Monday, January 26, 2009

Early Japan, As we Noh it Today

Early Japan, As We Noh It Today: The Origins, Legends and Figures of a Worldly Tradition

Jessica Mason and Andrea Perry
THR 411 History of Theatre; Dramatic Literature
Dr. Sharon Watkinson - Niagara University
April 15, 2004

Historical accounts and legendary figures are accessible to scholars and communities today. Although they are available, that does not mean they exist in stone. For instance, biblical works and manuscripts translated by monks and philosophers have inevitably been corrupted over the years. Because there aren’t many documents available addressing certain topics more than once, people tend to use what is available as a guide. Most of the plays written in Greek Antiquity were lost during the fall of the Roman Empire, when the Library of Alexandria was burned and the Barbarian Invasions occurred. Had the plays survived, there would be a vast amount of information for paleographers and other scholars to explore. There would also be a tremendous amount of information revealing different traditions and societal structures. Unfortunately, there is no way to account for the majority of unrecorded history. After all, to fully know recorded history would still be far from having any glimpse at the truth that history tells. The pattern that occurs with any popularized document is that people accept the small piece of recorded history or stories written centuries ago as absolute truth, rather than seeing the writing as a part of the whole of history.

In Western civilization, Greek figures and myths are commonly referred to, whereas Japanese myths aren’t well known among the general population. Many scholars have focused on the ancient origins of Japan, discovering the early traditions. Although Japanese legends formed before 1300, there haven’t been any documents recovered from before the middle of the 14th Century. Despite the difficulty in tracking down legends, which have been carried through generations predominantly by word of mouth, Japanese legends have been accessible through Noh theatre. Many of the dramas loosely began as popular legends. The structure of the plays and legends are parallel in certain aspects and reveal Japanese ideals, but so far there haven’t been any closely studied comparisons between the two. However, the legends and history of early Japan serve as a basis for understanding Noh theatre. This information isn’t extensive, but it is probably reliable, as there haven’t been any dramatically different accounts among sources. The sources on the legends themselves are comprised of collections of the stories as adapted by different authors. The sources on early Japanese theatre mention basic components of the legends in relation to their role in the early rituals that eventually came to be called Noh. Though there are no sources that cross between the two styles, it is possible to draw some basic conclusions about early rituals, theatrical techniques, and the myths that played a large role in Japan before the 14th Century and still do today. The dramatic form known as Noh developed over hundreds of years, incorporating primal rituals and religious beliefs of the Japanese people.

Two major religions have been prominent in Japanese society. Buddhism and Shinto have belonged to the people of Japan in some form or another from its earliest beginnings. Both religions have had a tremendous impact on the role of myth and the development of theatrical forms, but Shinto appears more frequently in connection to the early Japanese traditions and the structure of the legends. One of the key aspects of the Shinto religion is the emphasis on the human afterlife. This emphasis is apparent in the context of legends and myths, as well as in basic teachings and practices of the religion. The notion of Kami (or gods) is different from the western notion of “god.” Often sacred spirits can take the form of natural objects and even concepts themselves. So when humans die, they take the form of these and are considered to be “ancestral kami” by their living family members (Shinto 1). Unlike western religions, there are more abstractions involved in Japanese religions, which is why the legends are so distinct from other legends throughout the world. In Japanese legends, there is a tremendous focus on the spiritual transformations that occur between the world of the spirits and the human world. There is less of a divide between the two worlds, and spirits in the form of natural objects often communicate with living humans. Noh plays frequently convey “tragic themes” acted out by different leaders of respect, such as spirits, priests and heroes (Danziger 148). Spiritualism is a component in every Noh play as well as in every early legend. Another factor that brings the realms together is the well known appreciation of nature that the early people of Japan possessed. Nature played a significant role in the everyday life of the ancient people, as well as in their art forms (Fenollosa and Pound 58). Considering the dependence of early people on nature and spiritualism, it’s no surprise Fenollosa described Noh as a “purification of the Japanese soul for 400 years” (29).

The legends exist in oral forms today as well as in written form. The written forms of Japanese legends are accessible through children’s stories and other scholastic collections. In Japan, these age-old legends are still popular forms of entertainment and are learned at an early age in the form of stories. Noh theatre is accessible to a wide audience, and can be experienced on different levels of understanding. In “When Art Imitates Life,” this notion is explored. An example of this was the heart of the article. A Noh play, Lemminkainen’s Mother, retells an epic Finnish myth that is filled with the dramatic emotions of life. The show was performed at one of the few permanent Noh stages in the United States for an audience of mentally retarded students. Because of the accessible emotions in the story and the style of performance, the experience was pleasing and even therapeutic for the students (Green 1). It’s amazing that the Noh form of entertainment has such a strong ability to communicate sentiments to an audience.

