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1 History

This article is about the classical Japanese dance theatre.

For the town in Africa, see Noh, Burkina Faso. For the
wife of Oda Nobunaga, see Nhime.
Nouand N" redirect here. For other uses, see Nou

World's oldest Noh stage at Miyajima

Noh performance at Itsukushima Shrine

Noh ( N), or Nogaku ( Ngaku)derived from

the Sino-Japanese word forskillortalentis 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 still
regularly performed today.* [1] Traditionally, a Noh program includes ve Noh plays with comedic kygen plays
in between, even though an abbreviated program of two
Noh plays and one kygen piece has become common in
Noh presentations today. An okina () play may be presented in the very beginning especially during New Years,
holidays, and other special occasions.* [2]
Noh robe (karaori?), fragment, mid-18th century

Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature

with a supernatural being transformed into human form
as a hero narrating a story. 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 old people. Written in ancient
Japanese language, the text vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries.* [3]
Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codied and regulated by the
iemoto system.

1.1 Origins
The word Noh means skill, craft, or the talent particularly
in the eld of performing arts in this context. The word
Noh may be used alone or with gaku (fun, music) to form
the word ngaku. Noh is a classical tradition that is highly
valued by many today. When used alone, Noh refers to
the historical genre of theatre originated from sarugaku
in the mid 14th century and continues to be performed
today.* [4]


Noh and kygenoriginated in the 8th century when the

sangaku (ja: ) 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 forms.
[3] l

1.3 The Tokugawa era

During the Tokugawa era Noh continued to be aristocratic art form supported by the shogun, the feudal lords
(daimyo), 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.* [4]

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), shirabyshi (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 kygen.* [1]
1.4 Modern Noh after Meiji era
Studies on genealogy of the Noh actors in 14th century
indicate they were members of families specialized in The fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868 and the forperforming arts; they had performed various traditional mation of a new modernized government resulted in the
performance arts for many generations. Sociological re- end of nancial support by the government, and the entire
search by Yukio Hattori reveals that the Konparu School eld of Noh experienced major nancial crisis. Shortly
(ja: ), arguably the oldest school of Noh, is a de- after the Meiji Restoration both the number of Noh perscendant of Mimashi (), the performer who intro- formers and Noh stages greatly diminished. The support
duced gigaku, now-extinct masked drama-dance perfor- from the imperial government was eventually regained
partly due to Noh's appeal to foreign diplomats. The
mance, into Japan from Kudara Kingdom in 612.* [4]
companies that remained active throughout the Meiji era
Another theory by Shinhachiro Matsumoto suggests Noh
also signicantly broadened Noh's reach by catering to
originated from outcastes struggling to claim higher sothe general public, performing at theatres in major cities
cial status by catering to those in power, namely the new
such as Tokyo and Osaka.* [6]
ruling samurai class of the time. The transferral of the
shogunate from Kamakura to Kyoto at the beginning of In 1957 the Japanese Government designated ngaku as
Muromachi period marked the increasing power of the an Important Intangible Cultural Property, which aords
samurai class and strengthened the relationship between a degree of legal protection to the tradition as well as its
the shogunate and the court. As Noh became the shogun's most accomplished practitioners. The National Noh Thefavorite art form, Noh was able to become a courtly art atre founded by the government in 1983 stages regular
form through this newly formed relationship. In 14th performances and organizes courses to train actors in the
century, with strong support and patronage from shgun leading roles of ngaku. Noh was inscribed in 2008 on
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Zeami was able to establish Noh as the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO as Ngaku theatre.* [3]
the most prominent theatre art form of the time.* [4]


Kan'ami and Zeami

Although the terms ngaku and Noh are sometimes used

interchangeably, ngaku encompasses both Noh and kygen.* [7] Kygen is performed in between Noh plays in the
same space. Compared to Noh, "kygen relies less on the
use of masks and is derived from the humorous plays of
the sangaku, as reected in its comic dialogue.* [3]

Main articles: 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 1573).* [5] Kan'ami was a
renowned actor with great versatility fullling roles from
graceful women and 12-year-old boys to strong adult
males. When Kan'ami rst presented his work to 17year-old Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Zeami was a child actor
in his play, around age 12. Yoshimitsu fell in love with
Zeami and his position of favor at court caused Noh to be
performed frequently for Yoshimitsu thereafter.* [4]

2 Jo-Ha-Ky
Main article: Jo-ha-ky
The concept of jo-ha-ky 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 ky means rapid or
urgent. The term originated in gagaku, ancient courtly



music, to indicate gradually increasing tempo and was modify lyrics and performance modes.* [12] Waki actors
adopted in various Japanese traditions including Noh, tea are trained in the schools Takayasu (), Fukuou (
ceremony, poetry, and ower arrangement.* [8]
), and Hsh (). There are two schools that train
Jo-ha-ky is incorporated in traditional ve-play program kygen, kura () and Izumi (). 11 schools train
each school specializing in one to three
of Noh. The rst play is jo, the second, third, and fourth instrumentalists,
plays are ha, and the fth play is kyu. In fact, the ve categories discussed below were created so that the program
would represent jo-ha-kyu 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
ky.* [9]

Performers and roles

The Nohgaku Performers' Association (Ngaku Kykai),

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 diused throughout the community
of scholars of Japanese theatre.* [13]

3.2 Roles

Noh stage. Center: shite; front right: waki; right: eight-member

jiutai (chorus); rear center: four hayashi-kata (musicians); rear
left: two kken (stage hands).

There are four major categories of Noh performers: shite,

waki, kygen, and hayashi.* [14]
Kanze Sakon (

, 18951939), Head (ske) of Kanze

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 1940s.
In 2009, there were about 1200 male and 200 female professional Noh performers.* [10]



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 ower and spiritual prowess.* [11]
In 2012, there are ve extant schools of Noh acting called
Kanze (), Hsh (), Komparu (), Kong
(), and Kita () 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

1. Shite (, ). Shite is the main protagonist,

or the leading role in plays. In plays where the shite
appears rst as a human and then as a ghost, the rst
role is known as the mae-shite and the later as the
Shitetsure (, ). The shite's
companion. Sometimes shitetsure is abbreviated to tsure (, ), although this term
refers to both the shitetsure and the wakitsure.
Kken () are stage hands, usually one to
three people.
Jiutai () is the chorus, usually comprising
six to eight people.
2. Waki (, ) performs the role that is the counterpart or foil of the shite.
Wakitsure (, ) or Waki-tsure
is the companion of the waki.
3. Kygen ( ) perform the aikygen ( ),
which are interludes during plays. Kygen actors
also perform in separate plays between individual
Noh plays.

4. Hayashi () or hayashi-kata () are the instrumentalists who play the four instruments used in
Noh theatre: the transverse ute ( fue), hip drum
( tsuzumi) or kawa ( ), the shoulderdrum ( kotsuzumi), and the stick-drum (
taiko). The ute used for noh is specically called
nkan or nohkan ().

A typical Noh play always involves the chorus, the orchestra, and at least one shite and one waki actor.* [15]

Performance elements

Noh performance combines a variety of elements into

a stylistic whole, with each particular element the product of generations of renement according to the central
Buddhist, Shinto, and minimalist aspects of Noh's aesthetic principles.



A Ko-jo(old man) mask; in the collection of the Children's

Museum of Indianapolis.

Three pictures of the same female mask showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. This mask expresses
dierent moods. In these pictures, the mask was axed to a wall
with constant lighting, and only the camera moved.

