Tadasu Kanjin Noh 2015

Hello! I apologise to my readers for not having written much in a long time. I am working on multiple research projects at the moment besides teaching and writing duties as always. Anyway I though I would take five just to share my excitement about attending the Tadasu Kanjin Noh at Shimogamo Shrine this Saturday 30th of May 2015. I would love to tell you more about the place, the play and the importance of kanjin (subscription) performances in Noh but, alas, no time for that. Just a few key features: open air performance; hashigakari bridge installed behind the musicians as it was in the olden days (a long long time ago); the iemoto of the Kanze School (Kanze Kiyokazu) dances the Noh Kamo with an impressive lineup of top-notch performers; it is expensive but the money goes towards the renovation of the Shimogamo Shrine.

What I am going to do in place of extensive writing is to shamelessly copy/paste the English info on the organisers’ website so that people in the area who are interested can easily find their way to the booking system.

Tadasu Kanjin Noh

Commemorating the 34th renovation of Shimogamo shrine
and the 550th anniversary of Tadasugawara Kanjin Sarugaku performance

Noh: Kamo
Performed by: Kanze Kiyokazu (head of the Kanze school)
Place: Shimogamo Shrine
Date and time: May 30 (Sat), 6 PM (doors open 5 PM)

Situated on the north eastern (inauspicious) side of the ancient capital, the Tadasu area was traditionally a place for conducting purification ceremonies. Tadasu no Mori (literally “Forest of Correction”), Shimogamo Shrine’s sacred grove, was believed to be a residence of a guardian deity which “corrects” (tadasu) the malign influences. 550 years ago, there was a famous performance of Sarugaku (a precursor of Noh) held at the Tadasu area for the purpose of temple solicitation. For Shimogamo shrine, 2015 is a year of “Shikinen Sengu”, a renovation which is done according to an ancient tradition every 21 years. Let’s take this important year as an opportunity to once again feel the beauty of Japanese culture.

Information about the Performance

S Seats 10,000 Yen
A Seats 5000 Yen
Special Seats 30,000 Yen (seating at a historical Important Cultural Property building)
Front Seats 20,000 (closest to the stage)

Organized by: Committee for the revival of Tadasu Sarugaku (Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto Shimbun, Yuhisai Kodokan)
Reservations & Inquiries: TEL: 075-781-0010 E-mail: tadasu-noh@kodo-kan.com

Buying Tickets

17th Kongo Iwao II Memorial Performance

On Saturday 6th December 2014 from 13:00 to 17:00 the 17th Memorial Performance commemorating the late Iemoto (Head Master) Kongo Iwao II will take place at the Kongō Noh Theatre in Kyoto. This exceptional event will feature two special plays: Obasute, starring the current Iemoto, Kongō Hisanori, and Dōjō-ji (koshiki version) starring his son, Kongō Tatsunori. (See full program below. If you are interested in purchasing a ticket, contact me here).


Obasute, by Zeami Motokiyo is one of the highest ranking plays in the Noh repertoire, and is based on the ancient Japanese legend of obasute-yama, a mountain where the elderly were abandoned by their own relatives, and left there to die. The legend of obasute-yama has been popularised by the famous film The Ballad of Narayama by Kinoshita Keisuke (1958 remade by Imamura Shōhei in 1983). In the Noh play Obasute, the spirit of a woman who was abandoned on Obasute-yama appears to a traveller who is visiting the area, and describes how her loneliness prevent her to break away from her attachments to this world and reach enlightenment. The play is pervaded by the imagery of the full moon, a buddhist symbol of enlightenment, also associated to the Seishi-bosatsu, Bodhisattva of Wisdom and companion of Buddha Amida.

