The Sumida River
A translation prepared by the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai
Reprinted from Japanese Toh Drama by the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai,
published by the Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc.,
Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan.
Chorus How far I have come from home!
Sumidagawa belongs to that division of the Fourth Group plays known as kyojomono or ' mad woman' piece. When they are bereaved mothers, the heroines in this division are represented as abnormally sensitive and peculiarly susceptible to their surroundings, and fall into fits of poetic exaltation which ex?presses itself by frenzied gestures. When their lost ones are found, their tem?porary madness leaves them. In this particular piece, however, the heroine discovers her lost child to be dead and the play ends on a tragic note, not usual in ' mad woman ' pieces.
The scene is laid on both banks of the river Sumida and on the river itself. The place where the incident is supposed to have occurred is situated on the river near the present Asakusa in Tokyo which was then open country. As the Sumida ferryman is about to row across, a traveller appears, who asks to be ferried over, and is followed shortly after by a distraught mother who, for many months, has been seeking her only child. It is a spring evening. At the sight of white birds floating here and there on the river, the mad woman recalls a poem in the he Monogatari, which awakens in her a frenzied longing for her child, which finds dramatic expression in a kakeri dance.
The scene that follows takes place on the ferry. Questioned as to the meaning of the solemn chanting across the river, the ferryman tells the traveller that on that very day a year before a kidnapped boy was struck down by sudden illness, and was left by the slaver to die on the roadside. The kindhearted villag?ers who subsequently buried him on the bank of the river are now hold?ing a memorial service for the repose of his soul. Hearing the sad story, the mad woman guesses that the child is indeed her longsought boy and that she has reached the end of her quest. In the concluding scene the grieving mother is led to a grassy mound by a willowtree under which the child was buried, and is asked by the villagers to lead their prayers to Amida Buddha. While they are chanting, the child repeatedly appears before her eyes, only to fade away every time she attempts to clasp him in her arms. Finally as dawn breaks, the ghost vanishes for ever into the mound, leaving her disconsolate.
Author: Juro Motomasa (13951459), son of Zeami Motokiyo.
Source: None has as yet been ascertained. It seems likely that the
author based his plot on some ancient legend or contemporary
Ferryman of the Sumida River
Traveller from Miyako
Mother, a Mad Woman
Ghost of Umewakamaru, her Child
Place Sumida River, Musashi Province
Waki Wakizure Shite Kokata
Stageattendants place a framework mound covered with willow branches in front of the Orchestra, in?side which the ghostchild is hidden.
While the entrance music nanoribue is being played, the Ferrymanof the Sumida River enters the stage and stands at the Shite Seat. He wears a striped kimono, suo robe and trailing divided skirt.
Ferryman I am he who rows the ferry across the Su?mida in the province of Musashi. Today I must quickly ferry people across the water be?cause we are holding a solemn memorial service1
1 The tomb of Umewaka is in the precincts of the Mokuboji, a small temple on the left bank of the river Sumida, roughly opposite the present Asakusa. Since the temple is believed to have been built after the present play became popular, it is very doubtful the tomb is really that of Umewaka.
for someone at the village on the other side of the river where both priest and laymen are gathering in great numbers. Mark this well, all of you !
While the entrance music shidai is being played, the Traveller from Miyako enters with a mush?room hat on. He wears a striped kimono, kakesuo robe and white broad divided skirt.
Traveller To the far Eastland I am bound, shidai To the far Eastland I am bound ;
Tedious days of travel lie before me. Chorus To the far Eastland I am bound ;
jidori Tedious days of travel lie before me.
Traveller I come from Miyako. I have a friend in the Eastland and now I am going there to visit him.
michiyuki Behind me wrapt in clouds and mists Lie the mountains I have crossed, Lie the mountains I have crossed. Many a barrier have I passed through, Many a province have I traversed. Here lies the farfamed Sumida, And now I have reached the ferry, And now I have reached the ferry. Travelling in haste, here I am at the Sumida ferry and over there I see a ferryboat about to leave. I will make haste and board it. Hi boatman ! I want to get in your boat.
Sits down in front of the Chorus.
Removes his hat.
Puts it on again.
Removes his hat.
Ferryman All right sir ! Get in. But first may I ask you what is the meaning of that unusual noise from where you have just come
Traveller It is a crazy woman from Miyako and peo?ple are amused by her mad dancing.
Ferryman Then I will delay the ferryboat for a while and wait for the mad creature.
While the entrance music issei is being played, the Mother appears and stops on the Bridgeway by the First Pine. She wears a Fukai mask, wig, painted goldpatterned underkimono, embroidered koshimaki outerkimono, broadsleeved robe. She has on a mush?room hat, and carries a spray of bamboo.
