The first in a series of posts about things in my own collection, meager though it may be.
Roughly a year ago, I made my way to the Ôi Racecourse (大井競馬場) in Tokyo, where can be found one of the largest flea markets in the city. A gentleman was selling a few old books, in pristine condition, for only 100 yen each. I asked him what kind of books they were, what they contained, but he didn’t know. The majority of the pages were printed reproductions of calligraphic handwriting, and were quite difficult to read. He pointed out to me, however, the publication information in the back cover, which clearly indicated that the books were printed in the 14th year of Taishô – i.e. 1925. I eagerly bought two, though he showed me that he had the whole series of 10 or 15 volumes. Not knowing what they were, and suspecting that they could be exceedingly boring financial records or the like, I stuck to what I had.
Looking at them again, and showing them to a friend, some time later, we discovered that they are in fact Noh utaibon (能謡本, lit. “Noh chant-book”); that is, compilations of Noh plays from which actors practice chanting.
There were hints, of course, that I had not picked up on; though, to my credit, I hadn’t heard of any of the plays before, so I can’t expect myself to have recognized the titles on the cover. Still, there is before each play a page or several of modern movable type printed pages listing the roles, what type of masks are used for them, the setting, a summary of the play, etc. In addition, the author is listed on the back as being Kita Rokuheita (喜多六平太); Kita being one of the major schools of Noh, I might have picked up on this.
But anyway, let’s delve into the text.
Sadly, I cannot seem to find the Japanese text in order to share it with you; if anyone knows of a good resource, I’d be most appreciative. Still, here is the section of Royall Tyler’s translation, from “Japanese Nô Dramas” (Penguin Books, 1992) which corresponds to the first page of this utaebon. For anyone studying Japanese, it may be a fun exercise to look at the calligraphy, and knowing roughly what the words ought to be, based on the translation, puzzle out the Japanese.
(Myôe and companions): Thither the moon, too, makes its nightly way
thither the moon, too, makes its nightly way:
then I will seek the land where the sun goes down
(Myôe): You have before you the monk Myôe of Toganoo. My heart is set upon travelling to China and India, and I must therefore go before the Kasuga Shrine to bid the god farewell. I am just now on my way down to the Southern Capital.
(Myôe and Companions): Mount Atago
and Shikimi-ga-hara detain us no more
and Shikimi-ga-hara detain us no more
While bunraku books are published in a reproduction of the handwriting of the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, I do not know whose handwriting this is. You can see the marks to the side of the characters; like trope in the Torah and other Hebrew texts, this is a guide to the pacing and pitch of the chanting. There are no hard & fast musical notes here that say “chant a B flat” or something like that, just subjective ups and downs, highs and lows.
Some kanji have the pronunciation written next to them as a guide. For example, the top character of the last (leftmost) line on this page is 山, meaning “mountain”, and normally pronounced as yama or san; here, though, the furigana characters トリ are written to the right, indicating that it should be read tori instead. Other marks are used as well, to help indicate tempo, such as the katakana トリ (tori) next to the kanji 山 (“mountain”), the top character of the last (leftmost) line on this page. As my good friend Hanna points out, “It means that that part of the text corresponds to a half measure of musical notation that can be more easily seen in drum scores. A full measure is 8 beats (though far more flexible and organic than western music), and a tori, therefore, 4 beats.”
The name of the play – 春日龍神 (Kasuga ryûjin, “Dragon God of Kasuga”) – and page number are written on the edge of each page.
Having taken a course later in the year in reading calligraphy, with an amazing sensei whose name I sadly do not remember, I can now pick out quite a number of characters here and there. What look like scribbles, unique to this person’s handwriting, are in fact very standardized calligraphic forms of the characters. Rather than waste space, though, by just sort of listing individual characters I can make out, let’s move on.
I wish there were a good way in this blog/website static format to follow along the words of the calligraphy, comparing each in turn to the printed (i.e. modern typeface) Japanese and to the English translation. If this were a PowerPoint presentation, I could just point with my mouse or laser pointer, or I could make a gazillion slides of the same image, inserting red lines or circles on each to emphasize a different character.