THE legend of Komachi is that she had many lovers when she was young, but was cruel and mocked at their pain. Among them was one, Shii no Shōshō, who came a long way to court her. She told him that she would not listen to him till he had come on a hundred nights from his house to hers and cut a hundred notches on the shaft-bench of his chariot. And so he came a hundred nights all but one, through rain, hail, snow, and wind. But on the last night he died.
Once, when she was growing old, the poet Yasuhide asked her to go with him to Mikawa. She answered with the poem:
"I that am lonely,
Like a reed root-cut,
Should a stream entice me,
Would go, I think."
When she grew quite old, both her friends and her wits forsook her. She wandered about in destitution, a tattered, crazy beggar-woman.
As is shown in this play, her madness was a "possession" by the spirit of the lover whom she had tormented. She was released from this "possession" by the virtue of a sacred Stūpa 1 or log carved into five parts, symbolic of the Five Elements, on which she sat down to rest.
In the disputation between Komachi and the priests, she upholds the doctrines of the Zen Sect, which uses neither scriptures nor idols; the priests defend the doctrines of the Shingon Sect, which promises salvation by the use of incantations and the worship of holy images. 2
There is no doubt about the authorship of this play. Seami (Works, p. 246) gives it as the work of his father, Kwanami Kiyotsugu. Kwanami wrote another play, Shii no Shōshō, 3 in which Shōshō is the principal character and Komachi the tsure or subordinate.
Seami also used the Komachi legend. In his Sekidera Komachi he tells how when she was very old the priests of Sekidera invited her to dance at the festival of Tanabata. She dances, and in rehearsing the splendours of her youth for a moment becomes young again.
113:1 Sanskrit; Jap. sotoba.
113:2 See p. 32.
113:3 Now generally called Kayoi Komachi.