November 30, 2023
Noh – Japanese

Noh – A Japanese Musical Drama

Developed in the fourteenth century, Nogaku, Noh or No, is a type of Japanese musical dramas. Its roots can be traced to the Sarugaku, the Chinese Nuo Theater. The actors and musicians of Noh never practice or rehearse together. Each of them practices the movement, dances and songs separately under a senior tutor.

The traditional kagura stages are the inspiration of the traditional Noh Theater stages. Hinoki or Japanese cypress wood is the architecture material used commonly. There are four pillars to support the roof. They are placed according to some directions and each have a particular name. Shite-bashira is the back left pillar and is the point for shite to sit or stand. Waki-bashira is the front right pillar used by Waki as the point of performance. Fue-bashira is the back right corner and used by the flute player. Metsuke-bashira is the pillar which Shite faces and is also known as the looking-pillar.

Shite, waki, kyogen and hayashi are the four categories that Noh performers can be divided into. Shite or the doers are the original character of the drama. He is first a human being or Maeshite and then plays the role of a ghost or Nochijite. Tsure is the friend acquaintance of Shite. Waki is the villain and obstructs the path of Shite. Wakizure is the friend of Waki. Kyogen performs Aikyogen during the breaks in the play. Hayashis plays the four instruments of Noh, which are flute or Fue, stick drum or Taiko, hip drum or Okawa Otsuzumi and shoulder drum or Kotsuzumi. The chorus comprises of nearly eight people and is known as Jiutai. The helpers are known as Koken.

The stories of Noh drama can be divided into five categories broadly, although there are different types of division. They are Kami Mono, Shura Mono, Katsura Mono, Kiri No and miscellaneous plays. The timing of these plays can range between thirty minutes to two hours. Kami mono also known as Waki No depicts the Shite as a human in the beginning and later on taking the form of deity and usually has some mythological story based on some god. Shura mono or Asura No, shows the Shite playing the character of ghost first and then later playing the role of warrior and recreating the scene of his death. In katsura mono or Onna Mono, a woman plays the Shite character that dances and sings very beautifully. Kiri No or Oni Mono shows Shite in the form of a devil, monster or goblin. Under the miscellaneous plays, Onryo Mono or mischievous ghosts plays Genzai Mono or everyday plays, and Kyoran Mono or madness plays are included.

The styles can be divided into Geki Noh style and Furyu Noh style. Geki Noh are plays involving acting and along with which action is involved. Fruyu Noh are the plays involving dancing and singing only. There are different types of mood in Noh theater art. Mugen Noh involve supernatural characters such as ghosts, demons, and deities. Story keeps juggling between the past, present, and future. Genzai Noh portrays the travails of day to day life.

The costumes are very heavily worked and are designed according to the role played by the actor wearing it. Like serpents have consecutive triangles like the scales. The costume of the Shite is made up of expensive work of silk or brocade. The chorus and instrumentalists wear the formal Montsuki Kimono with the Hakama or shirt. The helpers wear completely black outfits. Masks are worn while playing characters of gods, demons, animals, or even a female played by a man. Shite wears a mask usually. All the characters have a hand fan while on stage. They either carry it in hand or in their pocket. The drama is still very popular in Japan and continues to attract more and more people towards it mainly due it’s interesting style and characterization.