Noh Mask Carver and Noh Costume Maker

We set out today at 9:30 AM today on a taxi to Noh Mask Carver Otsuki Kokun’s residence. We were very honored to have seen Otsuki-sensei’s Noh mask collection. They were the same set of masks that were shown at a recent exhibition in Portland, Oregon. The masks will also be publicly displayed beginning at the end of this month in Japan. The display included not only masks he carved himself, but also masks carved by the master carvers of the past. For example, one of the masks included in the set was carved by Zekan Yoshimitsu, a master carver from the 17th century that was famous for his perfection in carving. Among his works on display, my favorite one was his Kokushikijo mask. It is a mask of the god of harvest, and it is presented as a mask of an old man painted black. His kokushikijo mask is different from other ones because it is dark with hints of dull, but still shiny silver scattered throughout the mask. This gave the mask an added sense of three dimensionality.

From our interview of Otsuki-sensei, we learned that he had quite a long journey that lead to his occupation as a Noh mask carver. He worked at a company for a year after high school graduation. He was a man of literature and eventually decided that he wanted to pursue literature studies, so he quit his job. In his pursuit of literature, he came across a Buddhist sculptor and became interested in sculpting. The busshi told him that he should start with something simple, such as a mask. Following his advice, Otsuki-sensei learned how to carve Kagura masks, as Kagura was popular in his hometown. He then traveled across Japan to see a variety of masks and decided that Noh masks were the most interesting. He then found his Noh mask carving master and became his apprentice. I found it really interesting how one can change his profession so many times and in such a drastic manner.

I learned that Otsuki-sensei also performs and writes Noh plays. This allowed him to understand Noh masks more and its importance in many aspects of Noh. He was able to make new Noh masks as a result, such as a Noh mask that represents a blind female. There is not such a character in the current repertoire, so he is currently writing a play for the mask that he carved.

After the visit to Otsuki-sensei, we ate lunch at Kyogoku dining. The meal was very complete and wholesome for its price. The restaurants that Sachi-san has found for us have all been economical and delicious. I’d definitely stop at these places again if I come to Kyoto again in the future. I may during golden week during my study abroad semester.

We visited Sasaki family’s Noh costume workshop after lunch. It was much different from the other two artisans that we visited. It was not one person working through the whole process, but a group of people that worked on different tasks. For example, there were people that weaved the textiles, but also people that made threads and organized the threads into a usable form. It was definitely a shocking experience seeing people weave textiles thread-by-thread. It made me appreciate the Noh costumes much more. The use of punch cards was also very interesting, as computerization seems much more efficient to me. Making new patterns would not require new punch cards, and the creation of new patterns would also be much simpler. It was sad to learn that the owner, Sasaki Youji, was unsure of the future of his business. It also showed the realities of many traditional businesses, as interest in many traditional practices and art are diminishing.


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