By using masks, actors are able to convey emotions in

a more controlled manner through movements and body
language. Some masks utilize lighting eect to convey
dierent emotions through slight tilting of the head. Facing slightly upward, orbrighteningthe mask, will let the
mask to capture more light, revealing more features that
appear laughing or smiling. Facing downward, orcloudingit, will cause the mask to appear sad or mad.* [9]

Noh masks ( n-men or omote) are carved from

blocks of Japanese cypress ( "hinoki"), and painted
with natural pigments on a neutral base of glue and
crunched seashell. There are approximately 450 dierent
masks mostly based on sixty types, all of which have distinctive names. Some masks are representative and frequently used in many dierent plays, while some are very
specic 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.* [16]

Noh masks are treasured by Noh families and institution,

and the powerful 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 Shtoku (572-622) over a thousand years ago.
While the historical accuracy of the legend of Prince Shtoku's mask may be contested, the legend itself is ancient
as it is rst recorded in Zeami's Style and the Flower written in the 14th century.* [16]

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.

4.2 Stage
The traditional Noh stage has complete openness that provides a shared experience between the performers and
the audience throughout the performance. Without any



The stage is made entirely of unnished hinoki, Japanese
cypress, with almost no decorative elements. The poet
and novelist Tson 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.

A contemporary Noh theatre with indoor roofed structure

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 nature of 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 dierent signicance.* [9]

4.3 Costumes
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 aikygen.* [9]
For centuries, in accordance with the vision of Zeami,
Noh costumes 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 conproscenium or curtains to obstruct the view, the audience ventions. During the Edo (Tokugawa) period, the elabosees each actor even during the moments before they en- rate robes given to actors by noblemen and samurai in the
ter (and after they exit) the centralstage. The theatre Muromachi period were developed as costumes.* [18]
itself is considered symbolic and treated with reverence
The musicians and chorus typically wear formal montsuki
both by the performers and the audience.* [9]
kimono (black and adorned with ve family crests) acOne of the most recognizable characteristic of Noh stage companied by either hakama (a skirt-like garment) or
is its independent roof that hangs over the stage even in in- kami-shimo, a combination of hakama and a waist-coat
door theatres. Supported by four columns, the roof sym- with exaggerated shoulders. Finally, the stage attendants
bolizes the sanctity of the stage, with its architectural de- are garbed in virtually unadorned black garments, much
sign derived from the worship pavilion (haiden) or sacred in the same way as stagehands in contemporary Western
dance pavilion (kagura-den) of Shinto shrines. The roof theatre.* [6]
also unies the theatre space and denes the stage as an
architectural entity.* [9]
1: hashigakari. 2: kygen spot. 3: stage attendants. 4: stick
drum. 5: hip drum. 6: shoulder drum. 7: ute. 8: chorus. 9:
waki seat. 10: waki spot. 11: shite spot. 12: shite-bashira. 13:
metsuke-bashira. 14: waki-bashira. 15: fue-bashira.

The pillars supporting the roof are named shitebashira

(principal character's pillar), metsukebashira (gazing pillar), wakibashira (secondary character's pillar), and fuebashira (ute pillar), clockwise from upstage right respectively. Each pillar is associated with the performers
and their actions.* [17]

4.4 Props
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 enter-

ing 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, ute, or writing brush. The
fan may represent various objects over the course of a
single play.* [9]


sidered the heart of the music. In addition to utai, Noh

hayashi ensemble consists of four musicians, also known
as thehayashi-kata, including three drummers, which
play the shime-daiko, tsuzumi (hip drum), and kotsuzumi
(shoulder drum) respectively, and a shinobue utist.* [9]
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 otherworldly feel of many Noh plays, especially in those characterized as mugen.