Just as a mentally disabled individual is able to appreciate the dramatic actions of the performers without fully understanding the text and details of the storyline, an audience member who is foreign or very young can still be greatly moved by the performance. The main reason that the Noh have a special quality in touching a universal crowd is the many different elements (including chant, music, dance, and mime) that express the story (Green 2). An audience of mentally disabled individuals might not have the same level of commitment to a performance of Shakespeare, where there is such a strong emphasis on the crafted and poetic words.

Of course words are important to the Noh dramas as well. The dance drama, Kabuki, was developed in reaction to the lyrical play. From a scholastic standpoint, some consider the dramas to be quite a challenge. In fact, upon his experience of a performance, Charles Danziger described it as being a “richly poetic, archaic language laden with symbolism and allusions to ancient verse” (149). The importance of social status in Ancient Japan still affects the performances of the drama today. Considering it was developed for a privileged audience, the language may even be at a level that is difficult for Japanese individuals to fully understand, just as the ancient verse of Shakespeare is still a challenge for the English. This truly stresses the importance of the story being told, and in some cases, the legend behind it.

Noh is an art form that has introduced a large amount of Japanese culture to the theatrical and everyday world. Mikiko Ishii compares the growth of Noh to the yearning of the Japanese soul. He references the dust cover of Kunio Komparu’s The Noh Theatre: Principles and Perspectives, to describe the great need that the soul has for a solid form of a divine force to bring the spirits and gods closer to them (43). During the originating of the rituals that eventually were formalized under the title of Noh, gods were considered living beings that were very close to men (43). This is no surprise, considering the basic practices and beliefs of the Shinto religion, which greatly affected the formation of music and dance rituals.

The roots of Noh trace back to the rice fields of Japan, where plays were performed for hundreds of years before they became structured for an aristocratic audience. Villagers, dancers, priests, and magicians joined together in the rice fields to celebrate and offer prayer to the gods in hopes of a good rice crop and longevity (Hamanaka 36). Shirabyoshi, or “white beat,” was a dance that became widespread after the middle of the 12th Century among female entertainers. Many scholars believe that it evolved into Kusemai, a form of dancing to the melodic recitation of historical tales that were several times longer than typical Noh texts (Araki 59). Shirabyoshi consisted of choreographic patterns out of another specific form of dance, known as Bungaku. Nobles taught Shirabyoshi to professional dancing girls for their performances before the courts. The two Japanese dancers Shima no Senzai and Wakanomae are credited with the creation of the Shirabyoshi form of dance (Araki 62). These early forms of dance rituals reveal the widespread need of the people to connect with some spiritual force through an artistic form.

Two major rituals developed that revealed the early connections between music and storytelling in the form of a dance celebration. The ancient form of Dengaku literally translates to “rice field music” (Ishii 44). Long before it was known as a form of Noh, this specific type of ritual existed. The dance performed in the name of good harvests during sewing time in the rice fields was one part of the Noh that developed in the late 14th Century. Usually the dances were held with a small accompaniment of drums and flutes because these were accessible to the middle class people who participated (Ishii 44). Dengaku carried spiritual themes, and can be considered a Shinto ritual. Legends also played a large role in this form of ritual, as well as others, because the dances expressed the emotions and experiences that the legends possess.

At first, Dengaku consisted of many different kinds of talents coming together in a form of prayer, almost resembling a festival. Dengaku, as a form of Noh, originated from the folk dances of the Japanese agricultural communities, but by the later part of the Heian Period it had become a variety show with jugglers and acrobats (Araki 55). Juggling was a prominent part of the early Dengaku, but as time went on it further developed into song-and-dance, which is where the legend played a larger role. The singing aspect consisted of chanting ballad-like stories, which was a common oral tradition (Binnie 1). Later, the Dengaku formalized and was known as Denkagu Hoshi. This form involved monks who were performers and professional entertainers (Araki 55). The monks participated in what was called the “ennen,” or an extravagant program of entertainment that followed important Buddhist ceremonies (Araki 55).

