Noh (能, Nō), derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or
"talent", is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has
been performed since the 14th century. Developed by
Kan'ami and his
son Zeami, it is the oldest major theatre art that is still regularly
performed today. Traditionally, a
Noh program includes five Noh
plays with comedic kyōgen plays in between; an abbreviated program of
Noh plays and one kyōgen piece has become common in Noh
presentations today. An okina (翁) play may be presented in the very
beginning especially during New Years, holidays, and other special
Nō together with
Kyōgen is part of
Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a
supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a
Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a
dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and
musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional
gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts,
women, children, and the elderly. Written in ancient Japanese
language, the text "vividly describes the ordinary people of the
twelfth to sixteenth centuries".[attribution needed] Having a
strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation,
Noh is extremely
codified and regulated by the iemoto system.
Kan'ami and Zeami
1.3 Tokugawa era
Noh after Meiji era
3 Performers and roles
4 Performance elements
4.5 Chant and music
5.2 Performance style
5.4 Some famous plays
6 Influence in the West
6.1 Theatre practitioners
7 Aesthetic terminology
9 Audience etiquette
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Noh stage at Miyajima
Karaori garment, Edo period, 18th century, bamboo and chrysanthemum
design on red and white checkered ground
Noh is a borrowing from
Middle Chinese nong 能 (cf. Mandarin
néng), and means "skill", "craft", or "talent", particularly in the
field of performing arts in this context. The word
Noh may be used
alone or with gaku (fun, music) to form the word nōgaku.
Noh is a
classical tradition that is highly valued by many today. When used
Noh refers to the historical genre of theatre originated from
sarugaku in the mid 14th century and continues to be performed
Noh and kyōgen "originated in the 8th century when the sangaku
(ja:散楽) was transmitted from
China to Japan. At the time, the term
sangaku referred to various types of performance featuring acrobats,
song and dance as well as comic sketches. Its subsequent adaption to
Japanese society led to its assimilation of other traditional art
Various performing art elements in sangaku as well as elements of
dengaku (rural celebrations performed in connection with rice
planting), sarugaku (popular entertainment including acrobatics,
juggling, and pantomime), shirabyōshi (traditional dances performed
by female dancers in the Imperial Court in 12th century), and gagaku
(ancient music and dance performed in the Imperial Court beginning in
7th century) evolved into
Noh and kyōgen.
Studies on genealogy of the
Noh actors in 14th century indicate they
were members of families specialized in performing arts; they had
performed various traditional performance arts for many generations.
Sociological research by Yukio Hattori reveals that the Konparu School
(ja:金春流), arguably the oldest school of Noh, is a descendant of
Mimashi (味摩之), the performer who introduced gigaku, now-extinct
masked drama-dance performance, into Japan from Kudara Kingdom in
Another theory by Shinhachirō Matsumoto suggests
Noh originated from
outcastes struggling to claim higher social status by catering to
those in power, namely the new ruling samurai class of the time. The
transferral of the shogunate from
Kyoto at the beginning
Muromachi period marked the increasing power of the samurai class
and strengthened the relationship between the shogunate and the court.
Noh became the shōgun's favorite art form,
Noh was able to become
a courtly art form through this newly formed relationship. In 14th
century, with strong support and patronage from shōgun Ashikaga
Zeami was able to establish
Noh as the most prominent
theatre art form of the time.
Kan'ami and Zeami
Zeami Motokiyo and Kan'ami
Kan'ami Kiyotsugu and his son
Zeami Motokiyo brought
Noh to what is
essentially its present-day form during the
Muromachi period (1336 to
Kan'ami was a renowned actor with great versatility
fulfilling roles from graceful women and 12-year-old boys to strong
adult males. When
Kan'ami first presented his work to 17-year-old
Zeami was a child actor in his play, around age
12. Yoshimitsu fell in love with
Zeami and his position of favor at
Noh to be performed frequently for Yoshimitsu
Noh continued to be aristocratic art form
supported by the shōgun, the feudal lords (daimyōs), as well as
wealthy and sophisticated commoners. While kabuki and joruri popular
to the middle class focused on new and experimental entertainment, Noh
strived to preserve its established high standards and historic
authenticity and remained mostly unchanged throughout the era. To
capture the essence of performances given by great masters, every
detail in movements and positions was reproduced by others, generally
resulting in an increasingly slow, ceremonial tempo over time.
