Ama (Noh play) (海人 (能))

Ama ('海人' otherwise written as '海士') is a Noh play (classical Japanese dance theater). Although it has been said to be a work of Zeami, due to the fact that Zeami himself has written that a part of the play was 'the tune of Konparu ("Sarugaku Dangi," Zeami's talk on his own art),' there is speculation that a Noh piece with this title already existed at his time.

It is a play dramatically written based on the history of Shido-ji Temple in Sanuki Province and the legend of the Fujiwara clan. Materials for this play include the story of the birth of FUJIWARA no Fusasaki, a legend that a lady from Fujiwara clan became the empress of Tang (China), the folklore about a diver retrieving a stolen treasure from the bottom of the sea and Fusasaki's donation to Shido-ji Temple.

It is one of the more popular Noh plays with the main plot about a mother who wishes for her son's success even at the cost of her own life, with added religious elements such as Nyonin Jobutsu (attainment of enlightenment by a woman) through Hokke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra).

Tama no dan' (column of Tama), the climax of this play, is filled with realism and is frequently performed as an independent shimai (Noh dance in plain costume). There are also many Kogaki which are variant performances with special effects.

In terms of considering how Noh relates to other performing arts Ama is a valuable play, due to the commonalities that can be seen with the Kowaka-mai (story-telling with a simple dance) "Taishokukan" and the shi-sho (context of a poem or a book with musical components) at the end which is seen in historical stories. There are quite a few other works in other genres (such as the jiuta [traditional songs with shamisen accompaniment] "Tamatori ama" [Pearl Fisherman]) based on this play.

Structure of the play

The first part tells the story of Fusasaki no Otodo (FUJIWARA no Fusasaki) who, on hearing that his mother he had lost during childhood had come from Shidotsu, Sanuki Province, visits there to perform religious rites for the repose of her departed soul; there, he meets a female diver from the area who tells him that she is his mother and how she had retrieved 'Menko huhai no tama' (an oval treasure that shows the frontal figure from any angle) which was stolen by the Palace of the Dragon King; this is followed by the aikyogen (comic interlude) where an inhabitant of Shidotsu recounts the story that was told in the first part; and in the latter part Fusasaki's mother appears as Ryunyo (a form that a woman must turn into in order to rest in peace) and thanks Fusasaki for the memorial service featuring the Myohorenge-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra) he is performing in honor of her.

First Half

Noh shite (main role): Diver
Noh shite: Fusasaki no Otodo
No waki (supporting role): Fusasaki's retainer
No waki: Fusasaki's two retainers

Thirteen-year-old Fusasaki no Otodo visits the land of Fusasaki, Sanuki Province, where his mother died. His pilgrim with his retainers (Waki and Wakizure [companion appearing with the supporting actor]) through Nara, Settsu Province, Awaji Province and Naruto are recited, and they reach Shido no ura (Shido Bay). When the retainer says he wants to know the history of this land, a female diver appears. The diver says in a soliloquy, 'I live near Shido-ji Temple, but I destruct life, which is against the teachings of Buddha. And this land is not fit to cultivate furyu (splendor) to the mind like Ise and Suma. But I cannot keep on saying such things.
I must work.'

When the retainer says 'Could you please pick seaweed from the bottom of the sea?" she replies, 'If you are hungry, please have the seaweed I have in my hands.'
The retainer says, 'That is not what I meant.
The seaweed gets in the way when my master wants to see the moon reflecting on the ocean.'
On hearing this, the diver says with deep emotion, 'Something like this happened, a long time ago.
I was told to go fetch an orb from the bottom of the ocean.'
The retainer asks her to tell the story of that occasion, and she begins to tell the following story.

When the younger sister of the present Otodo Tankaiko (FUJIWARA no Fuhito) was to become the empress of Tang, three treasures were sent to Koufuku-ji Temple from Emperor Gao Zong (Tang). Among them, the "Menko huhai no tama (a strange oval treasure that always reflects the frontal image of Shaka from every angle)" was stolen in this land by the Palace of the Dragon King. Otodo disguised himself and came to this land to retrieve the treasure, and he married an amaotome (a female diver).
The baby born on this occasion was Fusasaki no Otodo.'
On hearing this, Fusasaki answers, 'I am that very Fusasaki no Otodo.
I came here because I was told my mother was a diver in Shido no ura.'
The diver continues to tell the story of how the orb was retrieved.