Buddhism, the second major religion in Japan, grew to be accepted as a main religion, but this did not affect the Shinto style of legends and Noh plays that were created. The early forms of Dengaku were primitive in comparison with the efforts put forth in the later part of the 14th Century, when a man by the name of Kanami Kiyotsugo came into the picture. The Dengaku that was originally performed at the planting ceremonies, continued on as a “farmer’s dance” (Ishii 45). All of the dramatic elements that began in the fields were built upon over time, slowly transforming into a folk art that was performed at larger festivals of prayer (45). The transformation was only one of many, though it is one of two forms of the Noh associated with ancient rituals and legends. One can only suspect that although the planting ceremonies continued on a small scale for sometime, they died out over the years. This is one of the problems that scholars face when trying to fully understand the roots and ancestry involved in well-developed art forms. The people of the rice fields carried the heart of the myths, but only few realized the extreme importance of the traditions these people carried. Scholars can only trace back so far and are forced to rely on the few individuals who included spiritual figures in their plays. The dancing, however, was not completely lost, because dance plays an important role in the dramas today. For example, in Ze-ami’s Kayoi Komachi, a character speaks the words, “shaking it off my sleeves,” and the phrase results in a movement that begins slowly and eventually cultivates into a complete dance (Fenollosa and Pound 19).

Another central form of the dance ritual-turned drama is known as Sarugaku-Noh. The two primitive forms, Sarugaku and Dengaku, have distinctly different origins, traditions and stylistic qualities. Mikiko Ishii considers Sarugaku to be a “corruption” of Sangaku, which is thought to have been a folk art imported from China (44). Saru, which means “monkey” in Japanese, was considered a farcical entertainment because of the use of monkeys trained in acrobatics. The idea may seem ridiculous to a Western society associating monkeys with a zoo, but in ancient Japan the relationship between humans and other forms of nature were extremely personal.

Like the Dengaku rituals, Sarugaku existed during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and held spiritual associations very close. The period was classified by the many plays that Ze-ami Motokyo produced (Binnie 1). It is not surprising that Sarugaku was performed in shrines and temples on ceremonial occasions with the purpose of expelling evil spirits and bringing health and fortune to the people. It was also performed to make a celebration of prosperity over a land or a group of people (Ishii 44). One interesting comparison was made by Ishii, regarding the roots of Noh being predominantly set in the Sarugaku form of drama. His descriptions and analysis of the dramas reveal a belief in the assumption that realistic actions (or monomane) were the strength of the Sarugaku players, whereas the Dengaku performers’ strengths were focused on music and dance (Ishii 45). This opinion basically sets up a general distinction between the two well-known theatrical beginnings of Noh. Although these ritualistic entertainments were major contributors to Noh theatre, there were many smaller forms that existed, as well.

Kusemai is a form of dance that was very popular in cities during early Muromachi Period, and is considered to be the greatest single contribution to Sarugaku Noh (Araki 57). Other musical forms included “imayo,” a popular from of song during the late Heian Period, as well as “kouta,” which eventually took the place of “imayo” (Araki 61). All of these technical forms of movement and rituals are intertwined in some way. Many forms shared the same names and often, names changed as the society developed. Despite any changes in form, many of the common elements remained the same. Religious figures and spiritual tales were an unchanging aspect of the dance forms because they were always very important in Japanese society as a whole.

Of all of these music and dance rituals, perhaps Sarugaku offers the most information on the transformation into the drama that is performed today. In Mikiko Ishii’s exploration of the Noh tradition, he uses Masaru Sekin’s account of the Japanese people’s way of thinking to explain how Sarugaku eventually transformed into the highly refined musical drama, Noh, including the comic interludes known as Kyogen. Ishii explains the theory that the monkey form of Sarugaku was considered crude, but by the time the form included a greater godly theme, it was better received by powerful figures (Ishii 44). For a long time the Sarugaku (as well as Dengaku) rituals belonged to a greater portion of society, but as the theatrical form earned a name for itself, it changed to fit the liking of the aristocracy. The origins of the musical drama were, in a way, a more pure form of entertainment, and it might be thought that a part of that purity was lost as the motives behind the productions changed.

