Noh on Sado

“Noh” (能) is a traditional performing art unique to Japan with a history of over 650 years that combines drama, dance, singing and instrumental accompaniment with myths and legends as its main theme. The art of Noh was perfected by the actor Zeami, who, when losing shogunal patronage, got exiled to Sado Island in 1434.

After the Meiji Restoration (1868) Noh fell into decline. Nowadays, there are not many Noh stages left, however, one third of Japan`s Noh stages are on Sado Island. This is because it is continuously practiced by ordinary people who, though they are not professionals, are passionate about the art form.

There are various kinds of masks used in Noh: men and women of all ages, demons, gods, animals etc. Although Noh masks seem to be expressionless, by changing the angle of the head just slightly when wearing one, various emotions can be expressed.

 

Here is an example of a Noh piece – “Kurotsuka”:

A high priest of Tokobo Temple was on a tour of the country with his companion when he asked for lodging in a secluded house in Adachigahara. The woman who owned the house was reluctant at first, saying her house was unsightly, but granted them lodging eventually. When the priest inquired about an unfamiliar object in the house, the woman told him that it was a device used spin threads. The woman then showed him how she made threads with the device and talked about the sorrow of the world and the fleeting nature of life.

As the night grew colder, the woman gathered wood from the mountains, built a fire, and stopped her spinning. She then left the house, warning the priest not to look into her bedroom while she was away. The priest, suspicious, looked into the bedroom and found a heap of corpses. They fled the house in fear of the black mound where the demoness lived, but when the woman learned of this, she showed her true nature, chasing after them… What would happen next?