Monday, October 16, 2017

Japanese Culture♬ Entertainment - Watch, Learn, and Get Involved in Japan's Noh Theatre - The Oldest Existing Form of Theatre

a classical Japanese theatrical performance 

for the aristocratic. 

Traditional Japanese Performance

You may have watched a video about it in your drama class,
now you can watch it first hand!

Photo courtesy of Hachiro Tsujii
 Go into a "Japan" area of any major museum
and you are bound to see a section of Japanese Noh masks. 
So beautifully sculpted and delicate looking, 
but eerie at the same time. 
The movie "The Mask" with Jim Carrie
tends to come to mind whenever we see one.
There's got to be some type of mystical powers in these masks...

because the way they come to life when they're worn
brings people speechless.

 These elaborate masks are worn during a traditional
Japanese theatrical performance.
When most people hear "Japanese performance",

most people think of Kabuki.
While both having long cultural history and
being a part of the Japanese arts,
there are a few big things that differentiate the two.

Do you know what those characteristics are?? 

Noh (能楽) vs Kabuki (歌舞伎)

4 Main Differences between Japan's Noh Theatre and Kabuki

Time of Origin
Kabuki has a long history originating from the 17th century,
but Noh Theatre has been around since the 14th century!

While both Noh and Kabuki is performed only by men,
the way sexes are shown is different.

In Kabuki plays, 
if playing a woman role, the man will change his voice to show that.
However in Noh plays, the actors pitch doesn't change. 
Originally Kabuki was entertainment for anyone and everyone,
while Noh was for the selected elite.
Special Effects during Performance
Kabuki uses stage effects to added emphasis to the production,
but Noh is represented only by the performers on stage.

 A Special Performance for Foreigners
ONLY ON Saturday, January 27, 2018

It isn't everyday a person gets to see Noh Theatre.
There are even MANY Japanese people who have never seen a performance. 
We bet even for those who have seen Noh Theatre,
they have never had the chance to try some of the rituals in Noh themselves! 

But for one day only, 
there's a special performance and demonstration held
where you can go backstage and meet the performers!!
When is this once in a life time!!??!?
Saturday, January 27, 2018!!

JAPANKURU got an invitation to see what sort of 
things can be seen and done!
So we wanted to share the information with everyone
while spreading the knowledge of Noh!


What is Noh Theatre? 
The History of Noh
Photo courtesy of Hachiro Tsujii
 Noh is one of the world's oldest continually-performed types of theater 
and the oldest of Japan's traditional performing arts.
It is performed by exclusively
by men to the accompaniment of recitative chants
called yokyoku (謡曲) and 
an orchestra of a flute and three types of drums. 
It is characterized by symbolic, highly 
stylized acting and elaborate masks.

During the Nara Period (710-794),
 a form of popular entertainment named sangaku (散楽) 
was imported to Japan from China. 
This led to the development of sarugaku (猿楽)
(saru meaning monkey, gaku meaning music)

which included pantomime, acrobatics and magic.

The developers of Noh 
were the playwright Kanami Kiyotsugu and his son, Zeami Motokiyo. 
The first Noh performances was when Zeami and Kanami were 12 
and danced sarugaku in front of the 18-year-old shogun
 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1374 in Kyoto. 
With Yoshimitsu's support, 
Zeami and Kanami developed Noh 
by incorporating elements of their performing arts, 
poetry, and classical and current topic into the dance.


From Mascaraed to Sacred Ceremony 
Noh officials preparing for the ceremony 
Since it's origins are from sarugaku, 
which has a more free, fun performance feeling to it,
the final result of Noh became more serious and classical.
A performance only done at temples, shrines, and festivals, 

basically for a selected group of samurai, lords, and aristocrats.
  Noh changed a lot through the years,
but finally settled into as we know it today in the 14th century.

Since Noh was performed at places that was considered close to god,
there were important rituals that had to be done first.

This ritual normally isn't open to the public,
but on the special performance day (Saturday, January 27th, 2018),
you can not only see the ritual, but partake in it!!

Noh Ritual, "Shinji" (神事)
Step by Step

⓵Drink sake and make a vow to god
 by sake nuptial cups "Sakazu goto" (盃事)

Similar to a Shinto style wedding, 
one of the most significant parts of the ceremony is drinking sake 
because it symbolizes making a pledge between the bride and groom,
or in this case the Noh performer and god.

Ward off evil spirits by striking a flint behind you 
You may have seen this in Memoirs of a Geisha!
 Hiuchi ishi (火打石), is a purification ritual
that is done by striking sparks from a flint. 

According to the Ancient Book of Japan, "Kojiki," 
striking a flintwas used to overcome and ward off evil spirits.
It is still very much believed and done to this day. 

⓶Cleanse your body and soul with rice and salt

Both white rice and salt is used for ceremonies in Japan.
Some Westerns can understand rice,
since sometimes at weddings they would throw rice.
But salt...?