The text of Noh plays are known as “utaibon,” or chant books. There are five schools of Noh plays: kwanze, komparu, hosho, kita, and kongo (Waley 36). Within each Noh school, troupes developed singular styles and worked with different texts. There were four Sarugaku troupes, one being Kanze-za, which has been associated with the pioneer of the Noh, Ze-ami (Ishii 45). Noh plays are written partially in prose, called “kotoba,” and partly in verse, called “utai.” Kotoba prose serves the same purpose as the iambic prose of Ancient Greek plays, and was written in the upper-class colloquial of 14th Century Japan (Waley 32).

Both Kan-ami and his son, Ze-ami, were well known Sarugaku actors. In 1375 they won the favor of a very young and powerful Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was greatly entertained by the ceremonial performance and the twelve year old Ze-ami (Binnie 1). This event is the main reason we have some recorded history of Japanese theatre. It raised the personal status of the men, as well as the status of the art, and therefore gained the patronage that allowed them to refine and build upon the structure of the plays. At this point in history, Noh theatre was finally given worldly recognition and was seen as a liberated art form. Although the change was considerably positive for the growth of Noh, there may have been something lost in securing a name and level of ownership for the dramas. At this point, society was far from the days of performing out of a natural urge and desire to congregate and worship. Instead, the focus was placed on pleasing authorities, striving to make a name for the spectacle, and continuing to gain financial support.

During the mid-14th Century, the forms of theatre floating around Japan with the common elements of a song-and-dance ritual began to come under the title of Noh. Unfortunately, recorded information regarding the earliest plays, which would have carried the greatest link to early legends, is sparse. The earliest recordings are believed to have been written by Kanami, but this has only been speculated by scholars. Through these studies, it has also been discovered that the plays were most likely revised a great deal by his son. There are no surviving plays from before this era (Binnie 1).

Although some consider Ze-ami to be the prime figure associated with the dramas, in his treatise, Ze-ami claimed that the founders of Noh were two players by the name of Icchu and Ki-ami (Ishii 46). Regardless of who can be considered the “father of Noh,” Ze-ami contributed a great deal, writing many plays that were centered on legends and legendary figures. An example of this is a myth that he considered to be significant. The drama, titled “Amaterasu Omikami” utilized the Sun Goddess, a figure created in the Age of the Gods (Ishii 50). The story tells of the Sun Goddess who had been hiding in a cave and was trapped in a world of darkness. In reaction to this, eight other deities danced to music to give her comfort. One deity danced with the branch of a sacred tree on her head in a trance. When the Sun Goddess heard this, she reacted by opening the door to the cave a bit to find out what the sound of stamping feet all around her was. The shock caused her to draw back, but a hand prevented her from doing so. At that moment the door was opened, and the light of the Sun Goddess filled the world again (Ishii 50).

Ze-ami drew from this myth, as well as a similar one, in which the Sun Goddess opens the door of the cave to see her own brightness reflected in a mirror. The reason for the hiding of the Sun, that was included in the myth, was because her brother made a joke that there was another, brighter than her. What is significant about this myth is that upon mentioning it, Ze-ami claimed that it and others like it were the origins of Sarugaku (Ishii 50). It is also interesting that early myths would portray a female deity as being irrationally jealous, and so jealous that she (being the sun) would deprive the world of light all because of her brother’s thoughtless comments. This myth, in particular, stands out from many of the published legends that are available in children’s books today, because it focuses solely on deities, rather than a connection between mortals and immortals.

Most of the popularized legends and Noh plays include a balance of a few close characters. Typically, there are one or two mortal characters and one spirit that exist in the form of some other natural treasure. These characters are central to the theme of the story, although others may exist to provide excitement and realism. Another piece that focuses on an ancient legend is Ze-ami’s “Takasago,” which tells the story of two spirits that exist in pine trees that have been separated and need a man named Takasago to help them reunite (Ishii 59). The tale is one of everlasting love, a common theme among the spiritual legends. But the theme of madness is also popular in the Noh plays. Ze-ami and Mikiko Ishii, the scholar who studied him, do have something in common: they both realize a great importance of lunatics. Ishii feels so strongly, he considers them of equal importance to the gods (Ishii 60).

