Upon arriving at Kyoto’s Sagano district, a traveling Buddhist priest (waki) decides to visit the ruins of Nonomiya. Nonomiya used to be the shrine where the Royal Priestess, an imperial princess who served as a priestess at Ise Shrine, secluded herself as part of her purification practices. Its precincts were separated from the secular world only by a rough ‘torii‘ gate and a brushwood hedge.
The traveling priest arrives on the seventh day of the ninth lunar month. Soon, a local woman (shite in the first act) comes to the lonely autumn ruins and approaches him. The woman informs the priest that on that day, Prince Hikaru Genji visited his lover, Lady Rokujō, who had secluded herself in Nonomiya, and devoted a poem to her. The woman then recounts the whole story about the break-up between Prince Genji and Lady Rokujō.
When Prince Genji pulled away from her, Lady Rokujō secluded herself in Nonomiya together with her daughter, who had been chosen to be the new Royal Priestess. Despite that, one day Prince Genji came to visit her in order to demonstrate his affection for her. However, after expressing her doubts in a poem, Lady Rokujō traveled to Ise Shrine with her daughter.
At the end of her story, the woman confesses to be none other than the ghost of Lady Rokujō and disappears into the shadow of the rough ‘torii‘ gate.
Soon, a local man (ai) comes to the priest and recounts the whole story of Lady Rokujō’s affair with Prince Genji. After suggesting that the priest hold a memorial service for Lady Rokujō’s spirit, the man leaves.
Night falls, and the priest begins the ritual. Before long, the ghost of Lady Rokujō appears in an ox carriage. She reenacts the “battle of the carriages” that happened during Kamo Festival and asks the priest to soothe her pain and self-doubt. She laments her separation with Prince Genji at Nonomiya, and performs a dance that symbolises her yearning for the old days. In the end, after expressing her uncertainty in front of the ‘torii‘ gate, Lady Rokujō gets back inside the ox carriage and leaves. It is not known whether her spirit managed to renounce the secular world.
The play “Nonomiya” is sourced from the chapter “Sakaki” of the classical novel “The Tale of Genji”, which describes the break-up between Prince Hikaru Genji and Lady Rokujō-no-Miyasudokoro. In the Noh play, Prince Genji is depicted as a kind man expressing his affection to Lady Rokujō even on the brink of their separation.
Lady Rokujō’s heart is torn between the necessity to end their romance and her profound yearning for Prince Genji’s affection. In the play, this feeling of indecision is beautifully juxtaposed with the gloomy and lonely autumn scenery.
The slight changes in the direction of the woman’s gaze and the heartfelt tones and rhythm of the libretto and music express the state of deep confusion in Lady Rokujō’s heart.
The “battle of the carriages” depicted in the second half of the play is an incident described in the chapter “Aoi” of “The Tale of Genji”. On the way to Kamo Festival, Lady Rokujō’s ox carriage was taken over by the attendants of Prince Genji’s official wife and pushed out to the very back of the audience. The incident hurt Lady Rokujō’s pride and exacerbated her jealousy of Genji’s wife, Aoi.
Another highlight are the ‘jo-no-mai’ and ‘ha-no-mai’ dances, through which Lady Rokujō’s ghost expresses her grief over parting ways with Genji at Nonomiya.
After the end of the ‘jo-no-mai’, there is a scene where she brushes the dew off the brushwood hedge. There is also a memorable scene in front of the ‘torii‘ gate after the end of the ‘ha-no-mai’. The play ends with the expression “the gate of the burning house”, which is a metaphor for the secular world. Such an ending is quite rare for a Noh play (in Kanze school). It remains unclear whether Lady Rokujō was able to exit this “gate of the burning house” and rid herself of her jealousy and resentment in order to achieve salvation.