. And so the play ends. Remarkable in this play is the amount of space that is given to the warrior’s wife, as well as to the importance of romantic love to Michimori and his wife. As these elements are unusual in Japanese warrior ghost plays, it is worthwhile to examine how the romance of this play influences the conception of war.

First, though, we should examine why the souls of Michimori and his wife are wrongfully clinging to this earth. For one, before the battle, Michimori shows unusual suffering for the fate of his wife after he believes he will die in battle (which he does, per the Heike Monogatari), a wife who is pregnant with their son. For another, the wife is shown to have lost hope in his return, and with that, all hope in her own life. It is the despair of both Michimori and Kozaisho for each other, not willing to live without each other [33] that brings both of them to despair and to the fate of wrongful clinging on the earth. The power of the love of Michimori and Kozaisho brings a certain poignancy to this play.

Also of note is the perspective of war provided by this play. The code of honor for warriors is clearly in evidence, as he and his enemy Kimura fought each other without any sort of mercy or any sort of personal hostility, both dying in the search of a worthy enemy, and both finding death in each others arms [34]. However, this very ‘masculine’ conception of warfare fought without emotion is counterbalanced by the emotion Michimori shows in finding it difficult to part with his beloved wife [35], as well as in the despair of Kozaisho as she drowns herself in sorrow [36]. This play is worthy of notice in the attention it pays to a woman and in the effect of war on the wives of warriors, providing a subtly critical view of warfare in examining the destruction it brings to families and marriages, even as it brings honor to the warriors (even if in death).

Tomokaira

Tomokaira is the fourth warrior ghost play that takes the Heike Monogatari as its source. In this particular play we see the remarkable loyalty between father and son and between a horse and his master. The play gives a unique perspective of a son sacrificing himself to save the life of his father in battle, and that of a horse that refuses to leave his master, even when it cannot find safety itself. As such, it is worthwhile to look at this play and what it says about the conception of war in Noh Drama, even though the authorship of this particular play is disputed, being attributed to Zeami, but without supporting documentation [37].

Tomokaira is distinctive as a Noh drama in that the father of the warrior ghost, Shin-junagon Tomomori (who was in charge of the Taira forces during their final defeats), is as important as that of the main character himself. In addition, the play is also distinctive in the importance it places on the character of the horse. The characters in this drama are a monk, a villager, and the ghost of Tomokaira. This play begins with a monk from the West seeking to visit the capital, who sees an inscription for Tomokaira, prays for him, and carries a conversation with his ghost. Instead of talking about him, though, they talk about his father and the horse who saved his father’s life. Then the ghost asks the monk to pray for his soul—the monk agreeing on the condition that the ghost tells more of the story, which again focuses on the father rather than the son, and on the father’s anguish at leaving his son die when the son had given up his life to protect his father [38]. In short, the action of this narrative play focuses on the commander of the Taira, rather than on the titular warrior of the drama.

Peculiarly among the Taira warrior ghost plays, the ghost of the warrior Tomokaira does not appear to suffer from wrongful clinging. However, the ghost of the warrior Tomokaira was condemned to Asura Hell immediately upon death [39], which would signify some sort of sin on the part of the ghost. Nonetheless, thanks to the prayers of the holy man the ghost finds peace and a release from bondage to this world [40]. While it is unclear what sins the ghost was guilty of in life (perhaps it involved killing, in which case all warriors in battle would be condemned to hell). At any rate, as is customary in these plays, the prayers of the Buddhist monks deliver the soul of the warrior ghost from torment and into peace. This trope (and it should be remembered that Zeami himself was a Buddhist monk late in life) could be seen as the triumph of religion over militaristic values, and the need for even brave warriors to be forgiven of their sins to find peace.

