Nohgaku is a Japanese traditional performing art. Nohgaku is divided into the following three fields: Noh play, Shiki Sanban (three rituals), and Kyogen (farce played during a Noh play cycle). Before the Edo period, the term "Sarugaku" (form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) was used, which corresponds to the term "Nohgaku" used today.
Acceptation of Nohgaku
The term "Nohgaku" has been widely used since the establishment of the Nohgakusha (Noh Society) in 1881. After the Meiji Restoration, Sarugaku actors, who had been protected by Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) as bearers of Shikigaku (the music and plays for official ceremonies), lost their job, and the performing art Sarugaku faced a crisis of survival. In response to this situation, Tomomi IWAKURA and other government officials and peers provided funding to establish 'Nohgakusha' as an organization for keeping Sarugaku. They built the Shiba Nohgakudo (Noh theater) in Shiba Park. At this time, the term "Sarugaku" was consciously changed to "Nohgaku," and the term "Nohgaku" has been used since then until now as a general concept for the three types of performing arts described above.
Bearers of Nohgaku
Performers of Nohgaku include Nohgakushi (Noh actor), Kuroto (expert), who are professional actors belonging to the Nohgaku Performers' Association, people who perform native Noh play, Kyogen, and Shiki Sanban that have been passed on in specific regions or specific groups of Ujiko (shrine parishioners) of shrines, and amateur Noh performers who pay a monthly fee to a member of the Nohgaku Performers' Association to learn the techniques. There are some amateur Noh performers who become an expert.
Schools of Nohgaku
The techniques of the members of the Nohgaku Performers' Association, i.e., expert Noh performers, and their amateur pupils are divided into the following four categories: 'Shitekata' (main role), 'Wakikata' (supporting actor), 'Hayashikata' (people who play hayashi, or the musical accompaniment), and 'Kyogenkata' (farce actor). Hayashikata' includes the following four types of technical groups: 'Fuekata' (flute player), 'Kotsuzumikata' (shoulder-drum player), 'Otsuzumikata' (hip-drum player), and 'Taikokata' (stick-drum player). Wakikata,' 'Hayashikata,' and 'Kyogenkata' are called 'Sanyaku' (the three most important posts). Historically, these techniques produced many schools, but there are schools that are extinct today. Normally, a person who learns a school does not transfer to another school. However, there were a very few exceptions that a person was allowed to branch out on his own (the Kita school established as a branch school in the Edo period) or transferred to another school with permission of the head families of the schools (Hideo KANZE).
The supreme leader of each school is called Soke (the head family or house). Soke corresponds to Iemoto (the head family of a school) in other Japanese traditional performing arts. Besides Soke, there are families that traditionally provided technical instructions of Nohgaku to Daimyo families (feudal lord families) in each school during the Edo period. These families are called Shokubunke (occupational branch families). The power of Soke is strong, but is sometimes taken away by Shokubunke Shudan (group of occupational branch families). In recent years, Shokubunke Shudan of the Kita school withdrew from 'Kita gathering,' which Kitaryu Soke (the head family or house of Kita school) presides, at the same time, and have been actually operating the Kita school as Kitaryu shokubunkai (gathering of Kita school's occupational branch families). In the Izumi school, succession to Soke by Motoya IZUMI, who is the heir of the 19th Soke Motohide IZUMI, was not accepted, and the Izumi school was consequently forced to withdraw from the Nohgaku Performers' Association.
When Soke is ceased for some reason, a leader in the family acts as 'Sokeazukari' (head of family under custody) to substitute for Soke. There is a case in which 'Sokedairi' (representation of head of family) is appointed when Soke is not able to perform his duties for some reason.
A list of schools that are currently eligible to be a member of the Nohgaku Performers' Association is shown below. The figures in the parentheses indicate the number of Nohgakushi who are on the list of members of the Nohgaku Performer's Association in 2005.
Training of Kuroto
Many of Nohgakushi are those who were born in an ancient family of Nohgakushi, and were trained by their father since they were a child. Those who ultimately decide to make their career as Kuroto live in a house of Soke of the school they belong and train as a private pupil to finish his primary training as Kuroto. Even after he becomes a member of the Nohgaku Performer's Association as Kuroto, his training as Nohgakushi is continued throughout his life.
However, while the number of Kuroto families and amateur pupils of Shitekata is relatively large, only a very few people aspire to Kuroto of Sanyaku ('Wakikata,' 'Hayashikata,' and 'Kyogenkata'), and it became obvious already in the Showa period that the traditional training system described above was no longer effective. In an attempt to respond to the situation, an institution for teaching the techniques of Sanyaku was established in the National Noh Theater to attract people other than Kuroto's children to the field of Nohgaku. Students have enrolled in this program seven times since the institute's establishment in June 1984. Required qualifications for application are a minimum of a junior high school degree, no experience required, and un upper age limit, and the training period is six years. More than 10 people completed this course and thereafter have had their career as Kuroto Nohgakushi.
