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Here is a translation of an article by Hiromi Morita published in the Chugoku Shinbun (Japanese newspaper in the Hiroshima region), on 9 May 2016 and reproduced (in Japanese) on the website of the Hiroshima Peace Media Centre at The translation is by Ikuko Sorensen.

Professor Allan Marett (66), Sydney University, Australia, and Professor Richard Emmert (66), Musashino University, Tokyo, have completed a new English Noh play entitled Oppenheimer. It examines the sins and remorse of human beings through the story of Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. The play had its premier performances in Sydney last autumn and the producers aim to perform it in Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Professor Emmert (left) and Professor Marett talking about their work.

The story of the play takes place in Hiroshima. The shite (principal actor), Oppenheimer, is wandering through the world as a ghost. The play tells the story of Oppenheimer, who, as he confesses his inescapable agony to the waki (the secondary actor), comes to realize ‘the law of cause and effect’ and that his deed of producing an atomic bomb brought a devastating result. He then resolves, and makes a vow to Fudō Myō-ō (the Buddhist Wisdom King), to bear his sins.

A scene from the Sydney performance. Oppenheimer tells Fudō Myō-ō (the Buddhist Wisdom King) his resolve to bear his sins. (photograph by Lee Nutter provided by Professor Marett)

Professor Marett has taught music at the university. He is a specialist in Japanese court music (gagaku) and Noh plays, which he teaches to students and the general public in Australia. Mr. Emmert has lived in Japan over forty years and teaches Asian theatre and Japanese music at Musashino University. At the same time, he produces Noh plays performed by foreigners as Artistic Director a theatre company called ‘Theatre Nohgaku’.

The two men have known each other for a long time and shared the experience of co-producing an English Noh play about thirty years ago. They have been nursing the idea of a Noh play with the theme of ‘Hiroshima’, which was a catastrophic event in the human history.

There were two performances in Sydney over two days and each performance largely filled the theatre which seats three hundred people. Professor Marett says of the audience responses: ‘I heard the weeping of many people, even though I couldn’t see the audience very well.’

It is a production that prompts the viewers to think of the results of their actions, rather than focusing on who is to blame. The pair say in unison that ‘we want make the audience aware that it is a duty of human beings to create a peaceful and meaningful world’ and they are seeking collaborators who could help them perform in Hiroshima.

Hiromi Morita. Translated by Ikuko Sorensen.

Last November Marie Sekiwa published an interesting and informative article about Oppenheimer in the Nichigo Press, an Australian Japanese publication. Ikuko Sorensen kindly agreed to translate the article into English. A link to the English translation is displayed below. A link to the Japanese original (which is unfortunately too large to display here) is contained in the heading of the English translation, so if you want to see Ms Sekiwa's original Japanese please first open the link below and then open the Japanese version from within the English translation.


Download file

Here is the text of Oppenheimer as it was performed on 30 September and 1 October 2015. You can see a video of the production at To see titles either in English or Japanese/English click the icon in the bottom left of the screen once you have the file up and running.


A Noh play in English


Allan Marett

with music by

Richard Emmert

Mae-jite A priest, wearing a Yorimasa mask
Nochi-jite Oppenheimer, wearing a new Oppenheimer mask by Kitazawa Hideta
Nochi-tsure Fudô Myô-ô wearing Fudô mask
Waki A Pilgrim, dressed as a henro, carrying juzu beads and a tsue and wearing a henro hat (sugegasa).
Ai-kyogen Two locals


I Nanoribue entrance music
Nanori (Waki)
I am a pilgrim visiting the eighty-eight sacred places of Shikoku. In the course of my journey, a great weight of sadness has descended and lodged itself within my heart like an iron ball. Last night the Great Unmoving Wisdom King, Fudô Myô-ô, appeared to me in a vision. He told me that I must leave this pilgrim-path and go instead to Hiroshima. There I will find an ancient temple associated with foxes and an ancient priest, and that is where the root of my suffering will be revealed. Since no one here knows of this temple, I must now leave Shikoku and travel across the waters of the Inland Sea to Hiroshima.

