Ritual purification of the stage

Every year at this time of the year Udaka-sensei performs a brief ritual of purification of the butai, the stage on which he and his students practice during the rest of the year, at the okeikoba practice space. As you can see in the pictures, a small altar with an Okina doll and various offerings (rice cakes, mandarins, uncooked rice, salt and rice wine, etc.) is set up at the back of the stage. During the ceremony omikia ceremonial sacred cup of wine, is  also served. This ceremony derives from shinto practices associated with the New Year, where various places or objects are blessed or purified, getting ‘refreshed’ for the new year.


From a secular perspective, I found this ritual very meaningful. The practice space is not a place like any other. Theatre practitioners such as Stanislavski and E.G. Craig wrote it in red letters in their notes. The stage is like a workplace, one that is shared with others. It is a space for meeting and transmission of knowledge. The stage demands respect. Much of what happens on stage would not be convincing without the necessary amount of concentration and tension. We treat the stage like an ‘other’ place, for example we don’t walk on it without wearing white tabi socks, or we don’t sit on its edge – all this informs our conscious and unconscious awareness that the stage is not like any other place, and this results in an heightened state of tension when performing on it. The theatre stage is charged by the gaze of all those who look at you when you perform on it, but the private practice space needs extra attention in order to perceive at least some of the emotions you feel when you go on stage. That is why we need to respect our practice space, whatever it is, wherever we are.

A true priest is aware of the presence of the altar during every moment that he is conducting a service. It is exactly the same way that a true artist should react to the stage all the time he is in the theater. An actor who is incapable of this feeling will never be a true artist.
Constantin Stanislavski

Seasonal cleaning – utaibon

Today was the first of two days of ōsōji, the seasonal cleaning taking place in Japan before the New Year, at Udaka-sensei’s okeikoba training space. This kind of cleaning is performed everywhere in Japan (homes, shops, workplaces, etc.) and is part of the rituals that welcome the Japanese ‘early spring’ (shoshun 初春), that corresponded with the month of January in the traditional calendar – so it is a kind of ‘spring cleaning’, except that you open all doors and windows to clean, and that it’s usually terribly cold. In fact it’s even snowing today.

Osoji utaibon

Anyway, today myself and other members of Udaka-sensei’s group met at the okeikoba to start cleaning up. The first thing we needed to do is reorder a section of the utaibon Noh libretti, that you see in the picture here. As you notice they all feature the same kamon family seal of the Kongō family printed in gold on the cover. Each of the five shite main actor schools produces their own utaibon, which are sold both to professionals and to amateurs. The content of the utaibon differs from school to school, but it normally consists of the text of the play with minimal instructions on how to sing. While some schools also include information on performance and small drawings, the Kongō utaibon only contain basic information about the characters, a resume of the play with some background information, and notes about important poetic passages in the book (whether they are quotes of classic texts, sutras, etc.). I should probably post more about utaibon in a dedicated post, as there is so much to say about them. The ones you see in the picture are shinpon or ‘new books’, while kyūhon or ‘old books’ have a white cover, and are way more difficult to read. Ok will write more about it later.