Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

We tout The New Leaf Journal as the online magazine where the leaves are perennially virid. It makes sense then that on the cusp of Valentine’s Day, I should write about a classic evergreen love story. Takasago is reputedly a classic of Japanese Noh Drama. For the instant post, I will not examine a full translation of the Takasago, but rather two early twentieth-century summaries of the story by English-speaking scholars. F. Hadland Davis covered it in his 1912 “Myths and Legends of Japan” in a chapter called “The Pine-tree Lovers.” In 1895, Frank Rinder wrote about it in his “Old-World Japan,” in a chapter fittingly called “The Great Fir Tree of Takasago.”

Davis’s account of the story stood out to me when I read it many years ago: “They had loved so well and so splendidly, in old age as well as youth, that the Gods allowed their souls to come back again and wander round the pine-tree that had listened to their love for so many years.” Now that I have a forum to post about it and a reason to do so, I will post my own piece on Matsue and Teoyo, the lovers whose love was as perennially virid as the grand pine tree under which they met.

Before continuing, I will reiterate that this account is solely based on Davis’s and Rinder’s rendition of the Takasago. I have neither read a translation of the original nor viewed it, nor do I know much about the intricacies of Noh drama.

Matsue in Takasago

Illustration of Matsue at Takasago by T.H. Robinson for Frank Rinder's "Old-World Japan" (1895)

Matsue at Takasago – Illustrated by T.H. Robinson for Frank Rinder’s “Old-World Japan”(1895)

In ancient times, a fisherman, his wife, and a young woman named Matsue lived in Takasago. Rinder tells us that their home “was sheltered by a tall fir tree of great age; a god had planted it as he passed that way.” Davis recorded the following chorus from the drama about the evergreen tree:

And now, world without end,
The extended arms of the dancing maidens
In sacerdotal robes
Will expel noxious influences;
Their hands folded to rest in their bosoms
Will embrace all good fortune;
The hymn of a thousand autumns
Will draw down blessings on the people,
And the song of ten thousand years
Prolong our sovereign's life.
And all the while
The voice of the breeze,
As it blows through the firs
That grow old together,
Will yield us delight

Rinder writes that “O-Matsue was beautiful, for her mother taught her to love the sea, and the birds, the trees, and every living thing.” She was not only beautiful in character, but also in features. Rinder tells us further: “Her eyes were like a clear deep ocean-pool on a summer day. Her smile was as the sunshine on the surface of Lake Biwa.”

Davis states that “there was nothing that Matsue loved to do more than sit under the great pine tree.” She would, according to Rinder, , sit there for hours at a time, “plying her shuttle, weaving robes for the peasants around.” Davis adds that Matsue “was particularly fond of the pine-needs that never seemed tired of falling to the ground.” We learn that she not only made clothes for the peasants, but “fashioned a beautiful dress and sash” that she swore to never wear until her wedding day.

Teoyo Begins an Epic Journey

There was a young man named Teoyo who grew up far from Takasago. Rinder reports that he was from Sumi-no-ye. Teoyo was an adventurer at heart. He had on one day seen a heron fly across the sea and decided that he, too, should travel to find where it had gone. Interestingly, Rinder and Davis both provide somewhat different accounts of the events that led up to Teoyo’s chancing across Matsue in Takasago.

Rinder’s Account of Teoyo’s Meeting Matsue

According to Rinder, Teoyo declared one day: “I will see what lies beyond the mountains. I will see the country to which the heron wings his way across the plain.” Teoyo followed through on his pledge, traveling through many countries before landing at Harima. There, he passed by Takasago in the midst of his travels, and there he found Matsue in the shade of the evergreen pine tree. “She was weaving, and sang as she worked.” Rinder reprinted Matsue’s song, which is the same as in Davis’s account in the next subsection:

No man so callous but he heaves a sigh
When o'er his head the withered cherry flowers
Come fluttering down.  Who knows? the Spring's soft showers
May be but tears shed by the sorrowing sky

Upon hearing Matsue sing, Teoyo exclaimed: “It is like the song of a spirit—and how beautiful the maiden is!” He watched her work and sing until she finished her song. Once Matsue was done singing, Teoyo spoke to her:

“I have travelled far. I have seen many fair maidens, but not one so fair as you. Take me to your father and mother that I may speak with them.

Teoyo’s proposal to Matsue in Rinder’s account

Matsue brought Teoyo to her parents in order that he could ask them for permission to marry their daughter. Matsue and her parents were elated, and her parents readily agreed.

Rinder – Teoyo and Matsue Wed and Remain in Harima

A great feast was prepared for the wedding of Teoyo and Matsue. “Bride and bridegroom drank thrice of three cups of saké which made them man and wife, and the feast went on.”

After the Teoyo’s impromptu proposal and the subsequent wedding, it remained to be decided whether Teoyo would stay in Taksago or Matsue would accompany Teoyo back to Sumi-no-ye. Teoyo preferred to remain to Takasago: “This country of Harima is a good land. Let us stay here with your father and mother.” Matsue was heartened by Teoyo’s decision, for she too wanted to remain in the place of her birth with her parents.

Davis’s Account of Teoyo Meeting Matsue

Davis tells a slightly different version of Teoyo’s meeting Matsue, although the end result is the same. I do not know what accounts for the differences or which account is most true to the Noh drama itself.

