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.

Hiroshima’s Prayer for Peace

Genshigumo - Hiroshima July 9th 2010

Yesterday (July 9th 2010) Udaka Michishige‘s Genshigumo (原子雲, a newly-written Noh play on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was performed in Hiroshima for the first time. I had the chance to follow Udaka-Sensei, and take part in the introductory speeches of the performance, reading messages from members of the International Noh Institute around the world, and from the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The night before the performance, sitting in the lobby of a hotel near the Peace Memorial Park, Udaka was giving an interview for a documentary on Genshigumo. While confessing the state of excitement for finally being able to perform this play in Hiroshima, Udaka described his experience of meeting with the spirits of the casualties of the bombs who, victim of a sudden and unreasonable death, cannot be released from this existential plane and be reborn. In the play, a Mother is on a journey through memory, looking for her missing daughter who died in the bombing. After the hellish scenes of the bombings are recounted, the Mother finally finds her daughter reborn as a willow tree.

Yesterday night I observed the audience watching this play for the first time. I felt the atmosphere was very tense, and the gazes of the spectators revealed that while observing the performance on stage, their thoughts were wandering elsewhere, leaving the hall and reaching out above the sky over Hiroshima. As in the classic Noh style, when the narration of the events reaches its culmination, emotions also reach the limit of verbal explicability: it is the moment when words give way to music and dance. The haya-mai dance symbolises the complex feelings of grief and happiness of the Mother who is finally reunited with her daughter, now reborn as a willow tree. While until this point the spectators where plunged into a tense atmosphere, attentively listening to the narrative part, when the jo-no-mai dance started, only a few could restrain from letting go of their emotions. I think this passage was the peak of the performance and made me wonder if in order to express such a deep message, with all its individual and universal resonances, words were not superfluous, after all.

Genshigumo is not a historical play, aimed at re-enacting those tragic events in a narrative style. Following the tradition of the pieces of the classic repertory, Genshigumo is rather a requiem for the victims of the bombs, and an invitation to the audience to take part in this prayer for peace. Noh theatre has been transmitting the ethos of Japan (its literature, its philosophy and history) throughout six centuries: it is therefore natural that even recent events such as World War II and its tragic epilogue are incorporated in the tradition of Noh. I wish this new play will eventually become part of the official canon of Noh, and will be performed by other actors in the future. Some might wonder how it is possible to render the horrors of war through the subtle beauty of Noh. How can we ‘enjoy’ the horror? While watching Genshigumo I realised how its beauty (and the beauty of Noh as an artistic means of expression) transcends earthly pleasures (the mere aisthesia) and allows the spectator to reach out to a higher level of meaning. Genshigumo is, more than anything else, a prayer offered to those suffering spirits trapped between this and the other world. At the same time, it is a ritual, a vehicle to transmit the memory of the bombings, and a chance for us and for the generations to come to reflect on the absurdity of war.

Hiroshima, July 9th 2010. A Prayer for Peace: “GENSHIGUMO” The Atomic Cloud

July 9 (Friday), 2010  6:30 p.m. ~ 8:30 p.m.
Venue:  The Hiroshima Aster Plaza Noh Theater
4-17 Kakomachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima 730-0812

Genshigumo (‘The Atomic Cloud’), Udaka Michishige’s third newly-written noh play (新作能), composed as requiem for the victims of the atomic bombs, will be performed in Hiroshima for the first time. I had the pleasure to attend performances of Genshigumo in Paris, Dresden and Berlin in 2007, when the Udaka-kai was touring Europe. The experience of watching a Noh play performed in the traditional style based on such recent historical facts is particularly strong, and inspired several reflections. While watching the different characters of the play recounting the tragic events of the bombing of Hiroshima in highly poetic language and beautifully stylised movements, I realised how much Noh theatre’s aesthetic conventions are suitable to portray a story of such historical but also emotional relevance. The austere style of Noh, which does not indulge in easy heart-tearing devices, plunges the audience in the solemn atmosphere of a requiem, while maintaining the detachment necessary in order to consciously reflect on what war and its casualties mean.

I am looking forward to joining in this prayer.

>>>For further information and reservation, please visit the Udaka-Kai website<<<

Taikai 2010 – the aftermath

This year’s INI International Noh Institute – Keiunkai Taikai, in celebration of 50 years of stage life of Master Actor Udaka Michishige, has come to a close. It is difficult to draw all the impressions on such a special event in one single post. There are so many aspects and viewpoints it would be necessary to include and, in the attempt to include everything (and everyone) I would end up not doing justice to all of them. I will maintain the very personal take that has been the line of this blog so far.

Noh: ‘Makiginu’. Tsure: Diego Pellecchia

On the occasion of this Kai I could for the first time take part of the full production of a Noh play, Makiginu, in the role of the tsure. As in a dream, my memories of the performance are blurred and spotty. I stand behind the omaku curtain, in the kagami no ma mirror room, I can appreciate the quality of the lights coming from the stage, through the five colours of the curtain. The lights, and the cries of the hayashi call for my entrance. Although that of the tsure is a subsidiary role, its rather long initial chant substantially contributes to set the mood of the play. I felt invested of this responsibility while treading on the hashigakari for the first time. Slowly pivoting on my feet to face the matsubame pine on the backdrop of the stage, the beats of the drums give room to my chant, as I begin my long trip to Mikumano…

Taking part of a full Noh is a privilege that only a very few foreigners had in the century-old Noh tradition. Infinite gratefulness and deep respect go to those who are teaching me this way: Master-Actor Udaka Michishige, Shihan Rebecca Ogamo-Teele and Monique Arnaud, whose relentless efforts to transmit Noh theatre to foreigners is, I believe, the greatest, unconditional expression of love for the art of Noh.

INI – International Noh Institute Gala Recital

This year’s INI – International Noh Institute Gala Recital celebrates 50 years of stage life of its founder, Master-Actor Udaka Michishige (Kongo School).

Noh: Yuki (‘The Snow’)

Makiginu (‘The Rolls of Silk’)

The program will also include a variety of chant and dance excerpts. Foreign and Japanese students of Udaka Michishige will perform on stage. Information material will be available in English and Japanese.

Place: Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto. Subway Karasuma line: get off at Karasuma-Imadegawa (K06), South Exit 6, walk South 300m and find the theatre on the right.

Time: 12 June 2010 (Sat) 1:00pm – 5:30pm.

Fee: Free of charge. The audience is free to come and go quietly.

A reception will follow from 6:30pm (fee: 1000 yen). Come share your impressions on Noh theatre and to talk to the teacher and the performers! Meet us at ‘Tenshokan’(天正館)2nd Fl., Mukadeya-cho 380, Shinmachidori Nishiki-koji-agaru Subway Karasuma-Shijo, Exit 24, walk West, then North at Shijo-Shinmachi (about 5 minutes). Click here for a directions from the Kongo Theatre to Tenshokan.


Map for the Kongo Nogakudo (金剛能楽堂)