War dances in translation

Today I helped Udaka Norishige one of my teacher’s sons, with a Noh workshop at Iori Machiya in Kyoto. I don’t know much about the background of the workshop itself, as I only came upon request of Norishige-sensei, and my only duty was that of interpreting. The group of 18 people who participated to the workshop was mostly composed of Israeli and British citizens. Some of the Israeli participants were actually members of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, where director Ninagawa Yukio is currently working on an adaptation of the Trojan Women with a mixed Israeli-Palestinian-Japanese cast. 

At the end of the workshop, which was very well received by the enthusiastic participants (we were flooded with questions!) Udaka Michishige danced a shimai, while Norishige-sensei and I sang as a small chorus. The piece was Yashima, which I also recently performed in Matsuyama.

Yashima ô-kassen (八島大合戦, The Battle of Yashima) by Hayashi-ya Shôgorô

The Noh Yashima (second category, warrior plays) tells the story of the homonymous battle that took place in the late 12th century at Yashima Island, (present Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture). Yashima is one of the most important battles of the Genpei War between the rival Minamoto and Heike clans. In Yashima the ghost of General Minamoto no Yoshitsune appears in front of a travelling monk and re-enacts various phases of the battle. Although the play Yashima is one of the three kachi-shura or ‘winning Noh’ (the other two being Tamura and Ebira), the tone of the play is far from being celebratory of the Minamoto victory. Death and killing is on both sides and as the chorus describes how, end of the battle, warriors scatter away like seagulls, while the ghost of Yoshitsune disappears in white foam, as the wind sweeps the desolate battlefield.

I wanted to write more in this post but I think I have actually said enough. Today I did my best.

Yashima island (image from the Samurai Archives)