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Traditional Japanese Theater

Noh and Kabuki

A ta la y O n u r
M u tlu e r
Noh Theater
 Noh ( 能 ) Drama is a "dance-drama" that was
very popular in the rich and powerful (the
elite) of medieval Japan. Noh drama
became popular with the court in the 14th
century. It is still performed today. The
actors wear masks and there are musicians
and a chorus which narrates the story by
Noh Theater

 By tradition, Noh actors and musicians never
rehearse for performances together. Instead,
each actor, musician, and choral chanter
practices his or her fundamental movements,
songs, and dances independently or under the
tutelage of a senior member of the school.
Thus, the tempo of a given performance is not
set by any single performer but established by
the interactions of all the performers together.

 Above you can see the simple stage, a group of musicians behind the actor,
and the chorus (jiutai) of eight people on the right side of the stage.
Origins of Noh
 The early origins of Noh theater were
mostly folk-type forms of rustic
entertainment; Sarugaku, which was
connected to Shinto rituals, Dengaku,
a kind of acrobatics with juggling,
which later developed into a type of
song-and-dance, Chinese-derived
dances, and recited and chanted
ballads which formed part of the oral
tradition of the people.

Origins of Noh
 By the middle of the fourteenth century,
these various sources seem to have been
combined into a form of theater
recognizable to modern audiences as
Noh, although just what those early plays
were like is hard to say.
 There are plays believed by scholars to be
by Kanami Kiyotsugu (1333-1385), but
they seem to have been heavily revised
by his son Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443),
and no surviving play can be securely
dated to before their era.

Noh Today
 Noh exists today in a form almost unchanged
since Zeami's day, and while the repertoire
may have shrunk from the over one thousand
plays in the Muromachiperiod, there have
been several plays written over the years, at
least one of which, "Kusu no Tsuyu", written in
the late nineteenth century, is often

 There are approximately 250 plays in the
current repertoire, which can be divided
according to a variety of schemes. The most
common is according to content, but there
are several other methods of organization.

 There are four major categories of Noh performers: shite, waki, kyōgen,
and hayashi.

 The shite ( 仕手 , シテ ), literally "doers" are the most common roles in

 Shite (primary actor):In plays where the shite appears first as a human
and then as a ghost, the first role is known as the maeshite and the
later as the nochishite

 Shitezure ( 仕手連れ , シテヅレ ): The shite's companion. Sometimes
"shitezure" is abbreviated to "tsure" ( 連れ , ツレ ), although this term
refers to both the shitezure and the wakizure .

 The waki ( 脇 , ワキ ) performs the role that is the counterpart or foil of
 The kyōgen ( 狂言 ) perform the aikyogen ( 相狂言 ) interludes
during plays. Kyōgen actors also perform in separate plays
between individual noh plays

 The hayashi ( 囃子 ) or hayashi-kata ( 囃子方 ) are the
instrumentalists who play the four instruments used in Noh
theater: the transverse flute ( 能管 ), hip drum ( 大鼓 ), the
shoulder-drum ( 小鼓 ), and the stick-drum ( 太鼓 ).

 The jiutai ( 地謡 ) is the chorus, usually comprising six to eight
 Kōken ( 後見 ) are stage hands, usually one to three people

 A typical Noh play will involve four or five categories of actors
and usually takes 30-120 minutes. Noh actors were almost
exclusively male.

Meanings of the Masks
 One of the most striking aspects of the
Noh is that the shite, the main actor,
may wear a mask, as may his
companions, or tsure.
 This occurs when the main character is
an old man, a youth, a woman, or a
supernatural character. Tsure
accompany the shite in certain plays,
and if they represent one of these
 They will also be masked, but the shite
will not wear a mask if his character is
Masks Cont.
 Kokata, or boy actors, never wear masks, nor do waki, the
secondary characters who appear first on stage to set
the scene, and meet the main actor.

