Noh workshop at HUB Kyoto

On Sunday 21st April the INI International Noh Institute will hold a Noh workshop at the HUB Kyoto, Kyohakuin (see below for details & directions).

Noh Workshop info


INI Encounters with Noh Series

at HUB Kyoto

21 April, 14:00-17:15

Noh drama, Japanese traditional theatre of masks, music and abstract and mimetic movement, is the world’s oldest masked performance tradition. It has been performed uninterrupted for over six hundred years, and in 2001 was designated an Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO. Noh portrays a world where the boundaries of past, present, and future blur and our consciousness of memory, the moment, and anticipation of what is to come unite. In this singular environment, the spirits of elegant ladies and fierce warriors, gods and goddesses, flowering plants and demons appear and share nostalgic memories of their desires and attachments.

In the INI Encounters with Noh Workshop at HUB Kyoto, participants will learn the basic principles of Noh theatre in the tradition of the Kongō School. This includes basic meditation in preparation for training, physical/vocal warm up exercises, chant and dance movements through the study of a short dance excerpt.

No previous knowledge of Noh is required. The workshop will be conducted in English.

The workshop will be led by Dr. Diego Pellecchia, Noh scholar, student of Udaka Michishige, and active member of the International Noh Institute.

Students are kindly asked to bring comfortable clothes and socks (preferably white)

Participation fee: ¥5,000

Concessions (students): ¥2,500

Observation fee: ¥1000

This workshop is restricted to 10 places. Please book by e-mailing

About the INI – International Noh Institute

The International Noh Institute was founded in 1984 in response to the urging of foreigners studying with UDAKA Michishige as members of his student group and participants of intensive courses. Since then, UDAKA Michishige has taught students from various disciplines, including actors, dancers, psychologists and scholars, from thirteen countries through INI programs.


HUB Kyoto, Kyohakuin, 682 Shokokuji monzen-mae,

Kamigoryomae-agaru, Karasuma-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto

TEL: 075-417-0115

Nearest station: Kuramaguchi on the Karasuma Subway Line.

Walk 3 minutes south (towards Doshisha University, Imadegawa-dori) on the east side of Karasuma-dori. Kyohakuin is between a tobacco shop and koban police box.

Yokomichi Mario

I just got the September issue of the Nogaku Times in the mail and saw an article on the first page reporting Yokomichi Mario‘s death. Prof. Yokomichi was one of the greatest Noh scholars of the modern times. He contributed to Noh theatre research with studies such as The Life Structure of the Noh, later translated by Frank Hoff and Willi Flindt (1973), possibly the first study on the dramaturgical structure of Noh plays available in English, offering insights on Noh performance that mere translations could not provide. He was also famous for having created the ‘retro-translation’ of Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, a dance play the Irish poet wrote under inspired by the Noh Yōrō, which Yokomichi re-wrote as the Noh play later known as Takahime (‘The Hawk Princess’).

Yokomichi Mario died at the age of 95. Last year he received a special honour for his achievements in the field of Noh research from the Ministry of Education.

The American Who Couldn’t Say Noh

Just when you think you heard all the possible idiotic puns on Noh, that is when a new onecomes up (usually from an American publication). I have already explored the topic in a previous post, but this time I give you.. The American Who Couldn’t Say Noh, by Charles Danziger.

I haven’t read the book – I kind of feel I have enough from the title – but will welcome reviews by anyone who already endeavoured to… I know a lot of people find these puns very amusing and trust me, I would like to find them amusing too, so that I would be more natural in my reactions when talking to such people. But I can’t help thinking they are simply very lame…

A life of dedication to Noh

I re-post here the article that appeared today on Japan Times online. I consider the work of Rebecca Ogamo Teele as a model for all those who would like to pursue the study of Noh in a serious way. I wish Rebecca-sensei all best for her next performance.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011  

American woman pours self into noh


Special to The Japan Times

According to Rebecca Ogamo Teele, an American instructor, performer and mask carver for noh, falling asleep is a perfectly respectable response to attending such plays.

In fact, she would almost recommend it.

A noh performance can be likened to a meditative state, with a rhythm forged from drum calls and breath-based vocalizations, she explains. This dreamlike world harkens back to the womb, pulsing with the mother’s heartbeat.

“The rhythms of noh can draw you into a trance state,” Teele says. “You may sleep, but at some point there will be a change in the tension, and you’ll wake naturally.”

Teele, 62, speaks about noh with familiarity born of 39 years of study, including three decades as an instructor of the classical dramatic and musical art. Her longtime teacher, Michishige Udaka, is a master actor and mask carver in the Kyoto-based Kongo school, one of the largest of the five major noh schools.

