Today was the much anticipated day where we went to see a Noh performance! The program we saw today was made up of three regular Noh plays, one Kyogen play, and a very special traditional play called the Okina. We were really lucky to get to see the Okina play because it is only performed at the beginning of the new year or when a new theatre is built.
The program opened up with the Okina play. It was a gorgeous display of ceremony and dance — I’m sure I could have stared at those costumes for hours and still not picked out everything about them. The simple stage and controlled movements of the actors really allowed the costumes and masks to take center stage.
My favorite of the three Noh plays was probably Toboku. It was uniquely lyrical and poetic — the synchronized chanting of the chorus and the movement of the actor playing the Ghost of Lady Izumi’s fan worked to provide an almost trance-like atmosphere that I was really able to lose myself in.
The single Kyogen play was a real highlight of the experience as well! It was a hilariously funny short comedy about a son-in-law who didn’t know the proper protocol for his first ceremonial visit to his father-in-law’s house. Like any young person who doesn’t know what to do in a given situation, the son-in-law goes to ask a teacher of his who is older and wiser and who has made such a decision before. Except, instead of giving the young man good advice, the teacher decides that he’s going to prank him. He tells the young man to go to his father-in-law’s house and to dance around crowing like a rooster. Not believing that his teacher would ever steer him false, the young man does just that. The father in law sees this, decides that the young man must have been tricked, and joins in so as not to embarrass him. I really enjoyed this short play — it held some of the most entertaining rooster impressions that I’d ever seen! It was also a nice refresher after the heavy solemnity of the Noh and Okina plays.
Reflecting back on the performance, I can say that this trip has really taught me to appreciate Noh as an art form. It’s very different from Western theatre, but I think it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges — the purposes of the two crafts are so different that I don’t know how anyone could compare the two! The emphasis of Western theatre is always to tell a compelling story. Some good examples of this are Shakespearean plays. Plays like Hamlet and Macbeth have been staged a thousand times in different time periods and with different sorts of backdrops. It’s the story that is the essence of the play — the scene and costumes really aren’t important. If you set Hamlet on a spaceship, the spirit of what makes it Hamlet remains. However, in Noh plays I believe that the opposite is true. The stories depicted in Noh plays are from common legend. They are, by and large, simple tales that everyone watching the plays would know. The story is therefore relatively unimportant to what makes Noh, well, Noh. The staging is everything in the Noh play. From careful beating of drums to the synchronized and haunting chanting of the course to the carful movements of the shite actor’s fan, it is all the minuscule actions of every moment that come together to create a stunning piece of moving and visual art. I really enjoyed to being exposed to a style of theatre so different to what I am used to. I had a very good time at the performance and am thankful that I was able to experience it!
After the performance, I was able to make a quick sightseeing stop at the Heian Shrine. It was a gorgeous complex, but it was about to close as we were let out of the Noh play, so I had to be quick! After that, Tiffany, Joanne, Frankie, Si Hou, and I went to the bustling modern center of Kyoto next to Kyoto Tower to try and find a particular anime-themed store. We did not succeed, but had a great time regardless!
All in all, today was a great day and I can’t wait to visit the family of Noh performers tomorrow after my experience today!
See you tomorrow!