Sotoba Komachi

Waley, Arthur

About the electronic version
Sotoba Komachi
Waley, Arthur
Creation of machine-readable version: Winnie Chan
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University of Virginia Library.
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   Japanese Text Initiative

Note: Footnotes in the print source have been moved to the end of the electronic document and numbered consecutively. For descriptive purposes, words or phrases preceding footnote markers in print source have been added to notes at the end of the electronic document.
About the print version
Sotoba Komachi
The No Plays of Japan
Arthur Waley

   1st Edition

Alfred A. Knopf
New York

   Prepared for the University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center.

Published: 1922

Revisions to the electronic version
August 1997 corrector Catherine Tousignant
  • Added milestones to correspond with TylSoto.

  • January 1997 corrector Winnie Chan
  • Added TEI header and tags

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    Page 113


        The legend of Komachi is that she had many lovers when she was young, but was cruel and mocked at their pain. Among them was one, Shii no Shoshoo, who came a long way to court her. She told him that she would not listen to him till he had come on a hundred nights from his house to hers and cut a hundred notches on the shaft-bench of his chariot. And so he came a hundred nights all but one, through rain, hail, snow, and wind. But on the last night he died.

        Once, when she was growing old, the poet Yasuhide asked her to go with him to Mikawa. She answered with the poem:

    I that am lonely,
    Like a reed root-cut
    Should a stream entice me,
    Would go, I think."

       When she grew quite old, both her friends and her wits forsook her. She wandered about in destitution, a tattered, crazy beggar-woman.

        As shown in this play, her madness was a "possession" by the spirit of the lover whom she had tormented. She was released from this "possession" by the virtue of a sacred Stupa 1 or log carved into five parts, symbolic of the Five Elements, on which she sat down to rest.

        In the disputation between Komachi and the priests, she upholds the doctrines of the Zen Sect, which uses neither scriptures nor idols; the priests defend the doctrines of the Shingon Sect, which promises salvation by the use of incantations and the worship of holy images. 2

        There is no doubt about the authorship of this play. Seami (Works, p. 246) gives it as the work of his father, Kwanami Kiyotsugu. Kwanami wrote another play, Shii no Shosho, 3 in which Shosho is the principal character and Komachi the tsure or subordinate.

        Seami also used the Komachi legend. In his Sekidera Komachi he tells how when she was very old the priests of Sekidera invited her to dance at the festival of Tanabata. She dances, and in rehearsing the splendours of her youth for a moment becomes young again.

    Page 114



    A Priest of the Koyasan.
    Ono no Komachi.
    Second Priest.


    We who on shallow hills
    4 have built our home
    In the heart's deep recess seek solitude.

    [ Turning to the audience. ]

        I am a priest of the Koyasan. I am minded to go up to the Capital to visit the shrines and sanctuaries there.

    The Buddha of the Past is gone,
    And he that shall be Buddha has not yet come into the world.

    Second Priest

    In a dream-lull our lives are passed; all, all
    That round us lies
    Is visionary, void.
    Yet got we by rare fortune at our birth
    Man's shape, that is hard to get;
    And dearer gift was given us, harder to win,
    The doctrine of Buddha, seed of our Salvation.
    And me this only thought possessed,
    How I might bring that seed to blossom, till at last
    I drew this sombre cassock across my back.
    And knowing now the lives before my birth,
    No love I owe
    To those that to this life engendered me,
    Nor seek a care (have I not disavowed
    Such hollow bonds?) from child by me begot.
    A thousand leagues
    Is little road

    Page 115

    To the pilgrim's feet.
    The fields his bed,
    The hills his home
    Till the travel's close.


        We have come so fast that we have reached the pine-woods of Abeno, in the country of Tsu. Let us rest in this place.

    [ They sit down by the Waki's pillar. ]


    Like a root-cut reed,
    Should the tide entice,
    I would come, I think; but now
    No wave asks; no stream stirs.
    Long ago I was full of pride;
    Crowned with nodding tresses, halcyon locks,
    I walked like a young willow delicately wafted
    By the winds of Spring.
    I spoke with the voice of a nightingale that has sipped the dew.
    I was lovelier than the petals of the wild-rose open-stretched
    In the hour before its fall.
    But now I am grown loathsome even to sluts,
    Poor girls of the people, and they and all men
    Turn scornful from me.
    Unhappy months and days pile up their score;
    I am old; old by a hundred years.
    In the City I fear men's eyes,
    And at dusk, lest they should cry "Is it she?"
    Westward with the moon I creep
    From the cloud-high City of the Hundred Towers.
    No guard will question, none challenge
    Pilgrim so wretched: yet must I be walking
    Hid ever in shadow of the trees.
    Past the Lovers' Tomb,
    And the Hill of Autumn
    To the River of Katsura, the boats, the moonlight.

