Young Noh performers series: annual East-West joint session 2013

photo-3I just came back from the Yoseikai tozai godo kenkyu happyokai (養成会東西合同発表会), an annual performance session that brings together the participants to the yoseikai, a training and performance programme for Noh and Kyogen actors and musicians, from different parts of the country. The yoseikai is sponsored by the Bunkacho (Agency for Cultural Affairs), and is one of the few government-sponsored Noh activities.

Now some random thoughts about today’s event (I’m copying what I scribbled on the back of my programme). Firstly, it was GREAT to see many young performers on stage. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but I think it was the pleasure of feeling youthful vigour, perceiving the efforts, sensing the hopes of these performers, whose career as full professionals is just about to begin. It brought the world of Noh closer to the world I am living.

It was refreshing to see young performers as well as many different styles one next to the other: one of the characteristics of this annual event is that performers not only come from different parts of Japan, but also that they belong to artistic schools that you would not easily see on the same stage.

There definitely should be more opportunities to see Noh performed by young actors. I have two simple arguments for this:

  1. I have seen experienced actors who would not stand comparison with some of these young gentlemen (don’t give me Zeami’s flower of age, most of the ‘flowers’ I’ve seen have withered, or else they never really bloomed’). They go on stage simply because they rank higher due to seniority, and family name.
  2. More occasions for young performers to perform (especially shite actors) cannot but help them to hone their skills while they still have the physical and intellectual capability to shape their style.

Not only this: there should be more chances for actors of different schools to perform next to each other. I might be thinking of Kyoto in particular here, where only Kanze and Kongo schools are present. I think that actors should be able to travel more and be confronted with different audiences, and most importantly be exposed to various styles of many different performers. This already happens today, but it is not enough. Noh still is regulated by a bakufu-esque system of territorial subdivision, governed by the much ineffectual Noh Association. Instead of this Noh needs competition and meritocracy.

Finally, among the various things that must be done (yet are not done) to help young performers is advertising these performances, according to the principle of fuchi furai (不知不来, ‘if they don’t know, they don’t come’) Also, programmes should be less cryptical than they are now: they might contain pictures, short bios of performers, something that allows the audience to take an interest in who these people are. Of course, a specialised audience would not need any additional information, they would already know who the actors are, who their parents and grandparents are, etc.. in fact, that’s why programmes are accessible only to a specialised audience – because there is no other audience! It’s August, university hasn’t started yet, and yet! … performers were young and vigorous, but the audience was just out of the convalescent home waiting room, as always!!!

14th ‘Seiran Noh’ – MIDARE, FUTARI SHIZUKA


The Seiran-Noh (青蘭能) is a yearly performance at the Kongo Noh theatre in Kyoto featuring Udaka Michishige and his sons, Udaka Tatsushige and Udaka Norishige. Until now known as ‘Seigan Noh’, the event has recently changed its name into ‘Seiran’ honouring Udaka Michishige’s great-grandfather, painter Kawada Shoryo (1824-1898), who was closely related to Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the central characters in the Meiji restoration. Kawada’s favourite flower was the orchid (‘ran’ 蘭).

See below for ticket reservation

This year’s Seiran Noh (8 September 2013) features the Noh Midare, a special variation (kogaki) of the Noh Shōjō in which the midare-ashi a particularly unusual and challenging dance, is performed instead of the usual chu-no-mai medium tempo dance. Midare is a hiraki-mono, one of the plays marking a performer’s passage into a new phase of their career. This year Udaka Norishige will perform Midare, follow ing his father and elder brother’s steps.

The second play is Futari Shizuka, (‘Two Shizukas’), a third category play based on happenings and characters from the Genpei War tales. The special feature of this play is the instrumental dance performed by identically dressed shite and shite-tsure: the spirit of Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s lover Shizuka Gozen and a woman possessed by her. Futari Shizuka will be performed by Udaka Michishige and his eldest son, Udaka Tatsushige.

8 September 2013・The 14th  Annual Udaka Seiran Noh Performance

Kongo Noh Theatre 1:30~5:00 p.m. (doors open at 1:00p.m.)


Shite: UDAKA Michishige, Tsure: UDAKA Tatsushige


Shite: SHIGEYAMA Shime, Ado: SHIGEYAMA Motohiko


Shite: UDAKA Norishige

Tickets: Center Reserved Seats 7,000 yen, Side Reserved Seats 6,000 yen, General Admission Mid-center Seats 5,000 yen, Student, General Admission Mid-center Seats 2,000 yen

Synopses of the plays will be available at the theater in English, French, German, and Italian.

Contact me for information and ticket reservation