‘Cremona’ rope

Cremona rope

This is the kind of rope we use to tie up the two skins of a taiko stick drum. My teacher recently got this in order to replace the one on his taiko in Kyoto, which started to fray despite numerous applications of tsubaki abura (camelia oil). The label says, on the right, 太鼓用 (for taiko) and on the left クレモナロープ (Kuremona rope)… Cremona?

Cremona is a beautiful Italian city in Lombardy, famous for its violin-making tradition and the cathedral, just an hour drive away from my hometown, Brescia. I was wondering what kind of connection the city might have with Japanese taiko… I started fantasizing of XVI century missionaries from Cremona visiting Japan and transmitting the ancient rope-making tradition from Cremona.

A quick Wikipedia check demolished my fantasies: first of searching for ‘Cremona rope’ does not even bring up results other from Japanese pages, which points toward the label as being a Japanese invention. Second, Cremona rope is far from being traditional: it is a mix of vinyl and polyester fibers. Third, Cremona rope is made only by Japanese producer Kuraray – spelled クレラ (KURERA) in katakana. クレ is rendered KU-RE in alphabet, which can be rendered as CU-RE (kɾe) by Italian readers. KU-RE is the way Japanese spell KRE or CRE sounds, adding the [u] sound between K and RE.

Long story short: KUREMONA is not Cremona [kɾeˈmoːna] but a pun with KURE from Kuraray and something else which I don’t even know. Blah.


Super-Noh: “Zeami”

This year the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The article on the first page of the February issue of the Nogaku Times reminded me of something I wanted to blog about a month ago or so, after a friend (journalist Okada Naoko) gave me a heads up about it: the first performance to open the special programme will be philosopher Umehara Takeshi’s ‘super-Noh’ Zeami (April 15 2013), featuring Kanze Actor Umewaka Gensho. The play was recently performed at the Kanze Theatre in Kyoto, though I could not go (it was a Wednesday, and I had okeiko).

As Umehara explains in an interview for the Asahi Asian Watch, in order for Noh to be able to speak to a broader audience, it is important to modernise its language. As Noh audiences are progressively ageing, actors and critics alike are concerned about what will be of Noh in the near future. Since the Noh establishment draws almost the entirety of its resources from the aficionados who buy seasonal passes, donate to fangroups and study as amateurs, no generational turnover means jeopardising the survival of the art. Umehara’s answer to the question of how to bring new spectators to Noh is modernising its language. “Its outdated words prevent people from enjoying Noh. If spectators cannot understand the dialogues, naturally they cannot enjoy Noh.” Umehara says (in translation).

Super-Noh "Zeami" Shite: Umewaka Gensho

I am concerned with the health of Noh spectatorship as much as Umehara is, but I am not convinced by his proposal to modernise the language. Saying that not understanding the dialogues ‘naturally’ leads to not understanding is an oversimplification to say the least. There is so much more in Noh to enjoy besides poetry. But of course one of its most important elements is the poetry that constitutes its literary basis. How does modernised Shakespeare sound to you? Sure, most people don’t understand Noh poetry (even if you knew how the verses go, Noh pronunciation distorts the words so much it is hard to follow anyway). The question that comes to mind is – what would my aesthetic experience be if the language were so familiar that I understood everything? I am not sure that ‘understanding’ is crucial to aesthetic appreciation, at least not in the way Umehara seems to put it.

“The strength of classical performing arts is their excellent techniques to grab their audiences’ attention, which have been polished over a long period. Using modern-day words, they can grab the hearts of a wide range of people,” Umehara says. Yes, and those techniques clearly stopped addressing the popular audience several centuries ago, when Noh became the art of the aristocracy, thus refining its aesthetics in ways that would have been unthinkable outside the intellectual milieu of which it became an essential component. Do we want Noh to speak the language of dorama? I say that we can leave this to other performing arts. The beauty of Noh lies in the undefined, that is, in its poetry. I wish Noh playhouses still used candles or gas-lights. There’s too much light on stage these days.