Ataka is a Noh piece covering "Gikeiki" (a military epic about the life of Yoshitsune) and so forth. It was accomplished in the Muromachi Period. Writer unknown. One theory holds that it was written by Kojiro Nobumitsu KANZE. But the earliest performance ever recorded was in 1465, which means it was the work when he was fifteen according to the latest findings that Nobumitsu was born in 1450, and it is not convincing. It depicts an anecdote that MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune and his servants were stopped at the Ataka barrier station by a barrier keeper on the way they fled to the Oshu area, and Benkei read out a false kanjincho (a prospectus to gather donation for establishing a temple), which led them to get away from the situation. It is a classic of Yoshitsunemono (plays about MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune) which later expanded to joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a shamisen accompaniment), kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors) and so forth.
Structure of the Play
The anecdote that Yoshitsune and his servants disguised as yamabushi (mountain priests) and headed for Oshu is based on "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East), "Genpei Seisui ki" (Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and the Taira clans), "Gikeiki" and so forth. But the scene of reading out kanjincho at the Ataka barrier was seen in this work for the first time, and this seems to be the writer's original. There are a lot of highlights; the tension of the dialogue between Benkei and Togashi; the splendor of reading out kanjincho; the scene that a limping yamabushi (Yoshitsune in fact) is suspected when they pretend to get away, and Benkei hits his own master hard with a cane; Benkei's dance at the very last feast scene and so forth.
Although it is a one-act without intermission, it can be separated into five scenes; 'Trip to Ataka,' 'Reading out kanjincho,' 'Thrashing Yoshitsune,' 'Dialogue between the master and the servant getting out of trouble' and 'Feast after Togashi runs after them.'
The storyline is described here based on these. This Noh is 'Noh kyogenkata (Noh farce act),' in which kyogenkata (comic actors) join the plot of the play from beginning to end.
Noh Shite (main role): Musashibo Benkei
Noh Waki (supporting role): Barrier keeper of the Ataka barrier station, a certain Togashi
Kokata (child's role): MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune
Omoai (main role of the Kyogen play in the Noh play): Goriki (carrier) accompanying Yoshitsune and his party
Adoai (supporting role of the Kyogen play in the Noh play): Tachimochi (sword bearer) as a Togashi's servant
Tsure (accompanying roles) (9 Doyama [group of yamabushi]): Yoshitsune's servants
Trip to Ataka
A certain Togashi, who is in charge of the Ataka barrier in Kaga Province, appears. He leaves an order to inform him if yamabushi pass because Yoshitsune and his party are on the run in the costume of yamabushi, and moves to waki-za (secondary actor's seat).
Now Yoshitsune, Benkei, other servants of Yoshitsune and Goriki, 12 men in total appear in the costume of yamabushi from the hashigakari (bridge-form passageway to the main stage).
They sing a famous utai (Noh song) starting with 'travelling clothes are suzukake (clerical garment).'
It's a song saying that they left the capital on February 10, passed through the Osaka Barrier to Omi, crossed Lake Biwa to Kaizu by ship, crossed Mt. Aruchi to reach the seashore of Kei (present Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture), passed Echizen Province, and arrived Ataku in Kaga Province in the flower season.
In that place, they hear the news that a new barrier has been established there and that yamabushi are investigated, and they talk over how to pass it.
Against a strong opinion to break it through, Benkei advises, 'Though it is easy to break through this barrier, it is best not to make a scene now, thinking about the further travel.'
Yoshitsune tells that he will leave it to Benkei. Then Benkei says to Yoshitsune, 'Please carry the baggage of Goriki on your back, and follow us with a weary look at the tail end,' and he orders the real Goriki to see the situation.
The Goriki returns and says, 'They are guarding the barrier in great state.'
The party heads for the Ataka barrier with Yoshitusne, who carries the baggage on his back and has sore feet in the tail end.
Reading out kanjincho
When they arrive at the barrier, Togashi starts questioning.
Benkei answers, 'We are priests dispatched to the Hokurikiudo area on a mission to reconstruct Nara Todai-ji Temple.'
And he asks why they stops yamabushi in particular, at this barrier. Togashi answers this.
Yoshitsune, who fell out with MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, has left the capital in the costume of yamabushi, relying on FUJIWARA no Hidehira in Oshu.'
This is to block them.'
The sword bearer, Togashi's servant says this.
We killed three yamabushi yesterday.'
Benkei says the following and talks about the origin of yamabushi.
If we are to be killed, we should do our last duty.'
The attendant yamabushi joins it in unison. Lastly, he makes threats as follows.
If you kill yamabushi, you will receive butsubachi (Buddha's punishment) from Kumano Gongen Deity.'
Togashi says this.
If you are real yamabushi, you must have "kanjincho".'
Read it aloud.'
Benkei talks to himself, 'how could we possibly have kanjincho?'
However, he takes out a scroll he has with him, and starts to read it out loud pretending to be a kanjincho. Its contents are as follows.
Feeling a regret that the sacred ground of Vairocana (which means Todai-ji Temple), which Emperor Shomu's beloved wife established, is to be ruined, Chogen SHUNJOBO visits various regions for kanjin (collecting contribution).'
If contributing even just a little, you will get extraordinary comfort in this world, and will sit on the thousands of lotuses (in the paradise) in the after life.'
