The Ghost of Fujiwara no Kamatari
(The sunlight shining through the trees at the alter to Fujiwara no Kamatari at the top of the mountain behind Tansan Shrine.)
I have been struggling with a cold for more than three weeks now, but didn’t let it keep me from travelled to Nara last weekend or from doing a spot of hiking through the mountains, as evidenced by the photograph above. Unfortunately, that wasn’t conducive to the cold becoming better.
It might have been the physical exertion that exacerbated the cold, but oh, how many ways of seeing the same facts there are! When I met my Nô performance teacher (aka sensei) yesterday, he said that it was probably the spirit of Fujiwara no Kamatari. When I visited his grave in Nara, had I performed the mantras and mudras that sensei had taught me? Of course I hadn’t although I had made a polite bow at his alter. But having not prayed correctly for his spirit, the spirit was unhappy with me. So said sensei.
Sigh. Nevermind that Fujiwara no Kamatari (614 – 669) was the first Fujiwara in what would become the aristocratic family closest to the imperial throne for centuries and lived more than a century before Kūkai (774 – 835), who introduced the Shingon form of esoteric Buddhism the mudras and mantras I know come from. Also, nevermind that Kamatari held the position of Jingi no Haku (Shinto ritualist) at the court and opposed the official adoption of Buddhism by Emperor Shōtoku and the Soga clan.
But what’s interesting about Kamatari is his (somewhat weak) connection to Nô through his contemporary Hata no Kawakatsu. First, a little more about Kamatari: to keep Buddhism from entering Japan, Kamatari fought the Soga clan. In the process of this fight, Kamatari probably had a role in banishing another close ally to Emperor Shōtoku, namely Hata no Kawakatsu.
Hata no Kawakatsu is fascinating because of his role before being banished. He was supposedly the creator of kagura (Shinto dances), and Zeami, the great Nô actor, playwright, and theorist that brough Nô to its full blossoming around the turn of the 14th century, claims Hata no Kawakatsu as his ancestor. As the creator of kagura, Kawakatsu made 66 performances to be performed using 66 masks that Emperor Shōtoku created. These were debuted at the imperial palace and have been performed thereafter at shrines throughout Japan. After he was banished, Kawakatsu left court in a dugout boat, which brought him to Harima province, where he was worshiped as a violent god.
Zeami tells this story in his text Fūshikaden (風姿花伝) along with two other origin myths for Nô, one Shinto, one Buddhist. Zeami could simultaneously see multiple explanations for the origin of Nô. Why shouldn’t I believe multiple reasons for the length of my struggle with this cold? Why shouldn’t I believe the spirit of Fujiwara no Kamatari is showing his displeasure? The reason for such displeasure could even be because I am vaguely connected to his enemy, Hata no Kawakatsu, through my enthusiastic engagement with Nô! It makes for a good story, in any case. Haha!
(Historical note: After Emperor Shōtoku’s death and the defeat of the Soga clan, Fujiwara no Kamatari contributed to writing the Taika Reforms, which were established by Emperor Kōtoku.)