Mother " Although a mother's mind sashi May be unclouded,
She well may lose her way
Through love of her child."1
How true that is !
Where does my darling stray
Shall I ask these travellers
Does he know Tiis mother's grief
" Does not the skyey wind Chorus Whisper to the waiting pines "2
The Mother advances on to the stage and per
Sits on the Waki Seat to the right of the Praveller.
1 Poem by FujiwaranoKanesuke contained in the Gosenshu.
Poem by Lady Kunaikyo included in the Shin Kokinshu. In its complete form it reads:
Has he (the lover) not heard the saying,
That even the wind blowing
Through the upper regions of the sky
Does not disdain to visit the pine The word ' pine ' has a double meaning of ' tree ' and ' pining heart.'
forms a kakeri dance. Mother In this world fleeting like the dews
Upon Makuzu Field,1 Chorus Should I thus pass my days
Complaining of my bitter day Mother For many years I lived sashi In Miyako, at KitaShirakawa2 ;
Then suddenly I lost my only child,
Kidnapped by a slaver.
They told me he was taken
Beyond the Osaka Barrier3
Eastwards, to faroff Azuma,4
Since when with mind distraught
I wander on my desperate quest,
Torn by longing for my boy.
Chorus " Though he be a thousand miles away
sageuta --'Tis said--a mother ne'er forgets her child"5
ageuta And yet the bond of parenthood
Cannot survive the grave,
Cannot survive the grave.6
Ah ! Woe is me
That even in this world I must be parted from him
Like the " four young birds that left their : nest."7
1 Field at the foot of Higashiyama Hill in Kyoto, where there is now Maruyama Park.
Eastern suburbs of Miyako.
3 See Tamura, p. 34, note 1.
1 I.e. Eastland. See Tamura, p. 23, note 1.
?' Quoted from a poem by Po Chui which more exactly reads : " A parent may go a thousand miles from home, but he never can forget his child."
G Due probably to a Buddhist theory it was currently believed that the bond between parent and child lasts only during the present life while that between man and wife endures for two lives.
7 Allusion to a conversation between Confucius and Yen Hui (SifEJl) found in the Words and Deeds of Confucius (flf'Mnll) where it is told that once, very early in the morning, Confucius was sitting with his disciple Yen Hui. Hearing very mournful cries, the master enquired what they were, whereupon the
Will my weary quest end here Now I have reached the Sumida, Now I have reached the Sumida That flows between Musashi and ShimSsa. Mother Pray, boatman. Let me get into the boat. Ferryman Where are you from and where are you going Mother From Miyako I have come in search of
Ferryman Since you are a woman of Miyako and mad to boot, I will not take you aboard unless you amuse us with one of your crazy dances. Mother What a clumsy way of speaking ! Since you are the Sumida ferryman, you should have answered, " Come on board, for the day is spent,"1
Yet you refuse a passage To me, a city lady. How illbecoming a Su?mida boatman To speak so rudely ! Ferryman How like a woman of Miyako to use such
elegant language !
Mother Your words remind me of the poem Narihira once composed at this very spot. " O, birds of Miyako, If you are worthy of your name,
pupil replied that they could not be lamentations over the dead, and told him the story of a bird which had built its nest on Mt. Hanshan. When the four young birds it had reared had grown up and prepared to leave the nest, the motherbird had uttered heartrending cries not unlike those they were now hearing. Upon enquiring from the neighbour it turned out that the master had died and that in order to defray his funeral expenses, the family had been obliged to sell one of the children into slavery, and were now about to part from him for ever. Confucius praises his pupil for his keenness in distinguishing voices.
1 Quoted from the he Monogatari, chap, viii, where Narihira, the supposed author, describes his travels through the Eastland in search of a place to settle in, after his life in Miyako had become too unpleasant. The chapter ends with his crossing the river Sumida.
Tell me, does my love still live 'n O, boatman, yonder is a white bird not found in Miyako. What is its name Ferryman It is a seagull.
Mother How unpoetical ! By the sea you may call it a gull or a plover or whatever you will, but here by the Sumida river why not " Miyakobird" Ferryman Truly I was in the wrong !
Living in this famous place
'Twas thoughtless of me,
Instead of Miyakobird, Mother To call it seagull. Ferryman So Narihira long ago Mother Asked, " Is she still alive " Ferryman Remembering his lady in Miyako. Mother Moved by like yearning,
I am seeking my lost child
In the Eastland.
Ferryman To long for a sweetheart, Mother To seek after a lost child, Ferryman Both spring Mother From love.
