Noh Mask (能面)

A noh mask is a mask used in noh theater and some forms of kagura (musical dance). Noh masks have been influenced by gigaku-men (masks for gigaku, an ancient form of masked drama) and bugaku (Japanese court dance and music) masks.


They are classified roughly into five groups: Kijin (fierce god), old man, male, female, and spirit. Koomote (young face) masks are modeled on the female face. There are various types noh masks other than these. The hannya (female demon) mask and shinja (female demon that turns into a snake) are particularly well known. A single mask can express various deep emotions due to the skill of the noh performer and the mask craftsman, and this has supported the noh medium of masked theater until today.

With some exceptions, all onnamen (female masks), shonenmen (boy masks), and seinenmen (male masks) have heavy shironuri (white makeup), hikimayu (painted eyebrows) and ohaguro (black painted teeth), all of which were common practices in the period when noh was established.

The "Okina" (old man) mask is distinctive and different from other noh masks with regard to the following points:

The eyes are completely hollowed out.

Shaggy eyebrows (cotton or fur)

The mask is separated at the mouth and tied at the back (the jaw is movable).

The mask features generous character in old style.

Noh masks are made by carving wood (mainly Japanese cypress) and coloring it, a process called "omote wo utsu" (lit. to strike a mask). To wear a mask on the face is called "omote wo kakeru" (lit. to hang a mask). In such cases, the kanji character is read "omote," and when it follows the character for "noh," the compound is read "noh men." Recently, papier-mache masks made of Japanese paper are also seen.

In Genzai Noh (noh plays featuring people alive in the dramatic present, not apparitions), performers who play adult male roles do not wear noh masks. However, the performer is forbidden from using facial expressions. This unmasked face of a noh performer is called the "hitamen" (lit. direct mask) and, as the name suggests, the performer acts using his own face as a noh mask.

Because all waki (supporting actors) in noh are adult males in the present, they are performed in hitamen.

Examples of Noh masks

Female Masks

Young Woman

Koomote, Kohime (young princess): pretty young girl

Manbi (literally meaning is one thousand eyebrows, a mask with thick eyebrows), Magojiro, Wakaonna (young woman): slightly older than koomote.

Zo, Zoonna, Fushikizo, Masukami: pure goddess

Middle-aged Woman

Fukai: intellectual and with an urban style,

Shakumi: expressive and provincial.

Old Woman

Uba: old woman. Often worn by the tsure (supporting actor) when shite (main actor, protagonist) wears a jomen (old man mask).

Yaseonna (slim woman)




Kijo (Ogress)

Deigan: mask with gold mud in the eyes
Sophisticated beautiful woman in deep jealousy. Mae-shite (the leading role in the first half of a noh play) in plays such as "Aoi no Ue."

Kanawa no onna (iron woman), Hashihime (bridge princess): female in even deeper jealousy. In "Kanawa," etc.

Hannya: extremely jealous woman with a demon-like look. If you look closely, you can find feminine eyebrows.

Ja (snake), shinja: more demon-like than hannya. A characteristic is that they have no ears which may signify their refusal to listen. Ja is exclusively used in the play "Dojo-ji."

Young Male Masks

Young Man

Doji (child)



Wakaotoko (young man)


Juroku (sixteen): Comes from the age of Atsumori when he was killed in battle.

Blind Boy

Yoroboshi: worn out look.

Semimaru: A blind noble boy.

Hanso-hanzoku (a monk who lives almost like a secular person)

Kasshiki: "Jinen Koji" (Jinen the Lay Monk), "Kagetsu" (Noh), etc.
Corresponds to chigo (boys kept by pedecrast Buddhist monks)

Warrior Masks

Heida: middle-aged red-faced busho (Japanese military commander)

Chujo (Middle Captain): Kindachi (high-ranking nobles)

Old Man Masks

Kojo: This mask is elegant and also used to represent shintai (an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity

Kantanotoko: This mask is used in "Kantan" (The Pillow of Kantan) and also used to represent shintai.

Shiwajo, Ishiojo, and Maijo: nochi-shite (the leading role in the latter half of a noh play) who performs Shin-no-jo-no-mai (a dignified dance performed by an elderly deity).

Akujo: Strong and scary-looking old man

"Okina" Masks

Hakushikijo: Shite

Kokushikijo: Sanbaso (the third Okina in Sanbaso Play)

Other Male Masks

Ayakashi: Nochi-shite in "Funa Benkei," etc.

Kurohige: Dragon god nochi-shite

Otobide and Kotobide: a mask with rolled eyes and a wide open mouth

Obeshimi and Kobeshimi: a mask with a tightly-closed mouth

Shishiguchi: "Shakkyo" (Stone Bridge), etc.

Shikami: Momijigari, etc.

Yaseotoko: revengeful ghost of a common person

Kawazu: a drowned person

[Original Japanese]