The focus in Tomokaira on the titular character’s father, and the father’s horse, rather than the character, is itself distinctive and unusual, and telling about the values of the warrior class of Japan as presented by the playwright. For one, the bond of loyalty between a retainer and his lord is a powerful one, powerful enough that Tomokaira is driven to risk his life to kill the chief enemy who threatened his father, even though it led to his own death at the hand of the retainer of the slain warrior [41]. Furthermore, the horse of Lord Tomomori also shows loyalty to his master, as the horse follows the boat where the Lord has found (temporary) safety, refusing to leave his lord [42]. Finally, we see Lord Tomomori himself show grief and shame for giving up his son’s life so easily, distraught over abandoning his dead son on the beach [43]. In short, the loyalty extends both ways, and adds to the appeal of this work, even if the Lord and not his son is the real focus of the narrative. This would indicate that loyalty to one’s lord is exemplary even among those who, like Zeami, seem to have had a complex view of war (was we have seen from the four Taira Warrior Ghost plays examined above).

The Enduring Relevance of the Tragic Fall of the Taira

It is clear from the works of diverse writers that the fall of the Taira, so long after the fact, remains well-remembered by a wide variety of authors. Given what we have seen so far in the Heike Monogatari, the history, and the Noh Dramas all seek to draw different lessons from the same events of the fall of the Taira. The Heike Monogatari views the fall of the Taira as an object lesson in how the mighty and proud fall, which would make the fall of the Taira an object lesson in morality. For the historians examined, the fall of the Taira is either an opportunity to criticize historial romances or an odd historial prelude to the opening of Japan to Western influence due to another battle in that same precise area. For the Noh dramas, the stories of Taira warrior ghosts allow an opportunity for the Buddhist faith to show mercy to worthy dead heroes as well as show the variety of ways in which even the bravest of souls may be damned. Let us examine these different uses of the fall of the Taira as we close.

For the Heike Monogatari, the fall of the Taira is an object lesson in morality about the temporary nature of success and the fall of the mighty from power into death and destruction. This point is made clear from the very beginning of the text, as the proud are compared to the dust before the wind, and the undoubtedly proud Taira themselves are compared to such short-lived Chinese figures such as the failed Emperor Wang Mang during the time of the Han, and An Lushan during the time of the T’ang, who all likewise failed because they disregarded moral admonitions and failed to recognize approaching difficulties and ignored the well-being of the nations they ruled over [44]. From this we may see that the Taira themselves serve as a picturesque example of the humiliation of the proud. That this particular text has served to inspire enduring dramatic works as well as historical accounts is testament to the skill of the author, even as the moral point of the tale is set out from the very beginning, very directly and openly.

For the histories, the fall of the Taira brings different lessons, as different as the historians themselves. For the historian William Elliot Griffis, writing during the period of the Meiji restoration in the late 19th century, the fall of the Taira due to the naval battle in the Straits of Shimonseki reminds him of the naval battle in 1863 where the combined fleets of England, France, the Netherlands, and the United States bombed and destroyed the city of Shimonseki, demonstrating the need for Japan to immediately open up to the world and learn from the military strength of the foreigners [45]. That is, the historical context of when Professor Griffis wrote led him to compare the two epic naval battles involving the same area, even given the wide span of time between the two events. For Professor George Sansom, writing in the period shortly after the Second World War, the same events are an opportunity to criticize the historical veracity of the romances like the Heike Monogatari concerning the number of warriors fielded on both sides, considering such large numbers to be impossible, thus reducing the significance of such events even as they are discussed, and even as the historian depends on those same sources for historical details [46]. In both cases, the historians have seen the past through the lens of the present (at the time of the historian, at least), in one case making an interesting comparison between the distant past and very recent past for the historian in a way that preserves the rich detail of the sources the historian draws upon. In the other example, the historian criticizes the very type of work he depends on for the events of which he writes. I will leave it to the reader to decide which approach is better.

For Zeami, the four warrior ghost plays attributed to him dealing with the battle of Ichinotani and its aftermath are an opportunity to provide a religious view on the warriors and upon the mercy of Buddha in forgiving these brave souls for sins and releasing them from eternal torment on this earth. Clearly, these plays all have heavy religious overtones relating to the eternal consequences of the actions of each ghost. For Michimori and his wife Kozaisho (who commits suicide after his death in despair), they are saved from earthly attachment (to each other) through the mercy of Buddha [47]. For the brave young warrior Tomoakira, his death at 16 while saving his father’s life in battle moves hardened warriors to tears, even as his actions as a warrior condemn him to suffering in hell [48]. For Atsumori, the horrors of war are dissolved in mutual harmony as the warrior who killed the young man with the flute became a monk and prays for Atsumori’s soul to be delivered from torment, showing the power of religion again triumphing over the power of the warrior [49]. And finally, for Tadanori, the wrongful clinging results from the desire to be made immortal through poetry, which the politics of the time prevented from happening under his own name [50]. In all of these cases, the power of religion is shown, as well as the importance of both art and war to the Japanese warrior of the time as described by the playwright Zeami. In all of these cases the history of the fall of the Taira is taken from the Heike Monogatari, and in all cases, there is the motive of expressing a religious viewpoint, but at the same time the history of the fall of the Taira remained relevant to playwrights many centuries after the events they described.

