The Priest in Exile

Heike exile sacrifice

平家女護島

へいけ にょごのしま

heike nyogo no shima

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Written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu, this play was first staged at the Takemotoza Theatre in 1719.


Kikai Island

鬼界ヶ島

Priest Shunkan, who plotted against the ruling Heike Clan and its Chief, Lord Kiyomori, has lived a lonely life of exile on Kikai Island for the past three years together with Naritsune and Yasuyori, fellow plotters of the abortive revolt. Naritsune has fallen in love with Chidori, a woman diver of the island. Hearing of the romance from Yasuyori, Shunkan smiles for the first time in many months. Bidding Naritsune bring Chidori before them, Shunkan unites the couple in marriage in a ceremony perforce so simple that the traditional wedding toast has to be drunk in mountain water instead of sake.

The celebrations are barely over when a ship is sighted and they find it has brought a messenger, Seno-o, with an Imperial rescript announcing an amnesty for Naritsune and Yasuyori. Shunkan, however, is overwhelmed to find that his name is not included in the ilon and Seno-o sneers at the old man's pitiful dismay.

A second messenger, Motoyasu, then reveals that, since Shunkan is regarded as the ringleader of the conspiracy against Lord Kiyomori, the old priest has not been granted a complete pardon with freedom to return to the capital with the others but he may go to his home in Bizen. Shunkan is overjoyed at the good news and the three men and Chidori move to board the boat which will take them from their exile.

Seno-o, however, declares he has orders to take only three people and refuses, in spite of their protests, to accept Chidori. Naritsune says he would rather remain with his wife in poverty on Kikai Island than return to the capital without her but he is forced on board, leaving Chidori behind. Shunkan appeals to Seno-o for mercy but Seno-o refuses to listen. Then Seno-o adds to the old man's grief by brutally telling him that his wife is dead, killed by Lord Kiyomori when she spurned his advances after Shunkan had been banished. Enraged and grieved, Shunkan snatches Seno-o's sword and kills his tormentor. Then he urges Chidori on board to join Naritsune telling Motoyasu that, by the killing of Seno-o, his pardon must now be considered as invalid and he must remain in exile. But since Motoyasu's orders are to take back three people, Chidori must go in his place.

The young couple and Yasuyori bid him farewell and as the ship moves away the old priest is left with the mooring rope slipping through his reluctant hands.


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