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arts and art forms of Japan
Noh theatre

The Japan-India Traditional Performing Arts Exchange Project 2004
Noh and Kutiyattam – “Treasures of World Cultural Heritage"

Sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, The Japan Foundation and the Government of the State of Kerala.
Supported by the Embassy of India in Japan and the Indo-Japanese Association

December 26, 2004 – January 4, 2005     [click for the program]

A classical Japanese performance of Noh, that combines elements of dance, drama, music and poetry into one highly aesthetic stage art, will take place for the first time ever in Kerala on December 27, 2004, in the Kuthambalam, Vyloppilly Samsriti Bhavan, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum).

The famous Umewaka Kennokai troupe with Norinaga Umewaka, the eldest son of the current head of the troupe, Muzaburo Umewaka as the main actor, will stage "Hagoromo" [The Feather Robe], the most popular of all Noh plays and also the most frequently performed, both in Japan and abroad, as it is considered an unparalleled example of what man considers as pure and beautiful.

The text source of "Hagoromo" [The Feather Robe, The Feathered Cloak, The Feather Mantle] is a legend and the author of the original Japanese drama, written in the 15th century, is not known.
The English text version of the Japanese literary work may be helpful to understand the happenings on the stage. To present two versions of translation in a comparing way may highlight the difficulties of translating the Japanese text into English as well as the poetic and aesthetic potential of the plot.

"Noh" or Accomplishment:
a Study of the Classical Stage in Japan

Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa
MacMillan London 1916
The No Plays of Japan

Arthur Waley
Alfred A. Knopf New York 1922

A Play in one Act


A Fisherman. [Hakuryo]
A Tennin. [Angel]
            click to enlarge

Yoshimasa Kanze in "Hagoromo"
© Kanze Yoshimasa/
Aoki Shinji


Hakuryo (a Fisherman).
Another Fisherman.
  click to enlarge

Shite (celestial maiden)

The plot of the play Hagoromo, the Feather-mantle, is as follows: The priest finds the Hagoromo, the magical feather-mantle of a Tennin, an aerial spirit or celestial dancer, hanging upon a bough. She demands its return. He argues with her, and finally promises to return it, if she will teach him her dance or part of it. She accepts the offer. The Chorus explains the dance as symbolical of the daily changes of the moon. The words about "three, five, and fifteen" refer to the number of nights in the moon's changes. In the finale, the Tennin is supposed to disappear like a mountain slowly hidden in mist. The play shows the relation of the early Noh to the God-dance. Note On Hagoromo.

The story of the mortal who stole an angel's cloak and so prevented her return to heaven is very widely spread. It exists, with variations and complications, in India, China, Japan, the Liu Chiu Islands and Sweden. The story of Hasan in the Arabian Nights is an elaboration of the same theme.

The No play is said to have been written by Zeami, but a version of it existed long before. The last half consists merely of chants sung to the dancing. Some of these (e. g. the words to the Suruga Dance) have no relevance to the play, which is chiefly a framework or excuse for the dances. It is thus a No of the primitive type, and perhaps belongs, at any rate in its conception, to an earlier period than such unified dramas as Atsumori or Kagekiyo. The words of the dances in Maiguruma are just as irrelevant to the play as those of the Suruga Dance in Hagoromo, but there the plot explains and even demands their intrusion.

The libretto of the second part lends itself very ill to translation, but I have thought it best to give the play in full.

Windy road of the waves by Miwo,
Swift with ships, loud over steersmen's voices.
Hakuryo, taker of fish, head of his house, dwells upon the barren pine-waste of Miwo.
A Fisherman
Upon a thousand heights had gathered the inexplicable cloud. Swept by the rain, the moon is just come to light the high house.
A clean and pleasant time surely. There comes the breath-colour of spring; the waves rise in a line below the early mist; the moon is still delaying above, though we've no skill to grasp it. Here is a beauty to set the mind above itself.
I shall not be out of memory
Of the mountain road by Kiyomi,
Nor of the parted grass by that bay,
Nor of the far seen pine-waste
Of Miwo of wheat stalks.
Let us go according to custom. Take hands against the wind here, for it presses the clouds and the sea. Those men who were going to fish are about to return without launching. Wait a little, is it not spring? will not the wind be quiet? This wind is only the voice of the lasting pine-trees, ready for stillness. See how the air is soundless, or would be, were it not for the waves. There now, the fishermen are putting out with even the smallest boats.

