Kasuga ryûjin ("The Dragon God of Kasuga") is a Noh play featuring the monk Myôe Shônin (1173-1232), who desires to travel to China or India to study Buddhism, but who is convinced by the dragon god of Kasuga Shrine that there is no need to go overseas when equivalents to the Buddhist monuments of China and India can be found close to home, in Japan.
The play may have been written by Komparu Zenchiku (1405-1468), or by the founder of Noh, Zeami (1363-1443). It is a fifth-category kiri-Noh play, of the type that would traditionally serve as a thematically appropriate conclusion for a program of five plays. All five schools of Noh have Kasuga ryûjin in their repertoire; each school's version of the play differs somewhat, with the Kanze school adding a Dragon Princess tsure character who dances a tennyo-mai ("angel dance"), while the Hôshô and Kongô schools add multiple Dragon Kings, along with a Dragon Princess who dances a chû-no-mai ("middle dance"). The Kanze school sometimes adds a segment where the Dragon God presents Myôe with a jewel.
The play takes place at Kasuga, in Nara, in the spring.
It opens with the waki, Myôe, entering with two wakitsure (monks), singing of their intentions to travel to China ("the land where the sun goes down"). Myôe performs a nanori, introducing himself, and explaining that he is going to Kasuga Shrine to bid farewell to the deity, as he departs on his journey to China and India.
They arrive at the shrine, and Myôe begins talking to an old man (the shite). He explains his intention to travel to China and India, to visit the great sites of the life of the Historical Buddha (Shakyamuni). The old man welcomes Myôe, saying that he is a favorite of the deity of Kasuga, but asks why he should think that the god would want to see him leave, and travel so far away. The old man suggests that there is no need to visit these sites of the distant past, saying that Vulture Peak (where the Buddha preached) is now Mt. Mikasa, that the Deer Park there at Kasuga is the very same Deer Park (in India) where the Historical Buddha once preached, and that one should be satisfied with visiting Mt. Hiei, Yoshino, or Mt. Tsukuba, instead of traveling all the way to China to see Mt. Tiantai or Mt. Godai.
Myôe agrees to give up his journey, regarding the old man as an oracle, and asks his name. The play gives the oracle's name as Tokifû Hideyuki, a reference to both Nakatomi no Tokifû (731-818) and Nakatomi no Hideyuki (713-807), who are said to have played a role in the founding of Kasuga Shrine, and whose descendants (in the case of the latter) remain priests of the shrine today. Myôe then exits, marking the end of the first act.
The ai role performing the kyôgen interlude is usually a minor deity, but is sometimes replaced with a shrine official, a Nara local, or a monkey. As is typical in Noh, he explains the plot of the first act, in a more direct narrative style.
The waki and wakitsure (Myôe and the two monks) enter again. The Dragon God (the nochishite) enters down the walkway and stops at first pine (before entering the stage proper), and sings along with the Chorus about the eight dragon kings. As the song turns to the Dragon Princess, the Dragon God enters the stage and dances, making a circuit of the stage. The chorus (speaking for the Dragon God) asks Myôe if he will travel to China and India to visit the great sites in those distant lands, and he responds "no."
The play ends with the Dragon God making his way to the center of the stage ("base square"), leaping into the air, and kneeling, ending his dance.
- Robert Morrell, "Zeami's Kasuga Ryûjin (Dragon God of Kasuga), or Myôe Shônin," Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report, Asian Humanities Press (1987), 103-122.
- Royall Tyler. Japanese Nô Dramas. Penguin Classics, 1992. pp142-155.