a noh play by kanze motokiyo zeami

Hachiman River

translated by Ross Bender


Priest and Servants: We look up to the emperor's light,

We revere the imperial radiance,

The four corners of the empire are at peace.

(The priest faces front.)

Priest: I am Chikuba Nanigashi, priest at the Kashima Shrine. I have come up to the capital thinking to worship at all the shrines and temples of Kyoto. Having heard that this is the day of the southern festival, I am making my pilgrimage to Yawata.

(The priest and servants turn to face each other.)

Priest and Servants: Cloudless dawn o'er Miyako's mountains

Cloudless dawn o'er Miyako's mountains

Bracing tang of Mount Kowata

Fushimi is not far.

Following the narrow road to Toba

Crossing Yodo's Joined Bridge.

(The priest faces front)

Now we have arrived at Yawata village

Now we have arrived at Yawata village

Where the gracious god is worshipped.

Priest: Because we have hurried, we have arrived at Yawata village.

Let us serenely go to pay homage to the god.

(The servants go to the waki position and kneel there. An old man enters carrying a bucket and a staff, followed by his companion. They proceed along the hashigakari, the old man to the third pine and the companion to the first pine. They face each other.)

Old Man and Companion:

In the waves of the stream where living beings are released,

The moon too swims in the autumn waters.

(They face front.)

Even in the piney wind on the night mountain

The god's voice of compassion is heard.

(They enter the stage, the old man to the shoza, the companion to the center (mannaka)

Old Man: To govern the country and teach the people,

To praise the good and do away with the bad

These are the marks of an age of proper government.

Old Man and Companion: (facing each other)

Therefore the knowing will more and more receive

the blessing of this god

And even the ignorant will receive his compassion.

One's virtuous acts will bless the descendants;

The effects of one's good and evil deeds

Are like a cloud

Or the reverberations of a voice.

That the way of the imperial light is broad

That in the sea of the Bodhisattva's Vow

Sea creatures and all living things

Live in abundance

Is solely due to the divine efficacy

Of this shrine.

I have been serving for many years

At the pleasure of the august god

Making my pilgrimage.

Illuminating the Emperor's reign

The tsuki bow of Yawata Mountain

Illuminating the Emperor's reign

The tsuki bow of Yawata Mountain

The body of the god is the rain from the sky

That moistens the soil

The gentle wind in the pines

That does not trouble the branches

The voice of a thousand ages

That inspires our worship at this shrine

That inspires our worship at this shrine

(The old man and companion change places, the old man going to stage center (mannaka) and the companion to the Waki Shomen. The priest stands and faces the old man.)

Priest: Now, I will inquire of this old man.

Old Man: What is it you would ask of me?

Priest: Today is the day of the Yawata Festival, and everyone is in spotless ceremonial array. Among them only this one old man is carrying living fish; it seems he intends to kill them, and this is indeed strange.

Old Man: It might well seem strange to you, especially if you know the meaning of this shrine's festival.

Priest: I am from a distant province, and this is the first time I have made this pilgrimage. I don't know the particulars, but I have heard the festival is called Hojoe.

Old Man: Yes, and the Hojoe is a festival of releasing living beings. See this fish, a living thing...

Servant: Is to be released into the Hojo River. You should not be blamed for your ignorance.

Old Man: If we hear what the ancients said...

Old Man and Companion: "Expedient acts of killing have been far transcended by the divine acts of the Bodhisattva." Thus if we release living things, and set free this fish, we, by contrast, shall not slip through the net of the Bodhisattva's vow; we shall look up to the god's compassion.

Priest: That is indeed an edifying teaching. But what is the history of the practice of releasing living things?

Servant: In the subjugation of other provinces many of the enemy were killed. Therefore the god made the vow of releasing living beings as an act of benevolence.

Priest: It is indeed edifying to hear this tradition. Where is the river where living beings are released?

Old Man: See-- it is this little stream. And though its waters are muddy...

Priest: The vow of divine virtue is clear. Iwashimizu ...

Old Man: In the end both are one. On this river's ...

Priest: Banks, we see...

Old Man: In the bucket...

Chorus: Saying, "Let us release this fish that has been trapped,

"Let us release this fish"

The sleeves and the hem of his garment are wet

He scoops the water with his hand

And by itself the fish goes down to the river bottom

In its joy it waves its fins

Cuts through the water

And moves the lotus flowers in the shade of the bank

Thus the fish cavorts, and in this scene

We contemplate the miraculous work

Of the Bodhisattva's Vow to release living beings.


Priest: Now would you kindly tell us more about this shrine?

(The old man goes to the center stage and sits down.The companion goes to the place in front of the chorus and sits, and the priest also sits.

Chorus: The origin of this shrine was in the ancient past, during the reign of Emperor Kimmei. After the passing of a hundred years the god moved to this mountain.

Old Man: Thus, as the imperial ancestral deity

Chorus: He protects the imperial reign, and aids the state

He causes both the literary and martial paths to flourish

Yawatayama of the ninefold capital

In the god's name the character "eight"

Old Man: Shows that Buddhas appear in the world

That the world is essentially empty

Chorus: That the world's essential nature is neither born nor dies --

This is the eightfold noble path

Human nature and the Buddha nature are not distinct

The gods protect those who are upright in heart.


Chorus: "Before foreign lands, our land;

Before foreign peoples, our people."

How gracious the compassion

Of the god who has vowed it.

He enlightens our wretched and bewildered hearts

His vow enlightens our eyes

He shed his light on the priestly sleeve

Of the monk Gyokyo

Saying he would protect the flowery capital

Where the moon shines brightly on Otokoyama

He shone his light on Gyokyo's robes.

Now this imperial ancestor's traces

Are manifest in the correct way

Of the emperor's reign.

The land is rich

The people flourish

Ships bring tribute from foreign lands

Waves on the four seas are still.

Old Man: Oh the vow that brings blessings to the multitudes

Chorus: In this world and the world to come

The divine virtue flourishes.

The pines stand on Otokoyama

And the wind that blows through the treetops

And through the grass

Are the reverberations of the reality

Of the god.

In the kagura on the mountain peak

In the kagura in the villages below

With penitent hearts they awake from the dream

The night voices grow more solemn

The moon shines on Iwashimizu

Ah, the profundity of the vow

Ah, the profundity of the vow.

Chorus: How strange that this old man

How strange that this old man

Who has been telling us in such detail

As though in response to the command of a god...

Old Man: I have been serving for many ages since antiquity

At this shrine

More than two hundred springs and autumns have passed

Chorus: Receiving the blessing of the god

I am the god Takeuchi."

Thus introducing himself

Leaning on his dove-headed cane

He ascended the mountain

He ascended the mountain

(The old man exits, followed by his companion. At this point there is a kyogen interlude explaining the play thus far and recounting other myths of the shrine. It explains that the origin of the shrine was in a vow made by the Empress Jingu after the subjugation of Korea, and that it was first held because of an oracle at the Hachiman shrine in Yoro 4.)

Usa Hachiman Jingu, photo by Yukiharu Kai






see also:

The Bow of Hachiman


The Hachiman Cult and the Dokyo Incident

The Political Meaning of the Hachiman Cult in Ancient and Early Medieval Japan