Funa Benkei and Kiyotsune this weekend in Matsuyama

November 3rd (‘culture day’) is coming up soon, and with it the usual Matsuyama Shimin Noh performance organized by Udaka Michishige in Matsuyama (Ehime prefecture). This year the performance will take place on the 4th instead of the 3rd, and will feature the usual recital by Kei’un-kai students.

This year’s noh is Funa Benkei in the namima-no-den variant – I will be singing in the chorus. Funa Benkei is not a particularly challenging play for the chorus, especially because it is frequently performed, hence it does not require particular memorization efforts. Having more confidence with memory will hopefully allow me to focus more on delivery.

Before Funa Benkei Udaka Norishige will perform the maibayashi excerpt from the noh Kiyotsune. If you follow this blog you will probably already know that I have a particular connection with this play as it was the very first piece of noh chant I have ever studied, and because I performed the noh in 2013 (five years ago already!). Kiyotsune does not feature an instrumental dance, but it has a rather long kuse section. Again being particularly familiar with the text will probably allow me to focus on delivery.

I will also perform a shimai, Ominameshi, for which I really need to get some more training… not so much time left for that though!


Awaji, Kongo-ryu utaibon
Awaji, Kongo-ryu utaibon

On May 12th I’m going to sing in the chorus for the maibayashi (dance and music excerpt) from the Noh Awaji at the Ninomaru Castle Takigi Noh in Matsuyama (Ehime pref.). This time the shite is going to be Higaki Takafumi, while Udaka Michishige is going to lead the chorus.

It is the first time for me to study Awaji, a first category (god Noh) celebratory piece which is not performed as often as other plays from the same groups such as Takasago. In fact the utaibon libretto is only available in the kyūhon ‘old book’ format, with kuzushi-ji cursive characters and hentaigana alternative phonetic writing, making it rather hard to read even for Japanese native speakers. I have recently purchased a lot of these old books, which reminds me that I should soon or later write a post comparing new and old utaibon writing and notation style.

As for Awaji, it follows the typical first category structure: imperial officers are on their way to visit Awaji, thought to be the first island to be created when the godly couple Izanami and Izanagi stirred the primordial sea with a spear. The brine dropping from the spear hardened into islands, thus creating the Japanese archipelago. The officers meet an old man cultivating a rice field attached to a shrine and discuss with him the name Ni-no-miya shrine, an appellation that suggests the two gods Izanami and Izanagi, representing the actions of sowing and reaping. Quoting from ancient poems, the old man chants the fertility of the Japanese soil. Soon the old and mysterious man disappears, only to re-enter in the second half of the play as the male god Izanagi, dancing and bestowing long life and happiness to the land.

Matsuyama Shimin Noh 2014 – Aoinoue mumyo no inori

Next Sunday (November 3rd, which is both my birthday and the ‘culture day’ in Japan) I will take part to the Matsuyama Shimin Noh performance at the Yamatoya Honten Noh stage in Matsuyama, Shikoku. The event begins at 10:00 with a recital (entry free of charge), featuring Udaka Michishige’s students. I will perform a shimai, or dance excerpt, from the Noh Uta-ura, and will sing in the su-utai chanting of the Noh Kogō. The main event will be Udaka-sensei’s performance of Aoinoue in the ‘mumyō no inori’ kogaki, or variation. I am lucky enough to have a privileged observation spot, serving in the ji-utai chorus for this performance.

Every year in November Udaka Michishige takes the shite main role at the Matsuyama Shimin Noh performance. Although based in Kyoto, Udaka regularly teaches both utai/shimai and mask carving in Nagoya, Okazaki, Tokyo, Yokohama, and Matsuyama in Shikoku, the area where his family originally comes from. He is a descendent of two Shikoku families: Udaka and Kawada. The Udaka family had a castle in Niihama City during the medieval period and later served the Matusdaira clan feudal lords in Matsuyama as Noh actors from 1712 until the start of the Meiji period.

For this year’s shimin Noh we are giving away 2 free tickets to the first two people who contact us so make sure not to miss this chance if you are in Matsuyama next weekend! Find contact details below.

poster_final light


Based on an episode from the Tale of Genji, the 11th century masterpiece by Murasaki Shikibu, the main character is not Lady Aoi, the wife of Prince Genji, but Lady Rokujo, the most intriguing female character in the novel. Once Genji’s lover but now abandoned by him and filled with resentment towards his wife after a humiliating incident at the Kamo Festival where her coach was forced out of its viewing spot by Lady Aoi’s retainers, Lady Rokujō’s living spirit torments her rival. A shamaness is sent to discover the source of the possession of Lady Aoi and then an exorcism is performed by the priest Kohijiri, finally bringing Rokujo to her senses by calling on the power of the Buddhist sutras. In the mumyō no inori kogaki or ‘Exorcism in Spiritual Darkness Variation’, the robe used to represent Lady Aoi is white rather than red, and Lady Rokujo leaves the stage for a change of costume rather than retreating to the koken-za stage attendants’ seat for only a change of mask. She returns in nagabakama, long vermillion trousers, often with a Nagakamoji, an extension of the wig that emphasises that Lady Rokujo’s is a noblewoman, increasing the sense of horror at the intensity of the expression of her jealousy in choreography also more graphic than in the standard production.

