The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Latest trends in Kabuki, Noh/Kyogen and Bunraku   Kazumi Narabe (Journalist)
Latest trends in Kabuki, Noh/Kyogen and Bunraku   Kazumi Narabe (Journalist)

*School (ryuha)
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.
Noh Drama
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.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |