Thoughts and pictures from the Noh workshop at HUB Kyoto

On Sunday 21st April I led a Noh theatre workshop for foreigners at the HUB Kyoto, Kyohakuin. It’s been a wonderful experience and a great chance to meet foreigners who share an interest in Noh and who are willing to try their best with Noh utai chant and shimai dance. Kyohakuin is an ex-school featuring a Noh stage which was not used for several decades. Recently the kagami-ita backdrop pine tree has been restored by Kim Hea-Kyoung and Ichimiya Keiko, and the participants of this workshop as well as myself had the privilege of dancing the shimai Oimatsu (‘Aged Pine’) in front of the renovated pine tree for the first time.

Diego and Carol Begert – ‘arigato gozaimashita’

Teaching absolute beginners is a very instructing experience for the teacher, too. Teaching a full, albeit brief, dance to people who never even walked the suriashi sliding step is very challenging, yet I find fascinating how all participants identify dance elements differently and focus on various parts of the dance according to their own decoding tools and processes.

Photographer Stéphane Barbery joined us and took the awesome picture you see on this post. Stéphane has a long-term project on Japanese traditional arts, and has photographed a number of Noh professionals so far. You can check his work on his Flickr account here.

THANKS to Lucinda Cowing and Eri Suzuki of the HUB Kyoto for helping organise and promote the event: I very much enjoyed this workshop and I am looking forward to the next one!

Julien de Vries
Izumi Texidor
Diego Pellecchia
With Hea-Kyoung's ko-omote
With Hea-Kyoung’s ko-omote

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.

“Gio” Kanze Kaikan, March 31st 2013

My teacher, Udaka Michishige was chosen by the Nihon Nōgakukai to perform the Noh Giō (祇王)at their annual “Noh appreciation event” on March 31st 2013. This year 3 performances will be held at the Kanzekaikan theatre in Kyoto: EmaGiō, and Kokaji.

Giō is a play by Zeami, currently in the repertoire of the Hōshō, Kongō, and Kita (under the title Futari Giō) schools, though it is not often performed. Giō Gozen, one of the favourite dancers at the service of Taira no Kiyomori has helped dancer Hotoke Gozen to gain the lord’s favour. After having seen Hotoke’s dance, Kiyomori likes her more, but she promises Giō not to take her place. Similarly to the play Futari ShizukaGiō has shite and tsure dancing in synchronous on stage.

See details below


Date and Time:   March 31, 2013 (Sunday)   11:00 a.m. ~16:30 p.m. (doors open at 10:30 a.m.)
Venue:   Kanze Kaikan
Tickets:  general admission 5,000 Yen (first floor)  student 2,500 Yen (balcony)

A  Program of Noh, Shimai dance excerpts, Kyogen, and Itcho, drum and chant duet

11:00 a.m. NOH featuring the  Kanze School: EMA

13:30 p.m.  NOH featuring the Kongo School: GIO   Shite: UDAKA Michishige 

Kyogen featuring the Okura School:  NIO

15:20 p.m. NOH Featuring the Kanze School: KOKAJI Kurogashira

 The Udaka Michishige-no-kai Office
(For questions or reservations.)
TEL: +81 (075) 701-1055
FAX :+81 (075) 701-1058

Ageing Noh

Today I went to the Kanze Nogakudo to see the last Urata Teiki Noh. Today’s programme featured the rare Morihisa,  and Hagoromo. There is a lot to say about the two performances I saw, but in this post I will talk about another aspect of today’s experience. Something that I am afraid contributed to an at least partially negative reception of the performance.

I’m not going to write an essay here, I will just copy here some thoughts that I jotted down during the play.

Today's average age of the audience: 70 years. There's all kinds of good reasons for this. Will write about them next time.
Issues resulting from the increasing age of the Noh audience:
  • Bad smell in the theatre. Most of it comes from cheap/old fashioned hair spray.
  • Huge queue at the toilet during the break.
  • Amateurs who bring their utaibon and take the Nogakudo for a Noh sing-along karaoke kind of place.
  • Grannies sucking on candies, usually taking ages to unwrap them from a very noisy plastic wrapping.
  • Bad hearing makes people shout instead of whisper.
No wonder young people don't want to go to the Noh theatre. If I took a friend today I'm sure he/she would have never wanted to come back to what seems to be a retirement house... AGE IS AN ISSUE!