 Masks are carved from wood, often cedar, which is then
gessoed and painted, and include some of the most
moving works of sculptural art in Japan, and, since there
are so many different types, it takes a certain familiarity
with them to recognize specific types.

 The other ubiquitous prop is the fan, which in a symbolic
theater such as Noh, can represent all manner of other
objects, such as bottles, swords, pipes, letters walking
sticks and so on.

 The garb worn by actors is typically adorned quite richly
and steeped in symbolic meaning for the type of role
(e.g. thunder gods will have hexagons on their clothes
while serpents have triangles to convey scales).
Costumes for the shite in particular are extravagant,
shimmering silk brocades, but are progressively less
sumptuous for the tsure, the wakizure, and the

 For centuries, in accordance with the vision of Zeami, Noh
costumes emulated the clothing that the characters
would genuinely wear, whether that be the formal robes
of a courtier or the street clothing of a peasant or
commoner. It was not until the late sixteenth century
that stylized Noh costumes following certain symbolic
and stylistic conventions became the norm.

 The musicians and chorus typically wear
formal montsuki kimono (black and
adorned with five family crests)
accompanied by either hakama (a skirt-
like garment) or kami-shimo, a
combination of hakama and a waist-coat
with exaggerated shoulders.
 Finally, the stage attendants are garbed in
virtually unadorned black garments,
much in the same way as stagehands in
contemporary western theater.
The Noh Stage
 The play will be performed on a stage open
on three sides, and with a painted
backboard representing a pine tree
 A sort of walkway, called the hashigakari
leads onto the stage right position from
an entrance doorway at right angles to
the backboard.
 Along the hashigakari are three small pine
trees, and these define areas where the
actor may pause to deliver lines, before
arriving on the main roofed stage, which
The Noh Stage
 Ranged along in front of the backboard is a group of
musicians whose instruments include a flute, a shoulder
drum, a hip drum and sometimes a stick drum. The
musicians are responsible for the otherworldly, strange
music which accompanies dance and recitation alike.

 Again at right angles to the backboard, at extreme stage
left, there is the chorus of eight to twelve chanters
arranged in two rows and it is their job to take over the
narration of the story, or the lines of the main character
if he is engaged in a dance.

 These elements all contribute to a cohesive whole which
creates a richly textured background against which the
play is enacted, and since no scenery, few props and
only a small cast appears, the imagination of the
audience is left to roam freely.
 World's oldest existing Noh stage at Itsukushima Shrine,
Miyajima Island, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.
Kabuki Theater
 It is strangely ironic that Japanese Kabuki, an
exclusively male preserve, a theater where
women have been in the audience but not on
stage for almost four hundred years, was created
in large part by a woman and her female troupe.

 Kabuki theater was started by a woman, a priestess
of a temple. But the shogun who ruled Japan
stopped women from being entertainers. (He
thought that women entertainers would become
like prostitutes to the members of the mostly
male audiences). So women were not allowed to
be actors in Kabuki theater. Men dressed up as
women to play the part of a woman, just like they
did in ancient Greek theater, and even in
Shakespeare's theater of England of the 1600s!
Kabuki Theater
 Kabuki ( 歌舞伎 ) is the highly stylized classical Japanese dance-drama.

 Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the
elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. The individual
kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing ( 歌 ), dance ( 舞 ), and
skill ( 伎 ).

 Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as "the art of singing and
dancing." These are, however, ateji, characters that do not reflect
actual etymology.

 The kanji of 'skill', is however generally referred to as a performer in
kabuki theatre. The word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb
kabuku, meaning "to lean" or "to be out of the ordinary", so kabuki
can be interpreted to mean "avant-garde" or "bizarre" theatre.

 The expression kabukimono ( 歌舞伎者 ) referred originally to those who
were bizarrely dressed and swaggered on a street.
Kabuki Theater
 Kabuki is a type of theater that was more popular with the
common people than Noh drama which was popular with
the ruling class. Kabuki became popular in the 17th -
19th centuries as the middle class became more
wealthy and had money to spend on entertainment. The
merchants, farmers, and samurai enjoyed drama with
more action, comedy, and excitement than the slow-
paced and serious Noh dramas.

