Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Encounter The World Of Noh At Yokohama's Noh Theater!
Yokohama Noh Theater is home to one of the oldest existing Noh theater stages in Japan. In this facility you can enjoy watching performances of Noh and Kyogen and even see displays of objects and masks used on stage!
Written by Jumpei Kawashima
Go Backstage at Yokohama Noh Theater
Noh is a traditional Japanese performing art with a history spanning over seven centuries. Costumed actors go on stage to perform songs and dances accompanied by traditional music. It is a stage art that fascinates people even today.
At the Yokohama Noh Theater located in Kanagawa, you will be able to see one of Japan's oldest Noh stages while experiencing the culture of Noh up close. This time, we would like to introduce you the wonders of the Yokohama Noh Theater.
What Is Noh?
Noh "Momijigari" (Kanze-style) Munenori Takeda. Photo courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater. Photographer: Yoshiaki Kanda
Noh is a Japanese classical theatrical art and it consists of two major types of performances: Noh and Kyogen.
The main features of Noh are its focus on songs and dances, and the topics of each play being inspired by classic stories.
The main character in Noh plays is called shite, while the co-star is known as the waki. Depending on the expression or the character of the Noh mask worn by the shite, you will be able to know what kind of role he is playing.
Kyogen "Kakiyamabushi" (Okura-style) Norishige Yamamoto. Photo courtesy of Yokohama Noh Theater. Photographer: Yoshiaki Kanda
Contrary to Noh, Kyogen is a comedy that depicts the daily lives of the common people in a humorous manner. The shite does not wear a mask as much and during the performance you will find the audience laughing from the lines and actions of the performers.
Noh and Kyogen are both performed on the same stage. With a more serious story, Noh is watched quietly while enjoying the songs and dances. Meanwhile, Kyogen has an amusing plot topped with humorous lines and actions by the actors. One of the great things about watching a Noh performance is how you can enjoy two different types of classic performances in one theater.
Explore the Yokohama Noh Theater
In the Yokohama Noh Theater, there are spots you can only see here such as the historical stage or the dressing room of the actors. Come along with us as we explore the backstage of the Yokohama Noh Theater.
The 140 Year Old Historical Main Stage
The main stage, constructed from wood, has been used for over 140 years and is the oldest remaining Noh theater in the Kanto area. The roof that rises over the stage is not simply for decoration; theater performances were once only conducted outdoors, and this roof is a remnant of that time, where only the stage would be covered.
During the performance, the shite and the waki along with the musicians called hayashi kata and singers called jiutai stand on stage. The brightly lit stage seems almost otherworldly and it feels almost as though you’ve fallen into a different world entirely.
Behind the theater is an image of a pine tree painted on a panel called kagami ita. Formally, Noh was not performed for an audience, but it was performed in front of a pine tree that represented a God.
The pine tree painted on the kagami ita is a symbolic image of the sacred pine, and Noh is performed in a formal atmosphere as if in front of a divine presence.
The stage has also been considered sacred for a long period of time. Therefore, please note that usually you may not go up on the stage itself.
Entry to the Underworld? The Stage View from the Entrance Curtain
On the left side of the stage, there is a path called hashigakari leading to the agemaku entrance curtain where the actors go in and out.
Inside is an open room where the actors wait for their turn to go on stage.
Once the curtains are drawn, you will be able to see the main stage in front of the hashigakari. In many Noh performances, they say the underworld lies behind the curtain and the main stage is considered to be the world of the present. It seems rather mysterious, doesn’t it?
Be Prepared! Investigate the Small Door at the Side of the Stage
A small door can be found on the side of the main stage called the kiridoguchi that leads to the room backstage.
The kiridoguchi is used by shite's assistants called kouken and singers to enter the stage. Isn't it interesting to see the Noh theater from behind?
Second Floor: Displays of Objects Used in Noh
On the second floor, you can see various items that have been used in Noh performances. Rare displays of Noh masks and instruments can be found with English descriptions, making it easy to understand what each item is used for.
At the Yokohama Noh Theater, once every second Thursday of the month you will be able to explore behind the stage introduced in this article. They take reservations in advance even in English, so those who are interested are welcome to inquire from their website contact form in Japanese or English!
Yokohama Noh Theater is a great place to watch a Noh or Kyogen performance. It would be an unforgettable experience to visit and learn more about the world of classic Japanese performing arts!
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