In Zeami Motokiyo’s Noh play, Atsumori, he retells the story of Atsumori as seen in Heiki Monogatari. The story revolves around the young Taira no Atsumori who was killed at the age of fifteen by Kumagai of the Minamoto clan during the Genpei War at Ichinotani. Atsumori was left behind and spotted by Kumagai along the Suma shore. Kumagai felt sorry for Atsumori because he was about the same age as one of his sons and was torn between whether or not to kill him. He decides to kill Atsumori because if he did not, then someone else from his clan would. He figured it would be better for him to do it because he would pray for Atsumori after his death. Shortly after killing Atsumori, Kumagai renounces his ways and becomes a monk name Rensho and travels back to Ichinotani to pay his respects to and pray for the soul of Atsumori. This play is a continuation from Heike Monogatari because it tells the tale of Kumagai and what he encounters in his new life as a monk while stressing the importance of Buddhist values, such as nonattachment and karma, and character transformation of warrior to priest and enemy to friend.
Rensho appears in the first scene retelling why he decided to become a monk and his reason for revisiting Suma shore. He speaks of a “wandering moon” and “pounding waves” which are two Buddhist symbolisms for a traveling monk and cyclical life. Just as the waves constantly return to the shore, Rensho is returning to Suma because he is compelled to pray for Atsumori’s soul. Rensho has given up his former life and pursued life as a monk because he feels he owes it to Atsumori to pray for him and make sure he is able to reach salvation.
Upon meeting the Youth, Rensho learns that he too is heading back to Suma shore even though it causes him grief. The Youth says this because he is attached to the place of his death and cannot accept this fact and let go, which indicates that he is the same Atsumori that was killed by Kumagai. The Youth is sad not only because he must remain there, but also because he is lonely. He speaks of how “salty drops fall fast” (40) and how he “might hope to have a friend” (40) which shows he has more ties to the world of the living because he seeks companionship there and cannot leave. The salty drops represent his tears from sadness of being alone and salt is also made by the shore, which represents Atsumori’s tie to Suma shore. He is stuck near the shore and will not be able to move on unless he can follow the Buddhist value of nonattachment and come to terms with his death.
The Youth requests Rensho to pray for his soul and recite the Ten Invocations because he thinks that will help him to move on. This is important to note because the Ten Invocations were commonly requested of monks or holy people to say for the benefit of another. This is a direct reference to Buddhism and shows how it could bring comfort to those that were already dead like the Youth. He then reveals himself to Rensho as the...