Loud the rowers' cry
Who through the storm-swept paths of Mio Bay
Ride to the rising sea.


I am Hakuryo, a fisherman whose home is by the pine-woods of Mio.


"On a thousand leagues of lovely hill clouds suddenly close;
But by one tower the bright moon shines in a clear sky." 
A pleasant season, truly: on the pine-wood shore
The countenance of Spring;
Early mist close-clasped to the swell of the sea;
In the plains of the sky a dim, loitering moon.
Sweet sight, to gaze enticing
Eyes even of us earth-cumbered
Low souls, least for attaining
Of high beauty nurtured.
Oh unforgettable! By mountain paths
Down to the sea of Kiyomi I come
And on far woodlands look,
Pine-woods of Mio, thither
Come, thither guide we our course.
Fishers, why put you back your boats to shore,
No fishing done?
Thought you them rising waves, those billowy clouds
Wind-blown across sea?
Wait, for the time is Spring and in the trees
The early wind his everlasting song
Sings low; and in the bay
Silent in morning calm the little ships,
Ships of a thousand fishers, ride the sea.
[The second Fisherman retires to a position near the leader of the Chorus and takes no further part in the action.]

I am come to shore at Miwo-no; I disembark in Matsubara; I see all that they speak of on the shore. An empty sky with music, a rain of flowers, strange fragrance on every side; all these are no common things, nor is this cloak that hangs upon the pine-tree. As I approach to inhale its colour, I am aware of mystery. Its colour-smell is mysterious. I see that it is surely no common dress. I will take it now and return and make it a treasure in my house, to show to the aged
Now I have landed at the pine-wood of Mio and am viewing the beauty of the shore. Suddenly there is music in the sky, a rain of flowers, unearthly fragrance wafted on all sides. These are no common things; nor is this beautiful cloak that hangs upon the pine-tree. I come near to it. It is marvellous in form and fragrance. This surely is no common dress. I will take it back with me and show it to the people of my home. It shall be a treasure in my house.
[He walks four steps towards the Waki's pillar carrying the feather robe.]


That cloak belongs to some one on this side. What are you proposing to do with it?

[entering through the curtain at the end of the gallery.]
Stop! That cloak is mine. Where are you going with it?

This? this is a cloak picked up. I am taking it home, I tell you.
This is a cloak I found here. I am taking it home

That is a feather-mantle not fit for a mortal to bear,
Not easily wrested from the sky-traversing spirit,
Not easily taken or given.
I ask you to leave it where you found it.
It is an angel's robe of feathers, a cloak no mortal man may wear. Put it back where you found it.

How! Is the owner of this cloak a Tennin? So be it. In this downcast age I should keep it, a rare thing, and make it a treasure in the country, a thing respected. Then I should not return it.
How? Is the owner of this cloak an angel of the sky? Why, then, I will put it in safe keeping. It shall be a treasure in the land, a marvel to men unborn.
2 I will not give back your cloak

Pitiful, there is no flying without the cloak of feathers, no return through the ether. I pray you return me the mantle.
Oh pitiful! How shall I cloakless tread
The wing-ways of the air, how climb
The sky, my home?
Oh, give it back, in charity give it back.

Just from hearing these high words, I, Hakuryo, have gathered more and yet more force. You think, because I was too stupid to recognize it, that I shall be unable to take and keep hid the feather-robe, that I shall give it back for merely being told to stand and withdraw?
No charity is in me, and your moan
Makes my heart resolute.
Look, I take your robe, hide it, and will not give it back.

[Describing his own actions. Then he walks away.]

A Tennin without her robe,
A bird without wings,
How shall she climb the air?
Like a bird without wings,
I would rise, but robeless

And this world would be a sorry place for her to dwell in?
To the low earth you sink, an angel dwelling
In the dingy world.

I am caught, I struggle, how shall I . . .?
This way, that way.
Despair only.

No, Hakuryo is not one to give back the robe.
But when she saw he was resolved to keep it . . .

