Raiden: The God of Thunder and Lightening

                                                Translation and Introduction by Brad Torre

Introduction: The Michizane Legend

The Noh Drama, Raiden, is based on the legend of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) who was a prominent scholar during the reign of Emperor Uda. Michizane experienced much misfortune later in his life when Fujiwara no Tokihira started a secret conspiracy against him in 900. Michizane was demoted and sent into exile to Kyushu where he died several years later. After his death, the process of his deification began. Many misfortunes began to trouble Tokihira's family and supporters. Tokihira died in 909; a supporter Minamoto no Hikaru was killed in a hunting accident; Tokihira's daughter and two of Tokihira’s grandsons died quite young; and in 930 a terrible lightening storm broke out in the capital, killing a high Fujiwara counselor who had been involved in getting Michizane exiled. Following each of these incidents, Michizane was appointed to higher and higher ranks in order to try to appease his spirit. Finally, 90 years after his death, Michizane was appointed to be Minister of the Left and then a few months later to Prime Minister, the highest rank he could attain, and he was apparently appeased. This late 14th-century Noh play tells the story of the vindictive spirit of Michizane who returns to the Imperial Palace in order to exact his revenge upon those who betrayed him. It is very “action-packed” for a Noh play. Given its exciting nature, it is somewhat surprising that it has not been translated into English more.

The God of Thunder and Lightning

Waki: The Priest Hossho-bo
Mae-Shite (in first half): The ghost of Sugawara no Michizane
Nochi-Jite (in second half): Raiden (Michizane as the Thunder God)

Hossho-bo: I am the head priest Hossho-bo hailing from Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei .
Well, for the prosperity of the peasants I have been performing the
Hyakuza no Goma ceremony, but since the rite is complete,
I think I will begin the Nin’noe ceremony.

Michizane (entering on the bridge): Truly the benevolence of the Buddha is renewed,
a reflection of the Hiyoshi deity from long ago,
whose oath, as deep as Lake Biwa,
fades in time,
as a moon is mirrored on the lake,
whose lapping waves
draw near the shore,
so I draw near.


This renowned place, autumn on the hallowed peak of Mt. Hiei;
Is it not autumn on the hallowed peak of Mt. Hiei?
The full moon casts its light over prominent locations, even as far as the three
mountains that are known as the Fujis of the capital.
The fire of the law of Buddha shines naturally
thanks to the lambent benevolence of Buddha.
His vow does not miss anyone.
His vow does not miss anyone.


Michizane: Oh how exalted this mountain is!
From ancient times it has been the first temple to follow the teachings of
Truly, my visitation here was not in vain.
While standing on this mountain I call forth its divine protection.
Paying respects to the protective deities,
I knock on the door to the main entrance of the temple.

Hossho-bo: The night deepens
  the eaves’ white color intensifies
  in the moonlight.
I cannot believe that there is someone knocking on my grass door.
I wonder if it is the wind blowing through the pines?
Oh, what a strange thing this is.

Michizane: You, apprehensive person inside,
  don't you know my voice?
Do not be suspicious!
He continues to knock on the door with his fan.

Hossho-bo: How strange a thing this is indeed!
When I look carefully through this crack,
  I see the Minister there!
How disturbing, I cannot think straight!

Michizane: Lured by the moon
  I approach the hut with the dawn.
While he is still knocking on the door,
  from inside comes again a voice.

Waki: How wonderful!
Are you not the Minister?
Please, come this way.

Shite: The night’s moon

Chorus: Illuminates an unexpected guest.
An unexpected guest.
Such a rare encounter must be a dream; he is at a loss
  for words.
If only the minister were still alive,
  how easy it would be to speak!
Anyone would think they looked very happy.
How would it be if he were still a man of this world!
How would it be!


Hossho-bo: When I discovered you had passed away at Tsukushi,
  I held numerous memorial services in your honor…
  but, I wonder, did they reach you?

Michizane: Through and through,
  all your prayers reached me and I am very grateful.
Lasting until the close of autumn,
  the ancient leaves fall gently,
  even at the absence of the wind.
The mourning tears of grief,
  fall to the ground
  without being asked.

Hossho-bo: Precious is the vow which binds master to pupil.

Michizane: Just as the vow between parent and child is intimate.

Hossho-bo & Michizane: Is this what they call the “Triple Relation?”

Shite: Among these relations,
  in the pursuit of absolute truth,
  there is no more binding relation
  than that vow between master and pupil.

Chorus: He is obliged to the priest,
How can he hurt him?