Nohgakushi as profession
According to Hideo KANZE, there is a tacit consensus in the Nohgaku Performers' Association to equally offer jobs to Kuroto, and it is said that Shitekata performs in about 30 stages per year.
Due to the serious shortage of Sanyaku actors in Nohgaku, it is common to perform in two to three stages per day.
Legally, those who are not a member of the Nohgaku Performers' Association are not inhibited to receive cash for performing or teaching Nohgaku. In fact, Motoya IZUMI continues performing as a Kyogen performer even after he withdrew from the Nohgaku Performers' Association. Furthermore, Hideo KANZE, while he withdrew from the Nohgaku Performers' Association and thus was not a member of the Association, taught Noh to Shingeki (literally, new play) actors and students as a job and performed Noh abroad with Hisao KANZE and other actors. In the current situation, however, it is practically impossible for someone who is not a member of the Nohgaku Performers' Association to be offered a job to perform Noh within Japan, except for very rare cases such as IZUMI. There was a case that Hideo KANZE performed Noh with members of the Nohgaku Performers' Association within Japan as an exception, but cash that was paid to Hideo KANZE was not in the form of a performance fee.
The Nohgaku Performers' Association and The Association for Japanese Noh Plays
The Nohgaku Performers' Association is an association for professional Nohgakushi who are called 'Kuroto.'
The Association for Japanese Noh Plays is an association for Nohgakushi who are the holders of Important Intangible Cultural Property.
Prohibition to women and relaxation of the prohibition
Only men were permitted to perform Noh.
Today, while the roles of men are performed without a mask ("Hitamen" (direct face)), an actor performing a role of a woman wears a mask to disguise as a woman. Even when a role of a woman is performed by a Noh actress, the actress wears a mask, and this is the legacy of the prohibition to women.
Since 1948, women have been allowed to become a member of the Nohgaku Performers' Association. Since 2004, women have been allowed to become a member of the Association for Japanese Noh Plays.
The training course of the National Noh Theater described above is also open to women, and there are comments that the performance of female trainees is not poorer than that of male trainees so far.
However, as it is considered important to roll a bass voice in Utai (the chanting of a Noh text) and Kakegoe (shouts) of Tsuzumi in Noh.
The stage for the performance of Nohgaku is called Noh stage.
History of Noh stage
Noh stages were used to be built in shrines and the like, and the roof of the stage was exposed to the sky. Thus, the illumination came from sunlight and reflection light from Shirasu (gravel separating a Noh stage from the audience). After the Meiji period, the number of buildings surrounding the entire Noh stage and Kensho (guest seating) increased, and such buildings are called 'Nohgakudo' (Noh theater). In such buildings, the ceiling of Nohgakudo is above the roof.
After the war, on the other hand, outdoor Noh plays at night called 'Takigi Noh' (firelight Noh, performed by the light of torches or bonfires) became popular (originally the performance of Takigi Noh was started in the daytime and finishes at dusk). In Takigi Noh, a temporary Noh stage is also used. Noh plays can be performed in any place a long as the stage has an appropriate floor, an appropriate size, and pillars on four sides and Hashigakari (bridge-form passageway to main stage) is provided.
Structure of Noh stage
1 Kagami no ma (mirror room): A space where a Shite performer waits to enter the stage. A special mirror (Sugatami mirror) is provided in the room, and a performer wears his costume and dons a mask here. Shite performers greet performers of other roles before and after the performance, and Hayashi (musical accompaniment played on traditional Japanese instruments) is played before the performance is started.
Like Hanamichi (passage through audience to stage) in Kabuki, Hashigakari is considered as an important place of performance. Hashigakari is provided at an angle of about 110 degrees with respect to the stage so that it is easy to see from the front audience.
3 Stage (about six meters square)
A board is provided longitudinally from the back toward the front. Japanese cypress is popularly used as a material. Earthenware pots are arranged at appropriate points to make the sounds of Ashibyoshi (beating time with one's foot) better. To have better sliding properties, the stage is polished with bean curd refuse or rice bran to a glassy finish. It is always required to wear Shirotabi (white Japanese socks) on the stage.
4-7 Metsukebashira (sighting pillar), Shitebashira (principal character's pillar), Fuebashira (flute pillar), and Wakibashira (also called Daijinbashira, downstage left pillar): A performer wearing a mask has very limited sight, so these pillars help the performer to position himself upon the stage while dancing. Thus, the pillars are essential stage components and cannot be omitted. To hang a bell of "Dojo-ji Temple," a pulley is provided to the ceiling, and a metal ring is provided to the Fuebashira.