This post is ironic but the matter is serious. Will expand it in a more academic fashion some other time.


A bit of a random post.

Cycling in the snow this morning reminded me of Mishima’s Spring Snow which I am reading these days. In one of the salient passages of the book, set in the Taisho period (1912-1926), the protagonists Kiyoaki and Satoko take a rickshaw ride on a snowy morning in Tokyo. Covered with various layers of technologic fibre from top to bottom, and still shivering while waiting for the green light at the bicycle crossing, I imagined Kiyoaki and Satoko riding the rickshaw, him dressed in his school uniform, her in a winter kimono and coat, with only a blanket on their knees as additional warming device. In this scene the two exchange their first kiss, as frosty hands move underneath the blanket. With this kind of temperature it would be the last thing I want.

Then I realised that people can stand different temperatures according to the environment in which they grew up. Japanese students today still wear shorts in winter, and some girls still wear a skirt and short socks. British people would go out in their t-shirt on a sunny but cold february day. Not to mention what girls would wear on the same night out.

Okina - Kongo Hisanori (Yasaka-jinja, Kyoto)
Okina – Kongo Hisanori (Yasaka-jinja, Kyoto)

Two years ago I attended the performance of Okina performed by the Iemoto Kongo Hisanori at Yasaka-jinja in Kyoto. I think it was January 3rd and I was observing chorus members sitting in the back of the outdoor stage, dressed in traditional clothes… and I was wondering how many Uniqlo heat-tech  garments or kairo heating patches they were actually wearing.

The 14th UDAKA Michishige Men-no-Kai Mask Exhibition

‘Warriors and Women of the Heike Clan’

is the theme of this year’s UDAKA Michishige Men-no-Kai Noh 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

Access information (in Japanese)


Notes on MANABU 2012

An image from ‘Ikkyū’, by Sakaguchi Hisashi (Kodansha)

On October 23 2012 the twelfth edition of MANABU, a seminar for Italian researchers hosted by the ISEAS (Italian School of East Asian Studies) took place. The event, which I had the pleasure to organise, was hold in Italian so here are some notes in English for those who could not attend. The meeting brought together scholars from various research fields: Matteo Casari (Bologna) is an anthropologist, Katja Centonze (Tokyo) specialises in contemporary dance/performance, Monique Arnaud (Venice) is a Noh instructor and theatre director, and myself. Silvio Vita, director of ISEAS, has been a wonderful host, facilitating the discussion and organising post-meeting events.

Matteo Casari (University of Bologna) introduced the topic of Noh and Manga, looking at Noh-inspired manga such as Hana yori mo hana no gotoku and Ikkyū (which, I learnt, is surprisingly translated in Italian) and to manga-inspired Noh, such as Umewaka Rokurō’s Kurenai Tennyo. Katja Centonze described the work of dancer/musician/choreographer Alessio Silvestrin and his collaboration with Noh practitioner Tsumura Reijirō, presenting clips of Kakekotoba, Monique Arnaud talked about her directing work in Venice, showing  clips of her most recent production Silent Moving, taking place in the interiors of the magnificent Palazzo Ducale, Venice, implementing techniques borrowed from Japanese traditions such as bunraku in a modern ‘Theatre du Complicite’ style. My presentation introduced the issue of limiting the study of Noh to Japanese literature departments. I suggested that, in order to prevent Noh to become a museum piece, it should be also studied as performance in theatre departments, just like Shakespeare or Aeschylus are.

After the conference we went to my teacher, Udaka Michishige’s okeikoba in order to observe the training session. Since Arnaud and I are both students of Udaka-sensei, we were called on stage for our okeiko. This was not my intention as I thought we would go with the purpose of introducing our guests, but it is difficult to say ‘no’ to your teacher…

We enjoyed the day, especially the rare chance to discuss with members from different backgrounds, and we concluded the day agreeing on the intention of creating another similar event (in English) in the not-so-far future.