Sashi (Waki)
He who dwells unmov’d midst flames, the great Wisdom King
Wields his sword and snare to liberate all beings
From the wheel of birth and death. Ferocious of face.
And threatening in his manner; yet to me he spoke
With fundamental kindness.

Ge no Ei (Waki)
“Forever walking.
The mountains of Shikoku will always hold you
Go now to Hiroshima. Seek out a temple

Sageuta (Waki)
Where you will find two foxes. Only in this place
Can you be liberated from your heavy heart.”

Michiyuki (Waki)
At Fudô’s command
I cross the dark’ning waters of the Inland Sea.

I cross the dark’ning waters of the Inland Sea
Weighed down by iron-ball grief. A sudden wind gust
Breaks the sea’s calm surface; and as it strikes
The fragile heart is rocked.

They too came this way.
The almost silent droning of a single plane,
The beating of a heart, heavy, but not human,
Primed for the destruction of multitudes, now gone
Multitudes completely gone. Gone, completely gone.

Shô (chorus)
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Hannya shingyô

Tsuki-serifu (Waki)
I have arrived in Hiroshima. My iron weight of grief has now become unbearable. How strange! A pair of stone foxes has appeared before me out of the growing darkness. I will go and rest beside them.
(Sits at the Waki seat).

II. Issei entrance music

Issei (Shite: A priest)
Blinded by insight, forgetting karma.
Condemned to five hundred fox-lives, with no redemption,
The cycle seems unending.

Sashi (Shite)
This poor wreck’d temple!
Buddha Hall deserted, candles all unlit,
Altar bare of flowers, no incense rising.
All pathways of my hell-realms lead me to this place
Lead here on this wretched night; heavy with foreboding.

Ageuta (Chorus)
On this fetid night
On this fetid August night no moonlight shines.
On this fetid August night no moonlight shines.
Broken roof beams, ruined cross-hatched walls unseen.
Weighted down with dread, night insects keep their silence,
Wings made motionless with heavy expectation.
The ancient temple groaning in its bed seeks repose.
All pathways lead here. I cannot but follow them.
All pathways lead here and I must follow them.

III. Mondo
(Shite) No-one but I comes here on this night, and yet … Who are you, and how did you find this place?

(Waki) I am a pilgrim come to Hiroshima from Shikoku. Weary and heavy of heart, I saw the stone foxes and decided to rest here the night. Please tell me, what is the name of this place?

(Shite) This is the Ancient Temple of Priest Hyakujo, though the local people call it the Fox Temple.

(Waki) Perhaps this is the very temple I am seeking. As I walked the pilgrim path with a heavy heart, Fudô Myô-ô appeared to me. He told me to seek relief from my suffering at an old temple in Hiroshima. A temple associated with foxes and an ancient priest. Somehow I have been drawn here. Can you say anything—a liberating word perhaps—that will free me from my iron-ball heart?

(Shite). What happened here has spawned a million heavy hearts throughout the world. You understand that the bomb destroyed many lives here, unleashing profound suffering. But you do not understand the fundamental causes of this suffering. To gain this understanding, you must fully embody the true nature of cause and effect. When you shed your ignorance you will also shed your pain.

(Waki) What does it mean to “fully embody cause and effect?”

(Shite) The founding story of this temple concerns this very matter.

(Waki) Please tell me this story, if you will.

Katari (Shite).
Long ago, a monk came to Hyakujo, the first head priest of this temple, and asked, “An enlightened person, one who has seen into the emptiness of all things, does he or does he not fall under the law of cause and effect?” To this Hyakujo replied, “Such a person does not fall under the law of cause and effect.” For this reply, he was condemned to be reborn five hundred times as a fox.

Shidai (Chorus)
Deluded by emptiness, Hyakujo misspeaks
Deluded by emptiness, Hyakujo misspeaks
And is reborn five hundred times as a fox.