    [ She shrinks back and covers her face, frightened of being known. ]

    Page 116

    Who are those rowing in the boats?
    Oh, I am weary. I will sit on this tree-stump and rest awhile.


        Come! The sun is sinking; we must hasten on our way. Look, look at that beggar there! It is a holy Stupa that she is sitting on! I must tell her to come off it.

        Now then, what is that you are sitting on? Is it not a holy Stupa, the worshipful Body of Buddha? Come off it and rest in some other place.


        Buddha's worshipful body, you say? But I could see no writing on it, nor any figure carved. I thought it was only a tree-stump.


    Even the little black tree on the hillside
    When it has put its blossoms on
    Cannot be hid;
    And think you that this tree
    Cut fivefold in the fashion of Buddha's holy form
    Shall not make manifest its power?


    I too am a poor withered bough.
    But there are flowers at my heart,
    Good enough, maybe, for an offering.
    But why is this called Buddha's body?


        Hear then! This Stupa is the Body of the Diamond Lord. 8 It is the symbol of his incarnation.


        And in what elements did he choose to manifest his body?

    Page 117


        Earth, water, wind, fire and space.


        Of these five man also is compounded. Where then is the difference?


        The forms are the same, but not the virtue.


        And what is the virtue of the Stupa?


        "He that has looked once upon the Stupa, shall escape forever from the Three Paths of Evil." 9


        "One thought can sow salvation in the heart." 10 Is that of less price?

    Second Priest

        If your heart has seen salvation, how comes it that you linger in the World?


        It is my body that lingers, for my heart left it long ago.


        You have no heart at all, or you would have known the Body of Buddha.


        It was because I knew it that I came to see it!

    Second Priest

        And knowing what you know, you sprawled upon it without a word of prayer?


        It was on the ground already. What harm could it get by my resting on it?

    Page 118


    It was an act of discord.


    Sometimes from discord salvation springs.

    Second Priest

    From the malice of Daiba . . .


    As from the mercy of Kwannon.


    From the folly of Handoku . . .


    As from the wisdom of Monju.

    Second Priest

    That which is called Evil


    Is Good.


    That which is called Illusion


    Is Salvation.

    Second Priest

    For Salvation

    Page 119


    Cannot be planted like a tree.


    And the Heart's Mirror


    Hangs in the void.

    [ speaking for Komachi. ]

    "Nothing is real.
    Between Buddha and Man
    Is no distinction, but a seeming of difference planned
    For the welfare of the humble, the ill-instructed,
    Whom he has vowed to save.
    Sin itself may be the ladder of salvation."
    So she spoke, eagerly; and the priests,
    "A saint, a saint is this decrepit, outcast soul."
    And bending their heads to the ground,
    Three times did homage before her.


    I now emboldened
    Recite a riddle, a jesting song.
    "Were I in Heaven
    The Stupa were an ill seat;
    But here, in the world without,
    What harm is done?"


    The priests would have rebuked her;
    But they have found their match.


        Who are you? Pray tell us the name you had, and we will pray for you when you are dead.


        Shame covers me when I speak my name; but if you will pray for

    Page 120

    me, I will try to tell you. This is my name; write it down in your prayer-list: I am the ruins of Komachi, daughter of Ono no Yoshizane, Governor of the land of Dewa.


    Oh piteous, piteous! Is this
    Komachi that once
    Was a bright flower,
    Komachi the beautiful, whose dark brows
    Linked like young moons;
    Her face white-farded ever;
    Whose many, many damask robes
    Filled cedar-scented halls?


    I made verses in our speech
    And in the speech of the foreign Court.


    The cup she held at the feast
    Like gentle moonlight dropped its glint on her sleeve.
    Oh how fell she from splendour,
    How came the white of winter
    To crown her head?
    Where are gone the lovely locks, double-twined,
    The coils of jet?
    Lank wisps, scant curls wither now
    On wilted flesh;
    And twin-arches, moth-brows tinge no more
    With the hue of far hills. "Oh cover, cover
    From the creeping light of dawn
    Silted seaweed locks that of a hundred years
    Lack now but one. Oh hide me from my shame."

    [ Komachi hides her face. ]

    [ speaking for the Priest. ]

    What is it you carry in the wallet string at your neck?


    Death may come to-day -- or hunger to-morrow.

    Page 121

    A few beans and a cake of millet:
    That is what I carry in my bag.


    And in the wallet on your back?


    A garment stained with dust and sweat.


    And in the basket on your arm?


    Sagittaries white and black.


    Tattered cloak,


    Broken hat. . .


    She cannot hide her face from our eyes;
    And how her limbs


    From rain and dew, hoar-frost and snow?

    [ speaking for Komachi while she mimes the actions they describe. ]

    Not rags enough to wipe the tears from my eyes!
    Now, wandering along the roads
    I beg an alms of those that pass.
    And when they will not give,
    An evil rage, a very madness possesses me.
    My voice changes.
    Oh terrible!