Noh after Meiji era
The fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868 and the formation of a new
modernized government resulted in the end of financial support by the
government, and the entire field of
Noh experienced major financial
crisis. Shortly after the
Meiji Restoration both the number of Noh
Noh stages greatly diminished. The support from the
imperial government was eventually regained partly due to Noh's appeal
to foreign diplomats. The companies that remained active throughout
Meiji era also significantly broadened Noh's reach by catering to
the general public, performing at theatres in major cities such as
Tokyo and Osaka.
In 1957 the Japanese Government designated nōgaku as an Important
Intangible Cultural Property, which affords a degree of legal
protection to the tradition as well as its most accomplished
National Noh Theatre
National Noh Theatre founded by the government in
1983 stages regular performances and organizes courses to train actors
in the leading roles of nōgaku.
Noh was inscribed in 2008 on the
Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by
UNESCO as Nôgaku theatre.
Although the terms nōgaku and
Noh are sometimes used interchangeably,
nōgaku encompasses both
Noh and kyōgen.
Kyōgen is performed in
Noh plays in the same space. Compared to Noh, "kyōgen relies
less on the use of masks and is derived from the humorous plays of the
sangaku, as reflected in its comic dialogue."
Main article: Jo-ha-kyū
The concept of jo-ha-kyū dictates virtually every element of Noh
including compiling of a program of plays, structuring of each play,
songs and dances within plays, and the basic rhythms within each Noh
performance. Jo means beginning, ha means breaking, and kyū means
rapid or urgent. The term originated in gagaku, ancient courtly music,
to indicate gradually increasing tempo and was adopted in various
Japanese traditions including Noh, tea ceremony, poetry, and flower
Jo-ha-kyū is incorporated in traditional five-play program of Noh.
The first play is jo, the second, third, and fourth plays are ha, and
the fifth play is kyū. In fact, the five categories discussed below
were created so that the program would represent jo-ha-kyū when one
play from each category is selected and performed in order. Each play
can be broken into three parts, the introduction, the development, and
the conclusion. A play starts out in a slow tempo at jo, gets slightly
faster at ha, then culminates in kyū.
Performers and roles
Kanze Sakon (観世左近, 1895–1939), Head (sōke) of Kanze school
Actors begin their training as young children, traditionally at the
age of three. Historically,
Noh performers had been exclusively male,
but daughters of established
Noh actors have begun to perform
professionally since the 1940s. In 2009, there were about 1200 male
and 200 female professional
Zeami isolated nine levels or types of
Noh acting from lower degrees
which put emphasis on movement and violence to higher degrees which
represent the opening of a flower and spiritual prowess.
In 2012, there are five extant schools of
Noh acting called Kanze
(観世), Hōshō (宝生), Komparu (金春), Kongō (金剛), and
Kita (喜多) schools that train shite actors. Each school has its own
iemoto family that carries the name of the school and is considered
the most important. The iemoto holds the power to create new plays or
modify lyrics and performance modes. Waki actors are trained in
the schools Takayasu (高安), Fukuou (福王), and Hōshō (宝生).
There are two schools that train kyōgen, Ōkura (大蔵) and Izumi
(和泉). 11 schools train instrumentalists, each school specializing
in one to three instruments.
The Nohgaku Performers' Association (
Nōgaku Kyōkai), to which all
professionals are registered, strictly protects the traditions passed
down from their ancestors (see iemoto). However, several secret
documents of the Kanze school written by Zeami, as well as materials
by Konparu Zenchiku, have been diffused throughout the community of
scholars of Japanese theatre.
