Fraternizing with the Spirits in the Noh Plays Saigyōzakura and Yamanba
Not rarely do spirits of trees and plants appear in Noh plays as main characters having lively conversations with human beings. Both – the common belief in medieval Japan that plants, trees and the land itself could possess the spirit of Buddha, and the cults of tree worship existing since ancient times – give some clues to enquire the significance of composing and performing Noh plays grounded on what previously had been described only by words or pictures, the fraternizing with the spirits. This paper aims to examine how Noh plays enacted the ‘life force’ (sei) believed to permeate nature on the stage, and further the effects that such dramatisation had on the audiences. To do so, two Noh plays will be examined: in Saigyōzakura (Saigyō’s Cherry Tree), the famous monk-poet Saigyō and the spirit of an old cherry tree elegantly debate how this world should be viewed. In Yamanba (The Mountain Crone), the spirit (or the phantom) of untamed nature of deep mountains makes its apparition.