Plays DataBaseOhara Gokō (The Imperial Visit to Ōhara)

Ohara Gokō
Photo from National Noh Theatre

This takes place when the wars between two clans, the Genji (family name: Minamoto) and Heike (family name: Taira) were settled and the Heike Clan was defeated. Kenreimon-in (Nyo-in), a daughter of Taira-no-Kiyomori and also the mother of Emperor Antoku, survived, although her family was vanquished at the Battle of Dan-no-ura. Although Nyo-in tried to commit suicide by throwing herself in the ocean during the battle, some enemy warriors from the Genji clan pulled her out of the water and saved her life. After the war, she renounced the world and resided in a humble temple, Jakkō-in in Ōhara (located in the northeast of Kyoto), where she devoted herself to serving the Buddha, and praying for her the repose of her deceased family.

When spring is nearing its end and summer is just around the corner, her father-in-law, Retired Emperor Go-shirakawa (the father of Emperor Takakura), comes in his litter to visit Nyo-in. When His Majesty arrives, she is in the mountains with Dainagon-no-tsubone (her sister-in-law, a wife of Taira-no-Shigehira), picking flowers and branches of sacred star anise to offer to the Buddha, and gathering kindling and mountain vegetables.

Arriving at Jakkō-in, His Majesty and his attendants meet Awa-no-naishi (a child of the nursemaid of Retired Emperor Go-shirakawa, suckled alongside him) who lives with Nyo-in. As they learn that Nyo-in is away for the moments, they decide to wait for her to come back. Nyo-in and Dainagon-no-tsubone return. She sees His Majesty for the first time in years. When she expresses her appreciation for His Majesty’s unexpected visit, he asks her to explain the rumor that she has experienced the Six Realms (Hell and the five other realms, which are Hungry Spirits, animals, Asuras, humans, and heavenly beings). Nyo-in talks about her checkered past and tearfully narrates the final moments of the Heike Clan, including her son, Emperor Antoku, who drowned himself. It is regretful but the time has come and His Majesty must leave now. His Majesty’s litter returns to Kyoto. Nyo-in sees him off and quietly enters her small temple.

This masterpiece focuses on storytelling, which is one of the major attractions of Noh drama. Although this play involves many characters and its scenes change often, the entire story proceeds smoothly and quietly, and it maintains a state of undisturbed tranquility. Some people have compared this piece to an exquisite painting or illustrated narrative scroll. The calm of the atmospheric scenes makes a profound impression as the images appearing in your mind are advanced by the highly sophisticated narrative.

If possible, learning some of the obsolete vocabulary used in classical Japanese and improving listening skills will allow viewers to enjoy this piece more fully. What sort of fate befell the protagonist, Kenreimon-in, and what did she observe in her life? Her stories about the drowned young Emperor Antoku and the last moments of her family, the Heike Clan, express an emotion beyond mere sadness or loneliness; they invoke a sense of profound melancholy without end.

STORY PAPER : Ohara Gokō (The Imperial Visit to Ōhara)

Story Paper presents noh chant stories in modern speech, with story outlines, highlights and more using Adobe PDF format, which can print out and zoom in. Print out the pages and take them with you when you see the actual noh performance.

Ohara Gokō (The Imperial Visit to Ōhara) Story Paper PDF Sample

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