(Text by Rebecca Teele Ogamo)

Ehime University Noh Club

Udaka Michishige has taught students of the Ehime University Noh Theatre Club for over 30 years. Club activities include the practice of Noh chant and dance as well as workshops and performances. Every year in November club members join other students of Udaka at Matsuyama Municipal Noh Performance. Lessons are held both in Japanese and in English.  Email:

For information please contact:

Keiun-kai INI Main Offices, Training Center
111 Satta-cho, Kami-takano, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-0047
Tel: (075)701-1055
Fax: (075)701-1058

Email: (c/o Rebecca TEELE-OGAMO)

Matsuyama Keiun-kai Shikibutai
Yamagoe 4-chome 11-38, Matsuyama, Ehime
Tel/Fax: (089) 924-8554

Shimai pictures – Yashima

I rarely publish pictures of myself on stage. Today I will make an exception as I received some great shots from Massimo Fioravanti, a very talented Italian photographer who has been following Udaka-sensei the past few months, taking pictures of performances and training sessions. Massimo has been working on various projects in Japan. Most notably, he published a photography book on Zuigan-ji in Matsushima, which has been severely damaged by the tsunami, and photographed the costumes collection of the Kongo family on the occasion of the 1989 exhibition at the Sforza Castle in Milan, published in a luscious volume.

In November 2012 Massimo came to Matsuyama where Sensei performed Sesshoseki (nyotai ‘female’ version). Before the performance there was a recital to which various members of the International Noh Institute took part with su-utai chant and shimai dances I did Yashima, which I have already blogged about here and here. Here are a couple of pictures that Massimo has kindly sent me.

Yashima 1
… 海山一同に震動して…

For those new to Noh, a shimai is a short excerpt of a play, something like an aria in opera. Shimai dances are studied independently from the full Noh, and are often performed as complement of a programme featuring full plays. Masks and costumes are not used, but formal montsuki (a plain black or white silk kimono) and hakama – the equivalent of a formal Western suit. There is no hayashi orchestra playing, only a small chorus of four sitting in the back of the stage. A shimai is the adaptation of the dance that would be performed in the full Noh, so movements are slightly different, and props are rarely used. In the case of Yashima the shite holds a sword, here substituted by the fan – the open fan in my left hand is a shield (this is the way it is portrayed in the Noh, too).

Yashima 2
… 打ち合い刺し違ふる…

Publishing pictures of Noh performances is not easy because of copyright issues. I will try and post more pictures of me – if I have decent ones – in the future. Massimo Fioravanti has been taking some amazing pictures of Udaka-sensei’s performances during the past few months and he is planning to hold an exhibition (in Venice and in Rome) and hopefully to publish a catalogue afterwards, which I hope will be available internationally.

Yashima shimai in Matsuyama

I am going to perform the shimai (short dance excerpt of a longer play) of the Noh Yashima on Friday 23rd November, on the occasion of Udaka Michishige’s performance at the Matsuyama Shimin Noh at the Dogo Yamatoya Nogakudo in Matsuyama.

This is my third shura-mono (warrior play) shimai after I danced the kiri section of Tamura, and the maibayashi of Kiyotsune. As I have pointed out in a previous post, dancing shura-mono (second category plays) is rather challenging because of the kamae posture which in the case of warriors often switches to the hanmi (lit. ‘half-body) martial mode. This posture, thrusting half of the body forward, and keeping the other half covered, is probably familiar to those who practice any kind of martial art. The idea is offering the least possible amount of body to the opponent, while being ready to attack.

Hanmi feet (the way I see them)

Unlike the basic kamae, this position is fairly asymmetrical and requires advanced knowledge of weight distribution to master. One of the tricky bits of hanmi is walking: while basic kamae does not change while walking – one does not change much of the posture when either walking or simply standing – it is not possible to keep hanmi while taking more than a just a few steps. This means that the actor starts a movement in hanmi, then changes into a more symmetrical feet posture, and then ends the movement again in hanmi. Therefore, the last step of a walking sequence should be performed so that the body ends being in hanmi. Normally this produces a rather dramatic effect of enlargement of the figure of the shite as he comes to a halt, especially when approaching sumi, the corner of the Noh stage that is thrusted into the auditorium. Hanmi also influences all the other kata, for example shikake-hiraki (pointing and opening) might be performed in a right hanmi when pointing, switching to left hanmi when opening, and then back to normal.

My teacher seems to be keen on teaching me warrior dances lately: I don’t feel I am particularly prone to this kind of characters, but I trust my sensei’s experience of knowing when it is the right time to progress on this path.