Noh stage. Center: shite; front right: waki; right: eight-member
jiutai (chorus); rear center: four hayashi-kata (musicians); rear
left: two kōken (stage hands).
There are four major categories of
Noh performers: shite, waki,
kyōgen, and hayashi.
Shite (仕手, シテ). Shite is the main protagonist, or the leading
role in plays. In plays where the shite appears first as a human and
then as a ghost, the first role is known as the mae-shite and the
later as the nochi-shite.
Shitetsure (仕手連れ, シテヅレ). The shite's companion.
Sometimes shitetsure is abbreviated to tsure (連れ, ツレ),
although this term refers to both the shitetsure and the wakitsure.
Kōken (後見) are stage hands, usually one to three people.
Jiutai (地謡) is the chorus, usually comprising six to eight people.
Waki (脇, ワキ) performs the role that is the counterpart or foil
of the shite.
Wakitsure (脇連れ, ワキヅレ) or Waki-tsure is the companion of
Kyōgen (狂言) perform the aikyōgen (間狂言), which are
interludes during plays.
Kyōgen actors also perform in separate plays
Hayashi (囃子) or hayashi-kata (囃子方) are the instrumentalists
who play the four instruments used in
Noh theatre: the transverse
flute (笛, fue), hip drum (大鼓, ōtsuzumi) or ōkawa (大皮), the
shoulder-drum (小鼓, kotsuzumi), and the stick-drum (太鼓, taiko).
The flute used for noh is specifically called nōkan or nohkan
Noh play always involves the chorus, the orchestra, and at
least one shite and one waki actor.
Noh performance combines a variety of elements into a stylistic whole,
with each particular element the product of generations of refinement
according to the central Buddhist, Shinto, and minimalist aspects of
Noh's aesthetic principles.
Nō masks. Right: Drunken spirit (shōjō). Made of red and black
lacquered wood, with red silk tying cord, by Himi Munetada
(氷見宗忠). Edo period, 19th century. Left: Nakizo, representing a
female deity or woman of high rank, associated with Nō plays such as
Hagoromo and Ohara Miyuki. Made of lacquered and painted wood by
Norinari (憲成), designed by Zoami (増阿弥). 18th-19th century.
Three pictures of the same female mask showing how the expression
changes with a tilting of the head. This mask expresses different
moods. In these pictures, the mask was affixed to a wall with constant
lighting, and only the camera moved.
Noh masks (能面 nō-men or 面 omote) are carved from blocks of
Japanese cypress (檜 "hinoki"), and painted with natural pigments on
a neutral base of glue and crunched seashell. There are approximately
450 different masks mostly based on sixty types, all of which have
distinctive names. Some masks are representative and frequently used
in many different plays, while some are very specific and may only be
used in one or two plays.
Noh masks signify the characters' gender,
age, and social ranking, and by wearing masks the actors may portray
youngsters, old men, female, or nonhuman (divine, demonic, or animal)
characters. Only the shite, the main actor, wears a mask in most
plays, even though the tsure may also wear a mask in some plays to
represent female characters.
Even though the mask covers an actor's facial expressions, the use of
the mask in
Noh is not an abandonment of facial expressions
altogether. Rather, its intent is to stylize and codify the facial
expressions through the use of the mask and to stimulate the
imagination of the audience. By using masks, actors are able to convey
emotions in a more controlled manner through movements and body
language. Some masks utilize lighting effect to convey different
emotions through slight tilting of the head. Facing slightly upward,
or "brightening" the mask, will let the mask to capture more light,
revealing more features that appear laughing or smiling. Facing
downward, or "clouding" it, will cause the mask to appear sad or
Noh masks are treasured by
Noh families and institution, and the
Noh schools hold the oldest and most valuable
Noh masks in
their private collections, rarely seen by the public. The most ancient
mask is supposedly kept as a hidden treasure by the oldest school, the
Konparu. According to the current head of the Konparu school, the mask
was carved by the legendary regent
Prince Shōtoku (572-622) over a
thousand years ago. While the historical accuracy of the legend of
Prince Shōtoku's mask may be contested, the legend itself is ancient
as it is first recorded in Zeami's Style and the Flower written in the
14th century. Some of the masks of the Konparu school belong to
the Tokyo National Museum, and are exhibited there frequently.
