Noh-Gaku will strike a chord in you.
Even if the story is difficult to follow,
you can at least enjoy the music.
1. What kind of roles are there?
Noh-Gaku is a traditional Japanese performing art that is designated as both an important intangible cultural property of Japan and a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. There are three categories. “Noh”musical, “Shiki-Sanban”, which is performed for ritual ceremonies, and “Kyogen”, a comical theater. In the 14th century, the Noh superstar family, Kan-ami and his son Ze-ami, were known as the authority for their revolutionary stage direction.
2. What kind of roles are there?
There are mainly four roles in Noh-Gaku: Shite-Kata, Waki-Kata, Hayashi-Kata, and Kyogen-Kata. Kyogen also utilizes an Ado, or supporting role, and a Ji-Utai chorus.
【Shite or Shite-Kata / シテ(方)】
Primary role in both Noh and Kyogen. In Noh, it shows up as a human first, called “Mae-Shite”, then later appears as a ghost, monster, or deity called the “Nochi-Shite”. Of course, one actor plays both parts.
【Waki or Waki-Kata / ワキ(方)】
Supporting role that draws an emotional response from the Shite. It often appears as a priest or monk. Although this character is key in developing the story, they are never showy or attention grabbing on stage.
First allow me introduce one of Kanzawa’s Noh-Gaku masters: Toshihiko Yabu is a member of the Nihon Noh-Gaku-Kai corporation which supported us in making this article. Does he think foreign tourists can enjoy the performing art?“I recommend that you experience the instruments before your first Noh-Gaku. If it’s difficult to understand what’s going on in story, you can at least enjoy the music,” Mr. Yabu suggested. This brilliant master has become my music teacher as well. What an honor! It was tough to concentrate on playing the instrument and keep proper posture at the same time! Mr. Yabu also instructed me to shout cheers, like “yo” , “tsu” , “ha”. That’s the best part for beginners, I think. It was fun, but sitting with my knees on the wooden floor for so long killed me!
He also helped me put on the gorgeous Noh-Kimono seen on the cover. It’s heavy and difficult put on yourself. I’m impressed that they can perform in those heavy clothes.
Speaking of which, Mr. Yabu brought a splendid Noh-Men mask as well. The Noh-Gaku actor has great respect for their Noh-Men. They always hold it with both hands, never with just one. In the past, only males were permitted to play Noh-Gaku, meaning that men play women as well. The moment they put it on they seem possessed by the female spirit of the mask. It is a divine instrument. It was an incredible honor to wear both the clothes and the mask.
Have a laugh at the
Kyogen is easy to get into.
You’ll understand what the actors feel
by their comical movements and expressions.
The time has come to watch live Noh-Gaku at the theater. During the summer there are evening performances every Saturday called “Kan-Noh no Yube”. The evening pass is only 1,000 yen and includes both a Kyogen and a Noh play.A pretty good deal, right? Many locals came to see the performing art in the evening. To my surprise, kids and foreigners were there as well. The cool thing at the“Kan-No no Yube” was that you can get both Japanese and English explanations of the stories. Tonight’s Kyogen was “Uo-Zeppo” (The Fish Sermon).
A wealthy man who just built a private temple visits another temple to ask them to chant sutras at his.Unfortunately, the head priest is away, with an inexperienced apprentice in his place. The wealthy man asks him to do it in place of his master. The apprentice is actually a fisherman recently turned priest.
Although he is too new to recite sutra, he wants the money. He takes the wealthy man up on his offer. The crafty fisherman has a plan. He chants the names of all the fish he knows so it sounds like a droning sutra.
This was the fifth time I saw Noh-Gaku. Even for me, it’s still difficult to catch what they say. But I can say Kyogen is easy to get into. You’ll understand what the actors feel by watching their comical movements and facial expressions. Go ahead and laugh whenever something strikes you as funny!
Gods, ghosts and
Noh musicals look serious,
but are actually fairy tales in disguise!
Let’s take a break and check the story. Today’s Noh is“Yumi-Yawata (The Bow at Hachiman Shrine)”. The script was written by Noh-Gaku superstar, Ze-Ami. A court official visits the Shrine with orders from the emperor to take part in a ceremony. He meets an old man. The old man is carrying a bow in a decorative pouch, which the noble asks about. The old man says he was waiting for the official to give it to the emperor. He goes on about the history of the shrine, then disappears. Later, he reappears in his true form as the deity for a holy dance that celebrates the emperor’s prosperity and the gods’ blessings.
Now the music starts! The Hayashi musicians and Ji-Utai chorus appear on the stage. There he is! My teacher, Mr. Yabu, appeared in black as a chorus member. He looks great! The musical instruments sound amazing in the hall’s acoustics. There were others in black, sitting in front of the backboard painted with a pine tree. They don’t sing, don't dance, and never play instruments. When I watched my first Noh play I wondered what their function was. Then, without warning, one of them moved forward silently to fix an actor’s wardrobe before disappearing from the stage via a tiny door. Little things like this add new levels of enjoyment to the Japanese performing arts. Make sure to add Noh-Gaku to your travel plans. Seeing is believing!
Kanazawa Noh Museum
1-2-25, Hirosaka, Kanazawa /
T: 076-220-2790 (Japanese) / Admission: ¥300 (adult); ¥200 (senior) / Open: 10:00-18:00; Closed: Mondays and Dec 29 - Jan 3
Ishikawa Noh Theater
4-18-3, Ishibiki, Kanazawa /
T: 076-264-2598 (Japanese) / Open: 9:00-10:00 / Closed: Mondays and Dec 29 -Jan 3