The way he reads aloud is so brilliant that the officers at the barrier are surprised and feared, and decide to let the party pass.
Togashi gives a order when Yoshitsune tries to pass at the end.
The yamabushi party becomes unsettled by the emergency that their master is suspected, but Benkei holds them back and asks a question.'
Why do you stop this Goriki?'
Togashi answers this way.
Someone says that the Goriki looks like Sir Hogan (Yoshitusne's alias).'
Hearing this, Benkei tells the following to Yoshitsune, and hits him by a cane.
We are trying to go to Noto Province by today.'
You are suspected just because you teeter.'
I will give you a good thrash with the kongozue (a big walking stick used by a mountain priest in his training).'
When Togashi tries to stop him, Benkei reviles.
You had an eye on someone with baggage, like a thief.'
The attendants are also ready to stand up, saying as follows.
You are so coward as to draw a sword against Goriki.'
Togashi is afraid of their force and lets them pass the barrier, saying this.
I was wrong, so please go through.'
Dialogue between the master and the servant getting out of trouble
Away from the barrier, Benkei offers a Shogi (folding stool) to Yoshitsune, and apologizes.
I apologize for the actions I took to try and get us out of this unexpected difficulty.'
It's shameful that you were out of luck and even hit by my cane.'
Then Yoshitsune answers as follows.
You are mistaken.'
Your quick wit was God's help.'
The earlier severe thrashing cannot be a maneuver of you alone.'
It was revelation of Hachiman Daibosatsu (Great Bodhisattava Hachiman).'
Though he is moved with this, Benkei says as follows.
Even though it is a degenerate world, how could I hit the master.'
I will receive divine punishment.'
Yoshitsune starts to sing, 'It was a mysterious experience that we got out of trouble today,' and his servants all shed tears. Yoshitsune further says as follows.
I was born in a samurai family, followed the order of Yoritomo, went after the Taira family, fought them at the Saikai (Seto Inland Sea), camped out in the fields and mountains, and destroyed the enemy.'
But such allegiance has become in vain.'
I know that a wish cannot be realized in this world, but honest people suffer and those who slander gain power.'
Does God or Buddha not exist?'
(Jiutai [Noh chorus] and kokata sing on the stage)
Feast after Togashi runs after them
The scene is back at the Ataka barrier. At the hashigakari, Togashi calls and orders the sword bearer to go ahead to tell the yamabushi that he wants to give them sake. The sword bearer hurries and catches up, and tells the Goriki there as follows.
I've got sake for you as an apology for our rudeness.'
Tell your colleagues that Master Togashi will soon come here.'
Benkei says the following when the Goriki tells that to him.
But we will see him.'
And he welcomes Togashi coming later.
Benkei realizes this.
He must intend to put us off our guard by sake.'
He cautions his colleagues against being suspected.
Drunken, he starts to sing, 'It is interesting to float a sake cup on the mountain water.'
Benkei was originally a geino-so (a priest who takes charge of performing arts) for Ennen (singing and dancing performed by priests and pages after Buddhist services in temples, which started from the middle of the Heian era) at Enryaku-ji Temple. He sings a passage from Ennen, 'a waterfall sounds,' and fills Togashi's cup with sake. Togashi, in response, says that he'd like to see the Ennen dance. Then Benkei dances (generally otoko-mai [male dance]).
It's the following utai from an Imayo (late-Heian-era popular ballad), starting with 'a waterfall sounds, and it never dies even though the sun shines.'
Leave quickly. Do not trust the barrier keeper.'
We are leaving. Good-bye. We feel that we have finally survived a dangerous situation, and head for the Mutsu Province.'
Leave quickly. Do not trust the barrier keeper. We are leaving. Good-bye.
We feel that we have finally survived a dangerous situation, and head for the Mutsu Province.'
And they fled to the Mutsu Province.
Expand to posterity
"Ataka," the Noh play, later expanded to various theater works and kodan storytelling.
Kabuki "Kanjincho": It was performed for the first time in 1840, and it is one of the kabuki juhachiban (eighteen best plays of the Ichikawa family of kabuki actors). Ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater) "Kanjincho": It was performed based on the Kabuki piece for the first time in 1895.
Kodan storytelling "Kanjincho in Ataka"
Film "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail"
Amateur Kabuki "Gidayu (style of reciting dramatic narratives) Kanjincho": It is a new act of Amateur Kabuki in Komatsu City.
Difference to "Kanjincho" and its background
This story is more famous as "Kanjincho" in Kabuki or Ningyo joruri (also called bunraku) rather than as "Ataka" in Noh play. However, there is a big difference between them. As mentioned in the section of "Kanjincho," Togashi is one of the main characters of the story in "Kanjincho," but Benkei is basically one and only main character in "Ataka." This is due to the historical backdrop. In the Edo Period, breaking through a barrier was a felony, and even the barrier keeper (Togashi in this case) was subject to severe punishment. On the other hand, in the Muromachi Period when "Ataka" was believed to be accomplished and in the Kamakura Period in the story, it was not so serious crime and the control of gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods)by bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) was not so strict. And in the Edo Period, Noh play was not modified so much as Shikigaku (the music and plays for official ceremonies). Therefore the image of Togashi in "Kanjincho" as 'a compassionate person who was touched by Benkei's worship for his master and let Yoshitsune and his party pass without regard to the possibility that he would be subject to punishment' was not added to "Ataka."