A report of the performance of WINGS OF LOVE
, a Christian Noh Drama,
with the author's comments and people's response including
The First Performance
of WINGS OF LOVE
A Noh Drama on Ryokan and St. Francis of Assisi in a Feminist
By Dr. Yuko Yuasa
On the 170th anniversary of Ryokan, a popular Zen priest,
a Christian Noh drama WINGS OF LOVE was first performed in
Niigata, the birthplace of Ryokan.
Arai Man, a prize-winning popular novelist, witnessed and
wrote about the performance in a newspaper: "Teishinni,
a special disciple of Ryokan,
and St. Chiara, a special
disciple of St. Francis,
encountered on the beach of Niigata. Being spirits, they could
cross over the barriers of time and space. They came back
to this world to tell the stories of their teachers. At first
I was astonished with the bold setting.
Soon I became absorbed by the drama. At the end I was deeply
moved and found myself clapping enthusiastically." (8
July 2000, the Kyoto Shinbun).
Here I share the creating and staging experience of WINGS
OF LOVE under five headings: 1. Context;
2. Theme and synopsis; 3.
Christian Noh drama, its strength and tasks; 4.
The public and media response; and 5.
The outcomes and future scope.
The performance of WINGS OF LOVE was initiated by Prof. Masao
Takenaka when he published his book "Ryokan and Christ"
in 1998. In the celebration he said, "What about holding
an international symposium on Ryokan, as a powerful and positive
message from Niigata?" The response resulted in the effort
of the National Ryokan Society and Niigata City with the fruit
of Ryokan Festival in 2000 commemorating the 170th anniversary
of his passing. On the first day "WINGS OF LOVE, a story
of Ryokan and St. Francis of Assisi" was performed in
the beautiful Noh stage of the Niigata City Performing Arts
Center. The players troupe was headed by Mr. KANZE Hideo,
holder of the highest National Artists Prize and a descendent
of Zeami, the top Noh dramatist in the 14th century. The principal
role was performed by Mr. KAWAMURA Nobushige, a Noh player
with distinction and a popular TV exponent for his multiple
talents as singer, dancer and actor. Another support came
from Mr. YAGIMOTO Yuji, director of Kokodo Publishing Company,
who published the bilingual script with the author's comments
in a perspective of feminist theology, which provided the
spectators with background materials.
2. Theme and
The synopsis scene by scene is as follows:
The theme of WINGS OF LOVE is this: "Both God and Buddha
are love itself. They want us to respect each other as well
as all other lives, and live together in peace." This
common message of Ryokan
(1758~1831) and St.
Francis (1181~1226) is presented by Teishinni
and St. Chiara, the special
disciples/friends of the two monks.
- ACT I. A traveling monk arrives at the shore of
Niigata, Ryokan's birthplace.
- Two beautiful women, Teishinni and St. Chiara, special
disciples and friends of Ryokan and St. Francis, appear
in their spirits' form.
- They pay their respect, in a mysterious gesture, to the
sun touching the horizon. The traveling monk asks them why
they do so.
- They tell him of the stories of their saintly teachers/friends,
Ryokan and St.Francis. They sing, "Once there were
two saints who endured solitude, talking with birds and
meeting with flowers. How miraculous it was that their abode
stood side by side in spirit, though wide apart in time
- Dressed in their saintly friends' garments, they dance
and become one with their friends. They praise the mysterious
love that unites them with the two saints, and also unites
the two saints each other beyond the spacio-temporal boundary.
- During the interlude a local resident relates the stories
of two sets of friends. He tells the monk to wait for the
revelation in a dream.
- ACT II. The monk waits for the dream in which God's
wisdom reveals the truth of eternal love.
- Accompanied by a happy music, God's wisdom, in the form
of a beautiful maiden named Sophia,
appears singing and dancing of the Truth of the
Buddha nature and God's will. To a powerful music, the
principal role named Eternal Love appears. This figure,
dressed in a shining robe, sings and dances the theme of
WINGS OF LOVE; "As both St. Francis and Ryokan show
us, both God and Buddha are love itself. Their wish for
us is to respect each other as well as all other lives."
Sophia and Eternal Love dance the climax dance of blessings;
"Imago Dei and the
Buddha nature shine together. Live together in peace and
enjoy the voice of Shalom!"
3. Christian Noh
drama, its strength and tasks
Christian Noh drama is a form of inter-religious dialogue.
For the public it is a drama, therapy and an theatrical art
that lifts them from daily life to the height where they can
glimpse eternity. For a Christian it is a sharing experience
as a Christian neighbor to people of other religions.
