In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Noh Theater: Mirror, Mask, and Madness Mikiko Ishii Noh is often misunderstood as a frozen theatrical tradition only, a relic of antiquity, or a suitable subject for a scholarly study of medieval culture in Japan. However, ever since it was first developed and refined as an independent dramatic form it has never ceased to be performed. Unlike the English mystery plays that have been revived in modem productions which have struggled to re-create lost traditions, Noh is a living art, and it also is a representative of those Japanese art forms that have been seen as introducing Japanese culture in a wider sense. Originating in dance and music performed at sacred rituals and festivals , Noh grew out of the Japanese soul's yearning "for a concrete epiphany of the Divine: . . . lightning-like incarnation of the gods, god-men, spirits, souls of the dead, souls of animals."' It was thus indeed bom in the days when men felt the gods as living beings in close proximity to them. Even when brought to maturity and refinement by the two great dramaturgists Kan-ami Kiyotsugu (1333-84) and his son Ze-ami Motokiyo (1363-1443), the gods and the spiritual realm which they represented were still close to the people. However, all that was very long ago, and times and beliefs have changed. But how can we explain the fact that there are at present no fewer than eight major Noh theaters (Nohgakudo) in Tokyo alone—and that the number of performances and the size of the audiences are both increasing? Almost every day, somewhere in Tokyo, a Noh play is being staged by one of the principal Noh theaters. The National Noh Theater, founded in 1982, has become the center for the study of Noh and Kyogen, and in 1993 presented sixty performances of plays in this genre. The other major theaters such as the Kanze Nogakudo, the Hosho Nogakudo, and the Yarai Nogakudo give several performances each month, and there are also many experimental productions 43 44The Noh Theater by amateur groups. Noh in fact thrives today as never before and enjoys a tremendous prestige, attracting even the younger generation accustomed to the pace of films and television—persons who might never have been expected to endure the extremely slow pace and high level of sophistication of Noh. Clearly the continuing popularity of Noh does not depend merely on a scholarly interest in tradition. The Noh stage of today has a history of more than six hundred years in the course of which it has, of course, gone through many stages of development . Yet the memory of its origins still lingers, and within the world of the Noh stage the passions associated with the struggles of human relationships are presented through the symbolic language and gestures of the drama. The Origins of Noh Theater: Sarugaku and Dengaku. The word Noh originally designated a kind of drama with a plot which incorporated music and dancing. Sarugaku-Noh and Dengaku -Noh, both important for our discussion, had different origins and qualities. Sarugaku (a corruption of Sangaku) is thought to have been a folk art imported from China. Saru means "monkey ," and hence Sarugaku initially designated an entertainment— farce or acrobatics—using trained monkeys. But in the course of the Muromachi period in the mid-fourteenth century Sarugaku came to be performed at shrines or temples on ceremonial or ritual occasions to expelí evil spirits or to bring good fortune—or simply to celebrate the prosperity of the place and the people. The change which took place in Sarugaku is explained by Masaru Sekine: In the Nanbokuchô, a brief phase which fell between the Kamakura (1192-1333] and the Muromachi [1333-1573] periods. Sarugaku actors began to use a different Chinese character to denote Sarugaku. Originally it was represented by two Chinese characters, one meaning a monkey, the other meaning music. The monkey character was changed to a part of one denoting a god, so the meaning became divine music. . . . While the monkey form was used the art of Sarugaku was crude; but by the time the god form was employed the art had become much more refined and was either musical...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 43-66
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.