 Like noh, kabuki also had musicians, and actors in beautiful
costumes. But kabuki theater had elaborate stage
designs and props. The actors didn't wear masks, but
instead many had their faces painted so their
expressions and personalities could easily be seen by
the audiences. The actors spoke their own lines, and
there was no chorus as in Noh drama. There were
several musicians that kept the play lively.

Kabuki Today
 The immediate post-World War II era was a difficult time for kabuki.
Besides the devastation caused to major Japanese cities as a result
of the war, the popular trend was to reject the styles and thoughts of
the past, kabuki among them.

 Director Tetsuji Takechi's popular and innovative productions of the
kabuki classics at this time are credited with bringing about a rebirth
of interest in the kabuki in the Kansai region.

 Of the many popular young stars who performed with the Takechi
Kabuki, Nakamura Ganjiro III (1931) was the leading figure. He was
first known as Nakamura Senjaku, and this period in Osaka kabuki
became known as the "Age of Senjaku" in his honor.

 Today, kabuki remains relatively popular—it is the most popular of the
traditional styles of Japanese drama—and its star actors often appear
in television or film roles. For example, the well-known onnagata
Bandō Tamasaburō V has appeared in several (non-kabuki) plays and
movies—often in a female role. Kabuki is also referenced in works of
Kabuki Today
 Though there are only a handful of major theatres in Tokyo, Kyoto, and
Osaka, there are many smaller theatres in Osaka, and throughout the
countryside. The Ōshika Kabuki troupe, based in Ōshika ( 大鹿 ),
Nagano Prefecture ( 長野県 )

 Interest in kabuki has also spread in the West. Kabuki troupes regularly
tour Europe and America, and there have been several kabuki-
themed productions of canonical Western plays such as those of
Shakespeare. Western playwrights and novelists have also
experimented with kabuki themes, an example of which is Gerald
Vizenor's Hiroshima Bugi (2004). Writer Yukio Mishima pioneered and
popularized the use of kabuki in modern settings, and revived other
traditional arts, such as Noh, adapting them to modern contexts.

 Kabuki was enlisted on the UNESCO's Third Proclamation of
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
 The November 1895 production of Shibaraku at Tokyo Kabukiza.
Center on the state is Kamakura Gongorō Kagemasa, played by
The Stage
 The kabuki stage features a projection called a hanamichi ( 花
道 ), a walkway which extends into the audience and via which
dramatic entrances and exits are made. Okuni also performed
on a hanamichi stage with her entourage.

 This type of stage is very important in kabuki theatre. The stage
is used not only as a walkway or path to get to and from the
main stage, but also important scenes are also played on the
stage. Kabuki stages and theaters have steadily become more
technologically sophisticated, and innovations including
revolving stages and trap doors, introduced during the 18th
century, added greatly to the staging of kabuki plays.

 A driving force has been the desire to make manifest one
frequent theme of kabuki theater, that of the sudden,
dramatic revelation or transformation.

The Stage
 A number of stage tricks, including rapid
appearances and disappearances of actors,
have evolved using these innovations. The
term keren ( 外連 ), often translated playing to
the gallery, is sometimes used as a catch-all
term for these tricks.

 Hanamichi and several innovations including
revolving stage, seri and chunori have all
contributed to sophisticating kabuki play, by
which hanamichi creates the second
dimensionality (depth) and both seri and
chunori gains three dimensionality (height).
The Stage
 Mawari-butai (revolving stage) developed in the Kyōhō era (1716–1735).
Originally accomplished by the on-stage pushing of a round, wheeled
platform, this technique evolved into a circle being cut into the stage
floor with wheels beneath it facilitating movement.

