The tales in this play all come the book Shonai no Minwa (Folktales from the Shonai area), compiled and edited by Hiroshi Hatakeyama, a longtime resident of Shonai in Yamagata. In the 1960’s, Hatakeyama began to worry that the folktales specific to that region were going to be lost. For the next 20 years, he traveled around the Shonai area, asking residents to share with him stories that had been passed down to them from older generations. He compiled, edited, and published them in the form of several books (two volumes of folk tales, and two of horror stories).
At first, the ten stories might seem randomly chosen. And in some ways they were. We didn’t really have a particular method when we first chose which stories to translate, except, “I like that one” or “This one will look good on stage” or “That one seems impossible – let’s try it.” But there are a number of things that glue the stories together, and would have done no matter which ones we chose. First is similar geography. There were certainly versions of some of these tales all over Japan, but a mention of a poor fisherman in the Mogami River or a townhouse in Sakata immediately paints a picture for anybody familiar with the area. But it’s not just in specific mentioning of places. After spending some time in Shonai, one feels the flavour of the land and people in the stories. There’s a lot of space, calm, and time. There is often a slow repitition (rituals as simple as making thread or fishing) and change erupts (often supernatural change), breaking the cycle.
For Tokyo, we were going to perform all of the tales in English. But after the Japanese shows in Yamagata, we realized the importance of Shonai-ben (the local dialect) in the stories. There is a rhythm in the language that is connected to the telling of the tales. We have kept a little of that in the current version of the show. Now there seems to be three languages being used: Shonai-ben, taken directly from the book; “standard” Japanese that Shinako and Makiko created through workshopping the tales; and the script created from our English translations.