Other Theatrical Portrayals of Dwarf Potted Trees:


      The simple and primitive kagura, sacred dances to music or pantomimes of old Shinto myths, had been mentioned as early as the sixth century C.E .  These eventually gave rise to sarugaku, a form of mime and magical technique introduced on the occasion of a Shinto festival to entertain the deities, and also to dengaku ("rustic music" or "field performance"), primitive dance or prayer within a specially marked-off area for divine favor on the crops.  Both of these developed as incidental entertainments at religious festivals.  From these came sarugaku-no-noh, "performance of sarugaku " or simply noh, which eventually meant "accomplished performance of a lyric drama developed from sarugaku."  In the fourteenth century, a spoken dialogue was added, recalling certain legends or celebrating the exploits of popular heroes.
       Now, as an outcome of the comic element of sarugaku, kyogen arose as one-act comic interludes of slight construction.  These were generally performed in the intervals between the more serious pieces of Noh and upon the same stage.  They resemble European dramas in form and have no musical accompaniment.  They range from primitive and naïve farces to a few witty satires on human failings and social evils.  Some 280 of these survive today.

       Fujimatsu was one of these medieval farces.  The larch or fuji-matsu (lit. "Mt. Fuji, that is, high-quality pine", a Larix ] was a popular specimen for a Muromachi Period (1338-1573) hachi-no-ki.  Taro Kaja is the prototypical kyogen hero, spirited with innocent humor and transparent schemes which rarely succeed.  He is usually a young servant of a feudal lord or similar character.  This particular story tells of how Taro's master is captivated by a superb dwarf potted larch in Taro's possession.  There is an interesting repartée between the master, who tries to obtain the tree, and Taro-kaja, who is unable to part with it. 
       The master is angry with the servant, who went back to his home without permission some time ago and has yet to return.  He visits Taro-kaja's home to give him a good scolding.  He calls the servant in a feigned voice.  Taro-kaja emerges and is amazed to see his master.  The master asks, "Where did you go?"  Unwilling to admit he had gone to buy a fuji-matsu, the servant says that he made a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji.  The master cannot but forgive Taro-kaja because a pilgrimage to that sacred mountain is beyond reproach.
      The master, however, has heard a rumor that Taro-kaja bought a superb fuji-matsu.  He tells his servant to show him the tree, and Taro-kaja cannot but usher his master into the room [sic] with the hachi-no-ki.  Installing himself in front of the plant, the master intently admires its graceful figure.  Taro-kaja proudly says that people who saw him carrying the tree home all admired it.  (This shows well the popularity of the art at the time.)
Master: "Hey -- Taro Kaja!"
Taro Kaja: "Yes, sir?"
Master: "This pine [sic] has a much finer shape than you led me to believe."
T.K.: "Those who go by in the street all sing its praises."
Master: "I'm sure they do..."
The master, charmed by the tree, resolves to acquire it.  At this point the repartee begins.
Master: "After you went home, I had my garden redesigned.  It now has space suitable for planting this fuji-matsu.  Will you give me this tree?"
Taro-kaja tells a lie: he is keeping the plant for someone else, and therefore cannot give it away.  The master thinks the new owner will part with it, in exchange for something else, and he offers to swap his highly reputed sword.
T.K.: "The owner is not a person who has need of a sword, and would decline your offer."
Master:  "I'll offer him a dog for hawking."
T.K.:  "He has no hawks.  So he would not require a dog."
Master: "Then I'll give him my precious black horse."
The offer is tempting, but
T.K.: "That horse is so strong he will be able to pull down such a small house.  The owner will have difficulty in finding a place to stable it."
The first round of repartee ends in the defeat of the master, whose offers were all rejected.

The second round also ends in the defeat of the master, who proved to be less witty than his servant. 

In the final scene of this play the master voices his resentment.  To Taro-kaja, a commoner, the fuji-matsu hachi-no-ki is much more important than an excellent sword, a dog for hawking, or a black horse. 1

       Another kyogen is Bonsan, which depicts a dull-witted, inexperienced thief whose passion for dwarf landscapes tempts him to steal one. 
Thief: "The cult of bonsan is simply amazing."
He steals into the garden of a mansion to take a bonsan, but the master of the mansion detects a noise.  The master knows who the thief is and that he has long coveted the bonsan.  He decides to tease the thief.
Master:  "It is a dog, not a person, behind the bonsan."
The thief, pretending to be a dog, barks.
Master: "No. It's a monkey."
The thief pretends to be a monkey and chatters.
Master: "No. It's a sea bream."
The thief imitates the movement of fins since he does not know what sound a sea bream makes.
Master: "If the fish doesn't make a noise, I'll shoot it dead."
Thief: "Tai ["sea bream"], tai, tai."
And he runs away without the bonsan. 2


1.        "The Humor and Virtues of Muromachi Bonsai," Bonsai, BCI, May/June 1989, pg. 4.  Reprinted from The East, June 1986, the article also states that "A number of years ago we introduced Hachi-no-ki, a Noh about bonsai."  That reference has not been located yet.; Komparu, Kunio The Noh Theater, Principles and Perspectives (New York: John Weatherhill, Inc and Kyoto: Tankosha, 1980, 1983), pp. 96-100.  On pg. 99 states that 257 kyogen survive; Nippon Bonsai Association Classic Bonsai of Japan (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1989), pp. 140-141, for first section of dialogue of Fuji-matsu.

"Field Music (dengaku).  A type of folk dance that seems to have developed from a planting ritual.  It became a popular entertainment in the Kamakura period and later contributed to the development of the Nō drama." Per The Clear Mirror: A Chronicle of the Japanese Court During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) translation by George W. Perkins (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press; 1998), pg. 274.

2.       "The Humor and Virtues of Muromachi Bonsai" article, pg. 4.  For historical background, also see bonsan.

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