 When the stage lights are lowered during this transition it is known as
kuraten (darkened revolve). More commonly the lights are left on for
akaten (lighted revolve), sometimes with the transitioning scenes
being performed simultaneously for dramatic effect. This stage is
very useful because it helps the transition without any distractions.

 Seri refers to the stage traps that have been commonly employed in
kabuki since the middle of the eighteenth century. These traps raise
and lower actors or sets to the stage. Seridashi or seriage refers to
the traps moving upward and serisage or serioroshi when they are
being lowered. This technique is often used for dramatic effect of
having an entire scene rise up to appear onstage.

The Stage

 In kabuki, as in some other Japanese performing arts, scenery changes

are sometimes made mid-scene, while the actors remain on stage
and the curtain stays open. This is sometimes accomplished by using
a Hiki Dōgu, or small wagon stage.

 This technique originated at the beginning of the 18th century, where
scenery or actors are moved on or off stage by means of a wheeled
platform. Also common are stage hands rushing onto the stage
adding and removing props, backdrops and other scenery; these
stage hands, known as kuroko ( 黒子 ), are always dressed entirely in
black and are traditionally considered invisible.

 These stage hands also assist in a variety of quick costume changes
known as hayagawari (quick change technique). In plays, when a
character's true nature is suddenly revealed, the devices of hikinuki
or bukkaeri are often used. Hikinuki or bukkaeri is accomplished by
having costumes layered one over another and having a stage
assistant pull the outer one off in front of the audience.
 Many of the costumes in kabuki reflect the contemporary
styles of the day and in fact there was reversal of
influence when the theatre began to set the trend of
dress for fashionable society.

 Costumes can designate the class, traits, or age of a
character by colour, contour and textile. In addition
there are several styles which display an element of
fantastic invention particularly suitable for the roles of
non human manifestations or "super heroes" such as

 Two reasons are suggested as to the need for the invention
of such exotic and fantastic creations.The need to
simulate the lifestyle of the aristocratics who were made
the subject of a particular drama, and to satisfy the
demands of the chounin.
 The costumes themselves are full of subtiety, illusion and
hidden meaning, and for the more informed kabuki-
goers help to emphasise a character's role.

 The short happi coat for example can infer a samurai's
armour and may be printed with the moon or crests of
the acting company.

 The multiple layers of an onnagata's costume is achieved
by showing just the hem of each new fabric which is
attached to the main outer garment, and the flash of a
red lining in a kimono suggests the role of a courtesan.
Tattoos, which even to this day symbolise criminality,
are applied to a body stocking resembling a flesh-
coloured set of "long johns".
 The actors who play female roles are known as onnagata
or oyama As kabuki gained a level of respectability, the
importance of these roles increased. Role types are
divided in many categories.

 The first great onnagata was Yoshizawa Ayame I
(1673~1729). Many of the great kabuki actors have built
their reputations solely on these roles. The
performances are not so much 'acting' in the Western
sense as stylized representations of female beauty or

 While early onnagata were required to maintain their
feminine persona and dress even in their private lives,
this practice was abolished in the Meiji Restoration of
 The actors who play male roles are known as tachiyaku.
Like onnagata male roles are also divided into categories
depending on age and social status.

 In general actors are capable of performing any roles by
simply adopting certain way of performing technique.

 In practice, however, an actors physical attributes can lead
to his becoming typecast.

 The two most important male role types are the
superheros of the arragato style popular with the
commoners of Edo. The refined young lovers performed
in the “gentle” wagato style, which was prefered in the
Kyoto-Osaka region
 The aragoto or 'rough style' of acting is exemplified
by such exaggeration and dramatic make-up and

 It is associated with the Ichikawa Danjuro line. Die-
hards in the audience join in the action, calling
out the yago (house or family name) of the actors
at prescribed moments in the performance.

 Tokyo Kabuki-Za

 Thank you for listening…

 Atalay Onur Mutluer