Famous Plays

Famous Plays: NohSumidagawa(Sumida River)

Category: Fourth Number of scenes:One Location:Sumida River, Musashi (Present-day Tokyo)
Source:The Tales of Ise Season:Spring

SummaryAbout a mother whose child has been kidnapped and who finds herself in despair at her travel destination

A ferry that crosses Sumida River is about to depart. The ferryman hesitates to let a potential madwoman (shite) get on the ferry. However, his heart grieves for the woman who laments about her search for her kidnapped child by quoting a waka poem, and lets her get on board. The ferryman explains that a memorial service would be held on the opposite shore in memory of a young boy who was kidnapped by slave traders and died exactly a year ago. The woman realizes that this boy is her son and breaks down into tears. The woman recites nembutsu, the invocation to Amida Buddha, at a small mound she was taken to, and a ghost of the young boy appears. She tries to grab him, but the ghost disappears when dawn comes.

In Noh, there are many plays in which a woman becomes a madwoman because she becomes distraught trying to find the person she is looking for. Although the plays usually end with the woman reuniting with her beloved, in this play only the mother and child are unable to be reunited alive.

Watch videoA mother’s sense of emptiness as she searches for the phantom of her child

The more information the mother finds out about the young boy who died, the more she must acknowledge that this boy is her son. As she recites the nembutsu, a ghost of her son appears from a small mound but goes through her arms when she tries to grab him.

Depicted location

Sumida River is described in a song in “The Tales of Ise,” and it was known as a scenic area of Kanto even among people in Kyoto and Nara. The course of the river was different from now. It seems a legend has been passed down at the river basin from ancient times about a child named Umewakamaru who had been kidnapped and died.
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Depicted season

The play takes place by Sumida River on a beautiful spring day. It is a cheerful and peaceful scene with willows swaying on the riverbank where seagulls are flying, and a crowd of people has formed for the memorial service on the opposite shore.

Relevant culture

In the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries), a number of Kabuki and Ningyo joruri plays were written about Umewakamaru, and they are known as “sumidagawamono.” In the mid-20th century, Benjamin Britten was moved upon viewing this work and composed an opera by changing the story’s setting to a Christian fable.

April 20, 2007
National Noh Theatre
“Sumidagawa (Sumida River),” Hosho School

Characters and Performers

Madwoman, Umewaka-waru’s Mother (shite): Mikawa Atsuo
Ghost of the Boy, Umewaka-waru (kokata): Yamauchi Sho
Ferryman (waki): Hosho Kan
Traveler (waki-tsure): Obinata Hiroshi
Koken (stage assistant): Nakamura Kotaro, Asakura Toshiki, Yamauchi Takao
[Hayashi musicians]
Flute player: Fujita Daigoro
Shoulder drum player: Sumikoma Yukihide
Hip drum player: Kamei Tadao
[Jiutai chorus]
Rear row: Mikawa Izumi, Otsubo Kimio, Tazaki Ryuzo, Sano Yoshio
Front row: Waku Sotaro, Otomo Jun, Nozuki Satoshi, Takahashi Wataru