Noh drama ()

Noh is a type of "Nohgaku (Noh music)" used in a kind of Japanese original stage performing art of which the completion was realized in the late Kamakura period or the beginning of the Muromachi period. In today's Japan, Noh is regarded as a traditional performing art internationally recognized and is as highly reputed as kabuki is (a Japanese traditional drama performed only by male actors).
Important intangible cultural property
Based upon the Law governing the Protection of Intangible Cultural Properties, it has been published in the representative list of "human's intangible cultural properties," and in fact, it has already been decided to be the first intangible world property to be registered in September, 2009.

The one nearest to this side with his back turned is Nohwaki and the one far in the back is the Noh-jiutai, (Noh chorus). Behind the protagonist (Shite) is a traditional Noh musicians (facing from the right are a whistle, a small drum, a big drum, and a side base drum) and prompters are sitting.

Noh is a music-and-mask play comprising mainly of the dance of a protagonist (Shite) accompanied by a Noh chorus and Noh musicians. Dancing and chanting of the Noh text and in fact performing the art are done by the protagonist (Shite), the Nohwaki and the Noh jester (Kyogenkata), while the accompanied music is performed by musicians (small drum, big drum and side bass drum).

Because a Noh play is centered on the protagonist (Shite), the Nohwaki, the musicians and the Noh jester (Kyogenkata) are generically called, "the three key characters (Sanyaku)".

The dead in Noh
Noh has a lot of unusual features, among which an especially important feature is that the "dead" play a central role in Noh. Tetsunojo KANZE VIII pointed out, that the fundamental structure in Noh is "the perspective from the world of the dead." Many Noh plays have some supernatural creatures such as ghosts, fairies or demons, etc. as the protagonist (Shite), and the play structure is mostly the supporting player (Nohwaki), who is often a flesh-and-blood character, who discovers their stories by questioning. Tetsunojo has attributed the reason for this structure to the fact that Sarugaku (literally "monkey music," a form of Japanese theatre performing art resembling a circus, that was popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries) was compiled by Kan-ami, Zeami, Zenchiku KOMPARU, et al during the Muromachi period, a chaotic war period during which death was extremely close by.

Naohiko UMEWAKA also pointed out that, Noh's structure of treasuring dialogue by the dead has made possible the construction of a Noh world of original beauty. UMEWAKA quoted as the example the revenant (one who returns after death) of the protagonist (Shite) Sanemori SAITO appears in the dream of a Nohwaki and there is a scene which the revenant, while talking about how he died, washes his own severed head. In this scene, although Sanemori's revenant performed by the protagonist (Shite) has his head still attached, at the same time, the revenant is holding his own severed head in his hands.
To explain such an irrational scene, UMEWAKA points out that Noh has in general an incomprehensible structure such as 'Nohwaki dreaming of protagonist (Shite) who is also dreaming in it.'
He argues that this "dialogue by the dead," a basic structure of Noh, has in fact realized the construction of a story world unachievable by other types of plays.

Noh as an art of improvisation
Moreover, some peculiar Noh plays by professionals are elaborate one-time performances without rehearsal. In usual drama, rehearsals are repeatedly done before the performance and occasionally, there may even be a general probe during which the actors and actresses who dress up in the same costumes rehearse on the same stage before the actual performance. For Noh, performers are mustered only once for "mutual agreement and arrangement" before the actual performance as a rule and moreover, masks and costumes are not used. Bearing upon this, Tetsunojo KANZE VIII argues that, Noh were originally completely impromptu performances and if the performers understood one another too much, it becomes a demerit.

Yugen (delicate beauty, subtle and profound) and Myo (Wonder)
An aesthetic character expressed by Noh is the well-known "Yugen (delicate beauty, subtle and profound). "
Even in the writings of Zeami, who compiled Noh, it is said that the meaning of "Yugen" is not necessarily consistent. For instance, the "Yugen" in "Kakyo (literally flower mirror)" means "only a body of beauty and tenderness" such as the mode of behavior and atmosphere expressed by Kuge (court nobles) of the contemporary early Muromachi Period. However, UMEWAKA pointed out that the most important esthetic concept in Zeami's theory of Noh is not "Yugen (Subtle and profound)" but "Myo (Strangeness)" and "Yugen" is not a ruling principle of Noh from the aesthetic aspect.

Concerning "Myo (Strangeness)," Zeami did not completely finish explaining the principle and the content of Myo's emergence. He tried to explain by using metaphors "Appearance without shape" and "Innocence." Moreover, he pointed out this aesthetic character is also felt occasionally in the performing techniques of the Noh players. UMEWAKA compared "Myo (Strangeness)" and "Yugen (Subtle and profound)" and he argued that "Myo" acts on both the performers and the spectators when it appears; on the contrary, "Yugen" is nothing more than the aesthetic character which a performer intentionally expresses to the spectators.

Techniques of Noh

Dancing is an element forming the basis of Noh. According to Tamotsu WATANABE who accepted Kunio YANAGIDA's theory, while the word "Dance" contains leaps and jumps, the word "dance" in Noh means "turn," or in other words "rotary motion," a characteristic of Noh dancing. The features of a Noh dance are the excessive sliding of one's feet along, the peculiar posturing of one's body, and rotary motions.

The sliding feet is a peculiar stepping or way of walking where the soles are slipped along the stage surface without raising the heels (this is called hakobi in particular) and to do this smoothly, it is necessary to pose so the center of gravity is lowered by flexing one's knees and dropping one's waist. This is "the posture." Moreover, unlike kabuki or its derived Japanese dance, which requires that dancing on an oblong stage be shown facing towards the spectators from the frontal direction, Noh on a stage near the square, on the contrary, considers the spectators from the three directions and this also accounts for its rotary motions in Noh.