Deluded by emptiness, Hyakujo misspeaks
And is reborn five hundred times as a fox.

Katari (Shite).
Eons later, Robert Oppenheimer made a bomb that in an instant, destroyed the city of Hiroshima, incinerating its people and unleashing centuries of pain. Like Hyakujo, Oppenheimer was intoxicated by the empty world, in his case seen through the eyes of a scientist, looking into a subatomic world where the law of cause and effect seemed not to hold. Blinded by this insight, he lost his heart; forgot the thousands, perhaps millions in the future, that his weapon would destroy.

Shidai (Chorus)
Deluded by emptiness, Oppenheimer falls
Deluded by emptiness, Oppenheimer falls
Falls into error and thus fathers a sin.

Deluded by emptiness, Oppenheimer falls
Falls into error and thus fathers a sin.

IV. Kuri (Chorus)
The brilliance of a thousand suns bursts into the sky.
An unholy wind strikes like the hammer of God.
Cloud-flower blossoms rising in the morning light
Is this indeed the splendour of the Mighty One?

Sashi (Shite)
When the bomb exploded, Oppenheimer cried out,
“Now I am become death!” the words of Krishna.
But Oppenheimer was no god. Alas for him,
He was only human and had to pay his dues.
“Until this experience changed his mind,
he thought hell a fable”
But grasping his error, he fell into terror.

I. (Chorus)
So seductive; so existentially sweet
To dice with God’s building blocks: fragments of atoms,
Unborn, undying, boundless, unmoving.
Flash of light on water, stars in the heavens,
Mountains, rivers, trees, grasses, the myriad beings,
All dance like this, unmoving, without substance.
Dazzled by the beauty of this empty world,
Oppenheimer turned his gaze from all that is human.

But what of the cry of the small animal
Torn apart by the fox; what of the screams
Of the multitudes who burn alive at Hiroshima?
Seeing what he has done he understands too late
That cause and effect can never be evaded.

III (Shite) And now I must be perpetually damn’d
(Chorus) There is no end to suffering for damned souls.
Three times I pleaded, “do not use this bomb.
Do not destroy those cities; do not annihilate those beings.
Oh you in power; stop this abomination.”
Three times I went and three times they denied me.
Look not so fierce on me! Let me breathe a while!
Let me not enter again that firestorm.

V Rongi
(Chorus) It seems you know the mind of Oppenheimer well.
He who made the bomb that destroyed so many lives.
The very one who spawned a million heavy hearts throughout the world.

(Shite) I know all too well what it means to be reborn as a fox.
To be bound to the eternal wheel of birth and death.

(Chorus) Drawn here every year to enter the fires,
To suffer unspeakably, and pass away.
But then reborn once more upon the wheel of karma.

(Shite) My agonies grow stronger lifetime after lifetime.
I am in fact the ghost of Oppenheimer.

[Shite begins to exit here.]

(Chorus) Thus saying, he turns towards the burning city,
And with deepest reluctance, walks the pain-filled way.
Weighed down with remorse and dread, he turns once more and speaks (stops and turns)
It is I who turn hearts into an iron ball
It is I who spawned a million heavy hearts.
Never will I gain redemption for my crimes, (throws beads on ground)
With no atonement for me (resumes exit)
There is none for you.
No atonement, not for us, not for anyone.

At this point the flute plays a long, loud ‘hi’. A strong flash of light from the end of the walkway. Shite exits during the chorus’s last lines.

Bound to the wheel how can we be free from birth and death?
Bound to the wheel how can we be free from birth and death?”

Following the shite’s exit, the Waki gets up and walks to where the shite’s discarded beads have fallen. He then speaks again

Sashi (Waki)
Could that really be Oppenheimer that I met?
Bound by law of karma that he cannot evade?
A ghost, trapped in endless cycles of birth and death?

Sagariha (Hayashi) Waki returns to Waki-seat, following which the hayashi begin the Kyôgen version of Sagariha for the entrance of the two Ai-kyôgen.



