Shakkyo (Stone Bridge) (Noh play) (石橋 (能))
"Shakkyo" is a Noh play (classical Japanese dance theater). The visual highlight is a splendid Nomai (Noh dance) performed by the Noshite (starring Noh actor) wearing a shishiguchi (Noh mask with the face of a lion). The esoteric music of the Noh Hayashi (percussion ensemble), full of thrill and strength, is the acoustic highlight. The lion dance in the latter part is originally derived from Togaku (music from Tang dynasty China). During Zeami's (renowned Noh writer) time, it had been adopted in Sarugaku (form of theater popular during the 11th to 14th centuries) and Dengaku (style of dancing associated with rice planting rituals).
After visiting historic Buddhist sites, the Buddhist monk Jakusho Hoshi (supporting role) arrives at the foot of Mt. Qingliang in China. It is truly an enchanted land. Furthermore, a long and narrow stone bridge crosses into the mountain. It was said that the PureLland of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri) was on the other side of the bridge. The priest makes up his mind and begins to cross the bridge. But then a woodcutter (lead role of the first half of the play) appears and warns him to stop crossing because it would be impossible to reach the other side with ordinary ascetic practices, and disappears after telling him that he had better wait a while at the foot of the bridge. This concludes the first half.
An ichijo-dai (platform the size of a tatami mat) and peonies are placed in front of the stage by stagehands during the intermission and the second half starts. A lion (lead role of the second half of the play) leaps out dancing, as if to smash through the 'ranjo,' dynamic hayashi music specifically arranged for lion dances. The lion uses up all the space available to it to perform a valiant dance right in front of the priest. This is the miracle of Monju Bosatsu.
Sometimes there are two lions, depending on the kogaki (special staging). In such cases, one lion is white while the other is red. According to custom, the former moves solemnly and the latter actively. The play is often performed as a han-Noh (half Noh), with the first half omitted. It is very auspicious, and one of the most famous Kirinoh (last Noh play of the day).
Shakkyo has also been incorporated into kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors) to form a group of works called Shakkyomono (lion dances based on the Shakkyo legend). There are many works, including "Shakkyo (kabuki)" (a short piece of work from the early period), "Aioi-jishi" (a gorgeous work with a lion dance performed by two actors) and "Renjishi (a string of lions)" (story features parent and child lions and places more emphasis on plot). They all feature lion dances performed in front of peonies. Renjishi has become a massive piece of work including ai kyogen (comic interludes).