Noh dancing is static and has no drastic changes from fast to slow in one performance and it is characterized by showing stiff line by forcing a body to be under extreme tension.

Noh dancing is classified as follows.

Chu-no-mai (literally "Dancing in the Middle")
The most basic dance. Mainly, a female role performs this dance.

Jo-no-mai (literally "Dancing in the Introduction")
dance of slow tempo
Mainly, this dance is for a female role.

Otoko mai (literally "Man dancing")
This is danced in Genzai Noh (described later). The tempo is fast. Mask is not worn.
Dancing for the man's role

Kami mai (literally "God dancing")
It is danced in Waki Noh (when the protagonist (Shite) plays the role of god or Buddha). The tempo is quite fast.
Dance for the male role

It is a music piece with China being the stage and the performer playing the role of a dancing fairy. A protagonist (Shite) playing the role of a musician might also dance or play the Tenko (literally "Sky Drum").

Kagura (Shinto music and dancing)
It is danced in Waki Noh (when the protagonist (Shite) plays the role of god or Buddha).
Dance for the female role
Utai (Chanting of a Noh text)

Utai (chanting of a Noh text), according to Tetsunojo KANZE VIII, is "a long poem based on the seven-and-five-syllable meter." With 12 characters written in the seven-and-five-syllable meter as one paragraph, the poem is chanted in an eight-beat rhythm.
However, there may be some part chanted in a rhythm other than the eight-beat
The portion chanted with the eight-beat rhythm is called "Hyoshi-ai (congruent rhythm)" and the standard tempo is called "Hiranori," the fast tempo is called "Chunori," and the slow tempo is called "Onori". The chanting of a Noh text with a rhythm other than the eight-beat rhythm is called "Hyoshi-awazu, (unmatched or noncongruent rhythm) ".

In Noh, the chanting of a Noh text can be roughly divided into the characters in the play (such as the protagonist (Shite), the Nohwaki, Tsure et al), and the back-up chorus of eight people called "Jiutai". The utai chanted by the characters in the play becomes the dialog of the characters. On one hand, jiutai reveals a character's psychological portrait and describes a scene and on the other hand, it may occasionally represent the feelings of the protagonist (shite), or a dialogue duet with the Nohwaki.

In jiutai, the so-called jigashira (literally "Head of jiutai") is playing the role of a concertmaster. Moreover, jiutai intentionally adopts a heterophony such that the pitch of the voice for each individual is changed. The Noh chorus is seated in two rows back and front on the jiutaiza (literally "Seats of Noh Chant") facing the stage. Each person is holding a folding fan and they pose with the fan while chanting and lower the fans while resting.

The vocalization of a Noh chant can be classified into two kinds; "weak chanting" (yowagin) and "strong chanting" (tsuyogin). Similarly, according to Tetsunojo KANZE VIII, while "weak chanting" is a melodious expression with a fine musical scale, "strong chanting" is an expression to emphasize the strength of the sound.

A Noh chant can be roughly divided into the part with melody (fushimawashi) and the part without melody (kotoba). In a melodic part, there may be sections with congruent rhythm (hyoshi-ai) or sections with noncongruent rhythm (hyoshi-awazu). Kotoba corresponds to the usual dialogues and conversations and only the acting performers (protagonist (shite), Nohwaki, and tsure) utter it. The Noh chorus must chant the melodic parts. Moreover, even if it is a conversation between the actors, it is not uncommon that an exchange of kotoba may suddenly switch to a melodic chant according to the climax of one's feelings.

Except for the new Noh plays, the words used for Noh chants are from the Japanese language of the Muromachi period.

Noh musicians

The musical instruments used by the Noh musicians (Noh gaku-hayashi) have 4 types: flute (Noh pipe), small hand drum (kotsuzumi), big drum (ohkawa, also called "big skin"), and side drum (taiko). This is called "rhythm of four beats (shi-byoshi)". Small hand drums, big drums and side drums are struck while shouting a cheer. The cheer, which is also an important musical element, is determined by the Noh score.

A play is a complicated assembly composed of 3 components: "scenes composed only of a Noh chant," "scenes during which both a Noh chant and the musician's performance," "scenes with only musician's performance (with the protagonist (shite) dancing in most cases)." Generally speaking, when the musicians perform with the chanting from a Noh text, it serves as musical accompaniment. Moreover, now, as a signal that the Noh play is starting, "a musical note (Oshirabe)" is performed by the Noh musical band in "Mirror Room (Kagami-no-ma) " located in the back of the bridge leading to the stage.

flute (Noh pipe)
The Noh pipe is a flute made of bamboo, with a mouthpiece (the hole into which air is blown) and seven note apertures and the surface is covered with cherry birch or Japanese lacquer. Fitted in the tube between the mouthpiece and the fingering holes is a minute bamboo piece called the "throat (nodo)." Thanks to this "throat (nodo)," a high pitched sound (Hishigi) peculiar to Noh music can be easily made as distinct from other flutes such as dragon flute and Japanese transverse bamboo flute. Moreover, because of the existence of this "throat," Noh pipe doesn't have a steady tone. This is also a distinct feature of the Noh pipe.

Since the Noh pipe is the only melody musical instrument with the four-beat-rhythm, it plays a central role during a Noh dance (jo-no-mai or chu-no-mai) when only the Noh musicians are providing the sound. During the Noh musician's solo performance, a melody congruent to the rhythm is played but when accompanying a Noh chant, a melody not congruent to the rhythm is played. With the meaning accompanying the Noh chant, this is called "Ashirai".