A Tale of a City and its Four Guardian Gods

20121028-233815.jpgLast Friday I went to see A Tale of a City and its Four Guardian Gods, a Soseiza production that closed the Kyoto Experiment, performing arts festival 2012. The performance featured Kabuki and Noh actors interacting on stage. The venue was the Shunju-za, a full-fledged Kabuki theatre built within Kyoto Zōkei University. Before the staging of the play some of us who applied were taken to a backstage tour of the theatre. All I can say is: ‘holy cow!’ The theatre is unbelievable, and features a mawari butai rotating stage with two rectangular modules that can be lowered and raised independently, wiring for fly-over action, and of course a hanamichi. Japanese universities certainly do not lack funding for this kind of enterprise.

The massive cog that moves the rotating stage

All this beauty is used for all sorts of performances, from classical plays to more experimental stuff such as what I saw on Friday. I must say I was not impressed by the play. To put it bluntly, having Noh and Kabuki sharing the same space seems to be detrimental to both. Kabuki ends up looking like a children panto, while the Noh bits are deadly boring. One of the issues with the Noh actors, who interpreted rather dynamic characters (a warrior and a tiger) was that on such a large space Noh movements lose all intensity. I have seen Noh performed in wide spaces and I keep on feeling that Noh needs the cubical space produced by the ‘orthodox’ Noh stage. Wide spaces flatten the movements, and do not offer a sufficiently tight framing for the intense but minimal Noh gestures.

One thing that bugged my about the performance was the paradox of having different styles on stage without a real attempt at dialogue, except for the fact that… they were both on the same stage, and maybe for a couple of musical moments where the Noh orchestra (sitting on the left) ‘dialogued’ with the Kabuki orchestra (sitting on the right) – they actually played the same tune. This is so typical of the Japanese traditional arts. Fragmentation. Together, but apart. The result was actors who want to talk to each other, but can speak (or want to speak) only their native language, and in the end do not seem to really understand each other.

Those nerds who know videogames might get this: the performance looked like one of those beat’em’up video games, in which a sumo wrestler fights with a muay-thai boxer – it just looks unnatural.

Anyway, it was worth going and I hope I look forward to future Soseiza works that would more baldly experiment with a deeper interaction of their arts.

24/10 ‘MANABU’: giornata di studio per ricercatori italiani in Giappone

This post is about a research seminar that I have organised in Kyoto, coming up in a few days. This is probably my first post in Italian, so I just wanted to warn my readers. I will report about the event (in English) towards the end of the month so stay tuned ^^

La tradizione oggi: uno sguardo interdisciplinare sul teatro giapponese

Seminario della serie ‘MANABU’, Giornate di studio dei dottorandi, borsisti e ricercatori italiani in Giappone

La giornata riunisce quattro ricercatori con formazione e interessi diversi (antropologia, studi giapponesi, studi teatrali, regia), e si propone di investigare la relazione fra tradizione e modernità nel teatro giapponese da un ampio spettro di prospettive (letterarie, critiche e pratiche). Gli interventi spazieranno dall’adattamento Nō dei manga al rapporto fra corpo e tecnologia, dall’insegnamento in ambito interculturale alla storiografia del teatro. A una presentazione del ricco panorama della ricerca sul teatro giapponese oggi, seguirà una discussione nella quale i partecipanti confronteranno teorie ed esperienze, incoraggiando un produttivo scambio di approcci che possa gettare le basi per ulteriori iniziative in futuro.

Il seminario si terrà il giorno 24 Ottobre 2012 presso la sede della Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale (ISEAS) a Kyoto 4, Yoshida Ushinomiya-chō, Sakyō-ku


11:00-11:10 Introduzione
11:10-11:30 Matteo Casari (Università di Bologna) Il Nō e il Manga, un primo sguardo
11:30-11:50 Katja Centonze (Universität Trier) L’Erma Bifronte: Eclettismo nelle arti performative del Giappone che guarda alla tradizione e alla contemporaneità
11:50-12:10 Monique Arnaud (Università IUAV di Venezia) La regia come dimensione nascosta
12:10-12:30 Diego Pellecchia (Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale) I confini della tradizione: Educazione al teatro giapponese oggi

Per informazioni:
ISEAS Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale (ISEAS)
Tel 075-751-8132
Fax 075-751-8221