Noh theatre with indoor roofed structure
1: hashigakari. 2: kyōgen spot. 3: stage attendants. 4: stick drum.
5: hip drum. 6: shoulder drum. 7: flute. 8: chorus. 9: waki seat. 10:
waki spot. 11: shite spot. 12: shite-bashira. 13: metsuke-bashira. 14:
waki-bashira. 15: fue-bashira.
Noh stage has complete openness that provides a shared
experience between the performers and the audience throughout the
performance. Without any proscenium or curtains to obstruct the view,
the audience sees each actor even during the moments before they enter
(and after they exit) the central "stage". The theatre itself is
considered symbolic and treated with reverence both by the performers
and the audience.
One of the most recognizable characteristic of
Noh stage is its
independent roof that hangs over the stage even in indoor theatres.
Supported by four columns, the roof symbolizes the sanctity of the
stage, with its architectural design derived from the worship pavilion
(haiden) or sacred dance pavilion (kagura-den) of
Shinto shrines. The
roof also unifies the theatre space and defines the stage as an
The pillars supporting the roof are named shitebashira (principal
character's pillar), metsukebashira (gazing pillar), wakibashira
(secondary character's pillar), and fuebashira (flute pillar),
clockwise from upstage right respectively. Each pillar is associated
with the performers and their actions.
The stage is made entirely of unfinished hinoki, Japanese cypress,
with almost no decorative elements. The poet and novelist Tōson
Shimazaki writes that "on the stage of the
Noh theatre there are no
sets that change with each piece. Neither is there a curtain. There is
only a simple panel (kagami-ita) with a painting of a green pine tree.
This creates the impression that anything that could provide any
shading has been banished. To break such monotony and make something
happen is no easy thing."
Another unique feature of the stage is the hashigakari, a narrow
bridge at upstage right used by actors to enter the stage. Hashigakari
means "suspension bridge", signifying something aerial that connects
two separate worlds on a same level. The bridge symbolizes the mythic
Noh plays in which otherworldly ghosts and spirits
frequently appear. In contrast, hanamichi in
Kabuki theatres is
literally a path (michi) that connects two spaces in a single world,
thus has a completely different significance.
Noh actors wear silk costumes called shozoku (robes) along with wigs,
hats, and props such as the fan. With striking colors, elaborate
texture, and intricate weave and embroidery,
Noh robes are truly works
of art in their own right. Costumes for the shite in particular are
extravagant, shimmering silk brocades, but are progressively less
sumptuous for the tsure, the wakizure, and the aikyōgen.
For centuries, in accordance with the vision of Zeami,
emulated the clothing that the characters would genuinely wear, such
as the formal robes for a courtier and the street clothing for a
peasant or commoner. But in the late sixteenth century, the costumes
became stylized with certain symbolic and stylistic conventions.
During the Edo (Tokugawa) period, the elaborate robes given to actors
by noblemen and samurai in the
Muromachi period were developed as
The musicians and chorus typically wear formal montsuki kimono (black
and adorned with five family crests) accompanied by either hakama (a
skirt-like garment) or kami-shimo, a combination of hakama and a
waist-coat with exaggerated shoulders. Finally, the stage attendants
are garbed in virtually unadorned black garments, much in the same way
as stagehands in contemporary Western theatre.