Small hand drum
The small hand drum is a musical instrument made of cherry wood shaped like an hourglass. Each of the two leather skins is mounted on the front and back (horse leather covers a ring of plastron) and is secured with hemp yarn (called "adjusting string (sirabeo)"). Hold the adjusting string with the left hand, keep the drum on the right shoulder and strike it with the right hand. Depending upon how the adjusting string is gripped, where drum head is struck, and how strong the strike is, it will play one of four sounds (called as"chi," "ta," "pu" and "po"). Since some moisture is always necessary for the performance, the artist breathes on the leather and the tuning paper (Choshigami, a small piece of Japanese paper mounted on the back of the leather) is adjusted by wetting with saliva.

Big drum
Although the big drum is called "a large skin" to distinguish it from the small hand drum, the material and the construction are almost the same as the small hand drum; only the size is bigger overall. Hold it with the left hand and put it on the left knee and use the right hand to strongly strike it sideways. Although the striking sound is almost similar to the small hand drum, the types of different tones are less than those of the small hand drum. Surprisingly for its size and shape, the sound emitted is clearer and higher than the small hand drum.

Because moisture is an extreme nuisance, the leather should be dried over a charcoal fire before the performance. Because it is very painful to hit with a bare-hand leather mounted with the thick, long hemp rope, "finger leather (Yubikawa)" are worn on the middle finger and the ring finger with "leather (Ategawa)" placed on the palm. There are three kinds of songs (Mimicry of sound); "Tsu," "Chon," and "Don." It is said that a big drum was originally a musical instrument that evolved from a small hand drum and in early days it is thought that younger drummers accompanied the small hand drums by playing the big drums. Therefore, the striking style of the big drum is derived from that of the small hand drum and the hand (score) is carefully written so that when accompanying the small drums, it is easier for small drums to strike.

Side drum
The side drum, or the so-called "tight side drum," has basically the same structure as the hand drum. The leather used is bull leather and the part struck with the plectra is reinforced often by laminating deerskin. There are 2 plectra and the side drum is mounted on a stand (called hidarikichidai) put on the floor and the side drum is struck in front of the body sitting upright. There are two types of sounds which initiates a four-beat-rhythm; the weaker sound that doesn't ring out (the plectrum is held and it sounds like tsukutsuku), and the louder sound that rings out (small plectrum, medium plectrum, big plectrum, or shoulder plectrum is used, and it sounds like "tenten").

Basically, the side drum is played only during a grotesque scene when a departed spirit or a devil appears and apart from that, only flutes and big and small hand drums are used (with the big drum initiating the rhythm). To distinguish the 2 types of scenes, the former is called "side drum scene (Otuzumimono or Otuzumiirimono)" or "four-beat-rhythm (Yonbyoshimono or Shibyoshimono)", while the latter is called "big-and-small-drum scene (Daishomono)".

Besides the above-mentioned, occasionally the protagonist (Shite) hits a gong drum (shoko) on the stage ('Sumida-gawa River (Noh)' and 'Mii-dera Temple'). Mostly, the purpose is to express the sound of a bell or gong from a prayer to the Buddha but in this case, the drum is not struck at random and rather, there is a decided score. Moreover, in modern Noh, musicians other than Noh occasionally join the performance for background music (In the Noh play "garasha", Christian hymns and pipe organs, etc are used).


Noh is composed of various forms (style and patterns of the performing techniques). Noh dancing, Noh posturing, Noh chanting, Noh music, and in fact everything in Noh, has various forms. The details of how these forms were established are not clear but UMEWAKA, as mentioned above, wondered if the forms that first appeared during Edo Period, evolved and became stabilized during the Showa Period. As for the reason why this form appeared, UMEWAKA quoted the fact that study achieves efficiency by attaching names to the bodily movements. Moreover, UMEWAKA pointed out that, in modern Noh, these forms are unnecessarily valued too much to the harmful extent that it has become like the object of a kind of belief. UMEWAKA also pointed out that in Zeami's writing, a belief in form is not mentioned, and the important thing is to acquire the ability for a performer to freely control the relationship between the inside and the body in which it is impossible to acquire by merely studying the form.

Examples of form in Noh follow:

trick (Shikake) or mechanism (Kamae)
Stand straight, with both arms closed in front.

Open (Hiraki)
While retreating three steps (left, right and left), both arms are opened sideways. The form that links together trick (shikake) and open (hiraki) is called trick-open (shikakehiraki).

Left right (sayu)
Hang the left hand up and move out to the left by one or several steps and then, hang the right hand up and move out to the right by one or several steps.

A form in which the folding fan in the right hand is raised from the side, and hung high up in front.

Stretch out one's hand in front of the eyes. Represents crying.

Beat (Hyoshi)
Raise either of the feet, and step on the stage.

Stopping beat (Tomebyoshi)
At the end of one play, step clearly twice. The protagonist (Shite) steps, or a Nohwaki steps.

Noh mask

When both characters "Noh mask (能面)" are written, it is usually pronounced as "Noh-men" but when only the second character "mask" is written, it is usually pronounced as "omote". There are various kinds. There is also a real face called "hitamen" where a mask is not worn. Please refer to the section of Noh mask.


Today, the costumes are stylized, and the directions on how to use them are strictly outlined. For instance, the color white denotes nobility, and bright red denotes a young woman. Moreover, from the Middle Ages and during the early modern age, a lot of costumes spread among the families of Noh actors. Moreover, during the Edo period, the costumes became gorgeous as they are now. The underlying background is the development of fabric technology in the Edo Period, and the inflow of abundant capital from statesmen including the shogun's families.