When hand props other than fans are used, they are usually introduced or retrieved by kuroko who fulll a similar role to stage crew in contemporary theatre. Like their
Western counterparts, stage attendants for 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 5 Plays
of the audience. The all-black costume of kuroko implies
they are not part of the action on stage and are eectively
Of the roughly 2000 plays created for Noh that are known
invisible.* [6]
today, the current repertoire performed by the ve exSet pieces in Noh such as the boats, wells, altars, and bells, isting Noh schools consist of approximately 240 plays.
are typically carried onto the stage before the beginning The current repertoire is heavily inuenced by the taste of
of the act in which they are needed. These props nor- aristocratic class in Tokugawa period and does not necesmally are only outlines to suggest actual objects, although sarily reect popularity among the commoners.* [4] There
the great bell, a perennial exception to most Noh rules for are several dierent ways to classify Noh plays.
props, is designed to conceal the actor and to allow a costume change during the kygen interlude.* [16]

5.1 Subject


Chant and music

All Noh plays can be classied into three broad categories.* [6]
Genzai Noh (, 'present' Noh) features human
characters and events unfold according to a linear
timeline within the play.
Mugen Noh (, '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 ashbacks.

Hayashi-kata (noh musicians). Left to right: taiko, tsuzumi (hip

drum), kotsuzumi (shoulder drum), ute.

Noh theatre is accompanied by a chorus and a hayashi

ensemble (Noh-bayashi ). Noh is a chanted
drama, and a few commentators have dubbed itJapanese
opera". However, the singing in Noh involves a limited
tonal range, with lengthy, repetitive passages in a narrow
dynamic range. Clearly, melody is not at the center of
Noh singing. Still, texts are poetic, relying heavily on the
Japanese seven-ve 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".* [19] The
music has many blank spaces (ma) in between the actual
sounds, and these negative blank spaces are in fact con-

Rykake Noh (, 'mixed' Noh), though somewhat uncommon, is a hybrid of the above with the
rst act being Genzai Noh and the second act Mugen
While Genzai Noh utilizes internal and external conicts
to drive storylines and bring out emotions, Mugen Noh focuses on utilizing ashbacks of the past and the deceased
to invoke emotions.* [6]

5.2 Performance Style

Additionally, all Noh plays may be categorized by their
Geki Noh () is a drama piece based around the
advancement of plot and the narration of action.


Some famous plays

Fury Noh ( ) is little more than a dance

piece characterized by elaborate stage action, often
involving acrobatics, stage properties, and multiple
characters.* [4]



, vengeful ghost plays), genzai mono (
, present plays), as well as others. (e.g. Aya no
tsuzumi, Kinuta)* [4]* [6]
5. Kiri Noh (, nal plays) or oni mono (,
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 nale
movements. Kiri Noh is performed the last in a veplay program.* [4] There are roughly 30 plays in this
category, most of which are shorter than the plays in
the other categories.* [6]
In addition to the above ve, 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 Noh play.* [6]

5.4 Some famous plays

Okina hn (dedication of Noh play A Venerable Old Man) on

New Year's Day

For a more comprehensive list, see List of Noh

plays (AM) (NZ).
Plays with individual articles are listed here.

All Noh plays are divided by their themes into the fol- The following categorization is that of the Kanze
lowing ve categories. This classication is considered school. [12]
the most practical, and is still used today in formal programming choices today.* [4] Traditionally, a formal 5play program is composed of a selection from each of 6 Inuence in the West
the groups.* [6]
Many Western artists have been inuenced by Noh.
1. Kami mono (, god plays) or waki Noh ()
typically feature the shite in the role of a deity to tell
the mythic story of a shrine or praise a particular 6.1 Theatre practitioners
god. Many of them structured in two acts, the deity
Eugenio Barba Between 1966 and 1972, Japanese
takes a human form in disguise in the rst act and reNoh Masters Hideo Kanze and Hisao Kanze gave
veals the real self in the second act. (e.g. Takasago,
seminars on Noh at Barbas Theater Laboratory
Chikubushima) [4] [6]
of Holstebro. Barba primarily studied the physical
2. Shura mono (, warrior plays) or ashura Noh
aspects of Noh.* [20]
() takes its name from the Buddhist un Samuel Beckett* [20] Yoshihiko Ikegami considderworld. The protagonist appearing as a ghost of a
ers Beckett's Waiting for Godot a parody of Noh,
famous samurai pleads to a monk for salvation and
Kami Noh, in which a god or a spirit
the drama culminates in a glorious re-enactment of
a secondary character as the protagthe scene of his death in a full war costume. (e.g.
argues that the dramatic conict
Tamura, Atsumori) [4] [6]
which was much in evidence in Yeats is so com3. Katsura mono (, wig plays) or onna mono (
pletely discarded that Beckett's theatre (where 'noth, woman plays) depict the shite in a female role
ing happens') comes to look even closer to Noh than
and feature some of the most rened songs and
Yeats's did.* [21]
dances in all of Noh, reecting the smooth and ow Bertolt Brecht According to Maria P. Alter, Brecht
ing movements representing female characters. (e.g.
began reading Japanese plays during the middle
Basho, Matsukaze) [4] [6]
twenties and have read at least 20 Noh plays trans4. There are about 94 miscellaneousplays tradilated into German by 1929. Brecht's Der Jasager is
tionally performed in the fourth place in a ve-play
an adaptation of a Noh play Taniko. Brecht himself
program. These plays include subcategories kyran
identied Die Massnahme as an adaptation of Noh
mono ( , madness plays), onry mono (
play.* [22]

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.* [23]
Paul Claudel* [20] According to John Willet, Paul
Claudel learned about Noh during the time he served
as French Ambassador to Japan. Claudel's opera
Christophe Colomb shows an unmistakable inuence
of the Noh.* [24]
Jacques Copeau In 1923, Copeau worked on a Noh
play, Kantan, along with Suzanne Bing at Thtre 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
nally saw a production in 1930.* [25]
Jacques Lecoq* [20] Physical theatre taught at
L'cole Internationale de Thtre Jacques Lecoq
founded by Lecoq is inuenced by Noh.
Eugene O'Neill* [20] O'Neill's plays The Iceman
Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and Hughie
have various similarities to Noh plays.* [26]

Alan Watts 20th century philosopher, the liner

notes from his third song o the 1962 album 'This
is IT' state Watts in a Japanese no-noh.
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.* [34]
Will Salmon cites Partch himself writing,Noh has
been for centuries a ne art, one of the most sophisticated the world has known.Delusion of the Fury
incorporates two Noh plays, Atsumori by Zeami and
Ikuta by Zenb Motoyasu, into its story.* [35]
Karlheinz Stockhausen Having essentially plotless
libretto, Stockhausen's grand operatic cycle Licht (
Light) is based ona mythology drawing on multiple cultural traditions, from Japanese Noh theatre
to German folklore.* [36]
Iannis Xenakis Xenakisadmired Noh, the venerable theatrical form known for its ritualistic formality and gestural complexity.* [37] 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 Noh performer Ryoko
Aoki.* [38]

Thornton Wilder* [20]* [27] Wilder himself expressed his interest in Noh in hisPrefaceto Three
Plays and his sister Isabel Wilder also conrmed his
interests. Wilder's work Our Town incorporates various elements of Noh such as lack of plot, represen- 6.3 Poets
tative characters, and use of ghosts.* [28]
William Butler Yeats* [20]* [39] Yeats wrote an essay on Noh titledCertain Noble Plays of Japanin
6.2 Composers
1916. As much as he tried to learn Noh, there was
limited resource available in England at the time.
William Henry Bell An English composer Bell
The lack of complete understanding of Noh led him
wrote music for modern presentation of several Noh
to create innovative works guided by his own imagiplays, including Komachi (1925), Tsuneyo of the
nation and what he fantasized Noh to be.* [40] Yeats
Three Trees (1926), Hatsuyuki (1934), The Pillow
wrote four plays heavily inuenced by Noh, using
of Kantan (1935), and Kageyiko (1936).* [29]
ghosts or supernatural beings as the central dramatis
person for the rst time. The plays are At the
Benjamin Britten [20] Britten visited Japan in
Hawk's Well, The Dreaming of the Bones, The Words
1956 and saw for the rst time Japanese Noh plays,
upon the Window-Fane, and Purgatory.* [21]
which he calledsome of the most wonderful drama
I have ever seen.* [30] The inuences were seen and
heard in his ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957)
and later in two of the three semi-operatic Para- 7 Aesthetic terminology
bles for Church Performance": Curlew River (1964)
and The Prodigal Son (1968).* [31]
Zeami and Zenchiku describe a number of distinct qual David Byrne Byrne encountered Noh when he was ities that are thought to be essential to the proper underon tour in Japan with Talking Heads and he was in- standing of Noh as an art form.
spired by the highly stylized practices of Noh, completely dierent from its Western counterparts that
focus on naturalism.* [32] 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.* [33]

Hana (, ower): In the Kadensho (Instructions on

the Posture of the Flower), 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.* [9] The

true Noh performer seeks to cultivate a rareed relationship with his audience similar to the way that
one cultivates owers. What is notable about hana
is that, like a ower, 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 ower of youth, which
passes with time, whiletrue hana" is the ower of
creating and sharing perfect beauty through performance.
Ygen ( , profound sublimity): Ygen 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, ygen is invisible beauty that is felt rather than seen in a
work of art. The term is used specically in relation
to Noh to mean the profound beauty of the transcendental world, including mournful beauty involved in
sadness and loss.* [9]

Public theatres include National Noh Theatre (Tokyo),

Nagoya Noh Theater, and Osaka Noh Theater. Each Noh
school has its own permanent theatre, such as Kanze Noh
Theater (Tokyo), Hosho Noh Theater (Tokyo), Kongo
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 Noh such as Ogisai
Kurokawa Noh have developed to form schools independent from ve traditional schools.* [9]

9 Audience etiquette

Audience etiquette is generally similar to formal western theatrethe 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
Rjaku (): R means old, and jaku means tran- ends with their leaving the stage. The house lights are
quil and quiet. Rjaku is the nal stage of per- usually kept on during the performances, creating an intiformance development of the Noh actor, in which mate feel that provides a shared experience between the
he eliminates all unnecessary action or sound in the performers and the audience.* [6]
performance, leaving only the true essence of the
At the end of the play, the actors le out slowly (most imscene or action being imitated.* [9]
portant rst, with gaps between actors), and while they
Kokoro or shin (both ): Dened as heart, are on the bridge (hashigakari), the audience claps remind,or both. The kokoro of noh is that which strainedly. Between actors, clapping ceases, then begins
Zeami speaks of in his teachings, and is more easily again as the next actor leaves. Unlike in western theatre,
dened asmind.To develop hana the actor must there is no bowing, nor do the actors return to the stage
after having left. A play may end with the shite character
enter a state of no-mind, or mushin.
leaving the stage as part of the story (as in Kokaji, for in My (): the charmof an actor who performs stance)rather than ending with all characters on stage
awlessly and without any sense of imitation; he ef- in which case one claps as the character exits.* [12]
fectively becomes his role.
During the interval, tea, coee, and wagashi (Japanese
Monomane (, imitation or mimesis): the in- sweets) may be served in the lobby. In the Edo petent of a Noh actor to accurately depict the motions riod, when Noh was a day-long aair, more substantial
of his role, as opposed to purely aesthetic reasons for makunouchi' bent (, between-acts lunchabstraction or embellishment. Monomane is some- box) were served. On special occasions, when the pertimes contrasted with ygen, although the two rep- formance is over, (o-miki, ceremonial sake) may
resent endpoints of a continuum rather than being be served in the lobby on the way out, as it happens in
Shinto rituals.
completely separate.
Kabu-isshin (,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.