The stories of many Noh plays are centered on spiritual and supernatural beings, such as heroes and ghosts (Fenollosa and Pound 70). Many of these figures have been drawn from legends somewhere along the line, but it is difficult to make exact comparisons. The figures drawn from Ze-ami’s works were reflected on and explained in his treatise, but many writers of the plays are unknown, so there is a lack of authority on the matter. “Kumasaka,” a play about a boy warrior, who battles fifteen giant robbers in the dark, is one example (Fenollosa and Pound 71). Another is “Dojoji,” which is about a girl who falls in love with a priest. The priest runs away from her and takes refuge under a giant, bronze bell. When the bell falls on top of him, the force of the girl's desire turns her into a dragon. She attempts to rescue the priest, but her fiery breath melts the bell and kills the priest (Fenollosa and Pound 71). The stories are very different in style, but “Kumasaka” is more aligned with the types of stories in legendary collections. It is surprising that some of the legends appear in children’s books, considering they are considerably violent and tragic at times.

Many of the legends in the children’s collections were similar, which reveals that these are commonly told and well known stories in Japan, even to this day. The stories in Eric Quayle’s The Shining Princess and other Japanese Legends were more detailed versions of many that appeared in Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. For instance, the short story of “Peach Boy” reveals the same major characters and general meaning, but more details were given in “Momotaro—The Peach Warrior.” Even the longer title suggests a more complex story, and probably one that children would have a harder time identifying with, although it seemed stories from both carried adult themes. Details of specific names and places were included in Quayle’s work, whereas the story was brief and universal in Sakade’s story.

The two stories relate a famous legend of a boy who was stuck inside of a peach that a lonely old couple found. The boy, symbolically named Momotaro (“peach boy”), represented a spiritual gift that soothed the hearts of two people who could never have children. He grew up with an inner mission to defeat demons and seek his fortune. In Quayle’s version, he tells the couple that he has been sent by the gods. In both stories, the couple willingly obeys his wishes and he heads off to battle. Along the way he meets a monkey, pheasant, and a dog. When he shares his food with them, they offer to go to battle with him (Sakade 13). This is where the violent themes come to life. The strategy involved in defeating the demons (who are barely mentioned) is extremely gruesome. It’s hard to imagine why the details of the pheasant pecking the heads of the ogres and Momotaro’s lack of mercy on the chief devil who broke his horns off in submission, were included (Quayle 89). All of these stories are intended for a young audience and still, they are filled with violent images and strict gender roles. Because these legends were created hundreds of years ago, this is not surprising. However, a new collection of revised legends might be in order, although the preservation of these early works is still necessary.

Included in the appendix of this essay are a summary and analysis of the Noh drama, “Atsumori,” along with an adaptation of the legend of the “White Butterfly.” Among collections of Japanese legends and myths, the story of the spirit of Akiko and her faithful love, “Takahama,” is generally given the title, “The White Butterfly.” This story is one of many legends that depict the spiritual bonds that form between lovers. It is common for female lovers to appear on the page in the form of different living creatures, such as plants, animals, and even planets. “Atsumori” is a play that involves the ghost of a man slain in battle, but there is also a continuation of the story of the ghost of Atsumori. The continuation begins after Atsumori’s death. A brief synopsis is included in the appendix to reveal the similar theme of remorse and the tragic tone.

The legends and plays are available in various forms, but the people who created them are not available, and so our experience and understanding of the origins of these are limited. This is the case with many ancient writings. Governments and religious organizations have controlled the minds of people and gained tremendous power through the manipulation of the meaning of texts and of the texts themselves. Threatening Bible stories can be interpreted in at least two ways: as an informative tool to better understand the beliefs and fear of an early people or as a sacred text that possesses the truth of a higher power, not merely the thoughts of man. Although a great deal of original work has been destroyed or manipulated by humans, there is still a need for the discovery and study of early societies. Any philosopher or phenomenologist would have to consider where the texts and myths are coming from, in order to understand their original meaning. In the same manner, anyone receiving the results of a study would have to consider the inevitable biases that exist. Despite the possibility of corruption, there are still experimental studies that are aimed at trying to uncover history without damaging it with personal bias. Scholars are focusing closely on early literature and archeologists uncover artifacts that exist as clues to uncover history, but there are still abundant amounts of missing pieces. Legends are often carried by word of mouth, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace back through hundreds of years, although there are small clues that feed the imagination. There is scant hardcore information involved, so many of the studies become subjective. Recreating an early legend is possible, but again, it must be accepted that the modern aspects of society have an inevitable affect on the early forms. This is the case with the legends of the Noh dramas. Although there are many pieces existing in the form of plays and famous legends, limited information surrounding these pieces exists.

Works Cited

Araki, James T. The Ballad-Drama of Medieval Japan. Los Angeles, CA: California UP, 1964.