Replicas (Tsukurimono) and small properties (Kodogu)

For the props on the stage, those kept rom before are called "small properties," while those made each time for a Noh performance are called "replicas." Replicas are mostly comparatively big things such as boat, car, tomb, or a stall. A replica may be extremely simplified. For instance, a "boat" in Noh is not bigger than an enlarged main wing of a model aircraft made of bamboo poles. It is big enough for Noh though. A big replica may be like the bell in the Noh play, 'Dojo-ji Temple'. This is big enough for the protagonist (shite) to change costumes inside. These replicas are made now by the protagonists (shite).

Duties (Syokusho)
protagonist (shite)
A Noh protagonist is called "Shite". In many cases, a protagonist (Shite) plays the role of a supernatural entity like god, revenant, long-nosed goblin, or demon and occasionally, he does play some flesh-and-blood roles such as Benkei in the Noh play "Ataka". A Noh play in which the protagonist plays the role of a supernatural entity is called a fantasy Noh, while a Noh play in which the protagonist plays the role of a realistic human is called a modern Noh.

A Noh actor who has endured professional training in order to perform proficiently as a protagonist is called a pro protagonist (shitekata). Besides playing the role of protagonist, a pro protagonist may also play the role of tsure and tomo. Generally, a child role is played by a child who is receiving training as a pro protagonist. Besides playing these characters in a Noh play, a pro protagonist may also be among the Noh chorus or the prompters.

The main character related to the protagonist, is called "tsure," a minor role without much relation to the story stripe is called "tomo," and among the tomo, a role that appears in order to make up a large number of people on the stage is called the "standing crowd" (tachishu).
In some Noh plays such as "semi-maru," and "Goko OHARA," the tsure is playing a role almost as important as the protagonist and such Noh plays are called "double protagonist Noh,"
There are also Noh plays that do not have roles lower than tsure.

Pro Nohwaki
Like protagonist, Nohwaki is a character indispensable to Noh. A Noh actor who has endured professional training in order to perform proficiently as a Nohwaki is called a pro Nohwaki (wakikata). Nohwaki plays the role of finding out what is in the mind of the protagonist (shite) through questioning. Therefore, Nohwaki mostly plays the role of a monk. Moreover, as mentioned above, since this role is one-sided, listening to messages from the protagonist, it is rare for Nohwaki to show any brilliant activity on the stage. Thus, a Nohwaki sits on the stage most of the time and there is even a comic haiku (Senryu) saying, "A Nohwaki monk may like to have a tobacco tray." A tsure attached to a Nohwaki is called "Wakizure (a companion who appears with the supporting actor in a Noh play).". In many cases, it is a role like a Tomo to the protagonist (shite).

A pro Nohwaki plays the role of Nohwaki or wakizure. Generally, compared with a pro protagonist, a pro Nohwaki is required to have a harder, upright acting style.

Nohwaki was originally an abbreviation for "Side protagonist (waki-no-shite)" and in the old days, there was no difference between pro protagonist and pro Nohwaki. The second actor in the Noh company, or the actor sitting in the prompter seat of the leading actor (Tayu, leading actor in a Noh play) is the Nohwaki. During the Middle Ages, Nohwaki took the leadership of the Noh chorus (jiutai) and because of this influence, even during the Edo period when a pro protagonists (shitekata) and pro Nohwaki (wakikata) were separated, Noh chorus was taken up mostly by pro Nohwaki. As time went by, the part, sometimes, switched alternatively to the pro protagonists, or might be performed by some specialist called the "pro Noh chorus" during some transitional period and now, it has assumed the present form. Nowadays, there are many pro protagonists who descended from original pro Noh chorus or pro Nohwaki's families.

Noh farce pro
A Noh farce pro often appears in a Noh play. The role played by a Noh farce pro is called an "interlude (Ai)" or "comic interlude in Noh (Ai kyogen) ". In many cases, such a Noh drama is divided into the first half (Maeba) and the second half (Nochiba). Legend says that, in order for the protagonist (shite) to have time to change costumes, the role of the Noh farce pro was created to relate the two sessions of the Noh story. There may be one or several people performing in the comic interlude. Moreover, while there are Noh farce pros simply telling the story only (a sitting interlude teller is called "igatari-ai" and a standing interlude teller is called "tachigatari-ai"), there are also Noh farce pros who move around the Nohwaki or the protagonist (shite) and form part of the story. The former is called the story telling interlude while the latter is called "bow interlude (ashirai-ai)". Uncommon though, there are also Noh plays that do not make use of a comic interlude farce pro.

pro Noh musicians
From the right stage seen from the audience, flute (fue), small hand drum (kotsuzumi), large drum (large leather) and Japanese side drum (taiko) are arranged in the order respectively. The small hand drummers and the big drummers can use the floor desk. The side drum (taiko) is used in the scene when a protagonist (shite) with supernatural powers, such as a liondog or demon appears. Noh music accompaniment without the side drum is called "triple time music (Sanbyoshi)," while Noh music accompaniment with the side drum is called "quadruple time music (Yonbyoshi)." Rather than playing the melody, the flute is used frequently as a percussion instrument for symbolizing the scene. The shout emitted by Noh musicians is also an important element of Noh drama.

Origin of Noh

Concerning the origin of Noh, an accurate account is still unclear. However, it is considered that this ancient masked drama may be the oldest staged public entertainment in Japan introduced from the Chinese continent to Japan in about the seventh century, or it may be originated from some variety show performance introduced from the continent during the Nara period. At first, these variety show performances, and the traditional court music as well, were under the protection of the Imperial Court. However, they soon spread among the people, merging with the old public entertainment existing at that time, and developed into comic dramas or short plays that centered on mimicry etc. Before long, they became the so-called "Sarugaku," and formed the prototype of what is generally known nowadays as Noh.