Existing Noh theatres

Noh is still regularly performed today in public theatres as well as private theatres mostly located in major
cities. There are more than 70 Noh theatres throughout
Japan, presenting both professional and amateur productions.* [41]

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 metsukebashira 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.* [6]

10 See also
Theatre of Japan
Higashiyama Bunka






[1] Bowers, Faubion (1974). Japanese Theatre. Rutland,

Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
[2] Introduction to Noh and Kyogen. the Japan Arts Council. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
[3] Ngaku theatre. The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. UNESCO. Retrieved
15 October 2014.
[4] Ortolani, Benito (1995). The Japanese theatre: from
shamanistic ritual to contemporary pluralism. Princeton
University Press. p. 132. ISBN 0-691-04333-7.
[5] Watanabe, Takeshi (2009). Breaking Down Barriers: A
History of Chanoyu. Yale Art Gallery. p. 51. ISBN 9780-300-14692-9.
[6] Ishii, Rinko (2009).
[The Fundamentals of Noh and Kyogen]. Tokyo: Kadokawa.
[7] " (Ngaku)". National Cultural Heritage Database.
The Agency for Cultural Aairs. Retrieved 15 October
[8] Tsuchiya, Keiichiro (2014). [The
Presentof Noh and Zeami]. Tokyo: Kadokawa.
[9] Komparu, Kunio (1983). The Noh Theater: Principles
and Perspectives. New York / Tokyo: John Weatherhill.
ISBN 0-8348-1529-X.
[10] Suzumura, Yusuke (Mar 8, 2013). Players, Performances and Existence of Women's Noh: Focusing on
the Articles Run in the Japanese General Newspapers.
Journal of International Japan-Studies. Retrieved Nov 8,


[18] Morse, Anne Nishimura, et al. MFA Highlights: Arts of

Japan. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Publications, 2008.
[19] Pound, 1959.
[20] Dr. Sky (2014). Therapeutic Noh Theater: Sohkido Pathway VII of the Seven Pathways of Transpersonal Creativity. Two Harbors Press. ISBN 1626528225.
[21] Takahashi, Yasunari; Ikedami, Yoshihiko (1991). The
Ghost Trio: Beckett, Yeats, and Noh. The Empire of
Signs: Semiotic Essays on Japanese Culture: 25767.
[22] Alter, Maria P. (Summer 1968). Bertolt Brecht and the
Noh Drama. Modan Drama 11 (2): 122131.
[23] Drama - Advanced Higher - Twentieth-Century Theatre
- Peter Brook - Annotated Bibliography (PDF). Education Scotland. UK government. Retrieved 10 December
[24] Willett, John (1959). The Theater of Bertolt Brecht: A
Study from Eight Aspects. London: Methuen & Co. pp.
[25] Leabhart, Thomas (2004).Jacques Copeau, Etienne Decroux, and theFlower of Noh'". New Theatre Quarterly
20: 315330.
[26] Hori, Mariko (1994). Aspects of Noh Theatre in Three
Late O'Neill Plays. Eugene O'Neill Review 18 (1/2): 143.
[27] Londraville, Richard (1999). Blank, Martin; Brunauer,
Dalma Hunyadi; Izzo, David Garrett, eds. Thornton
Wilder: New Essays. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill. pp.
[28] Ashida, Ruri (June 2009). Elements of Japanese Noh
in Thornton Wilder's Our Town (PDF). The Bulletin of
the International Society for Harmony & Combination of
Cultures 13: 1831. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
[29] William Henry Bell 1873-1946: Music for Japanese no
plays. Unsung Composers. Retrieved 29 March 2015.

[11] Eckersley. M. (ed.) (2009). Drama from the Rim. Melbourne: Drama Victoria. p. 32.

[30] Britten, Benjamin (2008). Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume IV, 19521957.
London: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843833826.

[12] Hayashi, Kazutoshi (2012).

[For Those Learning Noh and Kyogen]. Tokyo: Sekai

Shisou Sha.