Teele’s first exposure to noh was as a child in Kobe, where her father, an educational missionary and scholar of contemporary literature, taught at Kwansei Gakuin University during two stints in Japan totaling nine years that began in 1950.

“My father studied utai (noh chanting) and often brought our family to classical art performances. I can remember when I was very young waking up at noh performances and feeling transported by the otherworldly sounds and the unexpected sight of masked actors,” she says.

After returning to the United States in 1960, Teele fueled her interest in Japanese arts with a fine arts major at Bennington College in Vermont. She returned to Japan in 1971, settling to Kyoto, to learn more about classical theater arts.

She first studied with a mask carver but desired a stronger connection to the plays themselves. Intrigued by Udaka’s insistence on carving the masks for his noh roles himself and his rare openness to teaching women and foreigners, she began to study at the Kongo school.

“Udaka-sensei felt that noh is universal; that if someone trains and has the necessary commitment, they can interpret a role, no matter where they’re from,” she says.

Teele began studying dramatic roles right away, along with daily stretching and vocalization exercises. “In the Kongo School you learn to read notation by parroting the teacher. You start with the simplest, most abstract movements and you learn to listen to and to later interpret the text.”

She gradually mastered the performer’s gliding walk, in which the feet never leave the floor, the elbows are held out and to the side, and fingers are folded in a fist. She demonstrates by gliding across the carpet, with posture held erect but the torso set at a low center of gravity and legs bent. In noh, she says, movement is controlled and usually slow, but it can sometimes unfold explosively fast.

“This posture creates a larger sounding board for your voice and nicely sets off the costume, which often features sleeves twice as long as your arms. Holding your arms this way is physically demanding, calling on stamina and strength,” she explains. The performer typically holds a fan to amplify gestures or mime movements, such as drinking or holding a shield.

“Kabuki has a wonderful flamboyance, but I was attracted by the depth of noh,” she says. “In noh the audience is a kind of witness, called on to participate in the performance. Rather than passively having things laid out for them, they must create something by listening to the chorus and watching the abstract movements, which assume meaning when attached to a text.”

In noh, costumes, dance, utai and poetry help to express overwhelming emotions, such as rage or sorrow, with stories often based on famous historical scenes or Buddhist themes. The main character, the shite, is assisted by an on-stage chorus and a wakikata, or secondary character, who acts as the foil for the shite.

A noh performance typically includes several plays as well as a farcicalkyogen performance.

Over the years, as Teele improved as a noh performer, she began to conceive of a role for herself, she said, “in facilitating communication and understanding among performers and learners.” After nine years of study she became certified as a shihan, or instructor, one of the three foreign instructors whom Udaka has trained. In 1996 she was accepted into the Noh Association under her noh name, Rebecca Ogamo (a play on words, since “kamo” means duck, and a “teal” is a small dabbling duck).

Most noh plays are performed wearing masks, although not all. When performing without a mask the face remains completely emotionless. For the Western actor, the face is the greatest medium of expression, but the use of a mask in noh, rather than serving as a handicap, allows for greater expression of creative energy, Teele says.

“Because the audience is not distracted by the face, you become more aware of the performer’s body and voice. It seems that it would be limiting, but it allows you to access greater powers of expression,” she says. “The mask is the focusing lens for the actor’s energy, and that can be quite transporting.”

She displays a lacquered mask she has carved herself from lightweight Japanese cypress, with straps and linen backing attached. Most masks are carved for specific roles or character types; this one is for Lady Rakujo, the betrayed wife of Prince Genji in the play “Aoi no ue.” The horns and the savage, tooth-bared grimace symbolize a woman transformed by resentment, grief and disillusionment into a demonic spirit, Teele says.

It takes up to a year for Teele to complete a mask like this. “The finest masks have an intense immediacy and can express love, devotion, or grief,” she says. “With an accomplished performer, the mask should seemingly come alive, with the expression changing as the viewing angle changes.”

Teele provides information on noh and teaches both foreign and Japanese students as associate director of the International Noh Institute, a Kyoto-based network of instructors and students affiliated with Michishige Udaka. She says Japanese have no problem accepting a foreign teacher: “Sometimes Japanese prefer a foreigner, since they can ask questions and admit their ignorance of noh without embarrassment.”

