Kinuta (Noh) (砧 (能))

Kinuta is a Noh play which is said to have been created by Zeami. It was created in the Muromachi period. The name of the play appears in the "Sarugaku Dangi" (Talks about Sarugaku) and a performance by Onami was recorded in the "Tadasugawara Kanjin Sarugaku-ki." The play, which depicts the sadness of a wife left at home during her husband's absence and uses the theme of late fall, verse and fushizuke (melody) to express melancholy, has been popular since early times.

The title 'Kinuta' means a wooden or stone block for pounding cloth to make it soft and bring out the luster. The heroine's strong emotions are expressed through the pounding of the kinuta.

Development and usage

The motif of the kinuta together with the element of the fan in fall symbolize the loneliness of a forgotten woman and her grudge against the person who forgot her. The symbols first used in the piece were later developed in the sokyoku (koto music) Kinuta amongst other works. In addition, the terms 'kinuta' and 'kinuta utsu' (to beat the cloth) have been used as kigo (season words) in haiku (Japanese seventeen-syllable poems). Although 'kinuta' and 'kinuta utsu' directly refer to the tool called the kinuta and the action of pounding the kinuta respectively, the words are used to evoke the touching sentiment of the Noh play.

In the 1960s the composer Hiroshi OGURI used the play as inspiration when he composed the piece of music 'Toi' (Pounding Cloth) for soprano, piano and tsuzumi (hand drum). On the strong recommendation of a conductor, Takashi ASAHINA, the music was later revised to be for soprano and orchestral music, and it was played at "Fall in Osaka" International Contemporary Music Festival in 1969.

Structure of the Play

In the style of play called Fukushiki Mugen-Noh, at first a seemingly mysterious person appears on the stage, and then is found to be a ghost at the end of the first part. In the latter section, the character appears again in a form that makes the audience imagine what he was like before death. Unlike in Fukushiki Mugen-Noh, in Kinuta the heroine appearing on stage in the opening scene dies at the end of the first part, and then appears again as a ghost in the latter part. Kinuta adopts a style combining Genzai Noh, which deals with human dramas in the real world, and Fukushiki Mugen-Noh.

Note: sentences cited here (usually shown in italics) are quoted from the yokyoku (Noh song) text. Although the quotations were referenced from the "Yokyoku Taikan" (a complete anthology of Noh plays), some characters have been converted into modern Chinese characters and punctuation marks have been added for readability.

The first section

Noh shite (leading role): Wife of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya
Noh tsure (companion): Yugiri, maid of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya
Noh waki (supporting role): Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya, resident in Ashiya, Chikuzen Province

Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya living in Kyoto calls his maid, Yugiri, and says as follows.
It has already been three years since I came here for the lawsuit.'
I have been away from home for a long time.
So, return home ahead of me to tell my wife that I will be back to Ashiya and Chikuzen Province at the end of this year.'
Yugiri leaves for Kyushu following his order. When she arrives in Ashiya in Chikuzen Province and asks a servant to take her at the residence of Mr. So-and-so, the wife of Mr. So-and-so enters the stage from the hashigakari (bridge-form passageway). The wife says that Yugiri does not need to ask to be escorted. She lets Yugiri in, telling her to come over to her. She then complains that she has not heard from her husband for years. Yugiri says that he wanted to return home but stayed in Kyoto for three years against his will because he was busy with the imperial court service. The wife complains about her lonely rural life and then the jiutai (Noh chorus) sings of the wife's feelings, saying as follows.
I was left with only memories, and nothing is left of what we had before.'
If there were no lies in the world a word might have been sufficient to make me happy, but I am a fool to wait for my husband, relying on his word that he will be back soon.'

The sound of pounding a kinuta is then heard (tsuzumi performance on the stage).
When the wife asks, 'What is that sound?,' Yugiri says, 'This is the sound of a kinuta pounded by the villagers.'
The wife says as follows.
It is told that long ago in China, when a man named Wu SU was abandoned in a country where the people were of a difference race, his wife and children at home climbed a koro (high tower) and pounded a kinuta because they were concerned about the cold at night in the place where he was.'
The sound reached Wu SU's ears though he was far from home.'
This is because of the strength of will of his wife and children.'
I, too, will calm myself by using the kinuta to express my loneliness.'
Yugiri says, 'The kinuta is pounded by people of low position, but if it calms you down, I will prepare one for you.'
Both of them sit in front of the artificial kinuta brought by a koken (guardian), and then pound it while singing a song saying 'I pound the kinuta of bitterness to send my feelings.'

