Invitation to a Video of
An Ume in the Garden
― An Original Noh Play in Praise of Joseph Hardy Neesima ―
Since its first performance in 2005 at Hardy Hall, in Doshisha University, “An Ume in the Garden” has been staged at the National Nohgaku Theatre in Tokyo and the Nagoya Nohgaku Theatre, but no videos of those performances have been produced because of copyright problems.
Fortunately, after consultation with Master Actor Hirohisa Inoue( Shite actor of the Kanze School of Noh, and instructor of the Kanzekai, Nohgaku Club of Doshisha University) who took charge of the production, permission was obtained to produce and publicize a video digest of the performance, on the condition that the Doshisha Alumni Association be responsible for copyright arrangement
On An Ume in the Garden
An original Noh play
Former Professor, School of Theology
The new Noh play, An Ume in the Garden, with Joseph Hardy Neesima (1843-1890), the founder of Doshisha, as shite, or principal character, was first performed by the members of the Nohgaku Club and Shiyokai of Doshisha University on November 26, 2005, at the Kanbaikan at Doshisha University. Later, it was staged in Tokyo and Nagoya. Then on January 16, 2016, it was again performed at the Kanbaikan, incommemoration of Doshisha’s 140th anniversary, while it was videoed.
Neesima used to like the “kanbai” or the ume blooming in the coldest months, and he wrote two poems on them in Chinese.
“An Ume in the Cold in the Garden”
In the garden, an ume smiles in the cold.
Braving storm and snow, it unfolds its petals.
Neither striving nor competing, it blooms
First, unaware, among hundreds of spring flowers.
Truth is like an ume in the cold.
It dares to bloom, braving storms and snows.
The first of the two poems, “An Ume in the Cold in the Garden,” is said to have been composed at Oiso in Kanagawa prefecture, where Neesima spent his last, painful days. The motif of the Noh play, An Ume in the Garden, is obviously the tree blooming in midwinter in this quatrain, as the author of this play adumbrates.
Neesima seems to be comparing himself to the ume by personifying the tree which “smiles” and “dares” to bloom. Thus the image of the fragrant “blossoms” is turned into a metaphor of accomplishment and fame, and that of “storm” and “snow” into hardship and endurance. The ume seems to be the projection of Neesima himself. The whole poem may be said to be a reflection of his unyielding pioneer spirit, indomitable courage, and study enthusiasm. He is just like the “Kanbai” beginning to bloom, standing alone and enduring the cold.
On the stage, Neesima cries out, “I shall be a forerunner of the new age.” His lifestyle was to fix his eyes on the bright spring days far away from the harsh winter skies. Throughout the play, we are struck by Neesima’s strong will and aspiration, expressed through his regard for the blooming “Kanbai,” and his ideals resonate in our hearts today.
Visiting Professor, Doshisha University,
26th Grand Master, Kongoh School of Noh
An Ume in the Garden, a new Noh play, was planned and realized though the enthusiasm of Mr. Hirohisa Inoue, a Doshisha alumnus, and the members of the Doshisha Shiyokai, who hoped that the important message of Joseph Hardy Neesima, the founder of Doshisha, would thus be conveyed to more people around the world and be handed down to future generations. As a graduate of Doshisha and a man deeply associated with the Noh community, I very much appreciate this Noh play and would like to recommend it to you all.
A Note of “Ume”
The word “ume” has often been translated into English as “plum,” although this is not actually correct. The ume (prunus mume) is a rosaceous plant, similar to the plum and the apricot, but different. The ume has an especially graceful figure, vigorous and beautiful blossoms, and elegant fragrance as well as useful fruits. This is because the ume has been loved and improved upon by the Japanese for over 1,200 years. As a result, there are many varieties, some emphasizing the white, red, or pink blossoms, others the fruit to be used for pickles, wine, or medicine. In addition, the ume has been the subject of a great number of poems, painting, and other works of art. Of these, one of the most well-known in the West may be the woodblock print by Ando Hiroshige, “Meisho Edo Hyakkei: Ume Yashiki”, which Vincent van Gogh’s “Prunier en fleurs (d’aperes Hiroshige)” is based upon .
Of these, one of the most well-known in the West may be the woodblock print by Ando Hiroshige, “Meisho Edo Hyakkei: Ume Yashiki” (left), which Vincent van Gogh’s “Prunier en fleurs (d’aperes Hiroshige)” is based upon (right).
Sanehide Kodama, Professor Emeritus, 9th President, Doshisha Women's College. Ph.D. (Doshisha University)
Nicholas J. Teel, Professor Emeritus, 12th President, Doshisha Women's College. Ph.D. (University of Texas)