Chorus O, Miyakobird, I too will ask you,
ageuta O, Miyakobird, I too will ask you,
Is my dear child still living
Somewhere in the Eastland
I ask and ask, but it will not answer.
Oh, rude Miyakobird !
I'll call you ' rusticbird.'
" By the River Horie
1 Quoted from the same. ' Miyakobird ' is a poetic name for seagull.
Turns towards the right.
The Mother turns owards the Waki 7ront.
Where boats hurry past each other, Miyakobirds utter their cries: 'n There at Naniwa in the West, Here by the Sumida in the East-How far I have come from home ! But, pray, O boatman, Let me come on board. Though crowded be your boat, O, let me too on board, I pray ! Ferryman So sensible a mad woman I never saw. Be quick and come aboard. This is a dangerous crossing ; please take care and sit still. You too, traveller, get in.
Traveller Why are all those people gathered together over there, under that willowtree
Ferryman They are holding a solemn memorial service connected with a sad tale which I shall tell you while the boat is crossing to the other side.
katari It happened last year, on the fifteenth of the
third month ; yes, and this is the very day on which it happened. A slavetrader was on his way to the Northeast, taking along with him a boy he had bought--a tender lad some twelve years old. Wearied out by the un?accustomed hardships of the road, the boy was seized with a mortal illness. He was so weak, he said he could not drag himself a step farther, and lay down on the bank. What heartless men there are in this world !
1 Poem by OtomonoYakamochi contained in the Manyoshu.
She goet to the First Pine and touching the brim of her hat gazes into the distance.
Returning from the Bridgeway, she goes up to the Ferryman and dropping the spray of bamboo, joins her hands in supplication.
Slips his right arm out of his kimono and picks up his pole.
The Mother re?moves her hat and hold?ing it in her left hand, steps forward as if getting into a boat and sits down. The Traveller sits side?ways behind the Moth?er while the Ferry?man stands at the back and plies his pole.
The slaver abandoned the boy by the roadside and went on his way.
But the people of this neighbourhood, judg?ing from his appearance that the lad was of gentle birth, nursed and tended him as best they could. But perhaps because of his karma, he grew worse and worse. When he was at the point of death, we asked him, " Where were you born, who are you " :' I was born in Miyako--he replied--at KitaShirakawa, the only child of Lord Yoshida. My father being dead, mother and I lived alone. Then I was kidnapped and now am brought to this pass. Please bury me here by the roadside, so that passersby coming from dear Miyako may at least cast their shadow over my grave : and plant a willowtree in memory of me." He said these words, calmly, like a man ; invoked Amida Buddha several times, and died. What a pite?ous happening !
There may be some people from Miyako in this boat. Let them offer prayers for the repose of his poor soul, even if they are not relations of the dead lad. Look ! While you were listening to my long and tedious tale, the ferry has reached the bank. Make haste and land !
Traveller I will surely remain here today and though I had nothing to do with the lad, I will offer up a prayer for him.
Ferryman Come, my mad creature there ! Why not get out of my boat Hurry ! How tender?hearted of you to shed tears over such a story.
The Mother weeps.
Going to the Waki Seat, addresses the Ferryman and then sits down.
Turns and looks at the weeping Mother.
Please get out of the boat quickly ! Mother Boatman, when did the event you have just
told us take place Ferryman It took place last year, in the third month,
on this very day.
Mother What was the lad's age Ferryman Twelve. Mother His name Ferryman Umewakamaru. Mother And his father's name Ferryman Lord Yoshida. Mother Since then have neither of his parents been
Ferryman Nor any of his kin. Mother Much less his mother !
Ferryman No, that would have been out of the question. Mother No wonder, neither kin nor parent came. He was the child This mad woman is seeking. Is this a dream O cruel fate !
Ferryman Who on earth could have dreamt of such a thing Until now I thought it was none of our business. The boy was your child. You are to be pitied ! Now let me show you where the boy is buried. Please come with me.
Ferryman This is the grave of your dead child. Pray
for his soul's repose, as only you can do. Mother I had hoped against hope To find my child
Turns to Ferryman.
Lets fall her hat and weeps.
Puts away his pole and standing behind her, helps her out of the boat, then takes a few steps towards the mound.
Goes to the Waki Seat and sits down.
