[New book] To Hallow Genji: a tribute to Noh

Prof. Royall Tyler told me about the imminent publication of his new collection of Noh translations just a couple of weeks ago. To Hallow Genji: a tribute to Noh is an interesting Amazon ‘print-on-demand’ independent publication format (does Royall Tyler need an editor at all?) including many rare and bangai plays that fell off the current repertoire of the five Noh schools. Prof. Tyler does not really need any introduction, but for those who are approaching Noh for the first time, I would like to remind that he has published his first Noh translations in the 1970s: his Japanese No Dramas (Penguin, 1993) is an important contribution to the dissemination of Noh in the world – I think it was the first Noh book I’ve ever bought, actually. He is the author of various major essays and translations of Japanese classical literature, including his recent English translation of the Tale of the Heike (Penguin 2012).

From the book’s blurb:

“This tribute to the Noh theater includes eighteen plays and four essays. Among the plays are five non-repertoire that survive in Zeami’s own hand. The eighteen are Genji kuyo, Akoya no matsu, Funabashi, Furu, Genjo, Hakozaki, Higaki, Kuzu, Matsura Sayohime, Naniwa, Nishikigi, Nomori, Saoyama, Tadatsu no Saemon, Togan Boto, Toru, Tsunemasa, and Unoha. The essays are entitled “The Sword of Furu,” “Matsukaze and the Music of the Biwa,” “The Jewel of Shidoji,” and “A Note on the Theme of Wholeness and Rupture.”

I am looking forward to lay my hands on this book. Amazon’s print-on-demand seems like an interesting alternative to the e-book format, which still needs improvement, especially when it comes to books that require columns and other special pagination and formatting.

[EVENT]: Internationalisation of Japanese Traditional Performing Arts

Rits event omote

On January 8th 2014 the ARC Art Research Centre at Ritsumeikan University will host the event ‘Internationalisation of Japanese Performing Arts – Noh as Culture of the World’. The event combines performance, theory and discussion. See below for details (in English and Japanese).

The first part features shimai dance excerpts by masters of the Kongo School of Noh Udaka Michishige (Sanemori), Udaka Tatsushige (Yashima) and Udaka Norishige (Tomoe). I will also perform a shimai under my stage name Takaya Daigo (Atsumori – kiri). In the second part of the event I will showcase my current research: ‘The role of amateurs in the world of Noh’, as a work-in-progress. In this lecture I will explore the various kinds of amateur practitioners that populate the cultural world of Noh and how their social, economic and political role has changed throughout history. Unlike other kinds art professionals, most Noh performers depend on teaching amateurs in order to socially and financially sustain their artistic activities. Noh is currently undergoing a difficult phase in its history, with dwindling audiences and a lack of young blood among its professional ranks. In order to look for trajectories of solution to these issues, I believe that is necessary to consider the role of amateurs as one of the pillars on which the Noh world is based, and understand the complex relationship between audience, amateurs, and professionals. In the third part of the afternoon I will invite Udaka Michishige to discuss the role of amateurs in his experience as Noh actor and leader of the Kei’un-kai and of the INI International Noh Institute.

Internationalisation of Japanese Performing Arts

– Noh as Culture of the World –

January, 8th 2014 (Wednesday)

Ritsumeikan University, Kinugasa Campus

Art Research Center


16:00 Opening remarks

16:40 Performance (shimai)

Atsumori – kiri Takaya Daigo

Tomoe                 Udaka Norishige

Yashima             Udaka Tatsushige

Sanemori           Udaka Michishige

17:00 Intermission

17:10 Lecture – The role of amateurs in the world of Noh -Diego Pellecchia (Visiting Researcher, Art Research Centre, Ritsumeikan University).

17:45 Udaka Michishige and Diego Pellecchia in conversation

18:30 Closing remarks

The event is open and free of charge

Rits event ura

Selfish photography

I got myself a new camera and today I happened to go to a traditional performing art recital. I realized that I spent more time playing with my camera than actually watching the performances. I was in good company: many people around me were doing the same thing. Reflecting on what I was doing I realized that my pleasure was self contained in the action of taking picture. As soon as a performer stroke a pose, I would take a picture of him or her, only to direct my gaze at the LCD screen after that, therefore not watching the rest of the performance. It felt a little bit like ‘stealing’, or ‘taking advantage’ of them. I’m sure this is a ethical issue professional photographers often encounter…

However, as occasional photographer I could not help thinking that the value of my photographs is essentially personal. Most of my pictures will stay in my hard drive and no one will ever see them. I won’t either sell them or show them. The value of my action ends with the action itself. As a spectator, I wasn’t a very good spectator. I was more interested in pictures than in performances, and it is now clear that my photographing was selfish.