Moves and steps according to Noh-jiutai (Noh chorus) begin with the words, 'Given a promise that her son would be made a successor if the treasure was retrieved, she jumped into the ocean without a care for her own life.'

Tama no Dan (Column of Tama)

There was but one sky, she weaved through clouds of wavese and smoke of waves, deeper and deeper into the sea,' until finally reaching the Palace of the Dragon King, where the oval treasure was mounted on top of a 90-meter-tall pagoda. Around the pagoda are Hachidai Ryuo (Eight Dragon Kings), evil fish and alligators. When she jumped into the palace with a dagger in one hand and dedicating prayers to Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Buddhisattva) in Shido to please help her, the dragons retreated in an instant. She took the opportunity to steal the oval treasure and made her escape, the dragons in pursuit. Since the dead are abhorred in the palace, the diver cut the bottom of her breast, hid the treasure, and collapsed at the bottom of the sea; not one being came near. She tugged hard at her lifeline and those above the sea pulled up the rope, and the diver floated to the surface. Otodo grieved and mourned on seeing the wounded and breathless diver, but with her dying words, 'look around my breast,' he found the Menko huhai no tama in her wound. The diver died in this way, but her son became Fusasaki no Otodo.

On finishing her story the diver says, 'I am your mother, the ghost of that diver. Please read this letter and perform religious rites to repose my departed soul,' and hands him a letter and disappears into the morning sea.


Waki: Fusasaki's retainer
Kyogen aikyogen (comic interlude in Noh): A local (inhabitant of the land)

When the retainer says to an inhabitant of the land who was passing by, 'Tell us if you know the story of the diver who retrieved an orb from the sea,' the inhabitant answers, 'The daughter of Mitsunori, the Taishokkan (Holder of the Grand Crown) from Nara who was Lord Tankai's younger sister, was very beautiful and became the empress of Emperor Gojong. The three treasures were sent from Tang, since Koufuku-ji Temple of Nara was Mitsunori's daughter's Uji-dera Temple (temple built for praying clan's glory). Among them, the inhabitants of the Palace of the Dragon King wanted to steal Menko huhai no tama, but they were unable to do so because the boatmen were very capable. But, they finally stole it near this bay. Tankai no Otodo was disappointed, and came to this land in disguise; he married an amaotome and had a son, and through many promises, he was able to retrieve the orb owing to the diver. The island where he first saw the orb was named Shinju-jima Island.
Also, the baby born on this occasion was referred to as Fusasaki no Otodo from the name of this bay,' and the inhabitant says, 'Why do you ask such a thing?'

The retainer answers 'The person here is the very Fusasaki no Otodo. He is going to hold Buddhist memorial service known as kangenko (pipes, strings, and preaching) to mourn for his mother, so please gather those who perform kangen (gagaku piece without dance).
And, for seven days, stop the destruction of life.'
The inhabitant of the land leaves, promising to spread the word.

Second Half

Noh shite: Ryunyo
Noh shite: Fusasaki no Otodo
No waki: Fusasaki's retainer
No waki: Fusasaki's two retainers

The retainer advises Fusasaki to read the letter which was handed to him by the female diver. Fusasaki opens the letter. It says: 'For thirteen years, I have been in the darkness of the world of the dead without anyone to mourn me.
If you are thoughtful, please help me out of this darkness.'
When the Jiutai sings 'Perform good deeds by reading the Myohorenge-kyo Sutra and through various Buddhist memorial services,' the diver from the previous half appears as ryunyo.
She starts to dance along the sutra saying, 'A gracious mourning, please continue reading the Lotus sutra.'
Soon it becomes 'mai-goto' (instrumental dance) and she gives thanks for her jobutsu (die peacefully) through 'the merit of the sutra,' and with the dance to the Jiutai singing, 'Ryunyo has died peacefully. It is because of the filial deeds of Fusasaki no Otodo that this temple is named Shido-ji, and this land a place flourishing in Buddhism with the annual Buddhist memorial services by hailing the Lotus Sutra and devotional exercises performed in mornings and evenings,' the play ends.

[Original Japanese]