In the central narration of WINGS OF LOVE the chorus sing;
"On the cross the Son of God forgives the thief saying,
today you will be with me in Paradise." Then echoing
the lyrics, Teishinni sings a famous Haiku by Ryokan; "Left
behind by the thief, this moon in my window..." The chorus
follow the poem by connecting the episodes common to the two
saints; "Even in sickness the saints turn sorrow into
joy, praising the eternal source of light." The art of
linking verses continues; " Shall we light the light
Thus Christian Noh drama connects the people of non-biblical
cultures to the Biblical message by the resonating power of
lyrics and drama. The tasks include sharpening the alertness
to discern potential fields for the seeds of Gospel in other
cultures. In Kwok Pui Lan's word, it is a project "discovering
the Bible in the non-Biblical world." The key is the
respect for other religions. A proof for Christian integrity
is the treatment of non-Christian cultures. If other religions
are utilized to show off Christian superiority, the performance
will fail to reach people. Christian Noh drama is a response
to Jesus Christ's imperative;"Love your neighbors,"
practiced in performing arts.
4. The public
and media response to the performance
At the 170th Anniversary of Ryokan, the International Symposium
headed by Prof. Masao Takenaka was a great success as a landmark
in the history of transaction and cross-religious dialogue.
Distinguished scholars from China, Russia, USA, France and
Japan read their paper. It was a moving surprise that various
media, e.g., local and national newspapers, TV broadcasting,
journals and magazines responded the first performance of
a Christian Noh drama with enthusiasm. The Asahi, a leading
national paper, too, had substantial articles with photographs
twice. Tera to Seikatsu (Temples and Life), an influential
Buddhist magazine had an entire volume of reports in full
color. Chugainippo and The Kirisuto Shinbun situated WINGS
OF LOVE as a major contribution in the performing arts of
5. The outcomes
and future scope
Mr. Yoshiaki Hasegawa, the Mayor of Niigata, told the people
at the reception;
"When the video WINGS OF LOVE" is complete, we would
bring it to the birthplace
of St. Francis. Through Ryokan and St. Francis, Niigata and
Assisi might become sister cities." Now I completed the
video superimposition of lyrics in Italian and English . The
two versions of videos are available with books of Japanese/English
texts. If requested, I will make versions in Asian and other
languages. With the video and the bilingual script book, peoples
of various cultural background will visit each other and talk
about the common message of Christianity, Buddhism and other
traditions of spirituality, which is love and respect of life
and creation. Now the real drama starts.
Latin word meaning "God's image." From Genesis 1:27.
God created humankind in the image of God. Its meaning can
be rendered as "the original state of creation, ability
to love, free from ego-centricity."
This theme has been a subject of theological discussion, e.g.
"Whether or not the image of God is retained in real
human nature now after the Fall." Classic debates include
the one between E. Brunner (Dogmatik, Natur und Gnade) and
K.Barth (Nein! Antwort as Emil Brunner). Now it tends to be
understood in the context of human responsibility in various
Sophia is the Greek word for "wisdom" (Hebrew hokma).
Biblical scholars use the designation "wisdom literature"
to certain books in Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. The term is
important for feminist theology, because in Proverbs and other
literature, the concept of "wisdom " is literary
personified as a woman who has significant relationships to
both humans and God. Recent feminist use of Sophia as a way
of naming God has occasioned a backlash of accusations of
"goddess worship," i.e., heresy. Elisabeth Schuessler
FIORENZA has further elucidated the importance, building on
her work in In Memory of Her, to both the historical and the
contemporary church, of understanding Jesus as the messenger
of Divine Sophia (Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet,
Adapted from Claudia V. CAMP'S "Sophia," an article
in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty M. RUSSELL
and J. Shannon CLARKSON, Westminster John Knox, 1996. Here
it may be sufficient to understand Sophia as an expression
of "feminine nature" of God, based on certain feminist
theologies. Its foundation is biblical texts, e. g. God's
spirit that hovers on the surface of water at the time of
Creation. The same spirit appears at the time of Jesus' baptism.
Before, the female attributes of God have been suppressed
or subordinated in certain traditional schools. But now the
"feminine nature" of God has been established in
the academic world, as a result of efforts of scholars and
theologians, including the leading works mentioned above.
Here Sophia appears as a symbol that embodies God's assurance
The nature which is to become buddha. This nature is believed
to be in all. The relationship between Imago Dei, the image
of God, and the Buddha nature has been one of the major subjects
of cross-religious studies. According to ISHIGAMI IAGOLNITZER
Michiko, the conclusion of her team of scholars, the Imago Dei
and the Buddha nature are deeply related, despite the unsurpassable
dogmatic and doctrinal differences between the two religions.
The way of Buddha's nature is to save others before oneself.
The way of the Cross is to love one's enemy. Ryokan and Francis
lived sincerely pursuing their respective belief. The love of
Teishinni and Chiara relays the truth of their lives to us.