Course of
Linguistics and Literature

Professor NISHIMURA Satoshi (Japanese Language and Literature)

[Theme] Fantasy Noh and Madness Noh

I study medieval Japanese literature and especially Nogaku (a general term for Noh and Kyogen). Nogaku is a composite art, so it can be studied from various angles such as music, fine art, physical education, or education. However, my approach is from literature and history. It is customary to refer to the verses of Noh (the text attached to each section mark) as "youkyoku" (Noh songs). Complete collections of Japanese classic literature will always include at least one or more volumes called a "youkyoku-shuu" (Noh song collection). The term "youkyoku" did not exist during the time of Zeami who penned many Noh songs. Zeami instead referred to them as "Noh no hon" (Noh books). When I searched the "Toyotomi Hideyoshi-fu" (penned in 1658) at the Kanazawa Municipal Tamagawa Library Archives to find out when the word "youkyoku" came into use, I found two examples. There was one example that predated either of these; however, the kanji was in this case read as "utahi." Therefore, these are the earliest examples of "youkyoku" in use.

Allow me to explain about the nature of Zeami's Noh. Zeami perfected a style form known as a form referred to as "Mugen Noh" (the Noh of fantasy) in which the lead role is that of a ghost who alternately reminisces of his former life and speaks of his suffering after death within the dreams of a monk (the supporting role). The significance of having the lead role as a ghost is recognized as something that allows us to perceive the entirety of the character's life. Until life ends, there is no way to understand what the brightest and darkest memories or events will be from the life that will linger on after death. For instance, the time spent longing for the missing Arihara Narihira was the essence of life for the woman in "Izutsu," while in "Yashima," Yoshitsune maintains his image as a strong military commander. Neither of these characters break free of their obsessions and thus their burials have no effect. As ghosts, they are not fearsome to behold or unsettling, rather they appear (as worded by Zaemi) in the forms of a beautiful woman and a dashing soldier. This is not their form in hell or the realm of Asura but their "self" within their own memories. In other words, the story of these beautiful and dashing ghosts' lives are presented through the format of Mugen Noh. This is the secret of the universality of Noh, which has been performed for 600 years.

In "Sumidagawa," which was written by Zeami's son Motomasa, there is a verse in which a mother driven mad by the death of her young son, who was kidnapped by slave traders and died along the banks of the Sumida River, comes along and joins the prayers of local people on her son's death anniversary and is reunited with his spirit. All the other "Monogurui" Noh (madness Noh) besides "Sumidagawa" are highly valued for the perception of the Middle Ages and their tragic endings compared to those in which both parties are reunited while alive. Although feeling moved while watching these plays is all fine and well, but being reunited with a spirit even on its death anniversary is not realistic. One of things we must explain is why all of the madness Noh including "Sumidagawa" feature such miraculous meetings. Motomasa continued to write about such miracles in his other plays; therefore, you could say that there is a need to rethink the concepts by which his work is appreciated.

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