History of Noh (能の歴史)

History of Noh means the history of the development of Japanese traditional art of Noh.

The origin of Noh

Although the origin of Noh is not clear, it is generally believed that Noh originated from gigaku (ancient pantomime in which performers wear masks), Japan's oldest theatrical art that was introduced from China during the seventh century, and sangaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the eleventh to the fourteenth century) introduced from the Asian continent during the Nara period. Sangaku was initially under the protection of the Imperial Court along with gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music). Later, it became popular among ordinary people and developed into a comical performance/short play centered on mimics after it combined with a previously-existing ancient art. Such art came to be called "sarugaku" before long and became the prototype of the art which is currently known as Noh.

Apart from the above, dengaku, which originated from the ceremony of Shinto religion, and ennen, which was performed at Buddhist temples, were created in the middle of Heian period and they also developed independently. Performers of such art were originally farmers or Buddhist monks, but some of them were organized into professional artists groups at the end of Heian period.

Appearance of Kanami and Zeami
Sarugaku, dengaku and ennen developed while being mutually influenced. During the twelfth to thirteenth century, 'Za', a kind of trade organization, was organized and protected by temples. In the fourteenth century, samurai families, instead of temples, came to protect dengaku and its theatrical costumes, properties and stages became luxurious. Under such circumstances, Kanami of Yusakiza, a troupe of Yamato sarugaku, introduced melodious 'kusemai' (music and dance with a fan along with a tsuzumi, a Japanese traditional hand drum) (the art of shirabyoshi - a woman who performs Japanese traditional dance called shirabyoshi) and innovated traditional sarugaku.

One of the background of the above innovation is considered to be 'Tachiai Noh' which was often held at the time. This was a competition where sarugaku and dengaku troupes compete with each other over their skills and advances in 'Tachiai Noh' directly linked with the secular success of a troupe in question. In a sense, Kanzeza aimed to advance in 'Tachiai Noh' by innovating its sarugaku.

In 1375, shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA watched Nohgaku performed by Kannami and his son Zeami (Zeami) at Imakumano in Kyoto. Being impressed by their performance, Yoshimitsu protected Yusakiza (Kanzeza) headed by Kannami and Zeami. As a result, they gained a patron, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, as well as an audience, the people of the samurai society. Further, they also made contact with the people of the court noble society in Kyoto, including Yoshimoto NIJO, and further refined sarugaku by absorbing the culture of the aristocracy. Yoshinori ASHIKAGA also highly appreciated Onami, Zeami's nephew, and became his patron. Thus, successive Kanze Dayu (a chief of Kanzeza) completed the prototype of contemporary Noh while linking themselves to the power of the times.

In the meantime, four troupes of Yamato sarugaku which were organized in the Muromachi period, Tobiza, Yusakiza, Sakadoza and Enmaiza, are collectively called Yamato-shiza. The theory asserting that each of the above troupes later became Hoshoza, Kanzeza, Kongoza, and Konparuza respectively is being widely accepted.

Noh in the Shokuho period

It is believed that the arts of Noh didn't make any particular progress during the Sengoku period (Japan). However, Noh was continuously favored by the person of power at the time such as Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. According to "Uno Mondo Nikki," Nobunaga, together with Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, watched sarugaku performed by the Umewaka family at Soken-ji Temple in Azuchi in 1582 and it is said that he himself was fond of kotsuzumi (a Japanese traditional small hand drum). Also, according to the records, Nobunaga's eldest son Nobutada ODA performed Noh by himself.

Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who became a person of supreme power in Japan after Nobunaga, performed Noh eagerly during his last days. In October 1593, Hideyoshi performed several Noh and kyogen (farce played during a Noh play cycle) in front of Emperor Goyozei for three consecutive days.

On the other hand, however, Hideyoshi was not interested in sarugaku performed by troupes other than Yamato-shiza, and as a result many sarugaku troupes ceased to exist during that time. In other words, the existing schools of Noh are the ones that were selected by Hideyoshi out of the many schools of sarugaku.

