kabuki kids

A recent story on National Public Radio told the story of the kabuki festival of Damine, Japan. For over three centuries this small mountain village has had an unbroken yearly tradition of having their children perform to please the mountain gods.

“Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, the mountain village was jeopardized when someone accidentally chopped down one of the shogun’s trees,” says Hina Takeshita, the 12-year-old star of the closing kabuki play [of the festival].

As news spread that the shogun, a feudal commander, was coming to investigate, the villagers prayed to the gods. They promised to perform kabuki every year if the goddess of mercy could make it snow. A rare June blizzard arrived, thwarting the visit by the shogun’s samurai and saving the village from punishment.

“So we’ve been playing kabuki ever since then,” Hina says.

You can read more about Damine’s festival in this article from National Public Radio. It’s mostly about the growing hardship of staging the festival as the village population shrinks because so many people have migrated to the cities. There are only 10 children left between the ages of 6 and 12.

Here’s a video of one of their performances:

I heard on NPR yesterday morning that they’re doing a new version of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on Broadway.  It opened yesterday, I believe.  Hearing the actors going through their lines, the discussion of the play, put me into a fervent reverie.  I can’t express how much I love this play—my favorite by Stoppard, maybe one of my favorites ever.  I loved it so much back in the 90s when they staged in at the Mark Taper Forum that I went to see it twice.  This was back in the day when theater tickets were a rare treat for me because I was astonishingly broke.  And I bought a copy of the play so I could read through it when I felt the need.

Why did I love it so?  As I said in my notebooks back on December 14, 1997:

I love this play.  It’s all about losing and finding, discovery and rediscovery, but most of all, about living in the precise moment.  It’s also about chaos theory.

But that’s not all of it.  There’s the beauty of the language, too, but layers and layers of things speak to me.  Too much to say and I have no time right now to say it, what with going and coming and coming and going, and losing and gaining and gaining and losing.  All I can say is that it has echoed through my heart over and over in the years since I first saw it.  It turns out, I guess, that bittersweet is my favorite flavor.

Since I have no time for more than that, I’ll leave you with the rest of that notebook entry, which wisely relies for the most part on the play to make its case:

From Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, Act I, Scene III

Lady Thomasina, aged 13 and precociously brilliant in an age that does not respect the brilliance of women (1809) is talking to her tutor, Septimus, aged 22, who very much respects the brilliance of Thomasina.

Thomasina: But instead, the Egyptian noodle [Cleopatra] made carnal embrace with the enemy who burned the great library of Alexandria without so much as a fine for all that is overdue.  Oh, Septimus!—can you bear it?  All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides—thousands of poems—Aristotle’s own library brought to Egypt by the noodle’s ancestors!  How can we sleep for grief?

Septimus: By counting our stock.  Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady!  You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old.  We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.  The procession is very long and life is very short.  We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language.  Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more.  Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.  You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?

[Then the bit about why I loved it, then this bit:]

And here’s something from old Ezra Pound, that crock, that echoes through my mind when I think of that passage above:

From Pisan Canto LXXXI:

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee