Noh at Kyoto Kanzei-kai

We met at 9:45am this morning to go to Kanzei-kai to see Noh plays! It was important for us all to go early because the theater crowds up and it becomes hard to find good seats otherwise. We ventured through the subway only to find that it had snowed as we emerged out at our subway stop. The snow had coated the trees in the distance and it was a really pretty sight to behold. We were able to get to the theater with enough time to find seats, rested for a bit, and the show started.

The theater itself was a unique design–mostly wooden with seats around it in two levels, formed like a curved “L” shape. The head of the stage has a curved triangle pointing up and there is an intricate, waffled woodwork underneath. The stage has two entrances, one main one on stage right where most of the main characters enter and exit from, and smaller on stage left where the others enter and exit. In fact, the smaller entrance is so small that the people must bow their heads down to get through it, reminding me of the tearoom Sen No Rikyu had designed so that everyone (including aristocrats, samurais, and elites) must bow their head down to enter.

During most of the performance, actors were usually front and center, chorus on the side, and drummers and others in the back. I was particularly amazed by how determined the drummers were in hitting the drum so hard. Even from the second row of the top level, we were able to see the bright red hands of the drummers. The tsuzumi player had a very clear red stripe where his palm reached the base of his fingers (with his fingers being extremely pale), reminding me of how much my hands would burn as I played the djembe in my African Dance & Percussion class this semester. His playing was much more intense, so I can only imagine how much pain he was feeling, how calloused his hands must be, and how much training he must have undergone to play the instrument for so long.

The Noh performers were also absolutely fantastic and despite having seen a Noh performance at Williams last year, I was still amazed to see how much it seemed like the actors were gliding across the floor when they first entered. The incredibly disciplined, precise, and deliberate movements they had during the entire performance was phenomenal. My favorite performances were Niwatori Muko (The Rooster Groom) and Iwafune (The Boat of Heaven). Niwatori Muko involved a friend of a new groom that him that the groom must dress and act like a rooster to please his Father-in-law. The Father-in-law upon seeing his new son-in-law responds the same way by also dressing and acting like a rooster, and I thought the whole performance was hilarious. Iwafune, was also very high energy, but was a play about the goddess Amam that came down from Heaven in a boat and meets an imperial envoy who is looking for treasure. The second half, which I found particularly exciting, was of a dragon-god that brings a ship filled with treasure. I found the energy, elaborate costumes, and bright colors. This was the last show before the end of the performance.

After the Noh performance, CJ, Leah, and I went to Loft (to get amazing stationary), Uniqlo (for clothes), and a tempura restaurant (with great vegetarian options) near our hostel. The restaurant in particular had a great environment and it was a nice place to unwind with CJ and Leah. Now we’re preparing to meet the Takabayashi family tomorrow and I’m looking forward to learning more about how Noh is done.

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