A Smile Worth of Coins
Mitsunari had first seen one of Okuni's plays by chance. He'd been enroute from Sawayama Castle to Osaka. His company had stopped for an evening in Kyoto, but he'd found it hard to sleep. His mind was ever-restless, and sleep never came easy to him. Sleeping in a strange bed, even one as fine as the inn they'd stopped at offered, never made him comfortable either. The combination had left him feeling irritable and unable to even think about closing his eyes.
He'd decided a walk would clear his head, opting to not awake his escort. He didn't want a whole troop of men following him around as he paced the streets. It would only irritate him further, and take away any chance of anonymity he had. Dressing in the simplest clothing he'd packed, he placed a hat on his head to hide his hair. It's color would no doubt be hard to miss even at night, and could give away his identity to the right - or wrong - eye as fast as the troop of men would have.
It had been late, and the streets mostly empty. Save for groups coming and going from the inn. A few drunken songs reached his ears, and he turned his feet away from the sound. He hadn't been seeking anything imparticular. But getting drunk was not the way he desired to clear his head, and drunken brawls were the last thing he wanted involved in either. He'd been about to turn his feet back to the inn and give up when he'd heard the applause.
Curious, he'd followed the sound to a nearby dry riverbed. A troupe seemed to be performing, and the applause had come from the gathered audience. As he drew closer he noted the fact that the performers were all women, a fact he couldn't tell from afar as some were dressed as men. He remembered reports of such performance troupes, but hadn't paid them much mind. The most famous, and the one who had started the trend, performed the most in Kyoto, he recalled. His mind provided the troupe leader's name with it's usual proficiency. Okuni.
The song ended, and Mitsunari settled himself on the hill to watch, mildly curious. Five woman dressed as Samurai trooped onto the stage. They sang briefly about noble aspirations, and the glory of fighting for their lords. Abruptly one stepped forward.
"All well and good. But one can't warm one's bed with nobility." He crossed his arms. The song abruptly stopped, and the crowd laughed.
"You don't have to tell me about it." A second samurai stepped forward. "If I had a wife, I wouldn't have bed her in half a year."
"I have a wife." A third put in. "And I haven't bed her in over a year."
Mitsunari reminded himself it was unseemly to gape, and brought his fan up to cover his mouth. The statements were downright scandalous, and a part of him was insulted by the jibe about nobility not warming beds. They were horribly and ironically complaints he'd honestly heard made, though. So seeing them blatantly put into a play was amusing, if quite risque.
"A good thing we were paid today, eh?" One of the samurai winked lasciviously at the crowd.
"I know a place where the wine is cheap and the women willing!" The fifth samurai wrapped his arms around his compatriots. "Let's go!"
They hurried off the stage as a set of women entered dressed in costumes that Mitsunari thought bordered on the lewd. The song was no less lewd, he decided, as they were singing about what you could buy for the right price. His face felt heated, and he realized he was blushing. The play was certainly scandalous, but the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. Laughing at the song, and a few even singing along. Apparently they'd seen this one before.
"Look!" One girl stepped forward, pointing off stage.
"Samurai!" Another girl squealed.
"What's the big deal? They don't pay great." A third shrugged.
"They make up for it other ways." The first girl winked. The crowd roared with laughter.
The five samurai entered and a song followed without lyrics followed. The samurai and the whores flirted with their dance moves, before disappearing in pairs off stage. Mitsunari would have thought the play was over, but suddenly a woman dressed in fancy robes appeared on stage.
"Where have those five gone? If I find them in the whorehouse again, they're fired!" "He" glanced around the stage.
"Good evening, my lord, would you like a drink?" A woman approached him.
"Hm...I don't see them. But I'll wait here and see if they emerge." The actress told the audience. "Give me your finest wine." A table and chair were brought forward, and the character seated himself and poured himself a drink from the bottle that was brought to him.
One of the samurai began to enter, then spotted him. "Oh, no, it's our lord!" He spoke to the audience - pointing out the actress seated at the table. "Were we on duty tonight? If he catches us at the whorehouse again, we'll be fired!" He skirted the lord, slowly bringing the five samurai together again at the side of the stage.
"What are we to do? That's the only way out."
"We're fired this time for sure."
"We have to think of something."
"Don't worry, we'll help you." One of the whores from earlier appeared. "This way." She led them off stage.
"Another bottle of wine!" The lord called. He glanced around. "I still don't see them. Maybe they aren't here...hm..."
From the side of the stage, the samurai appeared, wearing woman's clothing and veils over their armor. Mitsunari spluttered behind his fan. The crowd roared with laughter. Making motions to stay quiet, the five made their way toward the door.
"You there!" The lord shouted.
The first in line tried to flee, but was prevented by his companions. "Um...do you mean me, sir?" The actress put on a squeaky voice much higher than even the actresses playing woman in the play. The crowd laughed harder, And Mitsunari bit his lip.
'I should not be finding this amusing.' He told himself.
"I just called for more wine, why isn't it here yet?"
"Oh, we'll get that for you right away, good sir." The five tried to head toward the door.
"Where are you going? That's the way out! Fetch my wine!" The lord shouted.
"What should we do?" The samurai turned toward the crowd.
"Fetch the wine!" Some shouted.
"Run!" Others called.
"We should fetch the wine?" Another asked.
"Yes, fetch the wine!" The crowd called back.
The group went together to the back of the stage and returned with the wine. "Here, good sir!"
"Hmph. Your service could use some improvement around here." The lord told him. "What's your name?"
"Ummm..." The samurai glanced around hastily. "Sumomo." He finally settled on.
"Your name is Sumomo?" He said dubiously. "And what are you? Momoiro? Ringo?"
The lord glanced at the last one. "And you?"
