Jan 13th: Noh, Buddhism (Nehan), and Sacred Mirrors

Today was a full day in many ways. It started with our bus ride and walk to Kyoca, where we met Diego Pellecchia who spoke to us about Noh production and performances. As the group sort of “in charge” of this category, I believe David and I jumped on this opportunity to make full use and record some of  Diego’s extensive knowledge on Noh.

One of the new things that really stood out to me during his lecture was the heavy use of imagery and symbolism in essentially every aspect of a Noh costume. Of course, in my own research, I found that the actor’s costumes/appearance are often determined by their role/what kind of being they are–but I had no idea how minute and easily missed some of the more detailed examples of symbolism could be. A Noh mask, for example, can represent more than mere age–in the case of a warrior, the Masks tint/darkness, features (facial “hair,”, structure, etc.) can symbolize that warrior’s experience (dark/reddish tint for a warrior that has experienced many bloody battles for example).

There is also heavy symbolism in the fans that the performers use and often display and can give the audience different useful information about the character’s life.

2017-01-14 06.06.43 1

Diego expertly shows us how fans are held and used in Noh

For the Waki (side roles), who never wear masks–the job is arguably more difficult as they must maintain a pretty neutral face throughout the performance (essentially, in my opinion, leaving the same impression that a mask would) which is a completely separate and impressive feat.

I think one of the most impressive things I learned about Noh today was its preservation of一期一会 (Ichigo Ichie) which is often translated into “each moment only once.” Essentially this is the idea that because certain encounters (or in this case, Noh performances–which could be thought of as encounter of bother performers and the audience) only happen once (they’re never rehearsed, and productions don’t have multiple matinees like their Western counterparts) people must go all out to make it really count, which definitely happens in these productions. I think Diego said it best when he said that each play is essentially “hours, years, centuries of tradition in one performance.”

After Diego’s Lecture, Professor Ludvik returned with an interesting Lecture on the Buddha’s Birth, Awakening and most importantly his passing (depicted in the various versions of the Nehan paintings). I found the Vegetable versions of this depiction of quite a holy and truly sombre scene to be most interesting. Certainly I can see why this wouldn’t be considered sacrilegious by many believers and practitioners in Japan today (Modern Japanese humor often allows for the parody and even the mockery of the most revered traditions and figures, as we saw in the Professor’s presentation), but I can’t even imagine how this would be the case in Medieval Japan.

Finally, we took a trip to Craftsman/sacred Mirror maker, Mr. Yamamoto’s work space and got to hear him speak on the tradition and how it changed over the years but also saw his Art/work method live. Yamamoto-san’s work results in probably some of the most striking and beautiful pieces of Art/culture/vanity that I’ve ever seen. I think in this case, its best to let the pictures speak for themselves.

2017-01-14 06.06.41 1

Yamamoto-san prepares to demonstrate for us each step of his bronze Sacred Mirror polishing method.

2017-01-14 06.06.47 1

In the process.

2017-01-14 06.06.55 1

In process (pt 2)

2017-01-14 06.06.49 1

Yamamoto-san expertly shows us the steps to making the special light reflictions of Makkyo Mirrors that result in beautiful images of light.

2017-01-14 06.06.38 1

Yamamoto-san expertly showing light reflections.

2017-01-14 06.06.40 1

The aforementioned “beautiful images of light”

Yamamoto-san was also Kind enough to let us try our own sacred mirror making:

2017-01-14 06.07.01 1

The beautiful result of the Williams gang’s own labor.

This entry was posted in kyoto. Bookmark the permalink.