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1 COMPARATIVE drama Volume 18 Winter 1984-85 Number 4 The Life of the Adult No Player in Japan Today Irmgard Johnson In Tokyo, where the five “schools” of No drama are located, many citizens could rather accurately surmise what the life of a No player might be like—that is, a daily routine not very different from that of other hard-working ultra-conservative professionals, particularly those engaged in teaching and per­ petuating the traditional Japanese arts. And to far more than a million “amateurs” taking lessons in singing (utai) or dance (shimai) from one of the players (or from a proficient “ama­ teur”), no detail would be likely to cause the mildest surprise. However, even certain foreigners who are well acquainted with various aspects of Japanese civilization may be unfamiliar with the ordinary facts of an existence which seems entirely matterof -course to those immediately concerned with the present practice of this six-hundred-year-old stage tradition. Players bom in the twentieth century lead lives somewhat resembling those of their grandfathers—and even more remote male ancestors if they were all of the same profession. To the extent that the men of the 1980’s are actually immersed in their IRMGARD JOHNSON is Director of Asian Studies and Professor of History and Humanities at the University of Florida. 289 290 Comparative Drama art, their careers and tasks seem remarkably similar to those of the past. The most obvious change that appears to be coming about is attitudinal: the steady waning of religious feeling toward No itself. The very oldest among the players have often remarked on the subject during the past fifteen years, and their predecessors probably had done so during preceding decades. While one is told in both Kyoto and Kanazawa that a spirit of consecration is still intense, in Tokyo it rapidly erodes. Yet there must always have been varying degrees in the profundity of commitment to the sacred among the members of the various troupes and schools. Certainly the ever-increasing secularization of point of view now seems to be inevitable. I An attempt to record and outline that which the adult shite players themselves take for granted, their work-a-day lives and underlying beliefs, depends on the analysis of the training of the child player (first phase) and the adolescent (second phase). Logically, the next step would be to examine the professional experiences of the young man from age twenty to thirty-five. This fifteen-year interval gives the appearance of comprising a definable third stage which is preparatory to a fourth with its long period of maturation from thirty-five to fifty-five. This is then followed by the final and presumably highest period of the No career. The avowed intention of investigating what was deemed to be the third in a five-part career wavered somewhat when it became obvious in discussion that players themselves did not perceive their lives or careers as containing this or any other such clearly recognizable period, at least not during adulthood. Instead, they felt, there was one continuous progression. Cer­ tainly the existence of set courses of study, with specific content for each, could not be claimed (except in one case to be dis­ cussed later), though the kokata roles are thus delimited. How­ ever, the child is simultaneously learning much more than these. Perhaps the five stages are only ages, since they proceed with almost mechanical fluency, normally unmarked by signposts, transitions, or interruptions.1 Despite the denial that the fifteen years following adoles­ cence actually constitute a separate period, it seems evident that they are characterized by unusual restrictions. Gone is the older players’ fond indulgence lavished on the child, and the tolerance Irmgard Johnson 291 granted the dependent teenager. Many of the young men, when asked a direct question in this regard, will remark on their extended state of thankless semi-oblivion, a sort of limbo exis­ tence in which, they say, they are little more than fill-in figures on stage. Very few players have managed to attain any great measure of fame during this interim since both the seniority system and that of rank—the warp and woof of...


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