Wish me good luck! (I might or might not have pictures of the performance to show in the future).

Matsuyama Shimin Noh 2012

11/23 – 28th Matsuyama Shimin Noh Performance

My teacher, Udaka Michishige is the descendant of the Udaka Clan, serving the Matsudaira lords in Matsuyama from 1712 until the beginning of the Meiji period, when the clan disbanded as a consequence of the upheavals of the Meiji restoration. Having the desire to restore the connection with his ancestors, Udaka-sensei has established a practice group in Matsuyama, where he eventually built a shiki-butai, a personal training space, in 1997. Udaka-sensei has been performing regularly in Matsuyama in various events, including the Shinonome Noh and the Matsuyama Shimin Noh. In addition, Udaka-sensei has been collaborating with the Matsuyama Shinonome shrine cataloguing and restoring the vast Noh masks and costumes collection.

This year’s performance for the Matsuyama Shimin Noh series will be Sesshōseki (‘The Death Rock’), centring on the figure of Tamamo-no-mae, the beautiful and lethal courtesan serving the Emperor Konoe (1139-1155), in reality an evil fox-spirit in disguise. In Sesshōseki a travelling monk meets the spirit of Tamamo-no-mae, now imprisoned in a rock that kills everything that touches it. Thanks to the mystic powers of the monk, Tamamo-no-mae is subdued. The ‘nyotai’ variation of Sesshōseki, which Udaka-sensei will perform on November 23rd in Matsuyama, features a different idetachi (costume, mask, wig set-up) for the shite, who appears as a more ‘feminine’ character  instead of the usual demonic or beastly shape. The performance will be preceded by a recital of su-utai and shimai by Udaka-sensei’s students – will write more about this soon.

Matsuyama Dogo  Yamatoya Nohgakudo 10:00 a.m.~5:00 p.m.

Part I    (10:00 a.m.~2:30 p.m.) :
Student recital of chant and dance~free of charge

Part II     (3:00 p.m.~5:00 p.m.) :
Maibayashi (excerpt with ensemble accompaniment):
Noh:  SESSHOSEKI  Nyotai  Shite: UDAKA Michishige

General Admission ¥5,000   Advance Sale: ¥4,000
Student Admission ¥1,500

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

Matsuyama ‘mushiboshi’

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to participate to the Mushiboshi (虫干) of the Shinonome Shinto shrine (東雲神社) in Matsuyama, Shikoku, where the ancestors of my Master, Udaka Michishige, used to live and perform under the patronage of the aristocrats settled in Matsuyama castle. Mushiboshi (lit. ‘drying insects’) is a periodical cleaning and refreshing of artifacts usually stored in closed compartments – items are removed from their usual storage location and exposed to fresh air. In Japan temples, shrines, museums and private collections have their own mushiboshi once or twice a year. In this case, the Shinonome collection comprised of a number of Noh masks and costumes which still have not been fully catalogued and dated, though they could range from the early Edo period until today. This collection had been used by professional actors until the Meiji restoration, when Noh theatre underwent hard times as a consequence of the loss of its former patrons. From this moment onwards masks and costumes from Shinonome Jinja has been probably used both by amateurs and low-level professionals. This was noticeable from the poor condition in which the items were found and the signs of bad handling and storing after use were evident. While many masks were covered with dust and simply left sitting on shelves, costumes and wigs were just thrown into boxes without proper cleaning and folding. Although several masks and costumes had already been taken care of and displayed in one of the halls of the jinja, the majority of masks (around 250) and costumes were still to be cleaned and re-stored – it has been a two-day intensive session, but an extremely interesting one! Not only I could closely observe different Noh costumes but also I could learn folding techniques and storage methods. As always, Udaka-sensei put together such a great, hard-working group coming from some of the different locations where he teaches in Japan (in this case Kyoto, Tokyo and Matsuyama) – although it has been intense I have to say thanks to Sensei for this unforgettable experience.

This was not just an archeological expedition – Udaka Michishige is reconnecting his present and future activities with an equally important past. During the tumultuous years of the Meiji restoration the nobles patronising the Udaka family lost their powers and the Noh troupe was disbanded. Many of the most precious items in the Shinonome collection were sold to big companies and museums in Tokyo. However, many great costumes and masks were still hidden in the storage room, sleeping there but asking for someone to rescue them! Now that so many of them have been taken care of and catalogued, it will be possible to use them in performance in the future. Finally their uneasy sleep has been awaken by summer winds!

P.S.: I apologise for not posting better pictures or not providing better explanations but I am unsure of how much both Shinonome Jinja and Udaka Michishige would want this material to be public in an informal (blog-like) way. It is my intention to write more about this topic through more official channels.

Those who would like to know more about this activity, or purchase a small catalogue of the Shinonome-Jinja collection are encouraged to refer to Udaka Michishige’s official website.