Gigaku-men Mask (伎楽面)

Gigaku-men mask is a mask used for gigaku (an ancient pantomime in which performers wear masks). They are historically significant as one of the oldest masks in the world. Some gigaku-men masks have been restored in recent years to be used for new gigaku.

Historical Gigaku-men mask

Historical gigaku-men masks made during the Asuka period and the Nara period are kept at Horyu-ji Temple (today housed at The Gallery of Horyu-ji Temple Treasures at The Tokyo National Museum) in Nara, Todai-ji Temple, Shoso-in, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and other places. Of these, the masks with the name of Tenpyo-shoho era (749 - 757), which remain at Shoso-in, were used at the Great Buddha Eye-opening ceremony. There were 14 roles in gigaku: Chido (the role of usher), Shishi (Lion), Shishiko (two boys who lead the Shishi), Goo (or Goko) (Man of the country of Wu), Kongo (Thunderbolt-Bearer), Karura (Garuda), Gojo (maid of the country of Wu), Kuron/Konron (lecherous man), Rikishi (the Buddhist guardian king Rikishi), Baramon (Brahmin [the highest caste in India, known for its scholars and priests]), Taikofu (old Persian man), Taikoji (young Persian boy), Suiko-o (Drunken Persian King), and Suikoju (the followers of suiko-o).

Broadly-speaking, there are various types of wood carving and dry lacquer (technique involving laying lacquer onto a mold and drying it to make the base), while the wood-carved masks in the Asuka period were basically made from camphor, and the ones in the Nara period from paulownia. The gigaku-men mask, unlike the No-men mask which covers only the face, covered the whole head. Although similarities with Greek Tragedy masks have been pointed out and some have put forward a theory that gigaku originally came from Greece, the details are unknown.

The makers of gigaku-men masks are also known by the name of the maker inscribed on them. SHORI no Uonari, Kieishi, Enkinshi, Zaifukushi, etc. Also, province names, such as 'Sanuki' and 'Hitachi,' can be seen on the back of the masks, which suggests they were came from rural areas.

Gigaku-men masks excel in their fine shape and some are said to have been made by sculptors of Buddha statues. They give the impression at first glance of imaginary animals or of the facial expressions of foreign people at that time. Below is a selection of masks stored in Shoso-in with descriptions of their features.

This is similar to the head of the present shishimai (lion dance). Part of the jaw can be moved up and down.

Man of the country of Wu
Calm and dignified expression of middle aged man. Featuring the name of Man of Wu, this is a characteristic portrayal of a Chinese face.

Mask of woman with large jowls and a round face. Whose hair style was popular during the period of the Tang Dynasty, apparently a typical example of a beautiful woman at that time.

Young boy's mask with agile expression. Its sharp eyes and white teeth are impressive.

Kuron (or Konron)
There are contrasting two masks at Shoso-in. One has a hint of an African person from its blackish overall color, big eyes and firm mouth. The other seems more beast than human because of its white color overall, big eyes, turned-up mustache and big pointed ears.

It has a big long nose, thick lips and wide eyebrows and seems to be designed in the image of a person from 'Persia.'

[Original Japanese]