'The Sumida River', (Sumidagawa).
The tragic tale of a mother gone mad with grief! This is one of the most beautiful dances in the repertoire and an acknowledged masterpiece.
It is evening, and approaching the banks of the great Sumida River is a woman of elegant but dishevelled appearance. The reason for her journey all the way from Kyoto, (the then capital), is that her beloved son has gone missing. Frantic with worry, she is searching for him and has now journeyed far, far to the east. In her distracted state, she has pursued him all the way to the Sumida River.
The woman sees a ferryman and begs him to take her in his boat across the river. Noticing some unfamiliar white birds, she asks what they are called. The ferryman replies that they are merely seagulls from the ocean. But she insists that he is heartless to call them common seagulls, for they must be none other than the famed miyako dori, 'capital birds', which she has read about in a famous poem. Her situation is similar to that of the poet's for he also journeyed far to the east, yearning for someone who was dear to him. She adapts the poet's lines describing his question to these same 'capital birds', asking whether the one he left behind was still alive or dead. She, too, is sick with worry about her child. The man agrees to ferry her across.
Looking to the distant bank, she asks why a group of people has gathered around a willow tree there. It is a sad tale, he replies, and begins to tell the story of a boy who was kidnapped by a slave trader and abandoned just a year ago...