Power does not attain . . .
Strength failing.

. . . to get back the robe . . .
Help none. . .

Her coronet, 1 jewelled as with the dew of tears, even the flowers that decorated her hair, drooping and fading, the whole chain of weaknesses 2 of the dying Tennin can be seen actually before the eyes. Sorrow!
Then on her coronet,
Jewelled as with the dew of tears,
The bright flowers drooped and faded.
O piteous to see before the eyes,
Fivefold the signs of sickness
Corrupt an angel's form.

I look into the flat of heaven, peering; the cloud-road is all hidden and uncertain; we are lost in the rising mist; I have lost the knowledge of the road. Strange, a strange sorrow!
I look into the plains of heaven,
The cloud-ways are hid in mist,
The path is lost.

Enviable colour of breath, wonder of clouds that fade along the sky that was our accustomed dwelling; hearing the sky-bird, accustomed, and well accustomed, hearing the voices grow fewer, the wild geese fewer and fewer, along the highways of air, how deep her longing to return! Plover and seagull are on the waves in the offing. Do they go or do they return? She reaches out for the very blowing of the spring wind against heaven.
Oh, enviable clouds,
At your will wandering
For ever idle in the empty sky
That was my home!
Now fades and fades upon my ear
The voice of Kalavink, 
Daily accustomed song.
And you, oh you I envy,
Wild-geese clamorous
Down the sky-paths returning;
And you, O seaward circling, shoreward sweeping
Swift seagulls of the bay:
Even the wind, because in heaven it blows,
The wind of Spring I envy.

[to the Tennin]

What do you say? Now that I can see you in your sorrow, gracious, of heaven, I bend and would return you your mantle.
Listen. Now that I have seen you in your sorrow, I yield and would give you back your mantle.

It grows clearer. No, give it this side
Oh, I am happy! Give it me then!

First tell me your nature, who are you, Tennin? Give payment with the dance of the Tennin, and I will return you your mantle.
Wait. I have heard tell of the dances that are danced in heaven. Dance for me now, and I will give back your robe.

Readily and gladly, and then I return into heaven. You shall have what pleasure you will, and I will leave a dance here, a joy to be new among men and to be memorial dancing. Learn then this dance that can turn the palace of the moon. No, come here to learn it. For the sorrows of the world I will leave this new dancing with you for sorrowful people. But give me my mantle, I cannot do the dance rightly without it.
I am happy, happy. Now I shall have wings and mount the sky again.
And for thanksgiving I bequeath
A dance of remembrance to the world,
Fit for the princes of men:
The dance tune that makes to turn
The towers of the moon,
I will dance it here and as an heirloom leave it
To the sorrowful men of the world.
Give back my mantle, I cannot dance without it.
Say what you will, I must first have back the robe.

Not yet, for if you should get it, how do I know you'll not be off to your palace without even beginning your dance, not even a measure?
Not yet, for if I give back your robe, not a step would you dance, but fly with it straight to the sky.

Doubt is fitting for mortals; with us there is no deceit.
No, no. Doubt is for mortals;
In heaven is no deceit

I am again ashamed. I give you your mantle.
I am ashamed. Look, I give back the robe.

[He gives it to her and she takes it in both hands.]

The young sprite now is arrayed, she assumes the curious mantle; watch how she moves in the dance of the rainbow-feathered garment.
The heavenly lady puts on her garment,
She dances the dance of the Rainbow Skirt, of the Robe of Feathers.

The heavenly feather-robe moves in accord with the wind.
The sky-robe flutters, it yields to the wind.

The sleeves of flowers are being wet with the rain.
Sleeve like a flower wet with rain. . .

All three are doing one step.
The first dance is over.

Shall I dance?

It seems that she dances.
Thus was the dance of pleasure,
Suruga dancing, brought to the sacred east.
Thus was it when the lords of the everlasting
Trod the world,
They being of old our friends.
Upon ten sides their sky is without limit,
They have named it, on this account, the enduring.


The dance of Suruga, with music of the East?
Thus was it first danced.

[The Angel dances, while the Chorus sings the words of the dance, an ancient Shinto chant.]
"Why name we
Wide-stretched and everlasting.
The sky of heaven?
Two gods
5  there came of old
And built, upon ten sides shut in,
A measured world for men;
But without limit arched they
The sky above, and named it
Wide-stretched and everlasting."

