Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Noh Feasting

It seems a long time since the Reading University Introduction to Noh workshop in the last two weeks of August. In a good way!

I am delighted that I am now a Toyko Noh Student. It went beyond my wildest dreams to hope that I'd be able to actually practice Noh - something so, well, Japanese (!) - here, in proper theatres. But, I am - twice a week, with all the proper kit, and learning new fascinating things about it every day.

I was taught the basics of how to use the kit at Reading, on a brand new portable Noh stage (just one of the many marvellous things Reading's new Theatre Studies building has inside it)

but it's a lot different here!

I also thought I'd never be able to afford to go and see much Noh, but thanks to the kindness of various people, I have now seen seven professional full length Noh plays, three Kyogen (fable-like funny plays used as interludes between the heavier, longer Noh), and a whole afternoon of 'greatest hits' bit and pieces. Here are some of the programmes

Soo lucky.

Professional Noh is quite a closed society - the actors are almost exclusively men, and, in Japan, exclusively from Japanese traditional acting families. There are five 'schools' of Noh acting - Komparu, Kanze, Kita, Hosho and Kongo. They all put on the same plays (there aren't THAT many to go around) but their techniques differ slightly. I'm told.

So far, I've been to see performanes by three different 'schools'. Most recently I was in Meguro, at the 'Kita' School theatre, where I saw three plays that aren't in my Penguin Noh Dramas translation, or particularly googlable. Luckily for me, my teacher gave me a bilingual edition of the second play, Hashitomi, to read along with during the show. I had to make do with synopses of the other two - Kogo (based on the Japanese traditional Tale of Heike, in which a beautiful lady koto player dances for a an emperor's messenger) and Kenjo, a no-holds barred spectacle of a piece, full of travel, ghosts and musical mastery.

Lucky for me, all three were relatively easy to follow - I can still only understand about one Japanese word in four. And that's when I'm feeling ambitious.

The first play I saw here in Tokyo was at the Kanze School Theatre in Shibuya - Kanze is apparently the most famous of all of the Noh Schools. They put on the very sombre Motomezuka (The Sought-for Grave) in which a woman who killed herself because she was loved by two men, gets lashed by demons in all different kinds of hells.

Stirring stuff. The flute music was so clear, sad and beautiful that I signed up for lessons straightaway.

A couple of days later I found myself at the Hosho School Noh Theatre, seeing another three plays: Iwafune (I have yet to find out ANYTHING about what it was about, but the demon at the end wore a huge red wig and that was enough for me to think it was at least interesting!), Tsunemasa, in which the ghost of a renowned lute player pines after the things he misses in the world of the living, and Momijigari, about an autumn foliage viewing party that takes a violent and supernatural turn.

I love the fact that you get to see lots of different plays in a Noh programme - it's normal for a programme to include at least three plays in one afternoon. The tickets look pretty complicated

but all becomes clear very quickly indeed.

I've already worn one pair of the new white Tabi I bought in Asakusa last week - the REALLY cheap pair. This Saturday, I get to wear the nicer pair to class. Lucky me!

More on Noh anon.


  1. I think I know that guy- he's the Kabuki expert, right? :)

  2. Oh, nevermind- I remember now: he's the farming guy!