The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Hirotada Kamei
Hirotada Kamei
Born in 1974, Hirotada Kamei is the first son of Tadao Kamei, Noh otsuzumi master of the Kadono school, and his wife, Sataro Tanaka, the 12th-generation head of the Tanaka school of Kabuki and Nagauta hayashikata. After his first performance on the Noh stage in 1982 in the play Kappo, he performed not only hayashi but child roles in a number of plays. Until now he has performed otsuzumi in numerous Noh plays including Ishibashi, Rangyoku, Okina, Dojoji, Sagi, Sotoba komachi, Tokusa and Higaki. He has participated in overseas performances in France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and the countries of Africa as well. He has also composed numerous new Noh plays and revivals of old plays. In 2003, he was awarded the Encouragement Prize of the 18th Victor Traditional Arts Promotion Foundation Awards, and in 2007 he received the 14th Japanese Traditional Cultural Contribution Award. He is the leader of the “Sankyokai,” “Keikokai” and the “Hirotada no Kai.” He also serves as an instructor at the National Noh Theatre and the National Theatre’s training programs.
Hirotada Kamei
Photo: Ken Yoshikoshi
an overview
Artist Interviewアーティストインタビュー
Looking to the future of Noh with Hirotada Kamei, an Otsuzumi (Okawa) artist who calls himself a Noh actor  
Noh is a uniquely Japanese traditional performing art that combines the acting of actors known as shitekata and wakikata who perform to the narration called utai and a musical accompaniment known as hayashi. This hayashi is an ensemble of ultimate simplicity, consisting of just four instruments, three drums, the kotsuzumi, a small shoulder-held hand drum, the otsuzumi, a larger knee drum, a taiko (a standing floor drum) and a flute (fue). Another important element of this hayashi accompaniment is the vocal punctuation provided by the otsuzumi player. Among today’s otsuzumi players, no one is the focus of more attention today than Hirotada Kamei. Despite being still in his mid-30s, Kamei is active at the forefront of his profession, participating in more than 200 performances a year while also instructing the next generation of performers through his positions at the National Noh Theatre and the National Theatre. Hirotada Kamei is the first son of Tadao Kamei, a National Living Treasure and Noh otsutsumi master of the Kadono school, and his wife, Sataro Tanaka, the 12th-generation head of the Tanaka school of Kabuki nagauta hayashikata. From the age of three Hirotada studied under his father, and today he continues the pursuit of his art as leader of the “Hirotada no Kai” and by actively seeking contemporary developments of through performances of “Noh in the Present Tense” in collaboration with the Noh-Kyogen masters Mansai Nomura and Yukihiro Isso. He has also formed a group with his two younger brothers who are Kabuki hayashi performers called Sankyokai in his ever expanding realm of artistic activities. In this interview we talked with Hirotada Kamei about his encounter with the otsuzumi, the contemporary Noh world and his vision for the future of Noh.
(Interviewer: Kazumi Narabe)

The otsuzumi is a larger drum of the same basic type as the kotsuzumi but held on the knee as opposed to the shoulder. It also has a completely different sound that is sharper, almost metallic in quality. Can you tell us about the difference between the two drums?
    The kotsuzumi and otsuzumi are two different types of drum but both are very sensitive instruments. (Being made of natural materials like wood an skins) the Japanese traditional instruments are greatly affected by environmental factors like humidity. Whereas the kotsuzumi performer accommodates for changes in humidity by applying saliva or breathing moist breath into the drum, with the otsuzumi, in contrast, we take care in making sure that the drum is sufficiently dry. To do this, we put it through a drying process that dries out the drum skin for about two hours before we play. The otsuzumi skin is horse skin and heating it to dry it our damages the cells of the skin gradually, and the fact that that it is stretched onto the drum also causes stretching of the skin that weakens it. After four or five uses the quality of the sound drops to the point where it has to be changed. So, we constantly have to be buying new skins. And give the effects of the constantly changing humidity, you really never get the same sound out of the drum twice. It is different every day.
    When we strike the otsuzumi, we are using the central axes of the body, the pelvis, the back and the chest as the swing axis so that the drum can be hit with a snap from the wrist without tension in the fingers. If the axes of the body are used properly it is easy to swing through with a good slap to the drum. The sound of the otsuzumi comes out the back of the drum. The sound travels through the cylinder of the drum, through the back skin and then reflects off the back wall of the stage where the pine tree is painted. That is the sound that you hear in Noh.

The four-instrument ensemble that performs the musical accompaniment (hayashi) in Noh is made up of the three percussion instruments of the otsuzumi, kotsuzumi, the taiko drum and the flute. What is the role of this four-instrument ensemble in the music theater that is Noh.
    If the orchestra in opera is the actors’ voiceless voice, then that is close to the kind
of role the hayashi plays in Noh. It is more than simply an accompaniment. The abstract voice calls of “yoh” and “hoh” that we members of the hayashi make combine with the simple “chone” sound of the otsuzumi, the “pone” sound of the kotsuzumi, the “ten” sound of the taiko and the “hee” of the flute to create that kind of voiceless voice for the actors. In other words, the role of the four-instrument ensemble in Noh is to give expression to the cries of the soul of the actors.
    We call the “playing” we do in the Noh hayashi “hayasu,” which means that we are in fact performing two roles, one as a musical accompaniment and another that is something similar to the role of a “third character” in the play by filling in with our calls the “words” unspoken by the main character (shite) and the supporting actor (waki).