The use of props in
Noh is minimalistic and stylized. The most
commonly used prop in
Noh is the fan, as it is carried by all
performers regardless of role. Chorus singers and musicians may carry
their fan in hand when entering the stage, or carry it tucked into the
obi (the sash). The fan is usually placed at the performer's side when
he or she takes position, and is often not taken up again until
leaving the stage. During dance sequences, the fan is typically used
to represent any and all hand-held props, such as a sword, wine jug,
flute, or writing brush. The fan may represent various objects over
the course of a single play.
When hand props other than fans are used, they are usually introduced
or retrieved by kuroko who fulfill a similar role to stage crew in
contemporary theatre. Like their Western counterparts, stage
Noh traditionally dress in black, but unlike in Western
theatre they may appear on stage during a scene, or may remain on
stage during an entire performance, in both cases in plain view of the
audience. The all-black costume of kuroko implies they are not part of
the action on stage and are effectively invisible.
Set pieces in
Noh such as the boats, wells, altars, and bells, are
typically carried onto the stage before the beginning of the act in
which they are needed. These props normally are only outlines to
suggest actual objects, although the great bell, a perennial exception
Noh rules for props, is designed to conceal the actor and to
allow a costume change during the kyōgen interlude.
Chant and music
Hayashi-kata (noh musicians). Left to right: taiko, ōtsuzumi (hip
drum), kotsuzumi (shoulder drum), flute.
Noh theatre is accompanied by a chorus and a hayashi ensemble
Noh is a chanted drama, and a few
commentators have dubbed it "Japanese opera". However, the singing in
Noh involves a limited tonal range, with lengthy, repetitive passages
in a narrow dynamic range. Texts are poetic, relying heavily on the
Japanese seven-five rhythm common to nearly all forms of Japanese
poetry, with an economy of expression, and an abundance of allusion.
The singing parts of
Noh are called "Utai" and the speaking parts
"Kataru". The music has many blank spaces (ma) in between the
actual sounds, and these negative blank spaces are in fact considered
the heart of the music. In addition to utai,
Noh hayashi ensemble
consists of four musicians, also known as the "hayashi-kata",
including three drummers, which play the shime-daiko, ōtsuzumi (hip
drum), and kotsuzumi (shoulder drum) respectively, and a nohkan
The chant is not always performed "in character"; that is, sometimes
the actor will speak lines or describe events from the perspective of
another character or even a disinterested narrator. Far from breaking
the rhythm of the performance, this is actually in keeping with the
other-worldly feel of many
Noh plays, especially in those
characterized as mugen.
Of the roughly 2000 plays created for
Noh that are known today, about
240 make up the current repertoire performed by the five existing Noh
schools. The current repertoire is heavily influenced by the taste of
aristocratic class in Tokugawa period and does not necessarily reflect
popularity among the commoners. There are several ways to classify
Noh plays can be classified into three broad categories.
Noh (現在能, "present Noh") features human characters and
events unfold according to a linear timeline within the play.
Noh (夢幻能, "supernatural Noh") involves supernatural
worlds, featuring gods, spirits, ghosts, or phantasms in the shite
role. Time is often depicted as passing in a non-linear fashion, and
action may switch between two or more timeframes from moment to
moment, including flashbacks.
Noh (両掛能, "mixed Noh"), though somewhat uncommon, is a
hybrid of the above with the first act being Genzai
Noh and the second
act Mugen Noh.
Noh utilizes internal and external conflicts to drive
storylines and bring out emotions, Mugen
Noh focuses on utilizing
flashbacks of the past and the deceased to invoke emotions.
Noh plays may be categorized by their style.
Noh (劇能) is a drama piece based around the advancement of
plot and the narration of action.
Noh (風流能) is little more than a dance piece characterized
by elaborate stage action, often involving acrobatics, stage
properties, and multiple characters.
Okina hōnō (dedication of
Noh play A Venerable Old Man) on New
Noh plays are divided by their themes into the following five
categories. This classification is considered the most practical, and
is still used today in formal programming choices today.