8 Jiutaiza (chorus seat): A position where the members of the chorus sit in two rows in Noh. Like the stage, a board is provided longitudinally. At the back of the Jiutaiza there is a door called "Kininguchi" (entrance for nobilities), but this door is not used today. There used be guest seating called Jiura at the back of the Jiutaiza, but no performance is held today.
9 Yokoita (board provided side to side): This name is given because, unlike the stage, the board is provided side to side. Fue, Kotsuzumi, Otsuzumi, and Taiko of Hayashikata sit in this order from the right side, so the seats are sometimes called "Fueza" (flute players' seat) and "Kotsuzumiza" (shoulder drum players' seat), respectively. In Noh plays, Kotsuzumi and Otsuzumi use Shogi (folding stool).
10 Kokenza (at its front edge): This name is given because Koken (stage assistant) sits here. Since Koken walks through the back side of the Yokoita, the Hayashikata sit such that a space is left at the back side of the Yokoita.
11 Kyogenza (Kyogen seat): This name is given because Ai (the role of the Kyogenkata) sits here until the interval.
12 Kizahashi (steps): Stairs with three steps. Kizahashi is not practically used today, but in the Edo period, Ometsuke (chief inspector of the Edo bakufu) walked up Kizahashi to the stage before the performance and announced the commencement of the performance in formal Enno (performance of Noh play). Today, Kizahashi is used mainly when Shite falls down from the stage.
13 Shirasu: This is very simplified today, but at the time when the Noh stage was in the open air, the space between the audience sheets and the stage was covered with gravel. This symbolizes (sea) water.
14-16 Ichi no Matsu (first pine), Ni no Matsu (second pine), and San no Matsu (third pine): These are used as markers during the performance on Hashigakari. Two additional pine trees are planted on the other side of Hashigakari. Artificial trees are used in many cases due to adjustment of illumination.
17 Gakuya (backstage)
18 Makuguchi (Main entrance to the stage): There is Agemaku, which is a five-colored curtain. The right and left makuban (curtain guards) raise a curtain (called "Honmaku" (full curtain)) using bamboo to allow Shite and Waki to enter or exit, and the way the curtain is raised differs according to the theme. When Hayashikata or Koken enters or exists the stage, one side of the curtain is flipped instead of raising it to allow them to walk through. This is called "Katamaku" (one-side curtain).
19 Kiridoguchi: A small entrance that Jiuta in Noh and actors in performing arts other than Noh use. This is also called Okubyoguchi (coward's door), because the role who is slashed on the stage exits through Kiridoguchi. Originally, Koken and Ai enter and exit through Agemaku, but Kiridoguchi is commonly used today. There is a painting of bamboo on the board surface where Kiridoguchi is.
20 Kagamiita (the back board): There is a painting of a large pine tree. It is said that the model of this pine was "Yogo no Matsu" (the pine of advent), which actually exists at Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara. This has a symbolic meaning as an object representative of a divine spirit, and also serves as a reverberating board for resonance of the sounds of Hayashi.
The sounds in the Noh stage are basically natural sounds without PA/SR. Kagamiita and the floor serve as reverberating boards. Ashibyoshi is frequently stepped, and resonance holes are provided under the stage floor to reverberate the stepping sounds. In the temporary open-air Noh theaters described above, it is required to use a microphone to a certain extent, and it is quite difficult to amplify the voice, because a mask is worn.
In the past, the audience seats are divided into the following four places so that the stage could be seen from three directions: Shomen (the front), Wakishomen (the left side of the stage, on the Hashigakari side, directly facing Jiutai), Nakashomen (middle front, between Shomen and Wakishomen, facing Metsukebashira), and Jiura (behind Jiutaiza, facing Wakishomen). In the Showa period, Jiura was omitted in Nohgakudo.
Opportunities of Noh viewing
Like other performing arts, it is the best to enjoy live performance. In Tokyo, the Kanze, Hosho, and Kita schools have their Nohgakudo, and Noh performances of the five schools including the Konparu and Kongo schools can be enjoyed in the National Noh Theater (the Konparu and Kongo schools have their Nohgakudo in Nara and Kyoto, respectively). There are Nohgakudo in major cities to provide easy access to Noh plays.
In local cities, Noh is performed in a temporary Noh stage created in a multipurpose hall or in the open air, so there are a quite few opportunities to enjoy Noh. There is an area like Sado where Noh has been historically popular even though there is no large city. It is significant to enjoy Noh at a shrine surrounded by trees.
In some local cities, there are very unique local Noh performances, such as Kurokawa Noh, that is different from those of the five schools.
NHK-FM broadcasts a weekly program of Noh under the name 'Nohgakukansho' (Noh viewing). The program mostly introduces Suutai (Noh lyrics without music). Noh is sometimes broadcasted on TV.
Japan's Sky Perfect! (CS digital television broadcasting) provides excellent programs of Noh, and recorded Noh performances are often broadcasted through 'Kabuki Channel' and 'Kyoto Channel.'