The lord and other samurai looked at him and the crowd roared with laughter again.
"Well, sit down and join me. It's boring sitting alone."
"We wouldn't dare, Lord."
"We're just lowly staff. We could never be worthy of your presence."
"Sit, sit. I command it."
"What do we do?" The Samurai whispered amongst themselves.
"We're doomed for sure."
"We'll ply him with wine until he passes out. Then we'll make our escape."
A song followed, with the five continuously calling for more wine inbetween praising their lord's greatness. The lord character proclaimed how nice it was to be so praised, drinking down the wine, and flirting with the five, who he still thought were whores who worked at the house.
Mitsunari found himself laughing with the crowd. The whole scenario was horribly preposterous, and yet horribly amusing. Eventually the lord passed out, and the five samurai happily made their escape. An ending number was performed. Mitsunari noted some of the troupe wandering the crowd, holding out a pan to collect donations. As he was sitting away from the crowd, he was surprised when a voice spoke from nearby.
"Would you care to make a donation, handsome sir?"
He turned to the woman who had spoken. she was dressed as a Shrine Miko, he noted. Given the fact a hat shielded part of his face, he wondered at the compliment as well. He debated about refusing the blatant request, but shrugged, and pulled out some coins. She carried no pan or cup, and he paused. "You don't seem to be out here to get donations."
"You wound me, sir." Her voice was teasing. "For what other purpose would I be here?"
Perhaps she had spotted him, and thought he looked well off enough to approach on purpose. She seemed to be flirting too, though. Strange, as she couldn't have seen him well enough from a distance to raise that sort of interest. "I'm not sure. Why don't you tell me?"
A smile curved her lips, and he belatedly noted the parasol she carried, just as she brought it off her shoulder to rest on the ground. "There are those in the government who don't appreciate our performances." She mentioned.
"Really? Here I can't imagine why." Mitsunari commented dryly.
"A few times, we've had visitors who suggested we change our plays. Others have suggested we perform elsewhere."
He wondered why he didn't figure it out sooner. "You are Okuni."
"If it pleases you, my lord." The ex-shrine maiden bowed. "And you are?"
"Not here to cause you trouble."
"Trouble comes in many forms, my lord. I am happy to hear you say so. But this maiden would be much happier to hear your name."
He wasn't sure if her voice was more the coo of a bird, or the purr of a cat. Not that either would have gained his name for her. "Sawa." He offered instead.
"Sawa...what a delightfully strong," She emphasized the word, "name, my lord. Sawa of Omi, is it? You share the name of the strongest castle in the land. I'm glad you aren't here to cause us trouble."
His estimation of her went up. Alot. He doubted anyone else would have put the pieces together that fast. She definitely had an inside to the lords. He wondered who her backer was. "What makes you think I'm from Omi?"
"Your accent, my lord. I am most skilled at guessing others background, though it is rude of me to say so."
Of course, he hailed from Omi, even after years of serving Hideyoshi in Osaka, the dialogue of his home province stayed with him. Reports said Okuni had travelled the land before making her troupe in Kyoto. It didn't surprise him that she could detect the region of someone by how they spoke. "Your guess is accurate, I am from Omi. And, as I said, I am not here to cause you any trouble. I came upon your performance by chance."
"I see. I would be most delighted to learn your opinion of the performance."
The words that came to mind were not completely flattering. "It was a bit...unbelievable. Though humourous at times."
Okuni broke into a bright smile. "The latter was it's intent. I'm surprised by one word you excluded."
"Scandalous." She smirked. "Many consider our performances such. I won't be insulted if you have less complimentary terms you wish to express.
"It was...a bit vulgar at times." Mitsunari offered her, though his tone was even.
True to her word, Okuni wasn't insulted. Instead a delighted laugh trilled from her throat. "Life is a bit vulgar at times, Sawa of Omi." She winked. "And my plays are about life."
"And drunken lords and horny samurai?" His lips threatened a smile that he barely contained.
"We both know those exist as well." Her tone was wry. She glanced over, and he followed her gaze. The crowd was dispersing, and the troupe gathering down below again. "The night grows late. Have a good evening, Sawa of Omi. I hope you'll come by again."
Mitsunari hesitated, then stood. "Okuni."
The ex-Miko glanced back. "Yes?"
He held up the coins. "Don't forget this."
Okuni shook her head. "It's not necessary from you."
Mistunari reached down to take her hand, placing the coins in it. "Your play made me laugh."
"A smile worth of coins." Okuni studied the money before closing her hand around it. "It's a simple thing, a smile. Yet worth so much. To everyone. Good evening, Sawa."
He didn't return her farewell as she walked away. His mind had recalled another's words. "A land where everyone can be happy." He shook his head, turning his feet back to the inn.
I had in mind more than one part to this, but this one actually stands well alone. I had fun writing the play. LOL. I doubt it's accurate at all, as I based it more on my knowledge on operas and operettas because I don't know much about Kabuki.
I know poor Okuni is a very unliked character. I totally blame the voice they give her in the english version. Her voice in japanese does not make your ears bleed! And while playing SW1, which thankfully offered the original voices as a sound option, I adored playing with Okuni. The parasol of death! Yes!
For those who don't know about historical Okuni - she's amazing! She was the founder of Kabuki, but her troop was entirely female rather than entirely male. Her troupes plays were said to cover such things as lover's trysts and meetings between whores and samurais and christian priets. Many of which were considered scandalous. Pretty much they were satirical comedies about the day, from my understanding.
It was Tokugawa who banned the practice of all women troops, and made Kabuki into all-male instead. Which is why I opted for Mitsunari to befriend her. That and the thought of Mitsunari laughing at Okuni's "scandalous" plays amused me.