Binnie, Paul. “Japanese Noh Theatre.” 2004. 14 Feb. 2004 .

Danziger, Charles. The American who couldn’t Say Noh: Almost Everything You Need to Know About Japan. New York, NY: Kodansha Int., 1993.

Fenollosa, Ernest, and Ezra Pound. The Classic Noh Theatre of Japan. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1959.

Green, Michelle, and Rick Reinhard. “When Art Imitates Life: A Look at Art and Drama Therapy.” Public Welfare 53.2 (1995) MasterFILE Select EBSCOhost 17 Feb. 2004 .

Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford, 2003.

Hamanaka, Sheila, and Ayaho Ohmi. In Search of the Spirit: The Living National Treasures of Japan. New York: Murrow Junior, 1999.

Hare, Thomas B. Zeami’s Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo. California: Stanford UP, 1986.

Ishii, Mikiko. “The Noh Theater: Mirror, Mask, and Madness.” Early and Traditional Drama: Africa, Asia, and the New World. Ed. Clifford Davidson and John H. Stroupe. Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1994. 43-62.

Japanese Legends about Supernatural Sweethearts. Ed. D.L Ashliman. 23 Apr. 1999.
10 Apr. 2004 .
---. Folktales from Japan. Ed. D.L. Ashliman. 2003. 10 Apr. 2004 .

Sakade, Florence. Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. 3rd ed. Tokyo: Tuttle, 2003.

“Shinto.” Japan-guide. 30 Jan. 2004. 12 Apr. 2004

Quayle, Eric. The Shining Princess and Other Japanese Legends. New York: Arcade,1989.

Waley, Arthur. The Noh Plays of Japan. New York: Grove, 1957.

Appendix I
Takahama and the White Butterfly
A Japanese Legend Selected and edited by Jessica Mason
Adapted from D.L. Ashliman’s “The White Butterfly”

There was an old man who lived alone. Takahama was his name, and his neighbors were sure that he was mad, for he lived by himself and was never seen to have a lady in his life. Though he appeared to be happy, his watchful neighbors thought he was strange. They worried that he might be lonely in his little house behind the cemetery of a temple called Sozanji.

His neighbors noticed his sister-in-law and her son coming to his little house for a visit on morning. Sadly, they were visiting Takahama because he was a very sick old man and needed to be taken care of. The two family members sat by his bed because they thought he was so sick that he might only have a few hours left to live. A strange thing happened as they watched him fall asleep during the sunny afternoon. They had a window propped open that filled the tiny room with fresh air, and suddenly a beautiful white butterfly entered through the window at the very moment the man fell asleep. It rested on his pillow, just beside his head.

Takahama’s young nephew tried to chase the butterfly out using a fan, but every time he did so, the butterfly came right back through the window. Finally, the boy managed to follow the butterfly out of the house without letting it turn back around. He quickly followed the glimmering butterfly all the way through the garden and ended up in the cemetery, where it fluttered in the air above a tomb stone. Before the young boy could read the name on the stone; the white creature mysteriously vanished. Although this startled the boy, he stared at the name “Akiko” on the stone hoping he would be able to remember it later. He also noticed some writing on the stone that said that the woman named “Akiko” was at the young age of eighteen when she died. What surprised the boy was the life that surrounded the moss covered stone. It seemed that there was a bucket of water that had been recently filled, giving life to the patch of flowers that appeared to be blessed with color and strength. Of course, this made him very curious, so he ran to the house with questions to ask his mother.

When he arrived, his mother told him that his Uncle Takahama had passed away, and he asked her about the name he had seen on the grave. She thought for a moment and then responded, telling her son that Akiko was the girl that Takahama was going to marry fifty years ago, but before they were married she died of the consumption. She said to her son, “That is why your uncle never married and lived so close to the cemetery. He decided to do these things in honor of his marriage. He spent all of his life being faithful to the promise he made, and has kept all of his memories of her close to his heart.” The boy wanted to know more about his uncle’s love, so she told him, “Your uncle went to Akiko’s grave every day of his life. No matter what the weather was like, he prayed for her. That is why you found the fresh water and flowers—it was your sweet uncle who did those things.”

It was true, and now Takahama’s family understood why the pure, white butterfly would not leave his side. The tiny butterfly was Akika’s loving spirit coming to take him away, for he was sick and could no longer spend another day taking care of her grave. The old man’s love was returned and he was finally free.

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