“Noh” – Japanese Traditional Performance Art

Noh is one of the traditional Japanese performing arts that has been handed down since ancient times, and it has been passed down for more than 600 years.

Do you know the word “Noh”?

Noh is one of the traditional Japanese performing arts that has been handed down since ancient times, and it has been passed down for more than 600 years. Despite being a historic performing art that was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008, the details are not widely known even in Japan. I did not had any knowledge of what Noh is like before I joined the Noh club at my university.

So now, I, was part of the Noh world even for a short period, would like to introduce the beauty of this world. Firstly, the word “Noh” refers to two words, “Kyogen” and “Noh”.

Kyogen (狂言) is a play made based on the life of the common people, and it is like manzai comedy in modern times.
Noh (楽) is a play based on mysterious and spiritual things such as myth and paranormal phenomena

It is easier to understand when explained as a Japanese version of classical opera.

As I learned more about Noh, I was more and more drawn into the world of Noh, which was ever so deep and beautiful art. The tools mainly used in Noh are masks, costumes, fans, and set pieces. The masks are a signature tool for this performing art. Various masks are used depending on the character, and the expressionless side becomes a mask with a thousand expressions depending on how performers act.

In addition, it is interesting that each facial expression is different even if it is the same kind of mask because they are made by artisans one by one. Costumes, which are stage costumes, vary depending on the characters’ status and personality, and the pattern and color are roughly defined depending on the role in which they are played. For example, when a young woman is performed, a costume colored bright red is used. You can enjoy it more deeply when you have such knowledge. It looks gorgeous, but because they wear many kimonos on top of each other, some of them are heavy and weigh more than 20 kilograms! The acting of Noh performers who dance gracefully even though they wear such a heavy costume is a masterpiece.

And next, they use a fan is also one of the essential tools. The pattern is different depending on the role in which the fan is used, and it becomes property to express various things such as a sake cap or a sliding door. Since the main character is basically on the stage, it may be a device to shed properties as much as possible. On the other hand, the large tools which are used as the set pieces are called tsukurimono (作り物). This is already defined by a title. The largest one is the size like a bell in a temple, or there are some titles that do not use at all.

Noh is a play that creates space

It is felt that the root of Noh is for offering to God, the stage in which it is performed is minimally narrow, and the tool is extremely few and the emphasis is placed on acting. Creating an infinite space on a narrow stage, more to say is a way of enchanting the audience to feel the space. If there are ten people, there are ten ways to receive them, and depending on how they are interpreted by the performers. Even if the synopsis is decided, the other things are produced by each one, and this flexibility is the reason why it has fascinated people up to now and has been passed down for more than 600 years.

This unintelligibility is a traditional Japanese culture created by the Japanese who are sensitive to abstract things and sensitive stuff. In this way, it is clear that Noh is not easy to understand, but when you step into it, you can realize that the world of traditional Japanese theater is really deep and interesting. However, it is also true that it is still in danger of survival. I hope that more people will learn about the charm of Noh, and that the day will come when Noh will spread not only to Japan but also to the world. I hope that one day it will become one of the popular plays in Canada.

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