On the other hand, from about the middle Heian period, public entertainment like the ritual music (Dengaku) originating from Shinto rituals, and dancing for celebrating longevity (Einen) organized in Buddhist temples had become popular and developed respectively. Although these performers were originally farmers and monks, from about the late Heian Period, occupational groups performing their own specialties were also established.

Kan-ami and Zeami appeared. Circus performance (Sarugaku), ritual field music (Dengaku) and celebrating longevity (Einen) influenced one each other and developed further. From about the 12th and the 13th century, "theatre (literally "seat," or za in Japanese)" was born as Business Union and they came to be protected by temples and shrines. From the 14th century samurai were protecting the ritual field music and stage costumes, small props, and stages had also become gorgeous. Under this situation, Kan-ami emerged from Yuzaki-za, which is the theatre of Yamato Sarugaku (literally "Japanese Monkey Music"). It introduced surprising plays such as "kusemai (literally "Music Dance")" (Shirabyoshi-no-gei), etc to the melody and this brought about a big reformation to traditional Sarugaku.

The so-called "Joint-meeting Noh (Tachiai Noh)" performed at that time was being thought to be one of the backgrounds of such a reformation. This refers to performance matches in which theatres of Sarugaku and ritual field music were competing against each other. Winning in the "Joint-meeting Noh" was directly connected to the worldly success of the theatre. The reformation of Sarugaku, in Kanze-za, was also intended to win in this "Joint-meeting No".

In 1375, Shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA enjoyed watching a Sarugaku performed by Kan-ami and his son, Zeami in Imagumano of Kyoto. Impressed by their performance, Yoshimitsu protected Kan-ami and his son's theatre Yuzaki-za (Kanze-za). As a result, they managed to secure their protector, Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA and a body of spectators, that is, the community of samurais. Moreover, including Yoshimoto NIJO, they also managed to come into contact with the court noble society in Kyoto, absorbed the culture of these upper classes, and refined their Sarugaku to become more elegant. Further, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA also highly appreciated Zeami's nephew On-ami and became his protector. Like this, with the successive generations of leading actors in Theatre Kanze-za being connected to the contemporary powers, the prototype of the present Noh was accomplished.

Tobi-za, Yuzaki-za, Sakado-za, and Enmai-za, which were the Yamato Sarugaku (literally "Japanese Monkey Music") established during Muromachi Period, were collectively called Yamato-shiza (literally "Japanese four Theatres"). Thus, the legend saying that they are respectively related to the succeeding Hosyo-za, Kongo-za, Kanze-za, and Komparu-za, is in fact rational and persuasive.

Noh in the Shokuho Period

It is thought that there was no large developments in the contents of Noh as an art form during the Warring States Period (Japan). However, Noh continued to be loved by the contemporary powerful men such as Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. According to 'Mondo UNO's Diary', in 1582, Nobunaga enjoyed watching UMEWAKA family's Sarugaku with Ieyasu TOKUGAWA in Soken-ji Temple in Azuchi and he himself also liked playing the small hand drum. Moreover, there are records showing that Nobunaga's eldest son Nobutada ODA danced in a Noh drama.

Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who became the leading powerful authority in Japan succeeding Nobunaga, practiced Noh ardently in his later years. In October, 1593, Hideyoshi performed Noh drama and Noh farces in front of Emperor Goyozei for three consecutive days.

However, to an extreme, Hideyoshi showed no interest in Sarugaku other than the Yamato-shiza and as a result, a lot of theatres of Sarugaku disappeared during this time. So to speak, it was Hideyoshi who is responsible for selecting Noh which has succeeded to the present among the various Sarugaku theatres.

Noh of the Edo Period
During the Edo Period, because the successive generations of shoguns such as Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, Hidetada TOKUGAWA, Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, all liked Noh, Sarugaku came to have a significant meaning as a cultural capital of the community of samurai. Moreover, Sarugaku came to be the formal music (ritual music) for ceremonies in the community of samurais and each clan came to employ its retained Sarugaku performer. There was in fact a well known person called Akifusa MANABE who was originally a Sarugaku performer but succeeded even to the Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord).

Similarly, the Tokugawa family, also like Hideyoshi, protected Yamato-shiza. However, Hidetada protected Kita Shichidayu Noh, which was deviated from Yamato-shiza, and recognized the establishment of Kita Style (Kita-ryu) in Genwa Era.

Ieyasu TOKUGAWA liked Kanze-za and Hidetada and Iemitsu liked Kita Style. However, because Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA liked Hosho Style (Hosho-ryu), it is said that during the reign of Tsunayoshi, Kaga Domain and Owari Domain replaced the retained Noh musician from Komparu Style to Hosho Style. As a result, even nowadays, Ishikawa Prefecture and Nagoya are still active regions of the Hosho Style.

On the other hand, since Sarugaku had become the ceremonial music for the community of samurai, common people had gradually less and less chance to see Sarugaku. However, lNoh song lessons became popular among town people and a lot of Noh songbooks were published (There were even examples of Noh songbooks [Utai-bon] used as textbooks in private schools [Terakoya, temple elementary schools during the Edo Period] for children). Although the chance to in fact see Sarugaku was rare, the common people's concern was strong and whenever there was Noh performance event aiming at collecting donations for temples or shrines, a lot of spectators gathered.

Modern ages

After the Meiji Restoration, Noh, which was ceremonial public entertainment for the bakufu, was struggling to survive at the edge of abolition. In 1869, Noh was performed before the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited Japan. However in 1872, the Noh farce "Imitating the Emperor, Insulting a Superior" was prohibited and "Encourage goodwill and punish evil" was also banned by law.