Omo-ai and Ado-ai enter to Kyôgen Sagariha. Ado-ai wears a fox mask pushed up onto the forehead.
At the end of Sagariha they stop on the walkway they and perform the following (tsuyogin) NB Matsui is now thinking Gary will do the shidai and Yoke the jitori

Shidai (Omo-ai)
Putting on our ritual clothes, we come here to dance
Putting on our ritual clothes, we come here to dance
As foxes, in memory of our father.

Jitori (Ado-ai)
Putting on our ritual clothes, we come here to dance
As foxes, in memory of our father.

During the following dialogue, Omo-ai moves towards the metuske-bashira. Ado-ai moves centre stage. When Omo-ai reaches the metsuke-bashira, he turns to face Ado-ai.

(Omo-ai) Come along sister. The place where we do the dance is over here, near the stone foxes. I sometimes wonder why we still bother to do this.

(Ado-ai) You know that it is because our father did these dances as part of his offerings to Inari, the protector of rice crops.

(Omo-ai) Yes, but we no longer farm these fields and have no more need for his protection. So why do we still have to come here every year to do this?

(Ado-ai) He believed that these dances brought him closer to Inari, and to the realm of foxes. Although we no longer believe in these fox gods, we come here to dance in his memory.

(Omo-ai) I know. I know. It’s important to remember him. But I really don’t like being out here so late in the evening.

(Ado-ai) Brother, why don’t you sit down there and rest, and I’ll dance first.

(Omo-ai) Yes, you dance first, and I’ll watch.

Omo-ai sits with back to metsuke-bashira. Ado-ai pushes mask down over face and dances centre stage [accompanied by hayashi]. At the end of the dance she, takes off the mask.

(Ado-ai) There brother. Now you take the mask and do your dance.

(Omo-ai) I really don’t want to do this.

Turning he suddenly sees the Waki seated at the Waki-bashira, He breaks off and points at the Waki.

(Omo-ai) What’s this here leaning against our stone foxes? From his white jacket and sedge hat, I’d say he’s a pilgrim from Shikoku. He must have strayed over here to Hiroshima.

(Omo-ai) Hey pilgrim! Wake up, (stamps) wake up! You can’t sleep here. We’re performing ritual dances for our deceased father in front of those stone foxes.

(Waki) I’m sorry. I have travelled a long way, and weary of heart, I sat down here to rest. I must have fallen asleep.

(Omo-ai) But what are you doing here?

(Waki) I was sent here from Shikoku by the great Wisdom King, Fudô Myô-ô in order to heal my wounded heart. But tell me, who are you?

(Ado-ai) We are brother and sister. We come here once a year on this evening to perform ritual dances in memory of our father. He was a rice- farmer. He came here every morning, to make offerings to these foxes. He believed they protected his crops.

(Omo-ai) He was here when the bomb was dropped, and he was killed. I am no longer a rice farmer like him, but my sister and I come here each year to dance before these foxes on the anniversary of his death.

(Waki). How very strange. I have just met a priest who also comes to this temple each year on this very eve.

(Omo-ai) But there is no temple here. Surely you can see that.

(Waki) But I just saw a temple. And a priest. Could I have been dreaming?

(Omo-ai) If there was a temple, it disappeared so long ago that no one remembers it.

(Ado-ai) But our father used to tell a story about a priest who became a fox. I always thought that the story happened here, and that these stone foxes were part of it.

(Waki) Would you mind telling me that story?

(Omo-ai) It’s only a story, nothing more than that.

(Ado-ai) Oh, do please tell him. It might be important.

(Omo-ai) Very well, if you insist.

According to the story, a young monk once came to the head priest of a local temple and asked this question: “does a fully-enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not.” The head priest replied that such a person does not fall under the law of cause and effect. No sooner had he said this than the priest became a fox. When you think about it, he got what he deserved. The head priest thought that he was better than us and somehow above the rules. And then, bang, he was suddenly a fox. And what’s more, according to our father’s story, the priest continued to live as a fox for 500 lifetimes.

