Noh and Noh Performers


2)    Noh Performer, Takabayashi Family 高林家
(Lecture by Prof. Monica Bethe)

History of Noh
Noh was propagated under Kan’ami, a Shinto priest, and his son Zeami. Kan’ami performed a play that drew from traditions in dengaku and sarugaku noh at Imagumano Shrine in 1374, where a young Yoshimitsu attended and was pleased by the performance, thus giving patronage to the group, which allowed them to forward their art form. Kan’ami and Zeami were responsible for a majority of the development of Noh, Zeami even writing multiple treatises about the way of mastering the art form.

Noh comes with Zen influences, which can be seen in perfection of its art, Buddhist themes in certain repertory, and refined, graceful movements that show discipline. Spiritually, Noh also borrows much from Shinto origins, seen through the architecture and symbolism of its stage, as well as its connection to spirits from the other world.

While there exists approximately 2000 texts for Noh, only around 250 are currently performed. Noh plays can be quite short in content in comparison to Western theater, but each play can be about an hour. While Noh focuses on subtlety in movements and plays contain little action, much of the art is found in the atmosphere that the performance creates, and the subtlety in itself. Additionally, the concept of jo-ha-kyu starts the performance off slowly in the beginning, only for it to gain momentum and climax towards the end, taking viewers on an atmospheric ride. Skilled performers of Noh are able to master their control of atmosphere, understanding the rhythms of the chorus and ensemble, and engaging the audience.

There exist several specific roles with regards to Noh, being the shite (lead), waki (side), kyogen (performers of the interludes), and hayashi (instrumentalists, which also go further into different ensemble roles). Members of the chorus are usually shite in training. Not only does training differ between each role, it also differs between schools. There exist 5 major schools, being the Kanze, Hosho, Komparu, Kongo, and Kita, the last of which is a newer school in comparison to the rest.

Training to be a Noh performer is a lifetime commitment, with trainees often balancing rigorous Noh training schedules with normal academic school life, with little free time in between. There is always an emphasis on mastering and going back to the basics to keep one’s foundation strong, and even a skilled performer can never truly “master” Noh, as they are constantly pursuing improvement.

For interesting interviews with leading Noh masters:

The Takabayashi Family

Takabayashi Ginji (1902 – 1972) was a Noh actor who was disbarred from the Kita school of Noh in 1956 due to a dispute with Kita Minoru both over the style of teaching that the Kita school practiced aswell as the artistic license of a particular distinct and local variety that Ginji played a role in developing. Ginji was of the belief that that “the Kita school had once been more eclectic in its approach to traditions until Minoru and others had sough to standardize them” (Rath, 2006). After his excommunication Takabayashi Ginji compiled his beliefs into a privately published manuscript “Correct History of the Kita School”, released 1961 . It wasn’t until after the death of Kita Roppeita (1874-1971), Minoru’s older brother, adopted father, and head of the family; that Ginji was allowed to rejoin the Kita troupe.

“Imagination gives life to Noh | Tatsushige Udaka | TEDxKyotoUniversity”

The following link leads to an informative video on a brief history of Noh and it’s practices:


Dougill, John. Kyoto: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Geilhorn, Barbara. “Between self-empowerment and discrimination: Women in no today,” No Theatre Transversal. IUDICIUM Verlag GmbH, 2008.
Geilhorn, Barbara. “Women in a man’s world: gender and power in Japanese noh theater,” Women in Asian Performance. Routledge, 2017.
Griffiths, David. The Training of Noh Actors and The Dove. Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998.
Hare, Tom. “Noh Changes,” Noh and Kyogen in the Contemporary World, ed. by James Brandon. University of Hawai’i Press, 1997.
Kagaya, Shinko and Hiroko Miura. “Noh and Muromachi Culture,” A History of Japanese Theatre. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Moore, Katrina. Joy of Noh: Embodied Learning and Discipline in Urban Japan. State University of New York Press, 2014.
Raz, Jacob. “The Actor and His Audience: Zeami’s Views on the Audience of The Noh,” Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 31, No. 3. Sophia University, 1976.
Rath, Eric C, “The ethos of noh: actors and their art”, Cambdrige, Mass. : Harvard University Press. p.1 (2006)
“Imagination gives life to Noh | Tatsushige Udaka | TEDxKyotoUniversity” TED Talk, Begin Japanology, (July 6 2015). Youtube.