However in 1878, Emperor Mutsuhito of Meiji set up a Noh stage in Aoyama Imperial Palace (Aoyama-gosyo), and enjoyed watching a lot of Noh dramas. And in 1879, Tomomi IWAKURA invited Ulysses Grant to his mansion to watch Noh. Furthermore, he facilitated establishing the Noh Society (Nohgaku-sha) (the later Noh Association (Nohgaku-kai)) and the construction of Shiba Noh Music Hall (Shiba-nohgaku-do completed in 1881).

In this way, Noh's crisis immediately after the Meiji Restoration passed. However, before long, because each sect came to present its own exclusive posture, the exchange and co-starring between sects disappeared.

Noh during World War II
Afterwards, when militarism intensely increased, attention to critical viewpoints poured into Noh dramas whose themes were related to the Emperor's family. In 1939, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Office of Security banned the public performance of the Noh drama "Goko OHARA" as being disrespectful. On the other hand, new Noh dramas with themes such as the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War II came to be made.

Postwar days
The defeat of World War II brought to the Noh sector a major turning point. Because a lot of Noh stages were burnt down due to war damage, Noh musicians, who had been practicing their own style of Noh performance exclusively from the other sects, united and began to practice jointly on the Noh stages that were left standing. As a result, young Noh artists were able to receive teachings and a lot of stimulation from excellent Noh artists of other sects. Hideo KANZE, the second son of Tetsunojo KANZE's family, received at this time a big impact from the differences in body theories between the Kanze Style and other sects. Consequentially, he transferred to Kita Style as an art apprentice and became an adopted son of Roppeita KITA. He introduced himself as Hideo GOTO. Even Hideo's younger brother Shizuo KANZE, who became Tetsunojo KANZE VIII, talked a lots about the big impact of beginning exchanges with other sects of the time.

Tamagawa Noh Stage (Tamagawa-no-butai) was an example of such an exchange type Noh stage at the time (The building was moved and reconstructed as Tessenkai Noh Theatre [Tessenkai Nohgaku Kenkyujo] now).

Sect (Ryuha)

The sects in Noh can be divided according to the system of Yamoto-shiza, and local Noh sects in various places in Japan. Yamoto-shiza (literally "The four theatres of Japan") are Kanze-za, Hosho-za, Komparu-za, and Kongo-za. In addition, Kita Style was spun off from Kongo-za during the Edo Period. They are collectively called Shiza Ichiryu (literally "four theatres, five styles"). Spun off from Kongo Style, Kita Style, which continued to receive influence from Komparu Style, was a new sect born in the Edo Period and during the Meiji Period, the Kita Style achieved the same status as the other four major styles. Since its establishment, Kita Style has never adopted the system of "seat or theatre (za)" and never been called Kita Theatre. That is why people do not say "five theatres," but "four theatres, five styles." Among the four theatres, Kanze and Hosho (which advanced from Nara to Kyoto) are called Kami-gakari, while Komparu and Kongo (which continued to be based in Nara for their activities) are called Shimo-gakari. Kita is included in Shimo-gakari.

Because of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's policies, Yamoto-shiza had absorbed the theatres of other Sarugaku such as Tanba sarugaku sanza. Consequently, entering the Edo period, the majority of Sarugaku in Japan became subsidiaries of Yamoto-shiza. At present, Noh artists in the system of "four theatres, five styles" have organized The Nohgaku Performers' Association and members of the Nohgaku Performers' Association are entitled professional Noh artists.

On the other hand, there are Noh sects which did not become integrated into the system of "four theatres, five styles" remaining in rural regions. In these local Noh sects, one may enjoy watching performances other than those of "four theatres, five styles" and peculiar local dances. Famous examples include Kurokawa Noh (spread around Kasuga-Jinja Shrine of Yamagata Prefecture) and Osudo Noh (spun off from Kurokawa Noh, but spread around in Niigata Prefecture).

Concerning Noh preformed by the Noh artists affiliated with the Nohgaku Performers' Association, the style of the entire Noh drama is represented by the Style of the protagonist (shite). Only for Noh, the originator of the sect is called "the head of the school (soke)". In fact, during the Edo Period, it was the Kanze Sect that first set up a branch (Bunke). Afterwards, based upon this exceptional case, other heads of the school also followed. To distinguish itself from the branch sect, the home sect is called the "Head of the School (soke)," meaning the originator of the sect. Now, as long as it is not used when the branch sect shares the same surname, "Head of the School" is almost an equivalent saying to "originator of the sect".

System of "Theatre or Seat"
Before the Edo period, performers of Sarugaku had to be affiliated to one of the theatres and because of this, unlike the protagonists (shite) today, they could not choose freely among the three key roles from their favorite sect. The composition of each theatre in the Edo period is shown as follows.

Kanze Style (Kanze-za)
Nohwaki: Shindo Style, Fukuo Style
Flute: Morita Style, Kasuga Style
Small hand drum: Kanze Style, Kosei Style
Big drum: Kadono Style
Side drum: Kanze Style
Noh farce: Sagi Style

Hosho Style (Hosho-za)
Nohwaki: Shimogakari-hosho Style
Flute: Isso Style
Small hand drum: Ko Style
Big drum: Kanze Style and Hosyo Renzaburo School
Side drum: Itoku Style
Noh farce: Okura Style and Okura Yadayu School

Kongo Style (Kongo-za)
Nohwaki: Takayasu Style
Flute: Kasuga Style Chome Seizaemon School
Big drum: Takayasu Style
Noh farce: Okura Style and Okura Hachiemon School

Komparu Style (Komparu-za)
Nohwaki: Shundo Style
Small hand drum: Ko Style, Okura Style
Big drum: Okura Style and Komparu Saburoemon School
Side drum: Komparu Style and Komparu Saburoemon School
Noh farce: Okura Style

Kita Style does not have the system of "theatre or seat (Zatsuki)".