Moves to the left, half facing the mound
And now I have reached strange Azuma, He is no more upon this
earth ; Naught but this mound
remains. O, how cruel ! Was it for this that he was born, To be taken from his native land, To the remotest part of Azuma, Only to become dust by the roadside Does my dear child truly lie beneath this
Chorus O you people there,
sageuta Dig up the sod
So that I may once again Gaze on his mortal form. ageuta He whose life was full of promise is
gone, He whose life was full of promise is
gone, And she whose life is worthless left
Before the mother's eyes the son appears And fades away
As does the phantom broomtree.1 In this griefladen world Such is the course of human life. The winds of death Scatter the springtime flowers of life ; The clouds of mutability
Half rises and fixes her eyes on the mound.
The Mother lurm towards the Ferry?man and moves her hand as if to dig, then subsides on to the stage 2nd weeps.
1 Mythical tree shaped like a broom said to have stood in a village called Sonohara on the boundary between Shinano and Mino Provinces. It had the mysterious property of being seen clearly from afar, but of disappearing when anyone approached closer.
O'ercast the shining moon
That should light up the endless night of
life and death.1
Now my eyes see how fleeting is this life, Now my eyes see how fleeting is this life.
Ferryman Your tears no longer serve ; chant but your prayers for his repose in the other world.
The moon has risen.
The river breeze is blowing,
The night is at its height,
'Tis time we began our night prayers.
Asking her to join them
They start to beat their gongs. Mother O'erwhelmed by grief
The mother cannot say her prayer,
But prostrate weeps upon the ground. Ferryman This is not as it should be. However many people may gather together, it is a mother's prayers that will rejoice her dead child.
So saying he hands the gong to the
mother. Mother You say true--
I'll take the gong
For my child's sake.
Ferryman Ceasing her moan, in a clear voice Mother She prays with them under the shining
Stands up, holding a disclike gong and a wooden hammer.
Striking his gong, turns towards the Mother.
After giving her the gong and hammer, he takes his place in front of the Chorus.
Rises and faces the mound.
1 The full moon is likened to Sakyamuni who dispels the darkness of ignorance and enlighte mortal minds.
Ferryman Her thoughts wing straight To the Western Land of
Bliss. Ferryman and Mother
Adoration to countless
million Buddhas-Each one Amida In the Western Paradise,1 The world of supreme bliss ! Chorus Namu Amida ! Namu Amida !
Namu Amida ! Namu Amida ! Mother From the Sumida Join in the voices Of the breeze and waves. Chorus Namu Amida ! Namu Amida !
Namu Amida ! Mother True to their name
Miyakobirds join the choir. Ghost and Chorus
Namu Amida ! Namu Amida ! Namu Amida !
Mother Surely just now among them I heard my child's voice. He seems to be praying inside this mound.
Ferryman We, too, have heard your child. We shall keep silent; say your prayer alone.
Turning towards the mound, join their hands in prayer.
The Mother beats the gong, accompanying the invocation.
Faces the Front audience.
The voice of the Ghost of L'mewakamaru is heard from in?side the mound.
Ceases to beat her gong.
1 Lungshu Jodomon (fGfffJIUlX Collection of Texts relating to the Western Paradise, edited in Lungshu by a man of the Southern Sung dynasty) states that seeing an aged couple assiduously repeating the nembutsu prayer and using a bagful of seeds to mark the number of repetitions, Sakyamuni was filled with pity at their pious device, and taught them a better means of doing so by saying: " Namu to the thirtysix trillion, one hundred and nineteen thousand five hundred Amida Buddhas of the Western Paradise, all having the same name and title."
Mother O that I might hear his voice but once
Namu Amida !
Ghost Namu Amida ! Namo Amida !
Chorus See, his voice and shape !
The Ghost of Umewakamaru comes out of the mound and stands in front of the Waki Seat. He wears a flowing blackhair wig, white broadsleeved robe and white twill kimono.
Mother Is it you, my child
Ghost Is it you, my mother
Chorus And as she seeks to grasp it by the hand,
The shape begins to fade away ;
The vision fades and reappears
And stronger grows her yearning.
Day breaks in the eastern sky.
The ghost has vanished ;
What seemed her boy
Is but a grassy mound
Lost on the wide, desolate moor.
Sadness and tender pity fill all hearts,
Sadness and tender pity fill all hearts !
Turns towards the mound and strikes the gong
Turns towards the Mother.
The Mother drops the gong and hammer and runs up to the Ghost, who retreats and reenters the mound. Dazed and weeping, she looks up and moves two or three steps towards the Shite Pillar. The Ghost reappears and stands at the Shite Seat. With stretched arms the Mother runs towards it, and attempts to embrace it, but as the Ghost retreats again into the mound, the Mother falls, clasping the empty air. Rising again she ap?proaches the mound, gazing at the willowbranches, then, discon?solate, retreats slowly to the Shite Pillar and re?mains there weeping.