Much of the appeal of noh is in the texts, which are often very short narratives but with compressed layers of meaning. Although many of the most famous noh plays, like “Hagoromo” and “Dojoji,” date back more than five centuries, new plays are being written and performed regularly, many to address contemporary issues.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Udaka pondered the fate of the souls of those who died instantly in mass carnage, leading him to write a play about Hiroshima atomic bomb victims. In the play, “Inori” (“Prayer”), a mother follows the voice of her missing child to the underworld, where a guide escorts her to a site where victims of nuclear and terror attacks reside. Teele accompanied Udaka on a tour of the play to Paris, Dresden and Berlin in 2007, where it was met with enthusiastic, focused audiences, she says.

Teele has appeared on NHK TV, and has lectured and led workshops about noh in Latin America, Europe and New Zealand. In 2003 the Kyoto Prefectural Government recognized her dedication to the dance form by awarding her the Akebono Prize, for women who have contributed greatly to their fields.

She believes that she is the only foreigner to be accepted into the Noh Association, which recognizes professional performers.

She is currently working on a compilation of translated noh plays intended for a general readership, and she has embarked on a project to create smaller-proportioned masks specifically designed for female performers. Last June, she performed as the shitekata, or central character, of the play “Yuki” at the Kongo Noh Theater, a highly abstract role in which, as the spirit of the snow, she materializes before a lost priest and seeks his intercession for finding enlightenment.

“The character is essentially an accumulation of our memories, attachments and illusions,” she says. “In noh, plays like this allow us to experience an awakening of awareness of both the dangers of attachment and the importance of the living things on Earth.”

Puns on Noh

I am collecting ways the word Noh has been used to create more or less funny or catchy puns on Noh (usually titles for newspaper articles).

  • ‘Noh Woman Noh Cry’ (reported by Melissa Poll) – this could actually be my current favourite
  • Nō to ieru kyōgen’ (‘The Kyogen that can say Noh’), probably after the essay No to ieru nihon (‘Japan that can say No’) – suggested by Helen Parker.
  • ‘Japanese theatre bulletin: Noh news to report’. Random Tweet
  • ‘Be in the Noh’ workshop at SOAS (Londond, 2001) ran by Matsui Akira (reported by Helen Parker)
  • ‘Noh business and sho business’. Episode in a series of three programmes on Japanese music for BBC Radio 3, The Japanese Ear, in the early 1990s. (reported by Helen Parker)
  • ‘Nohledge of Zeami’s treatises’ (suggested by Matthew W. Shores)
  • ‘Noh news is good news’. (random tweet)
  • ‘Are You in the Nō?’ (Vogue, 1/7/1916) suggested by David Ewick
  • ‘When Noh means yes’ (American Theatre, 7/1/04)
  • ‘Noh business is like Noh business’ (Various articles)
  • ‘To be or Noh to be’ (American Theatre, 11/1/03)
  • ‘Troupe says yes to Noh’ (News Tribune Tacoma, 27/3/07)
  • ‘Noh theatre for you!’ (missing reference)
  • ‘The American Who Couldn’t Say Noh’ (by Charles Danziger)
  • ‘Japanese No-Noh: The Crosstalk of Public Culture in a Rural Festivity’ . an article by Bill Kelly in Public Culture suggested by Prof. Matthew Cohen
  • ‘Japan’s magical landscapes: there’s noh place like it’. (Tom Yarwood, The Guardian 7/10/11)

Do you have more to suggest?

Is this the future of Noh Theatre?

It will take me a few days to digest what I saw yesterday night at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London. Theatre Nohkagu’s double bill of Kiyotsune and ‘shinsaku eigo noh’ Pagoda, written by British playwright Jannette Cheong and Richard Emmert has been a rich experience, and I already know I will want to come back to my notes again and again later. I would rather not give a review of the play, as it would be a limiting practice for something so formative. Aesthetic evaluation apart, the central question rising is ‘what is Noh’? Previously, in SOAS canteen, Emmert and I were talking about the nature of Noh from the perspective of the foreigner, and the purpose and future of Noh in English. The mind immediately goes to European opera, whose language was transformed from Italian into French, English, German, etc. We now accept all these languages as if they legitimately belonged to the opera world. My teacher Udaka Michishige was never involved in such transcultural Noh productions, however his judgment on postmodern experiments is rather positive, as they might be seeds that cross-fertilise a theatre form on the verge of stall. Experiments done in the West might well be source of inspiration for Japanese-based performers. Yokomichi Mario’s heavily debated Takahime, (re)appropriation of Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well, already provided an example in the 1950s. It is pointless to discuss the value of Noh in English on the basis of personal taste as what floats on the surface of aesthetic judgment is not meant to stay. Let us look at what this new way of writing and performing Noh is telling us, about how issues of authenticity and cultural ownership have to be re-examined. Whose Noh was that? Will Noh be multilingual in the future? Probably its performers will be.