As an urbanite, I neither see a clear demarcation between nature and humans nor between nature and artifice. Rats and cockroaches inhabit in newly constructed commercial buildings, and we human have survived with various immunisation shots and seasonal flu vaccines even before an ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19). Vegetables and fruits flourish through selective breeding, and the relationship between humankind and nature is based on their intermingling. Mankind is nature and nature is mankind. The world is made up undivided of the endless food chain, the symbiosis between bacteria and hosts.
Humans are a species that emerged about 7 million years ago, and will eventually cease to exist; we merely are thriving for a fraction of a second in the life of the earth and the universe. Irrelevant to the human extinction, the so-called ‘Okina cosmic topology’ exists in the history of the universe timeline before or after humans.
One of the earliest studies on "Okina" can be found in 'Meishukushū’ written by a Nor actor and playwright, Zenchiku Konparu in 1465. In this work, "Okina" is described in a magnificent cosmology as “the manifestation of all existence” which humans cannot possibly perceive. "Okina" is ‘the chaos prior to human distinction of things’, so that even the binary opposition finds no contradiction. It shakes up our stagnant daily lives, and evokes a feeling of vitality.
Michiko Ishimure once said “there are things which only Noh can do”, and “words can no longer save the contemporary world”.
That is why I initially wanted to create a new Noh play, especially one related to the emperor. When I think about it, my first encounter with nature was at the Imperial Palace which is in my neighbouring area. Even though I was not allowed to get into the palace on the other side, it still was a familiar place to me.
Reproduction of the imperial family is a dire matter directly related to the survival of this nation. Preserving the Imperial pure-blood unmixed has still been the top-priority issue. The fact that the divinity of the emperor is so deeply connected to the weather and the fertility of crops seems to indicate that the individual (both proactively and passively) accepts the various ecological issues we face as nature itself.
The emperor is no longer a god. However, the emperor with no human rights, has never failed to meet expectations of how Japanese people want him to be like. He has been working ardently as a symbol of Japan, comforting and healing people's hearts, especially for those who have been severely hurt by natural disasters which frequently took place around the Heisei era.
Not so long time ago, in an era when the modern emperor system was deeply tied to the nation-state, Japan entered a phase in which the land was defiled in various places as compensation for the rapid industrial expansion. One by one, the people of the seashore, who fished daily for their dinner, as they used to do in the past, experienced a series of abnormalities. The bodies of cats and humans were distorted to the extent that they could not adapt to modernity. This was not only a challenge for mankind that accelerated modernisation, but also a reminder of the seamless relationship between the complex marine ecosystem and humans who have become part of the world by the fish intake.
In the new Noh play I envisioned, I was planning to examine "Chisso," a Japanese chemical company, which was the cause of this pollution-related disease. It was originally a hydroelectric power plant, which main business became chemical fertilisers to improve the soil of this land. The geological strata called the Anthropocene were formed mainly by radioactive substances and chemical fertilisers. However, nitrogen is an essential ingredient for growing crops. Despite the acceleration of capitalism was the background against which the soil had to be artificially created, what the victim party concerned craved for was for some reason a visit by the emperor…
The emperor is the epitome of what public should be. However, we are both a species and an individual. Come to think of it, isn’t the kanji character of 'Okina’(翁) ‘public’ (公) ? One aspect of the emperor's role; a sort of ‘ecosystem’ which underlies both the environment and the public can be present within an individual... Isn't such monism the very individual view of the nation that we have rose from ‘Nenokuni’, or the root underworld ?
Looking at the characteristic of the traditional performing arts in Japan though, all characters appearing in Noh plays are what we called boundary wanders; ‘Jingai’or ’non-human’ entities such as madwomen, fugitives, ghosts, stones, or other peripheral existences such as riverbed beggars. They freely wander around the boundaries of this world and other world, and accumulated in a piece of story. The story always begins with a one-sided narrative and ends with no punch line. We felt like we had caught a glimpse of a world that we are never going to figure out, and before we knew it, it was coming to an end.
Is not the reason why "Okina" manifests there as a source because it clearly indicates that human exists as something more than human beings? When we are freed from our solid subjectivity as intertwined with multiplicity of such things ...... the crisis of the human extinction may rather become an act of "everyday life” to survive like the final curtain falls.
Shiori Watanabe 2022