The jewelled axe takes up the eternal renewing, the palace of the moon-god is being renewed with the jewelled axe, and this is always recurring.
Thus is the Moon-God's palace:
Its walls are fashioned
With an axe of jade.

[commenting on the dance]
The white kiromo, the black kiromo,
Three, five into fifteen,
The figure that the Tennin is dividing.
There are heavenly nymphs, Amaotome, 3
One for each night of the month,
And each with her deed assigned.
In white dress, black dress,
Thrice ten angels
In two ranks divided,
Thrice five for the waning,
Thrice five for nights of the waxing moon,
One heavenly lady on each night of the moon
Does service and fulfils
Her ritual task assigned.

I also am heaven-born and a maid, Amaotome. Of them there are many. This is the dividing of my body, that is fruit of the moon's tree, Katsura. 4 This is one part of our dance that I leave to you here in your world.
I too am of their number,
A moon-lady of heaven.

The spring mist is widespread abroad; so perhaps the wild olive's flower will blossom in the infinitely unreachable moon. Her flowery head-ornament is putting on colour; this truly is sign of the spring. Not sky is here, but the beauty; and even here comes the heavenly, wonderful wind. O blow, shut the accustomed path of the clouds. O, you in the form of a maid, grant us the favour of your delaying. The pine-waste of Miwo puts on the colour of spring. The bay of Kiyomi lies clear before the snow upon Fuji. Are not all these presages of the spring? There are but few ripples beneath the piny wind. It is quiet along the shore. There is naught but a fence of jewels between the earth and the sky, and the gods within and without, 5 beyond and beneath the stars, and the moon unclouded by her lord, and we who are born of the sun. This alone intervenes, here where the moon is unshadowed, here in Nippon, the sun's field.


"Mine is the fruit of the moon-tree, 6 yet came I to the East incarnate 7
Dwelt with the people of Earth, and gave them
A gift of music, song-dance of Suruga.
Now upon earth trail the long mists of Spring;
Who knows but in the valleys of the moon
The heavenly moon-tree puts her blossom on?
The blossoms of her crown win back their glory:
It is the sign of Spring.
Not heaven is here, but beauty of the wind and sky.
Blow, blow, you wind, and build
Cloud-walls across the sky, lest the vision leave us
Of a maid divine!
This tint of springtime in the woods,
This colour on the headland,
Snow on the mountain
Moonlight on the clear shore, --
Which fairest? Nay, each peerless
At the dawn of a Spring day.
Waves lapping, wind in the pine-trees whispering
Along the quiet shore.
Say you, what cause
Has Heaven to be estranged
From us Earth-men; are we not children of the Gods,
Within, without the jewelled temple wall, 
Born where no cloud dares dim the waiting moon,
Land of Sunrise?"

The plumage of heaven drops neither feather nor flame to its own diminution


May our Lord's life
Last long as a great rock rubbed
Only by the rare trailing
Of an angel's feather-skirt. 
Oh, marvellous music!
The Eastern song joined
To many instruments;
Harp, zither, pan-pipes, flute,
Belly their notes beyond the lonely clouds.
The sunset stained with crimson light
From Mount Sumeru's side; 
For green, the islands floating on the sea;
For whiteness whirled
A snow of blossom blasted
By the wild winds, a white cloud
Of sleeves waving.

[Concluding the dance, she folds her hands and prays.]

To thee, O Monarch of the Moon,
Be glory and praise,
Thou son of Seishi Omnipotent!

Nor is this rock of earth overmuch worn by the brushing of that feather-mantle, the feathery skirt of the stars: rarely, how rarely. There is a magic song from the east, the voices of many and many: and flute and sho, filling the space beyond the cloud's edge, seven-stringed; dance filling and filling. The red sun blots on the sky the line of the colour-drenched mountains. The flowers rain in a gust; it is no racking storm that comes over this green moor, which is afloat, as it would seem, in these waves.

Wonderful is the sleeve of the white cloud, whirling such snow here.


This is a dance of the East.
[She dances three of the five parts of the dance called "Yo no Mai," the Prelude Dance.]