If we may compare the importance of the fall of the Taira in American history, the most apt parallel would appear to be the American Civil War. In both cases a group that had enjoyed power over nations saw its power destroyed by more aggressive and (in the eyes of the losers) less cultured opponents who were nonetheless more successful militarily. In both cases the “lost cause” was remembered through historical romances, histories, and dramas that told of the bravery of the doomed soldiers and their destroyed world with a sense of nostalgia, even as it told the account of the passing of that supposed golden age into oblivion. In some works, the horrors of war dissolve into the drama of reconciliation, as nations torn asunder by civil conflict seek to regain their wholeness once again. While the differences between the Gempei War and the American Civil War are certainly profound, the similarity of such conflicts and the way in which they are remembered allows the student of history to appreciate the importance of historical memory as mediated through romances and drama. By realizing similar situations in our own histories, we may appreciate the cultural excellence of the Japanese accounts of their own great civil war, which has remained to this day an enduring and popular era of history, still important for the student of Japanese history. It is only fitting, therefore, for us to close with the last words of Chapter Twelve of the Tale of the Heike: “Thus did the sons of the Heike vanish forever from the face of the earth [51].”

Citations

[1] William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 151-152.

[2] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 80-82.

[3] James Seguin de Benneville, transl., Tales of the Wars of the Gempei, Volume 1 (Yokohama, Japan: Bibliobazaar, 1910), 366.

[4] James Seguin de Benneville, transl., Tales of the Wars of the Gempei, Volume 1 (Yokohama, Japan: Bibliobazaar, 1910), 1.

[5] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 313-314.

[6] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 315-317.

[7] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 318-319.

[8] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 320-324.

[9] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 23.

[10] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 438.

[11] William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 135.

[12] William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 151-152.

[13] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 364-365.

[14] William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 151.

[15] George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 299.

[16] George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 299.

[17] George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 487.

[18] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), xxxviii-xxxix.

[19] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), xlii.

[20] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), 34-35.

[21] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), 115.

[22] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), 241-242.

[23] J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), 148-150.

[24] Royall Tyler, trans., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 2004), 37-48.

[25] Royall Tyler, trans., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 2004), 44-48.

[26] Royall Tyler, trans., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 2004), 37.

[27] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 264-265.

[28] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 266.

[29] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 267-276.

[30] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 265.

[31] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 265.

[32] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 43-64.

[33] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 39-40.

[34] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 62-64.

[35] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 62.

[36] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 42.

[37] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 73.

[38] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 76-94.

[39] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 94.

[40] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 94.

[41] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 94.

[42] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 82.

[43] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 90.

[44] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 23.

[45] William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 151.

[46] George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 299.

[47] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 40-41.

[48] Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 69-72.

[49] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 37-38.

[50] Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 265.

[51] Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 425.

Works Cited

Chifumi Shimazaki, Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater (Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series, 1993), 39-95.

George Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 299, 487.

Helen Craig McCullough, transl., The Tale of the Heike (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), 23, 313-324, 364-365, 425, 438.

J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu, trans., On the Art of the No Drama (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984), xxxviii-xxxix, xliii, 34-35, 115, 148-150, 241-252.

James Seguin de Benneville, transl., Tales of the Wars of the Gempei, Volume 1 (Yokohama, Japan: Bibliobazaar, 1910), 1, 366.

Royall Tyler, transl., Japanese No Dramas (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1992), 37-48, 264-276.

William Elliot Griffis, The Mikado’s Empire: A History of Japan form the Age of Gods to the Meiji Era (660 BC-AD 1872), (Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2006), 135, 151-152.

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