Long ago,
  when Michizane was a child,
  he had neither a father nor mother
  and was lost.
He was raised by the Counselor Sugawara
  and felt bound to him by a filial vow.
He was raised with so much care
  that he came to look upon the Counselor
  as his true father.
When he began his learning,
  he was entrusted to this chief priest.
He beckoned the moon’s light to his window,
  he gathered together fireflies,
  and made his heart clear to the summer insects.

Michizane: The forest of poetry grew very thick.

Chorus: The power of his words was never exhausted
  and the priest
  whose efforts were unshakable,
  even by a storm,
  was joyful at his achievements.
How could he forget any of those wonderful teachings,
  each worth a thousand gold coins?

Michizane: My hopes in this world
  were not fulfilled.
But thanks to the blessing of the Brahma and Indra deities,
  after my death,
  I became the roaring thunder.
I will now fly to the Imperial Palace
  and kick to death
  all the noblemen
  who caused me so much anguish.
When this happens,
  they will summon you,
  but you must not go to them!

Hossho-bo: If they call for me once or twice,
  I will not go there.

Michizane: Even if the Imperial Envoy should continue to come,
  you must not go there!

Hossho-bo: Since I live in the domain of the Emperor,
  if the Envoy calls thrice,
  how could I refuse to go?

Michizane: Suddenly the Minister changes into a demon.

Hossho-bo: At the same time, he takes up a pomegranate,
  lying as an offering to the Buddha in front of his image,

Chorus: he clutches it quickly, crushing it with his teeth
  he clutches it quickly, crushing it with his teeth
Standing close to the door,
  he bites into the pomegranate
  and spews it out,
  becoming flames
  and burning the door.
Observing this, the priest shows no sign of agitation.
Using the water of purification,
  he makes mystical signs with his fingers.
The flames disappear
  upon recitation of his magical incantation.
Concealed within the smoke,
  the Minister
  vanishes, we know not where;
  vanishes, we know not where.

V Ai- Interlude: As predicted, the Imperial Envoy requests Hosshobo three times to come to the Imperial Palace to protect the Emperor from Michizane who has transformed into Raiden, the god of lightening and thunder. As the second half of the play begins, Hossho-bo has already arrived at the palace.

Hossho-bo: I sit down in the Ceremony Hall of the Imperial Palace.
As I begin the Kannon chapter of the Lotus Sutra while rubbing my
  rosary beads,

Chorus: the palace is surrounded by black clouds
  and is black
  as darkest night.

Hossho-bo: It is exactly as I forsaw.
While we were unprepared and relaxing,

Chorus: oh wonder! Again the sky is covered by black clouds
Oh wonder! Again the sky is covered by black clouds
  thunderbolts extend throughout,
  and the entire palace becomes dark,
  as if a scene from Hell.
Even the mountains themselves crumble.
We wonder if the Palace
  will be hurled into the sky
  by the relentless tremors.
  the Thunder God
  shows himself.

Hossho-bo: I, facing and addressing the Thunder God, say:
  there is no place in this country
  that does not belong to the Emperor.
Up until yesterday
  the Minister Sugawara was a subject
  blessed by the imperial favor,
  but now
  his internal grace of Buddha
  and his external acumen of loyalty
  have lost their balance.
You are acting inappropriately!

Raiden (Michizane as the God of Thunder):
Do not be foolish, priest!
You abandon me,
  but I fear you not
  even though you are a priest.
To those who mistreated me,
  let us make known

Chorus: who I am!
Carried by a small dragon,
he flies back up into the black clouds.
Clusters of thunderbolts
  fall ceaselessly all around
  as he flies around the Palace.
Even his majesty, the Emperor,
  appears to be in danger.
But, lo!
Afraid of the place where the priest is standing,
  the thunder stops rolling!
Miraculous indeed!
When the priest is in the Ceremony Hall
  the thunder roars in the Kokiden.
When the priest moves into the Kokiden,
  the thunder roars in the Seiryoden.
When the priest moves into the Seiryoden,
  the thunder roars in the Pear Chamber,
  or in the Plum Chamber,
  or in the living-room,
  or in the sleeping-room,
  always moving to different places.
Asserting that he shall not be inferior to the priest,
  he continues to roar;
  as the priest prays,
  the chase continues.
A similar display of power has never been seen.
Terrible indeed!
As the priest completes the reading
  of the Thousand-armed Kannon,
  the thunder cannot even stand to
  stay in the Thunder-room,
  and desperately gives up.
Coming away from the inner doors of the palace,
  the Thunder God says, “Please forgive all this uproar.
I have heard and must obey the words of the Buddha.
Since the Emperor has consecrated me as Tenman,
I, the defeated spirit of Michizane,
    am so very happy.
While living,
    I was so very bitter,
    but am so joyous
    now in death!”
Riding again
    upon the black clouds,
    he rises back
   into the sky.