I don’t want to moralise here, but reflect: attending a performance is one thing, taking pictures of it is an entirely different thing! Or maybe the reason why I don’t feel happy about this is because maybe 50 other people around me were doing the same. And I know how this looks like when you are on stage.

Digital cameras are everywhere nowadays (as I write I could take pictures with at least 3 objects within 50cm from where I sit). They should be handled with care. Care is the right word. We should think twice before taking useless pictures, they pollute the digital and also the analog ecosystems.


Call grandpa, there’s Noh on TV

This is the face of traditional theatre on the national ‘educational’ channel, NHK’s Eテレ (e-tele), broadcasting programs on traditional performing arts between 22:00 and midnight. In a roundtable on the decrease of Noh amateur population published on Nogaku Journal in 2010, critic Horigami Ken complained about how dull TV programs are today, claiming that the absence of classical arts on TV is one of the reasons why young people today are not interested in Noh.

Nippon no geino

Yes, I too would like to see more Noh on TV and, preferably, I would not like to see it introduced by this nice&tidy couple of presenters, interviewing old geezers and kind baachan dressed in sober kimono, gently bowing and speaking in softly. Noh is everything but gentle or soft. It’s not something to be nodded at from behind a glass case (be it a TV set or a museum stand). Noh is magnificent, powerful, heartbreaking, enlightening. Not for the faint of heart, I daresay. Have you seen this program? Certainly NHK, like much of the Noh establishment, don’t care much about trying to reach new audiences, and only feed the progressively aging spectatorship that started following it in the 1960s. Noh is not only for them. Give us the real thing, not this pre-digested glop, only good for retirement home entertainment.

Thoughts on IFTR 2013

20130730-114826.jpgBack from the IFTR 2013 conference at the Institut del Teatre in Barcelona. Spanish organisers Boris Daussà-Pastor and Mercè Saumell did a terrific job coordinating what has been the biggest IFTR ever, with more than 800 participants (!), distinguished keynote speakers and thought-inspiring presentations. Japanese theatre was present in various working groups, not only in the Asian Theatre working group, coordinated by Mōri Mitsuya and Nagata Yasushi, but also in Dance, Theatre and Religion, Theatre Historiography, and others. I particularly appreciated Tsutsumi Harue (Seijo University) on ‘The Production of Hyōryū kitan Seiyō kabuki (The Wanderer’s Strange Story: a Western Kabuki) (1879) and the Journey of Iwakura Embassy (1871-1873) and Hiranoi Chieko (Hosei University) on the ‘History of Local Amateur Kabuki, Ji-shibai, the latter being particularly pertinent to my current work on Noh amateurs. Noh theatre, as expected, only had one representative – myself. My presentation was on the ethical dilemma of a Noh scholar-practitioner who is divided between the loyalty to a teacher and the ethos it represents, and the need for freedom to formulate and express criticism.

The lack of Noh at IFTR cannot but point to the need of a more international (intercultural?) and interdisciplinary approach to Noh in the wider context of theatre and performance studies. We ‘new generation of Noh scholars’ should join forces and open up the knowledge of Noh qua performance, not only as study material for translators and historians.

Suzuki Tadashi on Noh theatre


On Saturday 13rd July I attended Suzuki Tadashi‘s presentation 「能」に期待する (Expectations on Noh) at Otsuki Nogakudo in Osaka. The event is part of the series 能の魅力を探る, ‘investigating the charm of Noh’, organised on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of Zeami Motokiyo’s birth, and presented by Noh scholar Amano Fumio.

I was excited to be able to attend one of his rare forays into the public – recently Suzuki does not seem to leave his house in the mountains very often. In the 1970s Suzuki has done quite a lot of work with Noh and Kyogen actors, especially Kanze Hisao, Kanze Hideo and Nomura Mansaku, who belong to a generation of Noh professionals excelling in their art and open to experimenting in other fields. Suzuki’s famous ‘method’, now widely spread across the globe, has been allegedly influenced by Noh training. Carruthers/Yasunari’s book is a standard if you want more reference on his work.

The talk was followed by the dokugin solo chant from the Noh Ashibikiyama (足引山), performed Otsuki Bunzo, and the shimai dance excerpt from Tamamizu (玉水), performed by Kanze Tetsunojo, Hisao’s son. Both plays are fukkatsu, ‘restored’ plays that were not staged for a long time until recently.

