A woman who lost her son is undergoing a retreat at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, where she pray the Bodhisattva Kannon. As she is taking a rest, she has a dream in which Kannon tells her to search for her son at Miidera Temple, close to Lake Biwa. Happy to have received this oracle, she leaves for Miidera.
The Head Priest from Miidera together with Other Monks and a Child, are enjoying a moon-viewing party. Soon, the woman arrives at the temple’s gates. After suffering from the separation from her son, she has become distraught. The full moon illuminates the lake, as the sound of the waves and that of the temple’s bell echo across the air. Entranced by beauty of the scenery, the woman insists in wanting to strike the bell. Despite the prohibition from the monks, she manages to climb the tower and strike the bell. The pure moon and pure sound of the bell remind her of Buddha’s teachings. Finally, the boy recognizes that the madwoman is in fact his mother, and the two are happily reunited.
Miidera is one of the most important temples in medieval Japanese history, together with Enryakuji, Tōdaiji and Kōfukuji. Since ancient times, it was famous for its bell. In the “Taiheiki” chronicle, it is said that its bell was given as a present to Heian period warrior Tawara no Tōta by a dragon king.
This play brings together various elements typically associated with autumn in Japanese culture: the pure moon reflected on the water, and the sound of a bell.
In the play, the words konoyo ichirin miteri, seikō izure no tokoro ni ka nakaran (“tonight’s full moon / its pure light shines on all things”), allude to the Buddhist concept of all-encompassing mercy symbolized by the moon.
In the play a story from China is mentioned. A famous poet was pondering on verses he had composed: “The moon slowly rising above the mountains by the sea shines through the clouds”. Before sleeping, he faced the full moon and cleared his mind. Suddenly, the following words came to his mind: “tonight’s full moon / its pure light shines on all things”. Ecstatic to have found the right words to express his feelings, he climbed to the top of a temple tower and struck its bell. When bystanders took him to task for his behavior, he replied that he had been driven mad by poetry.
This anecdote is quoted in the play Miidera, in which a mother in search of her missing child reaches Miidera Temple (in present-day Ōtsu city, east of Kyoto). The temple monks realize that the woman must have gone mad because of the moon, just as the famous poet had, and allow her to strike the bell.