To me the vocal calls of the otsuzumi player are a very attractive and fascinating part of Noh, sometimes sounding like an effective theatrical element and sometimes carrying the listener off into a very abstract realm.
    The role of the shite is to perform the dance and the recitation, and the parts that cannot be said by the shite are primarily chanted by the jiutai chorus. This is similar to the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy. The jiutai chant is sufficiently explanatory in its wording, so there is no need for the hayashi team to use words. Still, there are limits to what can be expressed in the recitations of the jiutai chorus and the narrative recited by the shite. So, the role of our abstract calls is to give an added a sense of reality to the words and the dance movements.
    In specific terms, there are places in certain plays where the sounds of our calls are varied in order to represent the sounds of a rain scene or a snow scene. It is a matter of using high, middle and low vocal sounds to create the desired effect. The rest is perhaps close to what Danjuro IX called “the art of conveying unspoken messages. There are times when I concentrate on “rain” for instance in such a scene and try to vary the vocal effects accordingly.

In the orchestra analogy, the shite of Noh is said to be the equivalent of the conductor. If so, does that mean that the four-instrument ensemble follows the directing of the shite.?
    It is true that the shite is the main character in the Noh play, but we do not perform according to the shite’s lead or direction, it is rather a situation in which the four-instrument ensemble and the jiutai chorus move the actors, which includes the shite, waki and Kyogen actors. The equivalent of the concertmaster among the four members of the ensemble is the otsuzumi and the concertmaster of the chorus is the leader called the jigashira. During the play it is these two concertmasters who lead the overall flow of the action and music. Since the shite is performing, he cannot give verbal directions to the hayashi members or the jiutai chorus. So we (the otsuzumi and jigashira) watch the timing (kuraidori) of the shite’s spoken lines and also the dance movements themselves and send messages back and forth to each other with our vocalizations. This kuraidori can be thought of as the pacing of the performance. The pace (kuraidori) of the shite’s performance is different every day, depending on the physical condition, the mental state and the answers that he has arrived at in his practice/rehearsal concerning how he wants to perform the given role. Therefore, if we perform the same play for 25 days in succession the length will never be the same on any two days.

In Noh, the performers from the different disciplines never practice together, an the enter a performance run having rehearsed together only once. It seems almost unbelievable that a high-level performance can be brought together with just one rehearsal.
    The reason we are able to do this is because the same script has existed and used for more than 600 years. Noh functions according to a complete “division of labor” between the shite, waki, Kyogen and hayashi disciplines (and the four instruments of the hayashi are also separate). These families in which these disciplines have been handed down have traditions that have continued for more than 600 years. And within each of these traditions, there are musical scores and performance methods that have been handed down from one generation to the next. So, the practitioners (performers) from each of these traditions practice and train in their own parts only and then come to that single rehearsal and bring it all together. They have all done sufficient training from an early age to be able to do this. And, viewed from another perspective, the only ones who stay in this professions are the ones who are able to do this, to be able to jump right in after one rehearsal and perform at a high level with the other disciplines.
    I would also add, that my practice for a given play is not a process of practicing the otsuzumi drum part, rather it is a process of reciting the script. This is the way my father taught me to practice. I memorize the entire play script. I get a sense for the pace of the entire play. From my past experience performing different plays I work on clarifying my image of the play. Besides this, I believe that watching other performers’ stages is also an important part practice. By watching other people perform, you can get ideas about how you would perform it differently.
    In order to perform the part of the otsuzumi in Noh, you have to have a total grasp of the parts of the flute, the kotsuzumi, the taiko the narrative and, if you want to be fully ambitious, the dance of the shite as well. If you don’t know the feeling of the flute, you can’t play the drum part of a dance. If you don’t know the feeling of the kotsuzumi you will be anxious about how he will receive the otsuzumi. The otsuzumi and kotsuzumi are sometimes spoken of in terms of a marital relationship, with the otsuzumi as the husband and the kotsuzumi as the wife. It is no good if everything is decided based on the feelings of the husband. The husband has to understand the heart of his woman.
    You won’t learn much by practicing the otsuzumi alone by yourself. You have to wait until the actual play performance before you can really perform. You just have to spend your time thinking about how you are going to interpret the play in your performance and how you will use your calls. Your hand has already learned all the technique you need, so you save your hand for the actual performance. The otsuzumi is an instrument that takes a toll on the hand in direct proportion to how much you play it. Considering the number of performances I am doing now, I don’t want to use my hand for practicing. I have decided that I will gradually do the damage I must do to my hand in performance, not practice.

When did you first begin to feel this way?
    I was seven when I first realized that I had to take care of my hand. Since you have to learn the technique, I practiced very hard until I was in high school. And, although I now use a protector that we call finger skins, I often didn’t use them and beat the drum barehanded when I was in my teens in order to strengthen my fingers. I was 16 when I realized that I would ruin my hand if I kept practicing so much.
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