Styles and schools existing nowadays
(The numbers inside the parentheses show the numbers of affiliated Noh artists registered in the Nohgaku Performers' Association in 2005.)

Pro protagonists (Shite) (Please refer to each section for details)
Kanze Style (561), Hosho Style (270), Kongo Style (100), Komparu Style (120), Kita Style (54)
Pro Nohwaki
Takayasu Style (16), Shimogakari-hosho Style (24), Fukuo Style (20)
Shindo Style (discontinued in Meiji Period), Shundo Style (discontinued in Meiji Period)
Flute pro (Fuekata)
Isso Style (17), Morita Style (48), Fujita Style (4)
Kasuga Style (discontinued in Meiji Period)
Small hand drumer (Kotsuzumikata)
Ko Style(31), Kosei Style (9), Okura Style (18), Kanze Style (7)
Big drumer (Otsuzumikata)
Kadono Style (12), Takayasu Style (13), Ishii Style (10), Okura Style (13), Kanze Style (1)
Komparu Style (discontinued in Meiji Period)
side drumer
Komparu Style (25), Kanze Style (16)
Itoku Style (discontinued in Meiji Period)
Noh farce pro
Okura Style (92), Izumi style (56)
Sagi Style (although descendants continue to practice on Sado Island, Yamaguchi, etc., they are not recognized by the Nohgaku Performers' Association)

Writings of Zeami
In 1400, Zeami wrote 'The Flowering Spirit (Fushikaden)' (Ichinakadensho). In Chapter 1 "Longtime practice (Nenraikeikojojo)"of this book, there are well-known contents such as "Not to forget intention to begin with" and "Flower at season (Jibun-no-hana)" and these theories are highly evaluated as being still practical at present. As far as the contents are concerned, they also contain some ideas of Zeami. Afterwards, Zeami wrote his theories as private writings based on his devoted study on the Noh dramas such as "Kakyo (the Mirror of the Flower)", "Shugyoku Tokka (gathering gems and gaining flowers)" and "Sarugaku dangi (Talks about Sarugaku)". By now so far, there have been 21 private writings of his known.

In houses of ancient families, there are books or private writings handed down from generations. These are called "Types (Katazuke)".

Presentation form
In the Edo period, the "Okina play" plus five dramas of Noh was a formal presentation. This is called "Okinatsuki-Gobandate."
Which dramas and in what order the dramas are presented are determined by the concept of "introduction, development, and climax. "

Concretely, Noh dramas are divided into five kinds. First drama (god): god becomes the protagonist (shite).
Also called "Side Noh"

Second drama (man): Soldier becomes the protagonist (shite).
Also called "Sura Noh (Shura mono)"
Mostly are losing battles (defeated sura).
Introduction of development

Third drama (woman): A beautiful woman becomes the protagonist (shite).
Development of development
Developing development

Fourth drama (mad): A madwoman becomes the protagonist (shite).
Also called "madwoman Noh (kyojomono)"
In fact, various dramas can enter this section. (miscellaneous Noh)
Climax of development

Fifth drama (demon): A supernatural powerful creature such as demon or long-nosed goblin becomes the protagonist (shite).
Also called "The last noh play of a day (Kirinoh)"

Performed in the order of
Between these Noh dramas, Noh farces enter. Therefore, it takes a long time for the entire show.

Nowadays, Noh performances of such a long duration are difficult and it is common in public performances that only the first Noh farce (Kyogen-Ichiban) is inserted between the Noh second drama (Noh-Niban). Still, the performing order of the five dramas is highly appreciated. For instance, it is very rare to have the fifth Noh drama "Ishibashi" followed by the third Noh drama "Izutsu".

For a Noh performance with the five dramas, if the fifth drama is not happy (celebratory Noh) but is dark content, then the second half of a god Noh such as "Takasago" will be performed (It is called a half Noh because only the second half is performed) so that a happy ending supposedly comes to the end. Occasionally, to further shorten it, the Noh lyrics in the last section only can be chanted without music (Su-utai, Noh lyrics without music). It is still possible to see this custom called Tsukeshugen (a short celebratory Noh play) in today's Noh dramas with a shortened duration of performance.


An example of Noh program repertoire (Bangumi Omote) is shown in the picture on the right. It is a common practice that the performer's name of the protagonist (shite) is written on the right of and a bit below the program name, while the performer's name of the Nohwaki is written directly below the program name. Moreover, small characters denote special performing.

Abbreviated presentation form
Half Noh
The first session of a long drama is omitted short for presentation. For details, please refer to the section "Half Noh."

Su-utai (Noh lyrics without music)
Presentation of one drama with only the Noh chant (jiutai). It is not accompanied by the Noh musicians or any character role such as the protagonist (shite) or tsure.

Just the Noh musicians (Subayashi)
A performance only by the Noh musicians.

Banbayashi (The Noh musicians perform the whole of the first Noh chant)
One drama is presented by the Noh chorus and the Noh musicians.

Ibayashi (An abbreviated presentation from of Noh in which the protagonist, the Noh chorus and the Noh musicians are all performing while sitting.)
The highlight of the drama is presented by the Noh chorus and the Noh musicians.

Shimai (Noh dance in plain clothes)
The dance as the highlight of the drama is presented by only the Noh chorus. The dancer does not wear a traditional Noh costume, but a Montsuki-hakama (formal kimono with family crest symbol with a separated skirt). Mask is not worn.

Maibayashi (An abbreviated presentation from Noh in which the main part is performed by the protagonist, the Noh chorus and the Noh musicians in Montsuki-hakama without masks.)
The Noh musicians join the Noh dance in plain clothes.

