Minister Fujiwara no Fusazaki is visiting the Fusazaki village near Shido Bay, in order to offer a memorial service for his deceased mother. There appears a female Diver who tells him how, long ago, a diver from this village retrieved a precious jewel which was stolen by a dragon and kept in the palace at the bottom of the sea. After demonstrating how she gathers seaweed, the Diver reveals further details about the jewel. When the younger sister of Lord Fujiwara no Fuhito travelled to China to marry the T’ang Emperor, three jewels were sent back as a present to Kōfuku-ji, the ancestral temple of the Fujiwara family, in Nara. One of them, known as “Menkō-fuhai-no-tama” (the “Jewel that Never Turns Away”) was stolen by a dragon on its way to Japan, and taken to the bottom of the sea. Fuhito traveled to Shido Bay to recover the jewel. There he met a female diver, and the two had a child. Fusazaki reveals that that child is him and sheds tears, lamenting how he was never able to meet his mother.
Then, the woman re-enacts how the jewel was recovered. Before jumping in the water, the diver had Fuhito promise that, if she managed to retrieve the jewel, he would take their son to court and make him his heir. The diver successfully recovered the jewel from the dragon’s palace, though at the cost of her own life. The Diver re-enacting the story finally reveals to be the ghost of that woman. She gives Fuhito a letter, then disappears in the sea.
A Local Man appears, recalls the story of the Diver, then reads the letter and tells Fusazaki that the woman he met earlier must be the ghost of his mother. Fusazaki arranges a memorial service to be performed in memory of his mother. Summoned by the prayers, Fusazaki’s mother appears in the form of a Dragon Woman. Grateful for the requiem, she dances. Then, she praises the virtue of the Lotus Sutra, thanks to which she could finally attain enlightenment.
This play combines historical characters such as Fujiwara Fuhito (659-720) and his son Fusazaki (681-737) with mythological narratives and fantastic elements. Japan has a long tradition of female divers (“ama”), gatherers of seaweed or collectors of pearls. The location of the play is Fusazaki near Shido Bay (present-day Kagawa Prefecture), facing the Inland Sea. Here stands Shido Temple, the 86th of the 88 sacred places of the Shikoku Island. The founding narrative of this ancient temple, the “Sanshū shido-dō jō engi”, relates the birth of Minister Fujiwara no Fusazaki and the retrieval of the jewel from the Palace Under the Sea.
The highlight of the first act of the play is the famous section called “tama-no-dan” or “jewel scene”, in which the Diver enacts how she dove into the sea and retrieved the jewel. This is a highly dramatic passage in which mimetic movements illustrate her heroic feat. Music and chant emphasize the action with sudden tempo changes.
The highlight of the second act is the “haya-mai” fast-tempo dance of the Dragon Woman. The Diver, now reborn as a Dragon, is being able to attain enlightenment, as preached by the Lotus Sutra.
This play has numerous performance variants, most of which feature changes in the “jewel scene” or in the dance section. Variations include one in which the Dragon Woman tucks the Lotus Sutra scroll in her robe and dances, before giving it to Fusazaki. Other variations may feature an all-white costume, a large headpiece representing a dragon, a headpiece with a white lotus, red or white wigs, or a mask with a particularly strong expression. In addition, dance and movement patterns, as well as musical sections, may differ according to the variant.