Noh costumes and female bodies

Today has been an eventful day at the Oe Noh theatre with performances of Yashima by Miyamoto Shigeki and Aoinoue by Washio Yoshiko. The latter is a young female performer belonging to the Kyoto Kanze group of performers. As it often happens, the mask and costume used for this performance did not suit the small stature of the main performer. This is all the more thought-provoking in the case of a female role. We watch a female body in female clothes designed to be worn by men – and it does not fit. The sleeves are too long, the bottom hem too low. The body is lost in the costume. The large mask hides the chin. As long as masks and costumes meant to be worn by men will be put on women, it will be hard to consider performances on par. I share this experience of unfitness on the other extreme: my arms, as those of many Caucasian males, are longer in comparison to our east-Asian ounterparts (this applies to buying shirts at Uniqlo, too), making kosode costumes such as karaori or atsuita difficult to wear.

While I do not see a pressing need for costumes that white males could wear, I think it is very important that efforts are put in creating costumes for women. Noh costumes are extremely expensive, and actors buy costumes individually – not everyone could afford a rich wardrobe in male and female sizes. But important households such as that of the iemoto grandmaster also purchase costumes with the intention of renting them to other actors. I think that a fair share of that budget should go to purchasing costumes for female performers. The same counts for masks. My teacher, Udaka Michishige, and some of his mask-carving students, such as Rebecca Ogamo Teele, have been making masks for women for several years now, and the results are excellent.

— Diego Pellecchia

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