|A Lecture on
the Noh Play
• Most people have
heard of Japanese noh play but really don’t know exactly what it is. Mariko
Anno, Ph.D. gave a lecture about noh play on September 19 at the Arlington
Heights Memorial Library. The event was hosted by the Chicago Japanese
What is the noh play?
• The noh play is a musical which was
born in the Muromachi era (1334 – 1600). It is a composite art, which
includes music, songs and dances, and has reflected social conditions
in each era.
• The history of the noh play
• The noh play was created by Kan-ami
(1333 – 1384), and developed by his son Ze-ami. Among 250 pieces of noh
plays, Ze-ami wrote about 50 of them.
• Most stories of noh plays were drawn
from the Tale of the Genji, the Tale of the Heike, and Tales of Ise. The
subtle and profound world of noh was created. Mugen noh was also created
in the era. Mugen means dreams and phantoms. With the protagonist, the
audience enters a dream of the counterpart (waki) and visits a certain
place and learns about the people, incidents, and resentments in the place.
• In the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the
noh play became official ceremonial performance in samurai society, and
people had a little opportunities to see it. The postures became more
important factor in noh, and the movement became slower.
• After the Meiji Restoration, noh players lost the shogun’s support and had a hard time surviving. Although the Meiji Emperor supported noh, it was far less than the Tokugawa Shogunate.
• Presently, shinsaku-noh (newly created
noh) and English noh have been performed in addition to the classical
one. The first English noh “At the Hawk’s Well” was written by William
B. Yeats, who was inspired by noh play, and premiered in 1916. The piece
was imported to Japan in the late 1940s and rewritten as a shinsaku noh
“Taka no Ido.”
Category of noh
• The noh play is divided into five categories
• The main stage has four pillars, and
especially the left pillar is called “metsuke-bashira”, the eye-attaching
pillar. It serves as the main guiding point for the masked actors whose
vision is limited.
Shite and Waki
• Shite is a protagonist, and waki
is a counterpart. Waki takes an important role to guide a noh story. Neither
shite nor waki speak. Instead the jiutai-kata, lyric singers sing dialogues.
Shite and waki’s hand props also help in understanding the characters.
For example, the winner’s side holds a fan, on which is painted a rising
sun in pine trees; on the other hand, the loser’s side holds a fan, on
which is painted a sunset with the ocean waves. Thus, characters of the
Heike hold a fan with a sunset.
Mariko Anno, Ph.D.