Now a few words on Suzuki’s talk. I must admit I was not impressed. Most of it sounded like the grumblings of an elderly man against the malaise of modern civilization. His main point was how we humans have lost the ability to use their ‘animal energy’ (動物性エネルギー) because we use electricity, gas, oil in order to operate machines that work in ourplace. Complaining about how today’s youth have lost the ability to communicate, as they are only able to look at their smartphones (are FB and Twitter not a way to communicate?), Suzuki continued by praising Noh because it only uses ‘human energy’.

Of course Suzuki is, generally speaking, right about saying that Noh is one of the few performance traditions that still is largely man-powered, with the exception of the halogen lights illuminating the stage. Having said that, listening to Suzuki speaking was not particularly interesting and I strongly doubt it helped to show the ‘charm’ of Noh. Which ‘charm’ anyway? I am fascinated by Tanizaki’s aesthetic of shadows but I also think that such reactionary or nostalgic attitude is not going to help Noh move forward. Rejecting all that belongs to today’s generations, including Internet, smartphones, computers, machines, etc. equals to rejecting those whose lives are deeply influenced by all this. I am not an advocate of digitalisation of Noh, but I am concerned with what is going to happen to Noh in some 20 years, when a good percentage of its contemporary supporters are likely to be dead. We need to find a third way.

After the performance Kanze Tetsunojo, Otsuki Bunzo, Amano Fumio, Suzuki Tadashi (with an average age of 67.25) were on stage for a panel on Noh. I know this mights sounds harsh and I hope you will not think that I have no respect for experience and age, but, as I put myself in the shoes of one who meets Noh for the first time at a conference with a famous contemporary theatre director, I cannot help feeling that Noh is something that more and more risks to be a property of the old age. Fandom is built through admiration but also through identification. To what extent can young people in the early twenties identify with elderly men and women who represent the old-smelling (furukusai) world of their grandpas?

We must act, and I wonder what I can do… I think it is important to promote the work of young actors more than it is currently done by the Noh society.

Collected works of Horigami Ken


I have recently purchased Horigami Ken’s Collected Works on Noh. Horigami, editor of  the now discontinued Nogaku Journal, is one of the few Japanese Noh critics who actually say upfront what they want to say. I very much appreciate his lucid performance reviews and insightful analysis of various more or less controversial aspects of the Noh world. I suggest this book to all those who are interested not only in the artistic and aesthetic face of Noh, but also in its contemporary cultural (i.e. political and economic) context.


A visit to Ernest Fenollosa’s grave

I spent last Sunday in Ōtsu (Shiga pref.) on Lake Biwa, where I attended the annual taikai recital of Ritsumeikan University Noh Theatre Club, featuring both current and old members, at the Dentōgeinōkaikan. It’s been a pleasant day, where I could gather quite a lot of material for my current research on amateur practitioners in Noh. After a long morning-afternoon of shimai, rengin and maibayashi Calder, Cristina (members of the INI) and I decided to take a stroll behind Miidera, just where the kaikan is. Our destination was Ernest Fenollosa‘s grave. Fenollosa (1853-1908) helped to disseminate Noh outside Japan with translations that were later edited by Ezra Pound, and published in the book “Noh”, or, Accomplishment (1916). After his death, his ashes were sent back to Japan, and buried at Hōmyō-in, in the woods close to Miidera.

I have done quite a lot of work on Fenollosa for my PhD thesis so I definitely wanted to visit his grave at least once. It’s actually not that easiest thing to find it, but here are a couple of pictures I took. .

Now that I understood where it is, I will certainly come back, maybe with incense and sakaki leaves.




IFTR New Scholars’ Prize

iftrI am happy to announce that I was selected as a winner of the IFTR International Federation for Theatre Research New Scholars’ Prize 2012-2013 for my essay “Ezra Pound and the Politics of Noh Films”, which I hope to publish soon. I will receive the prize on the occasion of the IFTR annual conference in Barcelona 21-26 July 2013, which I look forward to attend.

This is one of those situations where an academic who also blogs about academic topics would like to reveal more about his work but cannot because he has to wait for the actual paper to be out there lest his stuff is illegitimately taken by some ill-intentioned guy (it happens all the time). See Travis Seifman’s thoughts on academic posting online. Anyway I am very excited about receiving the prize, and I can’t wait to publish the article!

See you guys in Barcelona!