Kongo Dōjōji koshiki
Kongo Dōjōji koshiki

The story of Dōjō-ji is well known in Japan, also because of its Kabuki rendition. The play tells the story of a young woman whose impossible love for a monk transforms her into a deadly monster. After having learned about the girl’s feelings, the man finds refuge in a temple, where monks hide him under the bell. Realising his hiding spot, the woman, now transfigured into a monstrous snake, wraps herself around the bell. As her own snake-body burns with deadly passion, the bell melts along with the man hiding underneath. Years after this accident, a ceremony is held to celebrate a the rising of a new bell. The Abbot has prohibited women to enter the temple precincts, but a young and attractive girl comes knocking at the gates… This

17th Kongo Iwao II Memorial Performance

Time: Saturday 6th December 2014 – 13:00 to 17:00. Doors open at 12:30.

Place: Kongō Noh Theatre, Kyoto.

Noh: Obasute. Shite: Kongō Hisanori; Waki: Hōshō Kan; Flute: Sugi Ichikazu; Shoulder drum: Sowa Hiroshi; Hip drum: Kamei Tadao;  Stick drum: Maekawa Mitsunaga.

Kyōgen: Jisenseki. Shite: Shigeyama Sengorō: Ado: Shigeyama Dōji.

Noh: Dōjō-ji (koshiki) Shite: Kongō Tatsunori. Waki: Fukuō Kazuyuki; Flute: Takeichi Manabu; Shoulder drum: Okura Genjirō; Hip Drum: Kawamura Masaru; Stick drum: Maekawa Mitsunori.

Seating: S seats stage front 15,000¥; A seats stage side 13,000¥; B seats stage middle 10,000¥; balcony 8,000¥; students 5,000¥

17th Kongo Iwao II Memorial Performance

17th Kongo Iwao II Memorial Performance

Amateurs at the heart of Noh – 能の中核をなす「素人」

As part of my year at the Art Research Centre at Ritsumeikan University under the Japan Foundation Fellowship Programme, I have been asked to write a brief article about my current research on the role of amateurs in the world of Noh. The article is available both in English and in Japanese on the Japan Foundation web magazine Wochikochi.


Noh: "Kiyotsune" - photo by Barbara Mosconi
Noh: “Kiyotsune” – photo by Barbara Mosconi

School or ryu?

When I introduce myself or talk about my training in Noh, I often find myself in need to explain what I mean by ‘Kongō school’ (金剛流 Kongō-ryū). There is a common misunderstanding deriving from the use of the word ‘school’ (or it. scuola; fr. école; ger. Schule – it extends to all European languages) as translation of the Japanese ryū. Since many have asked me to explain what exactly a ‘Noh school’ is, I would like to use this space to clarify a couple of things regarding this matter.

The Kongo School stage
The Kongo School stage

The Kongō school, to which I belong, is one of the five stylistic schools of shite actors (the others being Kanze, Komparu, Hōshō, and Kita). ‘School’ is none other than a free translation of ryū (lit. ‘current’, or ‘flow’), a word defining a performance style peculiar to a certain group of actors who are organised in a ‘guild’, a pyramid structure on top of which is the iemoto (lit. ‘foundation/origin of the house’). These ryū are the contemporary configuration of troupes of performers called za, which emerged in the Muromachi period, and that later underwent a process of professionalisation that led to the creation of ryū specialised in particular roles and instruments. Various styles, or ‘ways of performing’ a specific element of Noh become formalised during the Edo period, multiplying the possible combinations of chant, dance, drum and flute performance when these elements come together on stage. In fact, one of the difficulties performers need to face is getting used to a variety of styles in order to be able to perform with more than one ryū, because all performing roles (as shite actors are grouped in the five ryū mentioned above, waki, kyogen, taiko, ko-tsuzumi, ō-tsuzumi, fue – all have different ryū). For example, a Kongō-ryū shite could perform with a Fukuō-ryū waki or a Takayasu-ryū waki, with a kō-ryū or okura-ryū ko-tsuzumi, etc. (However, ryū are not represented equally across the territory, which makes it so that some ryū always get to perform with a certain other ryū more often than others… it’s getting complicated… I might need to write another post to explain this).

