New Noh: ‘Shain’

The October issue of the Nōgaku Times features an article on Shain 『沙院』 a shinsaku-noh (new Noh play, not part of the classical canon) by actor Nagajima Tadashi (Kanze).

Shain is based on the character of Shakushain, an Ainu chifetain who led an important rebellion (Shakushain no tatakai, 1669-1672) against the Matsumae clan, the Japanese lords who occupied the Hokkaidō region at that time.

The Noh follows a rather standard structure in which a monk (waki) visiting Hokkaidō meets a local man who tells him the story of Shakushain (shite) before disappearing. In the second half of the play the shite re-enters the stage in his real form, as the spirit of Shakushain. In the interview to the Nōgaku Times, Nagajima-sensei explains how the character for the nochi-ba (second act) was built around that of the Noh Kōu (on the Chinese general Hsiang Yu). One of the highlights of the play is the ezo-nishiki fabric costume for the character of Shakushain, of which you can find pictures on Nagajima-sensei’s website.

Unfortunately not much is said about the ‘post-colonial’ resonance of the play. Obviously the Japanese invasion and subjugation of Hokkaidō has an important meaning in Japanese history, especially if seen in the perspective of Tamura, the only classical Noh play dealing with a similar theme. In Tamura the general Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811) is sent by Emperor Heizei to Mt. Suzaku to contrast an Ainu invasion, whom he defeats with the help of the bodhisattva Kannon, who mercifully sends a thousand arrows on the ‘demons of the North’, killing them all. You can find a synopsis on www.the-noh.com, and perhaps also notice how they artfully avoided to mention that Tamura’s enemies were actually Ainu people.

Those interested in attending Shain can find more info on Nagajima Tadashi’s website.

The dangers of the world outside

OMG! Foreign viruses!

As a post-scriptum to my previous post, commenting on the difficulty encountered by the condition of ‘otherness’ of the foreign scholar operating within the Japanese field, I wanted to share something that popped up on my laptop screen right after I closed the WordPress window.

It’s an anti-virus advertisement showing up when visiting websites hosted outside Japan. The heading reads: ‘Hey you, browsing foreign websties! Have you taken the appropriate security measures?’ while the worried girl, depicted in the typical bikkuri pose (a mixture of surprise and innocence) is thinking ‘Really? Are foreign websites that dangerous?’

The ad campaign is founded on the Japanese stereotype of the ‘world beyond the seas’ (kaigai) as receptacle of impurities. The risk of visiting the alien territory is obviously that of contracting some  unknown disease. I know for sure that Japan pullulates with indigenous internet crap (spam, viruses, malware of all sorts) and it was explained to me that one of the reasons why Japanese people of all ages have such ridiculously long mobile email addresses (ie sl33py-OxO-rabu666@whatever.ne.jp) is to prevent spam attacks. Nonetheless, advertising the risk of not being ready to face the unknown dangers of the outside world is certainly a great way to convince users to purchase an anti-virus and feel safe, who will nod at each other on the dangers of something they ignore, and, I am afraid, will continue to ignore for a long time. Sure, Japan is not the only ‘xenophobe’ (excuse my language) country in the world, but they way it does it is so, so peculiar.