[31] Carpenter, Humphrey (1992). Benjamin Britten: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571143245.

[13] About the Nohgaku Performers' Association. The Nohgaku Performers' Association. Retrieved Nov 8, 2014.
[14] Enjoying Noh and Kygen(PDF). The Nohgaku performers' association. p. 3.

[32] Interview: David Byrne, musician, author. The Scotsman. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
[33] Kun, Josh.CSI: David Byrne. The American Prospect.
Retrieved 13 December 2014.

[15] Eckersley. M. (ed.) (2009). Drama from the Rim. Melbourne: Drama Victoria. p. 47.

[34] Molleson, Kate. Harry Partch how Heiner Goebbels

bought Delusion of the Fury to Edinburgh. The
Guardian. Retrieved 13 December 2014.

[16] Rath, Eric C. (2004). The Ethos of Noh - Actors and Their
Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center.
ISBN 0-674-01397-2.

[35] Salmon, Will (1983). The Inuence of Noh on Harry

Partch's Delusion of the Fury. Perspectives of New Music
22 (1/2): 233245.

[17] Brockett, Oscar G.; Hildy, Franklin J. (2007). History

of the Theatre (Foundation ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and
Bacon. ISBN 0-205-47360-1.

[36] Robin, William (6 May 2011).An Operatic Conundrum

Untangled. New York Times. Retrieved 14 December


[37] Anderson, Jack (26 February 2010). The Week Ahead

Feb. 28 March 6. The New York Times. Retrieved 14
December 2014.

N Plays -Translations of thirteen Noh playsJapanese Text Initiative, University of Virginia Library

[38] Xenakis & Japan. Electronic Music Foundation. Retrieved 14 December 2014.

Virtual Reality and Virtual Irreality On Noh-Plays

and Icons

[39] Sekine, Masaru; Murray, Christopher (1990). Yeats and

the Noh: A Comparative Study. Rl Innactive Titles.

Page on the variable expressions of Noh masks

[40] Albright, Daniel (1985). Pound, Yeats, and the Noh

Theater. The Iowa Review 15 (2): 3450.
[41] Noh Theater Search. The Nohgaku Performers Association. Retrieved 14 December 2014.


Further reading

Brandon, James R. (ed). N and kygen in the contemporary world. (foreword by Ricardo D. Trimillos) Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1997.
Brazell, Karen. Traditional Japanese Theater: An
Anthology of Plays. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.
Eckersley. M. (ed.) (2009). Drama from the Rim.
Melbourne: Drama Victoria.
Ortolani, Benito; Leiter, Samuel L. (eds). Zeami
and the N Theatre in the World. New York: Center
for Advanced Study in Theatre Arts, CUNY. 1998.
Pound, Ezra; Fenollosa, Ernest (1959). The Classic
Noh Theatre of Japan. New York: New Directions
Tyler, Royall (ed. & trans.). Japanese N Dramas. London: Penguin Books. 1992. ISBN 0-14044539-0.
Waley, Arthur. Noh plays of Japan. Tuttle Shokai
Inc. 2009 ISBN 4-8053-1033-2, ISBN 978-48053-1033-5.
Zeami Motokiyo. On the Art of the N Drama: The
Major Treatises of Zeami. Trans. J. Thomas Rimer.
Ed. Masakazu Yamazaki. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
UP, 1984.


External links

Noh Events and Performance Schedule Nohgaku

Promotion Association
Noh & Kyogen. Japan Arts Council.
Noh Stories in English Ohtsuki Noh Theatre Foundation

Noh plays Photo Story and Story Paper : Comprehensive Site on Noh
Hachi-No-Ki, A Perspective Photos of Noh-masks carved by Ichyuu
Terai in Kyoto JAPAN.
How to enjoy Noh
Momoyama, Japanese Art in the Age of Grandeur,
an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which
contains material on Noh
Buddhism in Noh by Royall Tyler





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