The Noh ryū system

Anyway, each ryū has a iemoto on top of it, and his (male) heirs immediately under him. However, ryū are also composed of other families which have been affiliated with a certain ryū, and might to some extent have developed a particular ‘style within the style’. Although dependent to the iemoto supreme leader, such families achieve a certain degree of independence which has often led (and still leads) to power struggles within the ryū. The obvious example is the Umewaka family, a formerly independent group which were incorporated into the Kanze school at the beginning of the Edo period (early seventeenth century). When, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Umewaka family attempted to declare independence, it was excommunicated from the Kanze school by the iemoto, only to rejoin a few years later. Disputes like this are common in the history of Noh, and still continue today.

In short, a ryū is a conglomerate of individuals, some of whom are descendants of families that have been in the Noh profession for generations, while others are associates of these families – they can be amateur students who turn to professionalism, or relatives adopted into the professional family. The iemoto family, from which the style takes the name, is the highest ranking within the school. The iemoto himself, as the ultimate leader of the school, holds the rights to grant teaching licenses, to authorise performances, to revise and publish scripts (hence to earn publication revenues), to accept and to expel members, etc.

This is to say that a Noh ‘school’ is not an educational institution like a drama academy, with lectures, practice rooms, recitals, etc. Noh actors do practice and perform recital, but their training and performance is not structured and regulated as in a Western-style conservatory. There is no ‘school building’ where all trainees report to in the morning. Most young professionals are either born into families of professionals, or become apprentices (uchi-deshi, or house-apprentice) to a professional. This means they either visit the home/practice space (the two do not necessarily coincide) of their teacher, or else they actually live in the home/practice space. This second option, called sumi-komi (live-in) is normal when the teacher is the iemoto or a high-ranking actor from an affluent family with a long heritage in the Noh profession, simply because these two figures are the only ones likely to own a stage as well as facilities big enough to serve the purpose of training disciples. An additional reason is that proximity to the origin of tradition (i.e. the iemoto) is likely to provide the ‘purest quality of technique’, as opposed to learning from another teacher, whose style will be similar but different from that of the iemoto. Finally, learning directly from the iemoto allows a performer to… well, claim that he/she has learnt directly from the iemoto: it is pedigree. For example, my teacher (Udaka Michishige) was uchi-deshi of the previous iemoto (Kongō Iwao II), which means he had direct transmission, while I am removed by one degree. In a small school like the Kongō school, undergoing an uchi-deshi training period with the iemoto is the only way to ensure a young actor is exposed to all the necessary kinds of knowledge he/she will need in order to become a full professional.

I feel like I have made things more complex than I intended to – feel free to ask for clarification if you need to!

Fukyu Noh HASHI-BENKEI 7 July 2013

Hashi-Benkei Fukkyu

On Sunday 7 July 2013 at 17:00 the Iemoto Kongo Hisanori will perform the Noh Hashi-Benkei at the Kongo Noh Theatre in Kyoto. The performance is offered at the special price of 2,500yen with advanced booking so don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to reserve a ticket.

“Warrior-monk Musashibo Benkei has been warned that a young boy is attacking passersby at Gojo Bridge in the capital and taking their swords. Benkei is determined not to be frightened by such rumors and refuses to avoid the area. He goes to the bridge and sees there what seems to be the form of a young woman. In fact it is Ushiwaka, later to be known as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a leader of his clan, who has made a vow to collect 1,000 swords, coming down from Mt. Kurama where his mother has ordered him to stay. The two fight, but Ushiwaka cleverly triumphs over Benkei who then becomes his faithful retainer.” (Summary by Ogamo Rebecca Teele)

Fukyu-Noh is a regular summer event aimed at introducing Noh to young/new spectators. The Noh will be preceded by a greeting from our teacher, Udaka Michishige (Vice-Director of the Kongo-kai) and by a short explanation by Prof. Ono Yoshiro (Kyoto Institute of Technology).