(Ado-ai) But in the end, the fox was given another chance when he heard another priest answer the same question. This time the priest replied “The law of cause and effect can never be evaded, not by anyone.” Perhaps the foxes that we worship as Inari, once had a darker, significance.

(Waki) How strange, the priest that I met earlier this evening also told me this story, but in his version the fox was never liberated.

(Omo-ai) Well there is certainly no priest living here now.

(Ado-ai) Maybe the priest you saw here was a ghost.

(Waki) Well in fact, the priest told me that he was a ghost.

(Ado-ai) The ghost of that ancient priest?

(Waki) No, he said he was the ghost of Robert Oppenheimer

(Omo-ai) Oppenheimer! Isn’t he the one who made the atomic bomb! The man who killed our father.

(Waki) How terrible! It seems that I have called forth the ghost of that very man!

(Omo-ai) Terrible indeed. Sister, we must leave immediately.

Omo-ai and Ado-ai start to leave the stage, Ado-ai leading. When Ado-ai reaches the shite-bashira, Ono-ai stops, turns back towards the Waki and speaks the following lines. As soon as she hears him speak, Ado-ai also stops and turns.

(Omo-ai) But you’re the one who brought this evil ghost into our midst, and you must drive him away.

(Ado-ai) Please stay here and perform your rituals.

(Waki) Now you have told me the true story, I can call forth this ghost, and through the power of Fudô Myô-ô, release him from his ghostly form.

(Omo-ai) I don’t care how you do it. Just make sure he leaves.

(Ado-ai) How terrible, how terrible

(Omo-ai) Make sure he leaves, make sure he leaves.

Omo-ai and Ado-ai turn and exit.


I. Machiutai (Waki)
Keeping company with foxes in the deepening night
Company with foxes in the deepening night
My heavy heart-beat quickens, fear fills my breast.
Taking out my beads; chanting the sutra
Invoking once again the power of Fudô
To pacify that tortured soul and calm my mind.
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Gyate gyate hara gyate harasô gyate, boji sowaka
Hannya shingyô

II. Issei: Entrance of Shite

The following lines are sung from behind the curtain
Issei (Shite) The wheel of karma
Relentlessly returns me to Hiroshima
To suffer yet again the thousand-sun fire-hell.

(Waki) Night vapours thicken and the foxes are obscured
A shadowy figure emerges from the mist.

(Chorus) All beings draw back into the moon-darked silence.
Could this be the ghost of Robert Oppenheimer?
Making its painful way, emerging from the shadows
Making its painful way, emerging from the shadows
Only incantation shines.
Drawn here by the voice of prajna paramita
Drawn back here once through the power of Fudô

(Shite) Indeed it is I, come yet again to this place.
Life-time after life-time, fox-life after fox-life.

(Waki) When we last met you told a tale about a priest,
Who for his ignorance was turned into a fox

(Shite) What of it? What has this to do with my suff’ring?

III. Rongi
(Chorus) You told me as a kindness, to free myself from pain.
To ease the heavy burden of my iron-ball heart.
“Understand the law of cause and effect,” you said

(Shite) “When you shed your ignorance you will
Also shed your pain.”

(Chorus) Why then did you not tell me how the fox was freed,
When it shed its ignorance it also shed its pain
And was returned once more to human form.
Why did you not tell me that part of the story?

(Shite) Because in my heart I cannot believe it.

(Chorus) But reflect now on the fox and how he was freed
When he embodied the law of karma.

(Shite) So this is what will free me from the hellish round!

(Chorus) This is what will free me from the wheel of pain!
And so at last he sees that all must pay their dues.
He sees at last what he must do to free himself
From the endless painful rounds of birth and death
To willingly embrace the flames forever
And take upon this own body the endless suffr’ing
Inflicted upon those who perish here.
Inflicted upon those who perished here.

(Shite) Never again will I turn away from suff’ring.
(Chorus) I will now accept my fate and unmoving burn here.

