May 13, 2018
By Sayaka Terasaki, Mai Takezawa, and Kanako Wakamatsu
There are a lot of arts in the world, of course, Japan has many art forms too. One of them is performing arts, for example, Kabuki, Kyogen, and Noh. All of them are traditional arts and Japanese people cherish and are proud of these arts. Today, we would like to introduce you to Noh, especially Noh-men, which is a type of mask used in Noh. We are going to introduce the topic, Noh-men divided in these 4 topics.
1. What is Noh-men?
2. What is Noh?
3. History of Noh (Noh-men)
4. Kinds of Noh-men
What is Noh-men?
Noh-men is a mask that is used in a kind of play that is called Noh. It is said that the mask, Noh-men, was born in the middle of Muromachi Era (1338~1573). The mask, Noh-men, has many variations, and it is said that there are over 200 kinds of Noh-men today. People wear Noh-men and perform a play, Noh. Most Noh-men are created to be a smaller size than people’s face, so the audience can see Noh players’ chins under the Noh-men. However, this is the intended size. In addition, the eye holes of the Noh-men are very small. Because of this, it is very difficult for Noh-player with the mask to see clearly, so that they sometimes even they lose their bearings on the stage. In general, Noh-men has a fixed expression. It is very difficult to perform and act a play with the expressionless mask. However, Noh players can make expressions with the Noh-men. The way of making expressions with Noh-men is moving their face. If people want to express happy feeling, they raise their face up. The Noh-player shows that they are likely smiling to the audience. It is called teruin Japanese, and it means bright or shining. On the contrary, if people want to express a sad feeling, they hang their face down. They show that they are likely crying to the audience. It is called kumoru in Japanese, and it means cloud or depression.
What is Noh?
There are many surviving Japanese traditional performing arts such as kabuki, noh-gaku and so on. Noh plays are often performed with comedic kyogen plays. Together these performances are called Noh-gaku. Noh is a drama with stylized singing and dancing. The main theme of Noh is mostly about occult, but it is said that it is very elegant. One of the characteristic points of Noh is the scale of stage. Compared with Kabuki or a modern play, Noh does not have large sets and properties. Also, there are no curtains between stage and auditorium. The stage of Noh is wide open and simple. There are more than 240 programs which are still performed in Noh stage. Recently, some performers of Noh tried to make new program of Noh.
History of Noh
It is said the Noh came from China. Before the Edo Period, (1603 – 1868) it was called Saru-gaku. In the Heian Period (754 – 1185), Saru-gaku was mixture of mimicry and skit. It was often danced by farmers to celebrate a rich harvest. In the Muromachi Period (1333 – 1568), some nobles liked the dance of Noh, then it became sublime culture. In the Meiji Period, one famous theater, the Noh-gakudsha was built in the Shiba park where in Tokyo. At around the same time this was built, people started to call this performing art, “Noh”. That theater was called the symbol of Noh and many famous people, such as the empress, visited this stage to watch Noh. In the end of the 14th century, two prodigy performers Kan-ami and Ze-ami emerged. Kan-ami and Ze-ami were father and son. The father, Kan-ami made the new style of Noh, which was a mixture of traditional Noh and a rhythm like rap music. It was pretty novel at that period. The son, Ze-ami changed the refined the impression of Noh to a more formal style. Before Ze-ami changed the impression of Noh, it was very casual, because the interest of story was main point of Noh. But he changed the main point to music and dance. Noh was one of the means to entertain nobles, but on the other hand, it has an important role for charming and oblationa for gods. Noh-gaku was registrated as a World Intangible Heritage in 2008.
Kinds of Noh-men
Next, I’ll explain kinds of Noh-men. It is said that there are approximately 250 kinds of Noh-men in total and its basic shape is approximately 60 kinds. Hon-men were masks made from the Muromachi Era to the Azuchi-momoyamaEra (1573 – 1600). People began making Noh-men by imitating the form of Hon-men which was the original men, or mask.
Each family danced a Noh dance as a mark that gave a heart of the submission in Yamato Imperial Court. At that time, the leader of a family recited poetry. This custom is considered to be the source of the Okina dance. The Okina mask was made for it. It is said that Okina is oldest mask in Noh-men.
Onna-men was based on masks from the mask in Nara(dates) and Heian Era. It can express all the feelings of humans in Nogaku theatre with just one mask. There are 3 types of men. One is shown as a young, beautiful woman who rose in dignity. Another is a young girl with the common touch. The third is expressed the middle-aged woman who rose in dignity.
It expresses the elegant aspect of a young, aristocratic-looking man and children of the Heike.
It expresses an old man’s face.
It was made in early times and it expresses the supernatural, including an ogre and the long-nosed goblin.
It expresses a departed soul. These souls have regretful feelings in the world. Ayakashi, which represents a military commander and looks like a scraggy man and a frog represents the soul of man. Mountain witch and Deigan with the eyes lined with gold paint represents the soul of woman.
Noh has continued to be performed, until modern times, since the middle of the Muromachi Era (1338-1573) Although it has a long history, it has been changed little by little. Japanese people value this tradition and will pass down it to posterity. That’s why still exists in our culture.
We can watch Noh for a reasonable price, about 2000 yen to 4000 yen in Japan. A Noh play lasts about two and a half hours. Although it is a traditional art, there is no dress code for people attending the play, and even casual wear is not any problem at all. Even a T-shirt and jeans is all right. We hope that you have a chance to watch a Noh play and to see Noh-men once.