As the wife pounds the kinuta, she begins to be carried away by the strength of her feelings and starts to dance to the emotionally-rich poetic verse chanted by the jiutai.

She says, 'It is fall now, and I pound this to send a wind from the west to Kyoto far away, from the place of the woman whom you are not interested in.'

If my heart reaches him and my husband dreams of me, please don't end the dream.'
I wonder who would wear this clothing if the dream ends.'

My cry of sorrow blends with the singing of the insects, and tears trickle down in the stormy night.'
Which is the sound of a tear falling, and which is the sound of the kinuta?'

When her feelings of desolation reach a peak during the dancing, the maid Yugiri stands up to pass a message to her that she has just received, and says as follows.
I don't know how to say this, but…'
The news has come from Kyoto just now that he will not come home at the end of the year.'
The heroine says, 'Oh, hoping for his return home at least at the end of the year, I have restricted my feelings and waited for him, but he has truly had a change of heart and forsaken me.'
With this, she falls ill to bed and dies before long.

Aikyogen (comic interlude in Noh)

Kyogen aikyogen: Servant of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya

The servant of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya appears on the stage.
He says, as a prelude:
It has been three years since Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya went to Kyoto.'
Though he worries about his home, he cannot return.'
So, he sent a maid called Yugiri home to deliver the message that he will return at the end of the year and his wife was overjoyed.'
To soothe her feelings of impatience in waiting for him, together with Yugiri she pounded the kinuta usually only pounded by village women.'
She kept her spirits up by doing so, but when she heard that he could not come home at the end of the year, she said something abnormal like 'I bet he had a change of heart,' and in the end she died.'
Learning of his wife's death the master soon returned home from Kyoto and his grief was great.'
Since she cannot be restored to life he will hold a memorial service, offering up the kinuta pounded by his wife just before her death.'
Go now to the funeral to express your condolences.'
Making this announcement he then leaves the stage.

The latter section

Nochi shite (leading role in the latter half of a Noh play): the ghost of the wife of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya
Waki (supporting role): Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya, now resident in Ashiya, Chikuzen Province
Waki tsure (companion to the supporting role): the sword bearer of Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya

Mr. So-and-so of Ashiya appears on the stage along with his sword bearer and says as follows.
Oh, it is such a pity.'
Blaming me for my three-year absence resulted in eternal separation.'
Let's listen to the dead, by plucking this azusayumi (a bow made of Japanese cherry birch) string.'
As he clasps his hands in prayer, his wife's ghost comes over the hashigakari (bridge-form passageway) to the main stage. At this point, the ghost (nochi shite) has a worn-out look with a cane, wearing white clothing and a mask called a deigan (a Noh mask with mud in the eyes) on her face.
She starts to chant, 'I am in a miserable plight, having sunk into the Sanzu no Kawa (river crossed by the dead to reach the nether world).'
Perhaps this is the result of my evil and dirty karma, but I am being beaten with a kinuta in hell for having not waited for my husband peacefully.'
Oh, how I regret having had a paranoid obsession with him before my death,' she says.
Suffering from the pangs of her conscience, she has no voice when she tries to scream, and cannot hear the sound of the kinuta, but she can hear only her reproaching voice.'
So the jiutai chants the horror of the karmic paranoid obsession.

The wife's ghost then covers her ears and refuses to listen to the reproachful voice, and begins to dance.
It is embarrassing to show my affection and hatred for you.'
After our marriage, my beloved, I hoped that we would stay together for many years to come, but our marriage vows were not enough and you told a lie that destroyed my hope.'
It is heartless,' she presses him hard.
Even a crow, such a great liar, would not tell such a lie.'
Even plants and flowers or beasts and birds have hearts.'
A man named Wu SU sent a letter home from far away, tying it to a goose.'
This was because he had deep love for his family.'
How about you?'
I pounded the kinuta in the coldness of the night, but I wonder if you remembered me while awake or in your dream.'
I feel so bitter.'
She cries her heart out. When her husband clasps his hands in prayer, the shite is free from the paranoid obsession and then dances joyfully. The jiutai chants, saying as follows.
The power of the Hokke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra) opens the way to a peaceful death.'
The flower of the Hokke-kyo Sutra bloomed amid the sound of the kinuta.'
It became a seed of bodhi (enlightenment).'
The story then ends with the peaceful death of the shite.

[Original Japanese]