IV. Noriji (Chorus)
Painful footstep by painful footstep,
With fierce resolution,
Head held high,
Arms raised in greeting,
Oppenheimer slowly treads the path of flame.

Footstep by painful footstep
He walks into the flames
And welcomes their embrace.

The bonds that tie him
To the endless rounds
Of birth and death
Dissolve. The heart melts
And he is free

Beshi (Slow stately entrance of Tsure.)

(Chorus) Fudô Myô-ô—he who dwells among the flames—

(Tsure) “It is no small thing,

(Chorus) It is no small thing for
Oppenheimer to bear upon his body the pain
That he inflicted here. Not only in Hiroshima,
But throughout the world for eons yet to come.
To sit unmoving and resolute
Accepting the flame’s embrace for all eternity.

(Tsure – (directly to shite)) I wield the sword of freedom.

(Chorus) I liberate all beings.
I wield the rope to ensnare all mistaken views.
By my power this humble pilgrim brought you to me
Take now these weapons that all may be freed from pain.
Unmoving midst the flames I dance to save you all

Mai. Maibataraki

V. Kiri (chorus) [the dance continues throughout the following]

(Shite) Unmoving midst the flames I dance to save you all

(Chorus) One stroke of Fudô’s sword:
Cuts away five hundred lives of error.
Snared by Fudô’s rope:
Foxes and demons lose their power.
Each flash of sword
Cuts off ignorance.
Each cast of snare
Brings peace to tortured hearts.
Dancing for all beings,
The Great Unmoving One
Dancing for all beings,
The Great Unmoving One.


24 September, 2015


It is now only two days until Theatre Nohgaku members arrive to begin rehearsals for Oppenheimer in Sydney. Time is short, but the idea of self immolation has been very much on my mind so I want to post a short blog on this subject.
In the play, Oppenheimer's ghost is condemned to return to Hiroshima every year on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, and to enter the flames and suffer the pain of his victims. Every year he is dragged back on an inexorable wheel of karma. How can he be free from this?
Freedom comes with a change of orientation. When he accepts his fate, and willingly enters the fires, resolving to remain there for all eternity, rather than being dragged back unwillingly, he encounters Fudô Myô-ô—the Buddhist King who dwells unmoving in the midst of fire—and finds liberation not just for himself but for all beings.
Self immolation is a very confronting thing, and not something that I would invoke lightly.


The main purpose of this blog is just to show some photos leading up to the production, which is now only a little over two weeks away. Here is Kitazawa-san showing me the preliminary stages of the new Oppenheimer mask. We discussed colour and various other issues. He has just arrived this morning.


And here are some shots of the rehearsal of the chorus at Bland St. It's sounding great.


In Oppenheimer I draw a parallel between an old priest who becomes a fox in the story of Baizhang/Hyakujo and the fox, and Oppenheimer's becoming a tormented ghost. Both transformations result from a fundamental mistake having been made about the law of cause and effect. In the case of the old man, he mislead one of his students. In the case of Oppenheimer he created a weapon that destroyed hundreds of thousands of people. In the play I suggest that just as the old priest was dazzled by emptiness and misunderstood its relationship to the world of conventional reality and causality, so too was Oppenheimer dazzled by the beauty of the sub-atomic world and that this somehow led to his misconstruing its relationship to the world of conventional physics where causality operates 'normally'.

I am not, however, equipped to understand all that quantum mechanics has to say about causality, so my drawing of a parallel between the world of emptiness and the world of quantum physics is essentially a poetic conceit. But I am comforted that I am not the only one who sees potential parallels there, parallels that continue to be explored in dialogues between scientists and Buddhists, and in particular the Dalai Lama.


Here is the flyer for our upcoming production of Oppenheimer. Many thanks to Camilla Woods for her wonderful design (and to Lindy Lee for putting me on to her). Thanks too to Lee Nutter for photographing the mask so beautifully and to Akira Matsui for lending me the mask.

Tickets can be obtained on line from Classikon at