Shinwa Dance Myth

Shinwa Tree

Interpretation of a Dance Myth
Created and Choreographed by Keiko Fujii
by David Arthur Walters


It is the year 3,000 AD. A two-hundred-year-old man is telling some children a story that has been handed down for many generations as a myth about events that had happened in Japan over a thousand years before, some time after World War II.

“On the first day of spring, in the countryside near Ashiya, there was once a innocent young girl who was dancing with the cherry trees at the edge of a lovely meadow. She was glad because the spring that she had longed for had finally begun. As she danced, she was singing and talking to the trees, the birds and the cherry blossoms in sign language, for she had lost her voice because of a terrible fever she had suffered as a baby. Losing her voice had also made her very shy. When other people came near the meadow, she would run and hide until they had passed by.

In fact, there were so many people interrupting her on this first day of spring that she decided to go home and return the next day. “As the girl was playing in the meadow on the next day, she was surprised by three young ruffians who snuck up behind her and surrounded her. At first, they just teased her, but then the bullies began to get rough. One of the boys started to break off a branch of the girl’s favorite cherry tree. She tried to stop the boy from hurting the tree she loved, but he finally managed to break off the branch. He began to beat the tree with it just to upset her. She placed herself between the bully and the tree to protect it, but he then struck her repeatedly with the branch, knocking her down. The boys saw that she was badly injured, so they decided to run away, leaving the girl for dead, lying on the ground at the foot of the tree with cherry petals blowing around her, and clutching to her breast the branch she had been beaten with.

“At the end of Autumn, one hundred years later, a party of three men had a very strange experience. They were tourists attending the Buddhist celebration of Shakya Muni in Saga, Kyoto. They had decided to view the maple leaves, which were changing color, on their walk home. It unexpectedly got dark as a cold blanket of fog and drizzle covered them. They became quite confused and began to shiver in the cold. But a woman appeared and told them that they could stay at her house until the next day.

“The tourist felt warm and welcome in the nice woman’s old house, especially after they had feasted and drank plenty of Sake. Later in the evening, the woman told them she was going up the mountain to get some good firewood to make sure her guests kept warm all night, She refused to let them help her, but she made them all promise not to go into the woodshed behind the house, or even to look into it, while she was gone.

“After she left, one of her guests became very curious, wondering why the nice old lady would have asked them to stay out of the woodshed. He asked his friends to go with him and take a look into it. They refused and warned him not to break his promise. But when they had fallen asleep, he decided to sneak out and peek into the woodshed anyway.

“The curious tourist went to the shed and slid open its door. He heard weak moans coming from inside. He hesitated, then stepped slowly into the shed. What he saw there was a vision of Hell. The shed was filled with zombies who were only barely alive, almost too dead to move except to fall and stagger and wriggle around the best they could with their rotten bodies all twisted out of shape. Many of them were missing one arm. Some of them were sticking their hands into horrible gaping wounds on their bodies. Many of their faces looked like they had been smashed with a club, with noses and teeth badly broken, swollen cheeks, bloody and broken eye sockets, some with eyes missing, and mouths and jaws caved in. The zombies seemed to be begging the frightened tourist for some life.

“Well, the tourist was paralyzed with fright. His knees weakened and he had to lie down on the floor. But after a moment he raised his head and saw a strange light coming from the corner of the shed. He felt attracted to the light, crawled towards it, struggled to his feet, and saw that the light was coming from a coffin made of clear glass. A girl was laid out inside the coffin. Some strange power pulled the man towards her. He looked all over her body for some sign of life. He noticed that she was clutching a cherry tree branch, holding it close to her bosom.

“The curious tourist then got control of himself and was able to run out of the woodshed and back into the house, where he woke up his friends and shouted that he must have found a witch’s den in the shed. Of course, they did not believe him, so they went out to see for themselves. Sure enough, there were the zombies, the walking-dead people, in a living Hell, just as he had told his friends.

“At that very moment, the nice old lady appeared. When she caught them in the woodshed, she became angry and her body changed shape, taking the form of a terrible witch who was one-half woman and one-half spider. This ugly monster blamed the three men for breaking their promise not to look into the woodshed, and she promised to kill them then and there.

“The poor tourists fought to get away. The witch’s hair had turned into threads that spiders use to trap their food alive, and she threw those strings of spider hair towards the men, trapping the curious one first. As she began to choke him with her hair, the other two men escaped, scrambling over each other to get away. When she started after them, the curious one got away, and they all disappeared into the woods outside. She screamed after them that she would get them all someday soon. Then she changed back into an ordinary woman.

“The woman was really someone who was very sad and angry about how good changes into bad in the world. She had warned the three tourists not to look into the woodshed because the secret of her loneliness was inside, a secret she wanted to protect forever.

“After all that had happened, a fine snow started to fall. The woman began dancing slowly with the snow. She wanted to tell a story with her dance, the sad story of karma. But as she danced, the snow and her thinking became deeper, and she became young again, just like a girl dancing and whirling with the petals of cherry blossoms.”



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