Sumida-gawa River (Noh play) (隅田川 (能))

"Sumida-gawa River" is a Noh play (classical Japanese dance theater). It is a work of Motomasa KANZE.

Generally a kyojomono (piece featuring a crazed woman) comes to a reunion and then to a happy ending. However, although the piece takes the form of a haru no monogurui (spring craze piece), it depicts the grief of a mother who has her only child, Umewakamaru, kidnapped by a human traficker and travels from Kyoto to Sumida-gara River in Musashi Province, only to discover the death of her beloved son.

The piece is performed by various schools, but different kanji characters are used (角田川) for the title when performed by the Konparu-ryu school.

Structure of the Play

Noh shite (main role): Kyojo (madwoman), mother of Umewakamaru
Kogata (child role): Spirit of Umewakamaru
Noh waki (supporting role): Ferryman of Sumida-gawa River
Wakizure (supporting role's companion): Traveler from Kyoto
An artificial burial mound is placed at the center back of the main stage (Kogata is inside)

The ferryman appears on stage announcing the final ferry service and saying that many will be gathering today for the mass prayer.
Wakizure performs a travel dance and says to the ferryman, 'I saw an interesting kyojo from Kyoto so let's wait for her.'

After a shout, the kyojo appears grieving over the loss of her child and dances the kakeri (a very active piece depicting madness). After the travel dance, the kyojo converses with the ferryman but sadly, the ferryman mocks her, saying "show me some good insanity, if you don't I will not carry you on the boat."

The kyojo remembers Narihira's poem, "If you are true to your name..." and replaces the lover in the poem with her own child, wailing incessantly while pointing at a black-headed gull (actually a seagull). The ferryman is moved and kindly lets her on the boat with the following words. "Such a kind kyojo, quickly come on board." "This sail is a important one, do ride quietly."

The kyojo asks why people are gathered around the base of a willow tree at the other side of the river. The ferryman explains that they are gathered for a mass prayer, and tells her the story of a pitiful child. There was a child from Kyoto who had been kidnapped by a humal trafficker and died there, after falling ill and being abandoned.
When asked for his name just before he died, he answered:
I am the only son of a certain Yoshida from Kitashirakawa, Kyoto.'
I was walking with Father and Mother but Father went on ahead, and I was kidnapped while I was just with Mother.'
I'm not going to make it, please make a mound at the side of this road where people from Kyoto must walk by, and bury me in it.'
And please plant a willow tree there.'
Hearing this very sad story the villagers built the mound and planted a willow tree, and decided to chant some prayers on this first death anniversary.

The kyojo realizes this mound is in fact the burial mound for her own child. The ferryman guides the kyojo to the mound so she can mourn. The kyojo wails and begs to see her child, even if it means digging up the grave. However, she is told by the ferryman that such action would be futile. Soon the prayers begin, and the sound of the kyojo's gong and the chorus' Namu Amidabutsu prayer chant for the dead) sadly linger on. Then, the voice of the beloved son chanting, 'Namu Amidabutsu' is heard. The chanting continues, and the kogata makes a brief appearance. However, with the dawning of the day all the mother finds in front of her is the weeds growing on the mound.

[Original Japanese]