Names of the main dramas
In this chapter, we are introducing those classics completed in the Middle Ages but are still frequently presented nowadays. These are called modern dramas (Genkokyoku) in which they may be different in accordance with the sect and there are roughly 200 to 300 modern dramas. However, historically, besides these, about 2000 to 3000 dramas have been made. Even among the dramas which were discontinued, some are being presented again nowadays. Moreover, some dramas are written in the recent past or in recent years. These are called new Noh dramas.

Waki-Noh Mono (first-category Noh play in a five-drama-Noh presentation, mostly about god)
Otokokami-mono (literally "tale of a man god," example of the first Noh drama in a five-drama-Noh presentation.) (such as "Takasago" or "Yoro")
Joshin-mono (literally "tale of a goddess ") (such as "Seiobo")
Oigami-mono (literally "tale of an old god ") (such as "Hojo-gawa River," "Ukon," "Oimatsu")
Kotogami-mono (literally "tale of a strange god") (such as "Tobosaku," "Gendayu," "Naniwa," "Domyo-ji")
Aragami-mono (literally "tale of a wild god") (such as "Ejima," "Mekari," "Kamo")

nibanme-mono (second-category play)
Yushi-mono (literally "tale of a hero") (such as "Yashima," "Ebira," "Kanehira")
Kindachi-mono (literally "tale of a young noble") (such as "Tsunemasa," "Tomoakira," "Atsumori," "Atsumori IKUTA")
Oimusya-mono (literally "tale of an old warrior") (such as "Sanemori," "Yorimasa")
Onnamusya-mono (literally "tale of a female warrior") (such as "Tomoe")

sanbanme-mono (third-category play)
Honhige-mono (literally "tale of a real beard") (such as "Izutsu," "Genji kuyo," "Matsukaze")
Rojo-mono (literally "tale of an old woman") ("Higaki," "Obasute")
Binan-mono (literally "tale of a handsome man") (such as "Oshio," "Unrin-in")
Seitensen-mono (literally "tale of a fairy ") (such as "Kakitsubata," "Kocho," "Hatsuyuki")
Rosei-mono (literally "tale of an old fairy") (such as "Saigyozakura," "Yugyozakura," "Hana ikusa")
Genzai-kazura-mono (literally "tale of a modern Wig") (such as "Gio," "Rogio," "Yuya," "Goko OHARA")
Genzai-rojo-mono (literally "tale of a modern old woman") (such as "Sekidera Komachi," "Omu Komachi," "Sotoba Komachi")

yobanme-mono (fourth-category play)
Miko-megami-mono (literally "tale of a Shrine maiden or goddess") (such as "makiginu," "Urokogata," "Muro-gimi," "Genzai shichimen")
Shushinonna-mono (literally "tale of a devoting woman") (such as "Umegae," "Kinuta," "Minase")
Shushinotoko-mono (literally "tale of a devoted man") (such as "Koi-no-matsubara," "Koi no omoni," "Akogi,", "Utou," "Fujito")
Kyojo-mono (literally "tale of a wild woman") (such as "Mii-dera Temple," "Sumida-gawa River")
Otoko-monogurui-mono (literally "tale of a male maniac") (such as "Koya monogurui," "Ashikari," Yoroboshi")
Geizukushi-mono (literally "tale of trying your best in art") (such as "Kagetsu," "Jinen koji")
kara-mono (literally "tale of Things Chinese") (such as "Tsuru kame," "Kantan," "Ikkaku sennin," "Tenko")
Ninjo-mono (literally "tale of human feelings") (such as "Hachi-no-ki," "Shunkan," "Kagekiyo")
Samurai-mono (literally "tale of a Samurai") (such as "Kiso, " "Sakurai," "Sakurai eki," "Kogo," "Ataka")
Kiriai-mono (literally "tale of crossing swords") (such as "Youchi Soga," "Daibutsu kuyo," "Tadanobu")
Jo-mono (literally "tale of an old man") (such as "Aridoshi," "Ugetsu," "Tokusa," "Bukan," "Rinzou")

Yon Gobanme-mono (fourth-or-fifth-category play)
Reigen-mono (literally "tale of miraculous efficacy") (such as "Taniko," "Matsuyama kagami," "Aizome-gawa River," "Sagi")
Kijo-mono (literally "tale of an Ogress") (such as "Aoi-no-Ue," "Dojo-ji Temple," "Kurotsuka")

Gobanme-mono (fifth-category play)
Onna bosatsu-mono (literally "tale of a woman buddhist saint") (such as "Taema," "Ama")
Atebito-mono (literally "tale of a noble") (such as "Kenjo," "Raiden," "Matsuyama tengu")
Mosho-mono (literally "tale of a brave general") (such as "Kusanagi," "Ikarikazuki," "Kou," "Funa Benkei")
Tengu-mono (literally "tale of a long-nosed goblin") (such as "Zegai," "Kurumazo," "Daie," "Dairokuten," "Kazuraki tengu")
Oni-mono (literally "tale of a demon") (such as "Shokun," "Shokai," "Nomori," "Raiden")
Ryujin -mono (literally "tale of dragon god") (such as "Atago Kuya," "Kasuga ryujin")
Chikurui-mono (literally "tale of livestock") (such as "Sesshoseki," "Nue")
Uchiai-mono (literally "tale of competition") (such as "Ryoko," "Shari," "Hiun")
Onitaiji-mono (literally "tale of demon extermination") (such as "Momijigari," "Rashomon," "Oe-yama Mountain," "Tsuchigumo")
Honshugen-mono (literally "tale of real celebration speech") (such as "Shakkyo," "Shojo," "Taihei shojo")

[Original Japanese]