Davis tells us that Teoyo was standing on the shore of Sumiyoshi, watching the heron fly into the distance. It flew in the direction of Takasago where, unbeknownst to Teoyo, his future wife was singing and knitting under a grand old pine tree. Davis has her singing the exact same song as did Rinder:

No man so callous but he heaves a sigh
When o'er his head the withered cherry flowers
Come fluttering down.  Who knows? the Spring's soft showers
May be but tears shed by the sorrowing sky

Teoyo was inspired to travel by the heron in Davis’s account as well as Rinder’s, but Davis has him take a different and more dangerous route. Davis tells us that Teoyo “thought it would be very delightful to swim across the sea and discover the land over which the heron had flown.” Thus, “one morning he dived into the sea and swam so hard and so long that the poor fellow found the waves spinning and dancing, and saw the great sky bend down and try to touch him.” Teoyo fell unconscious, “but the waves were kind to him after all, for they pressed him on and on till he was washed up at the very place where Matsue sat under the pine-tree.”

Matsue found Teoyo and dragged the sleeping adventurer under the pine tree, “and then set him down upon a couch of pine-needles…”

Illustration of Matsue rescuing Teoyo in Takasago by Evelyn Paul for F. Hadland Davis's "Myths & Legends of Japan" (1912)
Matsue rescuing Teoyo, illustrated by Evelyn Paul for F. Hadland Davis’s “Myths & Legends of Japan” (1912)

Davis’s Account of Teoyo’s and Matsue’s Love and Wedding

When Teoyo woke up, he thanked Matsue for her kindness. Teoyo would never return to the country whence he came. In Davis’s account, he fell in love with Mastue over the course of several months, and they wed. Matsue “wore her dress and sash of pine needles.”

The Long and Happy Marriage of Teoyo and Matsue

Both Davis and Rinder agree that Teoyo and Matsue had a long and happy marriage, although they focus on different points in their accounts.

Davis and Rinder agree that sometime after the marriage, Matsue’s parents passed away. Davis states that Matsue only loved Teoyo more after she lost her parents. Rinder tells us that after Matsue’s parents died, “O-Matsue and Teoyo still lived beneath the shelter of the tree.” Rinder continued:

Their love was always in its spring. The ‘waves of age’ furrowed their brows, but their hearts remained young and tender, green as the needles of the pine.

Rinder on the evergreen love of Teoyo and Matsue

Davis writes that “the older they grew the more they loved each other.” Rinder states that “even when their eyes had grown dim, they went to the shore to listen to the waters of the Inland Sea, or together they gathered, with rakes of bamboo, the fallen needles of the fir.”

“Every night,” writes Davis, “when the moon shone, they went hand in hand to the pine-tree, and with their little rakes they made a couch for the morrow.” Rinder states that a crane built a nest in the topmost branches of the grand old pine tree that Matsue and Teoyo loved so well, “and for many years they watched the birds rear their young.” A tortoise soon joined them under the pine tree. Matsue was genuinely happy: “We are blessed with a fir tree, a crane, and a tortoise. The God of Long Life has taken us under her care.”

Teoyo and Matsue Leave this World For Another, But their Love Remains as Evergreen as the Pine Tree of Takasago

Davis and Rinder offer the same account of the death of Teoyo and Matsue and subsequent events. Below, I will quote Davis’s beautiful version of the story.

One night the great silver face of the moon peered through the branches of the pine-tree and looked in vain for the old lovers sitting together on a couch of pine-needles. Their little rakes lay side by side, and still the moon waited for the slow and stumbling steps of the Pine-Tree Lovers. But that night they never did come. They had gone home to an everlasting resting-place on the River of Souls.

F. Hadland Davis on the death of Teoyo and Matsue

The long and happy life of Teoyo and Matsue ended at the same moment, according to Rinder. Rinder explains that “their spirits withdrew into the tree which had for so long been the witness of their happiness.” Below, I continue Davis’s eloquent account:

They had loved so well and so splendidly, in old age as well as in youth, that the Gods allowed their souls to come back again and wander round the pine-tree that had listened to their love for so many years. When the moon is full they whisper and laugh and sing and draw the pine-needles together, while the sea sings softly on the shore.

F. Hadland Davis on the eternal love of Teoyo and Matsue

Rinder wrote more succinctly: “On moonbright nights, when the coast wind whispers in the branches of the tree, O-Matsue and Teoyo may sometimes be seen, with bamboo rakes in their hands, gathering together the needles of fir.”

Rinder concluded: “Despite the storms of time, the old tree stands to this hour as eternally green on the high shore of Takasago.”

On Love that is Perennially Virid

Both Davis and Rinder provided beautiful, albeit slightly different, accounts of the Takasago. In the end, both versions of the story were about a virtuous married couple that loved well in youth and old age, under a perennially virid pine tree. They loved each other and loved that tree, and the tree loved them as it watched over them for many years. It was precisely because Teoyo and Matsue loved so long and so well that they were rewarded by being able to return to the pine tree every full moon and listen to the soft evening waves from a seat of pine needles.

We are told that the perennially virid pine tree stands to this very hour, and so it still recognizes the pure love of Teoyo and Matsue.

I thought that this would be a fitting story on the eve of Valentine’s Day 2021. But when love is perennially virid, I suppose that every day is as special as the last.