Plain of life, field of the sun, true foundation, great power!
I am robed in sky, in the empty blue of heaven.

Hence and for ever this dancing shall be called "a revel in the East." Many are the robes thou hast, now of the sky's colour itself, and now a green garment.

And now the robe of mist, presaging spring, a colour-smell as this wonderful maiden's skirt -- left, right, left! The rustling of flowers, the putting on of the feathery sleeve; they bend in air with the dancing. 


Many are the joys in the east. She who is the colour-person of the moon takes her middle-night in the sky. She marks her three fives with this dancing, as a shadow of all fulfilments.
The circled vows are at full. Give the seven jewels of rain and all of the treasure, you who go from us. After a little time, only a little time, can the mantle be upon the wind that was spread over Matsubara or over Ashitaka the mountain, though the clouds lie in its heaven like a plain awash with sea. Fuji is gone; the great peak of Fuji is blotted out little by little. It melts into the upper mist. In this way she (the Tennin) is lost to sight.


Now she is robed in a garment of mist, of Spring mist.


Wonderful in perfume and colour, an angel's skirt, -- left, right, left, left, right.
[Springing from side to side.]

The skirt swishes, the flowers nod, the feathery sleeves trail out and return, the dancing-sleeves.

[She dances "Ha no Mai" the Broken Dance ]
She has danced many dances,
But not yet are they numbered,
The dances of the East.
And now she, whose beauty is as the young moon,
Shines on us in the sky of midnight,
The fifteenth night,
With the beam of perfect fulfilment,
The splendor of Truth.
The vows
13 are fulfilled, and the land we live in
Rich with the Seven Treasures
By this dance rained down on us,
The gift of Heaven.
But, as the hours pass by,
Sky-cloak of feathers fluttering, fluttering,
Over the pine-woods of Mio,
Past the Floating Islands, through the feet of the clouds she flies,
Over the mountain of Ashitaka, the high peak of Fuji,
Very faint her form,
Mingled with the mists of heaven;
Now lost to sight.

[1: Her coronet] Vide examples of state head-dress of kingfisher feathers in the South Kensington Museum.
[2: the chain of weaknesses] The chain of weaknesses, or the five ills, diseases of the Tennin: namely, the Tamakadzura withers; the Hagoromo is stained; sweat comes from the body; both eyes wink frequently; she feels very weary of her palace in heaven.
[3: There are heavenly nymphs, Amaotome] Cf. "Paradiso," xxiii. 25:

"Quale nei plenilunii sereni
Trivia ride tra le ninfe eterne."

[4: Katsura] A tree something like the laurel.
[5: the gods within and without] "Within and without," gei, gu, two parts of the temple.
[1: "On a thousand. . .clear sky."] A Chinese couplet quoted from the Shih Jen Yü Hsieh ("Jade-dust of the Poets"), a Sung Dynasty work on poetry which was popular in Japan.
[2: men unborn] Masse here means, I think, "future generations," not "this degraded age."
[3: The bright flowers drooped and faded.] When an angel is about to die, the flowers of his crown wither, his feather robe is stained with dust, sweat pours from under the arm-pits, the eyelids tremble, he is tired of his place in heaven.
[4: Kalavink] The sacred bird of heaven.
[5: Two gods] Izanagi and Izanami.
[6: the moon-tree] The "Katsura" tree, a kind of laurel supposed to grow in the moon.
[7: the East incarnate] Lit. "dividing my body," an expression used of Buddhist divinities that detach a portion of their godhead and incarnate it in some visible form.
[8: the mountain] Fuji.
[9: the jewelled temple wall] The inner and outer temples at Ise.
[10: May our Lord's life. . . angel's feather-skirt] Quoting an ancient prayer for the Mikado.
[11: Mount Sumeru's side] Sumeru is the great mountain at the centre of the universe. Its west side is of rubies, its south side of green stones, its east side of white stones, etc.
[12: son of Seishi Omnipotent] Called in Sanskrit Mahasthama-prapta, third person of the Trinity sitting on Amida's right hand. The Moon-God is an emanation of this deity.
[13: vows] Of Buddha.

further reference
noh theatre "Hagoromo" - noh play text