Summary of plays

Tied to a Stick (Boshibari)

Shite:  Jiro Kaja
Ado:    Master
Ado:    Taro Kaja

A master is unhappy because his two servants, Taro Kaja and Jiro Kaja always drink his sake when he is not at home. One day, he comes up with an idea.

He summons Taro Kaja and says he wants to discuss the best way to punish Jiro Kaja for some minor offence. Taro Kaja suggests that they have him demonstrate his favorite art of stick fighting and tie him to the stick. The master agrees and they summon Jiro Kaja. Jiro Kaja is eager to show off his skill and starts to strike poses with the stick. The master and Taro Kaja tie both his hands to the ends of his stick when he holds the stick on his back. Pleased with himself, Taro Kaja laughs and says that given a choice, he would rather have his hands tied behind his back instead. When he puts his hands behind his back to show what he means, the master sneaks up behind him and ties them together.

Having both his servants tied up, the master says that his intention is to keep them from stealing and drinking his sake while he is out. Then he leaves, satisfied with his trick. As soon as he is gone, the two servants find themselves even more thirsty than usual. In spite of their being tied up, they manage to get into the sake cellar and generously help themselves to the sake by taking turns to help each other drink. As they get increasingly drunk, they sing and dance for each other. (The dances are normally performed at drinking parties, but are more amusing here due to the adaptations they are forced to make as they are tied up.)

The master comes home at the height of their revelries, just when his servants are enjoying themselves singing a derisive song about him. The master stands behind them looking very angry, his face reflected in the sake cup. When the two servants look into the cup that is sitting on the floor between them, they are shocked. They think that it is their master’s vengeful ghost, but then they see that it is their flesh-and-blood master. The enraged master chases them off the stage while berating them.

The Washing River (Susugigawa)

Shite:  Husband
Ado:    Wife
Ado:    Mother-in-law

This play about how a henpecked husband tries to revolt against his bossy wife is a modern kyogen, adapted from a medieval French farce Le Cuvier (The Washtub) by Iizawa Tadasu (1909 – 1994) in 1952.

A henpecked husband is on his knees at a river washing clothes, and complaining bitterly to himself about how his wife and mother-in-law have been making him do many onerous chores. Just then, the wife appears, followed by the mother-in-law. The wife orders him to hurry up with the washing as she needs some flour ground; the mother-in-law demands that he draws water for her bath. The two of them continue to badger him to the point where he decides that he needs to draw a line. He asks them to write down all the chores they want him to do on a piece of paper and says that he will only do the listed chores and nothing else. The wife and mother-in-law agree.

The husband continues with the laundry when one of the wife’s favorite kimonos is washed away by the current. Chasing after the kimono, the wife falls into the river and cannot get back up. Both the wife and the mother-in-law shout for the husband to rescue her. The husband consults the list but says he cannot find that task written on it and refuses to budge. As the mother-in-law continues to plead with him, he finally agrees to help the wife on the condition that the two of them will henceforth acknowledge him as the head of the household and that they will do the household chores instead. The mother-in-law agrees. When he finally pulls his wife out of the water, things take a surprising turn…

The Owl (Fukuro)

Shite:  Yamabushi (Mountain Priest)
Ado:    Man
Ado:    Taro

A man is worried about his younger brother Taro because he has been acting strange since returning from an excursion to the mountains a couple of days earlier. The man decides to go visit his friend, who is a mountain priest, to request that he come to offer prayers to cure Taro.

The man’s arrival at the mountain priest’s house startles the latter, even though they are friends. Still, the mountain priest manages to quickly recompose himself and extends a warm welcome to his friend. When the man explains the purpose of his visit, the mountain priest says that he is in the middle of a special religious retreat, but that he will make an exception to leave home as the man is such a good friend. They set out immediately for the man’s home.

The man wastes no time in bringing Taro out when they arrive home. The mountain priest begins by taking Taro’s pulse in a strange manner – a special method for taking the ‘head pulse’, he explains. Then he carries out an extremely exaggerated preparatory ceremony, and starts the curing incantation. In response to the incantation, Taro begins hooting like an owl. The man then explains that when Taro went to the mountains recently, he knocked down an owl’s nest.

The mountain priest immediately senses that Taro has been possessed by the spirit of the angry owl. He starts praying. However, the more fervently the mountain priest prays, the more vigorously Taro hoots. He even starts to flap his arms as if they are wings. Exasperated, the mountain priest decides to invoke the terrifying spirit of the crow, but Taro’s malady only intensifies, and his elder brother too starts to act strange. After many attempts, the mountain priest falls to the floor in exhaustion. When he gets back to his feet, he finds that he too is possessed by the owl.







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