    Page 122

    [ thrusting her hat under the Priests' noses and shrieking at them menacingly. ]

        Grr! You priests, give me something: give me something. . . Ah!


        What do you want?


        Let me go to Komachi. 19


        But you told us you were Komachi. What folly is this you are talking?


    No, no. . . . Komachi was very beautiful.
    Many letters came to her, many messages, --
    Thick as raindrops out of a black summer sky.
    But she sent no answer, not even an empty word.
    And now in punishment she has grown old:
    She has lived a hundred years --
    I love her, oh I love her!


        You love Komachi? Say then, whose spirit has possessed you?


    There were many who set their hearts on her,
    But among them all
    It was Shosho who loved her best,
    Shii no Shosho of the Deep Grass.

    [ speaking for Komachi, i. e. for the spirit of Shosho. ]

    The wheel goes back; I live again through the cycle of my woes.
    Again I travel to the shaft-bench.
    The sun. . . what hour does he show?

    Page 123

    Dusk. . . . Alone in the moonlight
    I must go my way.
    Though the watchmen of the barriers
    Stand across my path,
    They shall not stop me!

    [ attendants robe Komachi in the Court hat and travelling-cloak of Shosho ]

    Look, I go!


    Lifting the white skirts of my trailing dress,

    [ speaking for Komachi, while she, dressed as her lover Shosho, mimes the night-journey. ]

    Pulling down over my ears the tall, nodding hat,
    Tying over my head the long sleeves of my hunting cloak,
    Hidden from the eyes of men,
    In moonlight, in darkness,
    On rainy nights I travelled; on windy nights,
    Under a shower of leaves; when the snow was deep,


    And when water dripped at the roof-eaves, -- tok, tok. . .


    Swiftly, swiftly coming and going, coming and going. . .
    One night, two nights, three nights,
    Ten nights (and this was harvest night). . .
    I never saw her, yet I travelled;
    Faithful as the cock who marks each day the dawn,
    I carved my marks on the bench.
    I was to come a hundred times;
    There lacked but one. . .

    [ feeling the death agony of Shosho ]

    My eyes dazzle. Oh the pain, the pain!


    Oh the pain! and desperate,
    Before the last night had come,
    He died, -- Shii no Shosho the Captain.

    Page 124

    [ Speaking for Komachi, who is now no longer possessed by Shosho's spirit. ]

    Was it his spirit that possessed me,
    Was it his anger that broke my wits?
    If this be so, let me pray for the life hereafter,
    Where alone is comfort;
    Piling high the sands
    Till I be burnished as gold. 22
    See, I offer my flower 23 to Buddha,
    I hold it in both hands.
    Oh may He lead me into the Path of Truth,
    Into the Path of Truth.


    [1: Stupa] Sanskrit; Jap. sotoba

    [2: In the disputation. . . holy images.] See p. 32.

    [3: Shii no Shosho] Now generally called Kayoi Komachi

    [4: on shallow hills] The Koyasan is not so remote as most mountain temples.

    [5: Like a root-cut reed. . .] See p. 113.

    [6: Who are those rowing in the boats?] Seami, writing c. 1430, says: "Komachi was once a long play. After the words 'Who are those,' etc., there used to be a long lyric passage" (Works, p. 240).

    [7: there are flowers at my heart] "Heart flowers," kokoro no hana, is a synonym for "poetry."

    [8: the Diamond Lord] Vajrasattva, himself an emanation of Vairochana, the principal Buddha of the Shingon Sect.

    [9: "He that has looked. . . Three Paths of Evil."] From the Nirvāna Sutra.

    [10: "One thought can sow salvation in the heart."] From the Avatamsaka Sutra.

    [11: an act of discord] Lit. "discordant karma."

    [12: Daiba] A wicked disciple who in the end attained to Illumination. Also called Datta; cp. Kumasaka, p. 63.

    [13: Kwannon] The Goddess of Mercy.

    [14: Handoku] A disciple so witless that he could not recite a single verse of Scripture.

    [15: Monju] God of Wisdom.

    [16: . . . Is Salvation] From the Nirvāna Sutra.

    [17: "Were I in Heaven. . . What harm is done?"] The riddle depends on a pun between sotoba and soto wa, "without "outside."

    [18: Tattered cloak. . .] The words which follow suggest the plight of her lover Shosho when he travelled to her house "a hundred nights all but one," to cut his notch on the bench.

    [19: Let me go to Komachi.] The spirit of her lover Shosho has now entirely possessed her: this "possession-scene" lasts very much longer on the stage than the brief words would suggest.

    [20: of the Deep Grass] Fukagusa the name of his native place, means "deep grass."

    [21: Piling high the sands] See Hokkekyo, II. 18.

    [22: gold] The colour of the saints in heaven.

    [23: my flower] Her "heart-flower." i. e. poetic talent.