Traditionally, a formal 5-play program is composed of a selection from
each of the groups.
Kami mono (神物, god plays) or waki
Noh (脇能) typically feature
the shite in the role of a deity to tell the mythic story of a shrine
or praise a particular god. Many of them structured in two acts, the
deity takes a human form in disguise in the first act and reveals the
real self in the second act. (e.g. Takasago, Chikubushima)
Shura mono (修羅物, warrior plays) or ashura
takes its name from the Buddhist underworld. The protagonist appearing
as a ghost of a famous samurai pleads to a monk for salvation and the
drama culminates in a glorious re-enactment of the scene of his death
in a full war costume. (e.g. Tamura, Atsumori)
Katsura mono (鬘物, wig plays) or onna mono (女物, woman plays)
depict the shite in a female role and feature some of the most refined
songs and dances in all of Noh, reflecting the smooth and flowing
movements representing female characters. (e.g. Basho,
There are about 94 "miscellaneous" plays traditionally performed in
the fourth place in a five-play program. These plays include
subcategories kyōran mono (狂乱物, madness plays), onryō mono
(怨霊物, vengeful ghost plays), genzai mono (現在物, present
plays), as well as others. (e.g. Aya no tsuzumi, Kinuta)
Noh (切り能, final plays) or oni mono (鬼物, demon plays)
usually feature the shite in the role of monsters, goblins, or demons,
and are often selected for their bright colors and fast-paced, tense
finale movements. Kiri
Noh is performed the last in a five-play
program. There are roughly 30 plays in this category, most of which
are shorter than the plays in the other categories.
In addition to the above five, Okina (or Kamiuta) is frequently
performed at the very beginning of the program. Combining dance with
Shinto ritual, it is considered the oldest type of
Some famous plays
For a more comprehensive list, see
List of Noh plays (A–M) and List
Noh plays (N–Z).
Plays with individual articles are listed in Category:
The following categorization is that of the Kanze school.
Aoi no Ue
Aya no Tsuzumi
The Damask Drum
The Feather Mantle
The Well Cradle
The Wind in the Pines
Komachi at Seki Temple
The Tippling Elf
Komachi at the Gravepost
Influence in the West
Many Western artists have been influenced by Noh.
Eugenio Barba – Between 1966 and 1972, Japanese
Hideo Kanze and Hisao Kanze gave seminars on
Noh at Barba’s Theater
Laboratory of Holstebro. Barba primarily studied the physical aspects
Samuel Beckett – Yoshihiko Ikegami considers Beckett's
Waiting for Godot a parody of Noh, particularly Kami Noh, in which a
god or a spirit appears before a secondary character as the
protagonist. Ikegami argues that "the dramatic conflict which was much
in evidence in Yeats is so completely discarded that Beckett's theatre
(where 'nothing happens') comes to look even closer to
Bertolt Brecht – According to Maria P. Alter, Brecht began
reading Japanese plays during the middle twenties and have read at
Noh plays translated into German by 1929. Brecht's Der
Jasager is an adaptation of a
Noh play Taniko. Brecht himself
identified Die Massnahme as an adaptation of
Peter Brook – Yoshi Oida, a Japanese actor with training in
Noh, began working with Brook in their production of The Tempest in
1968. Oida later joined Brook's company.
Paul Claudel – According to John Willet, Paul Claudel
Noh during the time he served as French Ambassador to
Japan. Claudel's opera
Christophe Colomb shows an unmistakable
influence of the Noh.
Jacques Copeau – In 1923, Copeau worked on a
Noh play, Kantan,
Suzanne Bing at
Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier
Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier without ever
having seen a
Noh play. Thomas Leabhart states that "Jacques Copeau
was drawn instinctively by taste and tendency to a restrained theatre
which was based in spirituality." Copeau praised
Noh theatre in
writing when he finally saw a production in 1930.