Similar to the flint, 
this special salt has used as a means of purification.
A lot of other cultures and religions actually have the same beliefs.
This special purifying salt is called Okiyomejio (お清め塩).
There are two different meanings and uses
 depending on the religion (Buddhism and Shintoism),
but still relates to why they do it in Noh.
In Buddhist tradition, salt repels evil spirits. 
That's why it's customary to throw salt over your shoulder 
before entering your house after a funeral:
it scares off any evil spirits that may be clinging to your back.

In Shintoism, 
like mentioned before, salt is used to purify an area. 
You may have seen when sumo wrestlers enter the ring for a match,
they throw a handful of salt into the center to drive off vicious spirits.

So you take a small amount of rice with your fingers,
put some in your mouth,
then rub the rest of it on your body.

Then do the same with the salt!
✨And you're purified✨


Cultural Artifacts

1 Stunning Noh Costumes (能装束)
Unlike kimonos and yukatas, 

Noh costumes are much more impressive and boldly patterned.

It really makes great contrast with the more simple stage and surroundings.
There are some specific forms of costumes characteristic of Noh. 
Like wide folding trousers of some of the male characters and the highly ornamented colorful robes (called karaori) of many of the female characters. 

These robes were normally passed down generations
and are worth millions!!!

By the way, you can get up close to the robes
 at the special entertainment day!

2 Noh Masks (能面)
 The elaborate masks in Noh Theatre are usually expressionless, 
which means that it is the responsibility of the actor 
to convey emotion through body movements. 
Joy and sadness can be expressed with the same mask 
through a slight change in the way shadows fall across its features.
For example looking down creating shadow would represent sadness,
and up eliminating the shadows for happiness.
If they put their hand up covering the eyes, they're crying.
Thus in a way the masks represent the characters minds and hearts.

 Since the masks have a singular expression,
specific masks are associated with specific characters. 
A devil-like, horned mask, for example, is worn by an actor playing Hannya
the jealous, revengeful demon who was once a beautiful woman. 

The masks used are almost all passed down generations.
Rarely are they made brand new.

Which explains why the facial features are very traditional
looking and different.
The women's faces for example,

are made to look like what was considered beautiful then.


Cultural Reference in the Stage
Noh Theatre
The stage where Noh is performed is called the Nogakudo (能楽堂).
Unlike kabuki, which emphasizes grand gestures and spectacles, 
Noh gets its punch from subtlety, 
focusing only on the characters in the play.

The Noh stage was originally outdoors
which explains the roof.
However now the structures have been moved inside.
It's a complete beauty!

On the side of the center stage is a walkway.
At the end of the walkways are curtains. 
However in Noh Theatre,
the stage structure is more than just that.

This spot alone has a very in depth meaning.
It is said that behind the curtains and in the walkways
represent the underworld.
Where the main (center) stage is the world of the living.

So if there is a character in the story that's dead,
he/she will most likely be in the walkway.

The center image of the stage is a pine tree.
There are two big meanings behind the pine tree.
1. It's relevant and doesn't change in every season -
summer, fall, winter, and spring.

2. The trees have a long lifespan,
a symbol of longevity.

Along the walkways are 3 different sized pine trees.
 This gives the viewer the impression of a far distance.

On the right of the stage is a small entrance.
It's an entrance for the narration and other non-performers. 


Wear white socks~
Go on stage and see the performers up close!
Normally only performers can walk on the stage,
since the stage has a spiritual connection with god.

Since this day is an event to help spread the interest 
and knowledge of Noh Theatre to foreigners though,
you can walk around the red carpet!

A bit of advise though!
Wear white socks!!
If you do, 

you can walk on other places of the stage besides the red carpet.
If you don't,
the only place you'll be able to stand/walk on is the red carpet area.
The idea of white socks being the same 
as the white rice and salt mentioned before


Schedule and Ticket Information
Everything mentioned are things you get to experience and do
at the Kitano Gakudo!

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Kita Noh Theatre (喜多能楽堂)

Roughly 7min walk from Tokyo Meguro Station (目黒駅)

Google Maps

Schedule & More
Daily Schedule
① 12:30 ~ Experience Corner (ritual)
② 1:30pm ~ Noh Performance
③ 3:45pm ~ Backstage tour

Ticket Fee
Adult: 3,000yen  Students: 1,500yen

Kita Noh Theatre
03-3491-8813 (10am~6pm)

Organizer: Arts Council Tokyo

Where to buy tickets?

❶ Online

Link here

❷ Offline
If you want to buy tickets in Japan,
you can get them at Tickets Today

which is a ticket voucher for lots of special performances and events.

There are 5 outlets in Tokyo

Tickets Today Asakusa Branch
2-5-5 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps
Business hours: 10am~7pm

Tickets Today Ginza Branch
GINZA FIVE 1F, 5-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps
Business hours: 10am~8pm

Tickets Today Shibuya Branch
SHIBUYA 109 2F, 2-29-1 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps
Business hours: 10am~8pm

Tickets Today Omotesando Branch
SPIRAL 1F, 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps
Business hours: 10am~8pm

Tickets Today Shinjuku Branch
Kinokuniya Shinjuku 1F, 3-17-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps
Business hours: 10am~8pm

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