The exhibition “The wabi of Raku and the yūgen of Noh: the aesthetics of form” has opened today at the Raku Museum in Kyoto. The exhibition displays tea bowls made according to the raku tradition of pottery and noh masks from various collections. Among the items on display are some ancient masks belonging to the Kongō Iemoto collection. See a list (in English) of the works on display here.
The wabi of Raku and the yūgen of Noh: the aesthetics of form Saturday 17 March – Sunday 24 June 2018
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.
The 16th edition of the Men-no-kai exhibition celebrates Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday and will feature masks by him as well as several by his students. Michishige’s masks have been published in The Secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha International) and The Way of Noh (Casadeilibri).
Place: Kyoto Prefectural Center for Arts and Culture 2nd Floor
Kawaramachi Hironokoji-sagaru, Kamigyo-ku (across from the Prefectural Hospital) Time: January 6th-8th 2017, from 10:00 to 18:00 (closes at 17:30 on the 8th.
On Saturday 7th from 13:30 Udaka Michishige will demonstrate the noh costuming process.
Fantastic novel, but horrendous cover design. Then you wonder why people think Noh masks are scary. I never thought an onnamen (female mask) was scary until I saw this! Luckily the Italian edition which I read ages ago has a more plain cover art. And by the way, onnamen is the original title, not just ‘masks’… Ah, now I see why they needed to add the creepy female mask picture.
Due to popular demand the Special Opening of Udaka Michishige’s Noh Mask Carving Atelier has been extended. We have received many requests of Japanese and non-Japanese, Kyoto residents and Kyoto visitors who wished to learn about the world of Noh masks from the direct experience of a professional carver and actor such as Udaka Michishige.
Three new dates (February 6th, 20th and 27th) have been added. There are two time slots: afternoon (14:00~17:00) or the evening (18:00~21:00).
This is a great opportunity for those interested in masks and in the mask-making process, as well as in the use of the masks in actual performance: Michishige is the only Noh actor who is also a skilled mask carver, regularly using his own masks on stage. In 2010, Michishige published the photobook The secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha/Oxford) with photographer Shuichi Yamagata. I have posted more about Michishige’s activities as mask carver here.
If you are in Kyoto don’t miss this chance to be introduced to the world of Noh masks – both Japanese and English speakers are welcome!
Observers are admitted FREE OF CHARGE
Udaka’s atelier is just a few minutes on foot from the Kokusai-kaikan subway stop (Karasuma line).To reserve a place, or for more information, please feel free to contact me here.
I have shown in other posts how images and suggestions from Noh theatre populate a number of videogames. While Japanese-made videogames such as Tekken or Sengoku Taisen (I doubt this one has even been translated in other languages) contain elements of traditional culture, and Noh is one of them, it is more difficult to find Noh in American productions. Here is an exception! Tomb Raider 2013features three Noh masks as hidden collectible items! I wonder whether the presence of Noh in videogames will spark interest for Noh in the players!
Obviously the names are messed up, but the 3D graphic rendering looks good! The actual names would be namanari (used in some versions of the play Sesshōseki) masugami (for roles of possessed women, as in Makiginu) and something that looks like a ja (an extreme version of a hannya mask, used in a variation of the play Dōjōji).
Udaka Michishige’s Noh mask atelier will open to guest observers on January 9th, 16th and 23rd from 14:00 to 17:00 or from 18:00 to 21:00. This is a great opportunity for those interested in masks and in the mask-making process, as well as in the use of the masks in actual performance: Michishige is the only Noh actor who is also a skilled mask carver, regularly using his own masks on stage. In 2010, Michishige published the photobook The secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha/Oxford) with photographer Shuichi Yamagata. I have posted more about Michishige’s activities as mask carver here.
If you are in Kyoto don’t miss this chance to be introduced to the world of Noh masks – both Japanese and English speakers are welcome! Observers are admitted FREE OF CHARGE
To reserve a place, or for more information, please feel free to contact me here.
Yesterday I attended the last of the Kongō monthly series of the year. As usual two Noh plays were performed, but I was particularly interested in seeing the Iemoto Kongō Hisanori perform Genzai shichimen, a play that has been staged yesterday for the first time in 60 years. The play is currently in the repertorie of the Kanze and Kongō schools only, and its special feature is a costume change and mask ‘change’ on stage (not seven masks, just one – in case you are wondering…) in second half. In this play two masks are donned one on top of the other.
Rebecca Teele Ogamo regularly writes extensive programme notes with detailed costume and mask information every month – thanks to Rebecca’s notes of Genzai shichimen I was able to appreciate the play even more. I did go through the utai of the play with Udaka Michishige-sensei, who was jigashira chorus leader, a couple of times, but the kyūhon ‘old’ cursive utai-bon script made it difficult to follow the story, so I am grateful to Rebecca for that!
In the play the waki, Nichiren Shōnin (1222-82), founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, is preaching at Mt. Minobu (Yamanashi prefecture). A local woman rejoices in hearing the Lotus Sutra preached, and. upon Nichiren’s questioning, she replies that she suffers the Three Burning Torments. Eventually, she reveals her true nature: she is the Dragon who lives in the Shichimen Pond. At this point thunders and lightings fill the sky and the woman disappears. In the second half of the play, a Dragon enters, with a particular costume and mask set up. Though Kanze uses a Hannya mask, the Iemoto chose a terrifying dai-ja (great serpent) mask, of the kind used for the Noh Dōjōji. This mask in the Kongō collection is rather scary due to its asymmetry and grotesque, contorted fanged mouth. However, after Nichiren has recited lines from the Lotus Sutra, the Dragon goes retreats to the back of the stage, where assistants help to change costume and mask. Besides Dai-e, where the shite wears the shaka Buddha mask on top of a beshimi tengu mask, Genzai shichimen is the only other play I know were two masks are worn one on top of the other. I can only imagine how difficult it is to move on stage with such set-up. The Dragon transforms into a heavenly maiden (zo-onna was the mask used yesterday) who then dances a kagura Shinto Dance in thanks for having reached enlightenment, and finally flies away in the clouds.
Nichiren was a militant preacher, advocating the primacy of the Lotus Sutra above all other Buddhist doctrines. His aggressive attitude towards the other Sects, which he deemed responsible for the corruption of the country during his time, was extreme. He founded the first Buddhist doctrine originating in Japan, and could be seen as an precursor of Japanese religious nationalism (though this is usually associated with Shinto). The combination of Buddhist and Shinto elements can be found in other plays, but it is even more justified in this play since Nichiren (as others before him) comprised Shinto elements, such as the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu, within the all-encompassing cosmos of the Lotus Sutra.
The author of the play is unknown, but I wonder whether the various special features – a dragon god/heavenly maiden, an important waki character, special effects such as costume and mask change) – don’t indicate that the play was probably written in the late Muromachi Period. Yamanaka Reiko and Lim Beng Choo have written about plays composed during this period here and here.
Kyoto-based French photographer Stéphane Barbery has worked with a number of Noh actors in Kyoto over the past few years, and has developed a special eye for capturing meaningful moments in the performance. Photographers working with Noh have to endure the torment of being assigned a fix position from where they can only shoot using a powerful zoom, hence losing much of the tridimensionality that the Noh stage in particular is able to convey to its audience. Stéphane mostly works with B&W which allows him to sharpen details and recreate depth even in low light conditions. I am sure you will agree he has done a wonderful job.
I am reposting a couple of stills from Kiyotsune(both the performance and the dress rehearsal) but I invite you to visit his Flickr page to see more of his amazing work!