Lesson 9

Japanese art―歌舞伎と能



Noh is a stylized and symbolic musical drama that has been handed down from the 14th century. Behind the symbolic and enigmatic(謎めいた) masks and the simple stage, the tradition of Japan is to be felt by visitors to Noh theaters.  

In Noh dramas, every human sentiment, such as loyalty, piety(信仰), love, jealousy or revenge, is expressed by actors, traditionally all male actors, through constrained(不自然な) and refined(凝った) actions. The manner of expression is different from that of Kabuki, which is more dramatic and realistic.  

Actors consist of the main player[シテ], the second player[ワキ], and the followers[ツレ], and sometimes the Ky?gen[狂言].  

Main players use masks for some roles. Noh masks are proverbially(よく知られているように) expressionless(無表情) themselves, but with the delicate movements of the player, they can express deep emotions.  

Noh play employs two forms of music; instruments and human voice. The instrumental music is known as Hayashi[囃子(はやし)], and uses a flute, small and large tabor(小太鼓)s, and a drum. The chanting[(うた)] is divided into strong tones and lighter tones and these tones are chosen in accordance with the emotional intensity of the scene. The chanting is accompanied by Hayashi music.



Visitors to Noh theaters will notice a special stage somewhat different from the ordinary ones. The floor of the stage is made up of smoothed(なめらかな) and unpainted Japanese cypress(ヒノキ). It has a roof supported by pillars at each corner. A Noh stage consists of four sections: the square main stage which protrudes(突き出る) into the audience area, the right hand side floor for the chorus [()唄座(うたざ)], the space for the orchestra behind the acting area[後座(あとざ)], and the bridge-way for actors to enter or leave the stage[橋がかり]. A dignified(立派な) pine tree is painted on the wall at the back.



Generally the main actor wears a mask, while no other actors are masked. It is made of wood and is lacquered(漆塗り). Masks are generally smaller than the performer's face. Great masterpieces of Noh masks have been handed down through many generations and they are very much valued.

Noh masks may be classified in 16 types, ranging from old men, old women, and young women to fairies, powerful gods, monsters, demons, and even wild animals.



Costumes are essential properties(舞台道具) for Noh. They are usually very gorgeous(豪華な), made of rich brocade(). They are patterned(手本とする) on the basic styles of Kimono in the 15th to 17th centuries; the dresses of court nobles, warriors, civilians, monks, peasants(小作人) and women. They must given a mystic effect when they reflected the gleam(仄かな光) of candles in the old days. Wigs with black, white or red hairs also attract the attention of viewers.

Sometimes a classical dance taken from Noh dramas is performed dependently in a plain costume and it is called a plain dance[仕舞い].



This particular type or Noh drama is performed in the evening on an open-air stage usually set up in the precincts(境内) of a shrine. The stage is illuminated by blazing torches since the Noh plays are presented after dark. Following the traditional style, no electric lights are used. The setting enhances the feeling of mystic profundity(深み), the characteristic of Noh drama. The most famous Torchlight Noh[薪能] are those of the Heian Shrine[平安神宮] in Kyoto and the Tsurugaoka-Hachiman Shrine[鶴岡八幡宮] in Kamakura.



Kabuki is thought to have had its origin in the Noh Play, how Kabuki stemmed from Noh is not clear. Anyway, toward() the end of the 16th century, Okuni[阿国], a shrine maiden(巫女) at the Great Shrine of Izumo[出雲大社] is recorded to have started a primitive(原始的な) prayer dance, and it has gradually been developed into Kabuki as we have now. Since the Tokugawa Shogunate prohibited women acting in public, Kabuki has been performed exclusively by male actors. Consequently even the roles of women are performed by men. Kabuki is a highly-stylized traditional play combined with singing and dancing. It may be compared to European grand operas. It is very colorful and sometimes quite spectacular(壮観な). Kabuki plays are classified into three main types. Histories[時代物] often with scenes of exaggerated(大げさな) prowess(武勇)[荒事], domestic genre-plays[世話物] including plays dealing with the lower class people [()世話物(せわもの)], and dances[(しょ)作事(さごと)]. The major dramatists who wrote Kabuki plays were Monzaemon Chikamatsu[近松門左衛門] (1653-1724), who produced more than 100 dramatic love tragedies, and Mokuami Kawatake[河竹黙阿弥] (1816-1893), who wrote more than 300 realistic social dramas, many of which had rogues(悪漢) as the main characters.



During the early stage of the development of Kabuki, it was believed that the appearance of actresses on the stage had a corrupting(頽廃的な) effect on the morals of the audience and actresses were banned by the government. As a result, men acted the roles of women, and these actors were called the form of women [女形]. Those actors who wish to excel(優れる) as Oyama even try to talk and behave just like women in their daily life.



One characteristic of Kabuki stage is the Flower Path [花道], an elevated passageway running from the stage to the rear of the theater through the audience. Hanamichi is used for the exits and entrances of important actors, with many impressive scenes taking place there.

Another characteristic is a revolving stage[回り舞台] which is equipped with a mechanism similar to a turntable. It is a device for the rapid shifting of scenes, bringing into view a scene that has been prepared backstage.     



Kumadori is another Kabuki technical term meaning an exaggerated(大げさな) make-up style often used by actors when they play the roles of warriors or ruffians(悪党) in the historical dramas. The object is to intensify the emotions an actor wishes to convey to the audience. In making up, the muscle and nerve lines are applied(塗る) on the face with the colors of heavy red and indigo to represent the nature of the character and emotions;  usually red to represent righteousness and indigo to show viciousness(悪意) or evil.



Bunraku, also known as Ningy? J?ruri, dates back to the 10th or 11th century. However, it was not until the 17th century that Bunraku took its present form. In 1678, Giday? Takemoto[竹本義太夫] (1651-1714) established a Bunraku theater, Takemoto-za[竹本座], and originated the accompanying Giday?-bushi music, which has been handed down to the present day. Many puppet(操り人形) plays were written by the master playwright(脚本家), Monzaemon Chikamatsu, whose skillful interpretation of human feelings appealed to theater goers.

The main puppets are manipulated(操作する) by three puppeteer(人形使い)s while the narrator[太夫] recites(語る) the story to the accompaniment(伴奏) of the shamisen. The unique charm of Bunraku lies in the combination of skillful action of the puppets manipulated by the puppeteers and the strident(甲高い) chant of the singer, which makes the audience forget the presence of puppeteers and sometimes moves them to tears and laughter.

The performance of the puppeteers is so skillful that some foreign visitors believe that the puppet is operated by electricity.


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