Noh theatre

Aspects of Noh Theatre (From A Guide To Japanese Theatre)

  • medieval theatre of Japan including musical accompaniment and dance
  • solemn, dignified and measured art
  • Symbolic (pared down to the barest essentials)
  • uses finely-carved masks
  • Unique artistry of its actors


  • Ancient Japane
    • Rooted from Sarugaku (Chinese entertainment performed outdoors)
  • The Shogunate Period
    • Kan’ami combined elements of Dengaku (rhythmic music for agriculture) and Saragaku
    • Zeami continued his father’s body of work by directing, composing, choreographing, writing, teaching, training and researching
      • Likened an actor to a blossoming flower of myster
      • the main characters became spirits (mugen No = dream No)
    • the traditions were carried on by their descendants and Zeami’s treatise
  • During the EDO period (age of peace)
    • revising the past practitioners’ works became paramount
    • No crystallized into nowadays refined art
  • From the MEIJI period and to the present day
    • became accessible by commoners
    • used as imperialist propaganda during WWII
    • reaching worldwide audience


  • 240+ plays in the repertoires of the 5 Noh schools
  • Themes range from poetry anthologies to the classic literature.
  • Traditionally, 5 different plays with dialogue-based comedies in between
    • Shin-nan-jo-kyo-ki (Gods-men(warrior)-women-lunatics-demons)

Jo ha kyu

  • adopted from Gagaku court music
  • Generally
    • jo = prelude to the play that covers the entrance and establishment of the character
    • ha = dramatic development and the appearance of the shite
    • kyu = ending
  • However, Japanese theatre Yoshi Ida argues that the idea of jo ha kyu should be present even in one single movement and gesture


  • Only main performers, Shite, wear masks
  • if a play has 2 roles. the characters may be the same(e.g. demon in disguise that reveals itself in the 2nd act) or totally different(e.g. lover and ghost)
  • supporting role is called the waki kata, the humans who introduces and challenges the shite

Costumes & Masks

  • Costumes
    • ornate ( performing art of aristocrats)
    • white socks
  • Masks
    • the shite bows the mask before wearing it
    • unchanging, ambiguous facial expression
      • it’s actor’s role to communicate a variety of emotions


  • Kamae = basic posture
  • Hakobi = walking (suriashi)
  • Ashibyoshi = stamping
  • Mai, kata = dancing

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