Jacques Lecoq –
Physical theatre taught at L'École
Internationale de Théâtre
Jacques Lecoq founded by Lecoq is
influenced by Noh.
Eugene O'Neill – O'Neill's plays The Iceman Cometh, Long
Day's Journey Into Night, and Hughie have various similarities to Noh
Thornton Wilder – Wilder himself expressed his interest
Noh in his "Preface” to Three Plays and his sister Isabel Wilder
also confirmed his interests. Wilder's work Our Town incorporates
various elements of
Noh such as lack of plot, representative
characters, and use of ghosts.
William Henry Bell – An English composer Bell wrote music for
modern presentation of several
Noh plays, including Komachi (1925),
Tsuneyo of the Three Trees (1926), Hatsuyuki (1934), The Pillow of
Kantan (1935), and Kageyiko (1936).
Benjamin Britten – Britten visited Japan in 1956 and saw
for the first time Japanese
Noh plays, which he called "some of the
most wonderful drama I have ever seen."  The influences were seen
and heard in his ballet
The Prince of the Pagodas
The Prince of the Pagodas (1957) and later in
two of the three semi-operatic "Parables for Church Performance":
Curlew River (1964) and The Prodigal Son (1968).
David Byrne – Byrne encountered
Noh when he was on tour in
Talking Heads and he was inspired by the highly stylized
practices of Noh, completely different from its Western counterparts
that focus on naturalism. According to Josh Kun, "Japanese Noh
theatre inspired him to design the oversize business suit that became
a visual staple of
Talking Heads live shows."
Alan Watts – 20th century philosopher, the liner notes from his
third song off the 1962 album 'This is IT' state "Watts in a Japanese
Harry Partch – Partch called his work Delusion of the Fury "a
ritualistic web". Kate Molleson wrote for '
The Guardian that "the
narrative is a bleary mix of Japanese
Noh theatre, Ethiopian folk
mythology, Greek drama and his own wacky imagination". Will Salmon
cites Partch himself writing, "
Noh has been for centuries a fine art,
one of the most sophisticated the world has known." Delusion of the
Fury incorporates two
Noh plays, Atsumori by
Zeami and Ikuta by Zenbō
Motoyasu, into its story.
Karlheinz Stockhausen – The essentially plotless libretto of
Stockhausen's grand operatic cycle
Licht ("Light") is based on "a
mythology drawing on multiple cultural traditions, from Japanese Noh
theatre to German folklore".[attribution needed]
Iannis Xenakis – Xenakis "admired Noh, the venerable theatrical
form known for its ritualistic formality and gestural complexity."
Electronic Music Foundation presented Xenakis & Japan in March
2010, "a dance/music event highlighting Xenakis' lifelong interest in
Japanese music and theatre". The event featured a female
William Butler Yeats – Yeats wrote an essay on Noh
titled "Certain Noble Plays of Japan" in 1916. As much as he tried to
learn Noh, there were limited resources available in England at the
time. The lack of complete understanding of
Noh led him to create
innovative works guided by his own imagination and what he fantasized
Noh to be. Yeats wrote four plays heavily influenced by Noh, using
ghosts or supernatural beings as the central dramatis personæ for the
first time. The plays are At the Hawk's Well, The Dreaming of the
Bones, The Words upon the Window-Fane, and Purgatory.
Zeami and Zenchiku describe a number of distinct qualities that are
thought to be essential to the proper understanding of
Noh as an art
Hana (花, flower): In the Kadensho (Instructions on the Posture of
Zeami describes hana saying "after you master the secrets
of all things and exhaust the possibilities of every device, the hana
that never vanishes still remains."  The true
Noh performer seeks
to cultivate a rarefied relationship with his audience similar to the
way that one cultivates flowers. What is notable about hana is that,
like a flower, it is meant to be appreciated by any audience, no
matter how lofty or how coarse his upbringing. Hana comes in two
forms. Individual hana is the beauty of the flower of youth, which
passes with time, while "true hana" is the flower of creating and
sharing perfect beauty through performance.