Noh during the Edo period
As successive shogun, including Ieyasu Tokugawa, Hidetada TOKUGAWA and Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, favored Noh, sarugaku had a big implication during the Edo period as the culture of the samurai society. Also, Sarugaku became the official music (shikigaku - the music and plays for official ceremonies) for ceremonies held in samurai society, and each domain employed their own sarugaku-shi (sarugaku player). Akifusa MANABE is well-known as a person who was eventually promoted to daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) though he was originally sarugaku-shi.

As with Hideyoshi, the Tokugawa family protected Yamato-shiza, but Hidetada protected Kita Shichidayu Nagayoshi, sarugaku-shi who seceded from Yamato-shiza, and approved the establishment of the Kita school during the Genna era.

It is believed that Ieyasu TOKUGAWA favored Kanzeza while Hidetada and Iemitsu favored the Kita school. Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, however, preferred the Hosho school, and it is said that the Kaga and Owari domain replaced their sarugaku-shi belonging to the Konparu school by those belonging to the Hosho school during the period of Tsunayoshi's administration. As a result, the Hosho school is thriving in Ishikawa Prefecture and Nagoya City, even at present.

On the other hand, ordinary people's chances to watch sarugaku gradually decreased because it became the shikigaku of samurai society. However, yokyoku (Noh song) became popular among merchant class people as a subject of learning and many books on yokyoku were published (some of them were used as a textbook at terakoya - temple elementary school during the Edo period). Although they had few chances to watch, ordinary people were very interested in Noh, and it is said that Kanjin Noh, which was held to raise subscriptions for the construction of temples/shrines, attracted many spectators.

Noh in the modern times

After the Meiji restoration, Noh faced a crisis of elimination since it was the bakufu's ceremonial art. Although Noh performance was conducted when The Duke of Edinburgh visited Japan in 1869, a government order was issued in 1872 by which Noh/kyogen that 'mocks or insults the Emperor' was prohibited. Further, it was ordered that the story of Noh should be based on 'the concept of kanzen choaku' (rewarding good and punishing evil).

The Emperor Meiji, however, constructed Noh stage at Aoyama Palace in 1878 and watched a lot of Noh performances. Tomomi IWAKURA got Noh actors to perform Noh in 1879 when he invited Ulysses Grant to his residence. Further, he established Nohgakusha (the Noh Association) and constructed Shiba Nohgakudo (Noh theater) (completed in 1881).

Thus, the crisis right after Meiji Restoration was over, but each school became increasingly exclusive and the exchanges between schools or joint performances vanished.

Noh in wartime
With militarism gaining momentum, Noh came under scrutiny since many of its stories featured the Imperial family and the Safety Division of the Metropolitan Police Department banned in 1939 the performance of 'Ohara Goko' on the grounds of irreverence for the Emperor. Meanwhile, shinsaku Noh (new Noh) which featured the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and the Second World War were also created.

After the Second World War
The defeat in the Second World War was a great turning point for the Noh world. Because many Noh stages were burnt down during the war, Noh actors, who separately played Noh based on their schools until then, began to conduct joint practice beyond the difference of schools using Noh stages that remained unburned. As a result, young Noh actors had an opportunity to learn from excellent Noh actors of other schools and received a lot of stimulation. At that time, Hideo KANZE, who was the second son of Tetsunojo KANZE, was shocked by the difference in the body theory of the Kanze school compared to that of other schools. Eventually, he changed to the Kita school as geiyoshi (talented disciple adopted as a child of the master) of Roppeita KITA and called himself Hideo GOTO. Shizuo KANZE, who was the younger brother of Hideo, who became Tetsunojo KANZE Ⅷ, also mentioned about the depth of shock caused by the exchange with other schools which took place at that time.

One of the Noh stages where such exchanges took place at the time was Tamagawa Noh stage (it is now located at Tessankai Nohgaku Kenshujo).