Modern discussions of ritual and the origins of the six-hundred-year-old Japanese nō theatre have focused on the enigmatic Okina dance—one of the "three rites," shikisanban, enacted today by performers at the New Year's and other ceremonial occasions. For modern nō actors, Okina is the heart of nō: a living prototype of the ritual theatre nō once supposedly embodied but somehow lost. Yet Okina's very rituality differentiates it from nō. Hence Okina is cited both as an archetype of nō's past and as a salient point of contrast for defining nō's artistry today.
This article declares this relationship between Okina and nō to be a modern formulation resulting from three factors: a change in religiosity in the early twentieth century, the role of scholars and performers of that era in reclaiming Okina's centrality to nō, and assumptions in the fields of anthropology and folklore studies about the origin of theatre in ritual. The modern conceptualization of Okina functions as an invented tradition engendering authority for nō professionals, particularly the hereditary elite, who compete to lay claim to its mystery, sanctity, and power.