Yūgen (幽玄, profound sublimity): Yūgen is a concept valued in
various forms of art throughout Japanese culture. Originally used to
mean elegance or grace representing the perfect beauty in waka, yūgen
is invisible beauty that is felt rather than seen in a work of art.
The term is used specifically in relation to
Noh to mean the profound
beauty of the transcendental world, including mournful beauty involved
in sadness and loss.
Rōjaku (老弱): Rō means old, and jaku means tranquil and quiet.
Rōjaku is the final stage of performance development of the Noh
actor, in which he eliminates all unnecessary action or sound in the
performance, leaving only the true essence of the scene or action
Kokoro or shin (both 心): Defined as "heart," "mind," or both. The
kokoro of noh is that which
Zeami speaks of in his teachings, and is
more easily defined as "mind." To develop hana the actor must enter a
state of no-mind, or mushin.
Myō (妙): the "charm" of an actor who performs flawlessly and
without any sense of imitation; he effectively becomes his role.
Monomane (物真似, imitation or mimesis): the intent of a
to accurately depict the motions of his role, as opposed to purely
aesthetic reasons for abstraction or embellishment. Monomane is
sometimes contrasted with yūgen, although the two represent endpoints
of a continuum rather than being completely separate.
Kabu-isshin (歌舞一心, "song-dance-one heart"): the theory that
the song (including poetry) and dance are two halves of the same
whole, and that the
Noh actor strives to perform both with total unity
of heart and mind.
Noh is still regularly performed today in public theatres as well as
private theatres mostly located in major cities. There are more than
Noh theatres throughout Japan, presenting both professional and
Public theatres include
National Noh Theatre
National Noh Theatre (Tokyo), Nagoya Noh
Noh Theater. Each
Noh school has its own permanent
theatre, such as Kanze
Noh Theater (Tokyo), Hosho
Noh Theater (Tokyo),
Noh Theater (Kyoto), and Nara Komparu
Noh Theater (Nara).
Additionally, there are various prefectural and municipal theatres
located throughout Japan that present touring professional companies
and local amateur companies. In some regions, unique regional
Ogisai Kurokawa Noh
Ogisai Kurokawa Noh have developed to form schools independent from
five traditional schools.
Audience etiquette is generally similar to formal western
theatre—the audience quietly watches.
Surtitles are not used, but
some audience members follow along in the libretto. Because there are
no curtains on the stage, the performance begins with the actors
entering the stage and ends with their leaving the stage. The house
lights are usually kept on during the performances, creating an
intimate feel that provides a shared experience between the performers
and the audience.
At the end of the play, the actors file out slowly (most important
first, with gaps between actors), and while they are on the bridge
(hashigakari), the audience claps restrainedly. Between actors,
clapping ceases, then begins again as the next actor leaves. Unlike in
western theatre, there is no bowing, nor do the actors return to the
stage after having left. A play may end with the shite character
leaving the stage as part of the story (as in Kokaji, for
instance)—rather than ending with all characters on stage—in which
case one claps as the character exits.
During the interval, tea, coffee, and wagashi (Japanese sweets) may be
served in the lobby. In the Edo period, when
Noh was a day-long
affair, more substantial makunouchi' bentō (幕の内弁当,
"between-acts lunchbox") were served. On special occasions, when the
performance is over, お神酒 (o-miki, ceremonial sake) may be served
in the lobby on the way out, as it happens in
The audience is seated in front of the stage, to the left side of the
stage, and in the corner front-left of stage; these are in order of
decreasing desirability. While the metsuke-bashira pillar obstructs
the view of the stage, the actors are primarily at the corners, not
the center, and thus the two aisles are located where the views of the
two main actors would be obscured, ensuring a generally clear view
regardless of seating.
Theatre of Japan
Nuo opera— ritual-descended art in
China that is similar in some
respects and may have influenced Noh's development
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