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.
Today I had okeiko with my teacher’s eldest son Udaka Tatsushige. He gave me precise instructions about various moments of the play which I need to improve. Among all suggestion there is one thing I need to be particularly aware of: if my movements are too dynamic or extreme, if they are too ‘expressive’, it will be to the detriment of the costume. Reflecting on this I realised how much the costume, along with the mask, already does a lot of the narration just by being there on stage. It is important to establish a good relationship with the costume, restraining your movement, compressing your energy. If your acting crosses the line, the costume will disappear, only your movements will be visible. The costume has been perfected through centuries to serve its expressive purpose on stage: let’s make sure it has enough room to say what it has to say.
A Noh costume is composed of various parts which are assembled and sown together directly on the actor just before the performance. Eri (neck-collars) come in various colours indicating the nature of the character wearing them (age, gender, social status, etc.). For Kiyotsune I will wear a blue collar like the one pictured below. Eri are among the few parts of the costumes that all Noh actors own, as they come directly in touch with parts of the body (such as the neck) which tend to sweat hence to easily damage fabric. The one below is a simple T-shape piece of white cotton with a strip of blue silk sown on top, which was made by a friend in Kyoto.
This special exhibition presents a selection of traditional masks, costumes, and musical instruments that evoke the solemnity and celebratory splendor of Noh, while woodblock prints illustrate the performance on stage.
is the theme of this year’s UDAKA Michishige Men-no-KaiNoh mask exhibition. The 14th edition of the exhibition will feature works of Master-Actor UDAKA Michishige, possibly the only Noh actor who is also a professional mask carver, as well as several masks carved by his students. the exhibition will open tomorrow Tuesday 27th November and close on Thursday 28th November. Wednesday at 13:30 it will be possible to attend a talk by UDAKA Michishige and a Noh costuming demonstration. See below for more details and access information.
UDAKA Michishige’s work as Noh mask carver has been collected in various picture books, among which The Secrets of Noh Masks published by Kodansha International.
Noh: Michimori. Mask: Chujo, by UDAKA Michishige. Photograph by HARADA Shichikan
The 14th UDAKA Michishige Men-no-Kai Mask Exhibition
At the Kyoto Prefectural Center for Arts and Culture 2nd Floor
Kawaramachi Hironokoji-sagaru, Kamigyo-ku (across from the Prefectural Hospital)
10:00 a.m.~6:00 p.m. (5:30 p.m. on the 28th)
28th （Wednesday）1:30 p.m. Talk and Costuming Demonstration by UDAKA Michishige