Schools are groups that formed in order to protect distinctive artistic styles of intangible performing arts and pass them on to succeeding generations. In Noh, there are different schools for the actors who play the main roles (shitekata), for the actors who play supporting roles (wakikata) for the shitekata, for the musical accompanists (hayashikata), and for the actors who perform in kyogen (kyogenkata). For the shitekata, for example, there are the five schools of Kanze, Hosho, Konparu, Kongo, and Kita. For the kyogenkata, there are the two schools of Okura and Izumi.
Nohgaku (Noh drama), which was designated a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible
Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO in 2001, has a history going back 600 years to
the 14th century time of ZEAMI Motokiyo, who created some one-third of the Noh
plays being performed today. Noh drama is made up of two parts. One is the musical
dramatic form of Noh proper, in which the performers sing and dance to the accompaniment
of four instruments called the shibyoshi - the flute (fue),
small drum (kotsuzumi), large hand drum (okawa), and large floor
drum (taiko) - and a chorus called the jiutai. The other part
is kyogen, a spoken dramatic form that is primarily comic. Noh in particular
uses ultimately simplified movements that have had all excess expression pared
away in order to dramatically convey its various contents according to the aesthetic
of yugen (mysterious profundity). Noh is known as the world's supreme
performing art in achieving the beauty of yugen.
Since the time of ZEAMI, Noh has had patrons in the ruling class of society. It
received particular protection during the Edo Period, when the shogunate government
designated Noh as shikigaku, the ceremonial performing art to be used
in ritual observances. As the performing art supported by the shogunate government,
Noh was maintained at a level unaffected by popularity among the populace, and
after the downfall of the warrior society, Noh continued to be sustained by leading
figures in government and patrons in the newly powerful industrial conglomerates
known as zaibatsu. The need to acquire fans among the common people only
arose after World War II, when Noh lost its patrons with the dissolution of the
zaibatsu. Noh is presently establishing an economic foundation through
education of fans and programs of performance.
This history as a performing art supported by the ruling class of society has
left its mark, so many Japanese people still feel that Noh is refined and difficult,
and that Noh theaters are only for connoisseurs. Efforts have been made, however,
to make Noh more popular, such as the opening of the National Noh Theatre in 1983,
and the Yokohama Noh Theater, which is operated by Yokohama Arts Foundation. Large,
young audiences have also been attracted to experimental performances, and Noh
has become popular enough that tickets can be difficult to obtain. Performances
of takigi Noh, which is held outdoors at night by torchlight, grew more
numerous in the early 1990s and have become extremely popular.
Despite all this, however, the audiences that make their way to the theaters operated
by the various schools of Noh are very limited, and are also increasingly elderly.
This situation appears finally to have been recognized as a crisis by the performers,
and the extremely confined world of Noh gradually began to display some new departures
starting about five years ago. Young Noh masters have formed a group called Kamiasobi
that crosses the rigid lines between schools, for example, and four young performers
of the Konparu School formed Za Square. These represent the beginnings of a movement
to make Noh appealing to youthful sensibilities, and they are attracting growing
numbers of fans.
Meanwhile, performances of the comic kyogen in easy-to-understand, colloquial
Japanese have been steadily rising in popularity. NOMURA Mansai, for example,
has played leading roles in television dramas and movies, and is the artistic
director of the Setagaya Public Theatre. The group TOPPA! - made up of six members
of the SHIGEYAMA family of the Okura School in Kyoto, including SHIGEYAMA Masakuni,
Munehiko, and Ippei - has attained star status among the young.
The kyogen world has a rich array of talent across the generations. NOMURA
Man'nojo has demonstrated his ability as a producer and has been working on reconstruction
of the ancient mask play known as gigaku. SHIGEYAMA Sensaku is a living
national treasure, born in 1919, who has acquired popularity among young women
for an ability to convey the gentleness of human nature with his entire body.
There have also been veteran kyogen performers such as SHIGEYAMA Sen'nojo
and Sensaku who have taken on the challenge of new kyogen pieces created
by the philosopher UMEHARA Takeshi and produced at the National Noh Theatre. These
works deal with such issues as environmental pollution or war by the art of laughter.
They have been received very favorably as expressions of the strength of classical
performing arts embodied in programs that are new and yet timeless.