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An Introduction To the World's Oldest Performing Art, Noh!

This video, titled "Basic Knowledge for Enjoying Noh ❖ Japan's Traditional Performing Art【NipponTsuTV】" (能を楽しむための基礎知識❖日本の伝統芸能【日本通tv】), was released by "NipponTsuTV." It introduces basic knowledge for enjoying Noh.

Noh, one of Japan's traditional performing arts, has also been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In this article, we'll introduce the world of the traditional performing art Noh in detail, alongside the video.

A Look at the History of Noh, the World's Oldest Performing Art

Image of Noh

The origin of the world's oldest performing art, Noh, dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries when performing arts came to Japan from mainland China.
Over the years, various Noh plays, dances, and performances fused together to form the Noh theatre that we know today.

Throughout the lifespan of the traditional Japanese performing art, there were times when it nearly died off, but people's profound love for the art gave it the strength to continue being passed on even in.
This is touched on in the video from 0:45.

The Charm of Noh, the World's Oldest Performing Art

Image of Noh, Drum
Photo:Noh, Drum

In Noh, it's important for the performer to immerse themselves in their role and perform the story as if it were a retelling of their own life.
From 1:38 in the video, the charm of Noh is introduced by the Noh performer Jiichi Asami.

In Japan's traditional performing arts there are what are called "kata" or standard forms of movement, posture, etc.
Noh is no exception, and all acting is composed of predetermined "kata" and predetermined actions.
From 5:02, aspects of the stage and music, such as "Koken" (prompter), "Jiutai" (chorus) and "Hayashi" (musical accompaniment) are also introduced in detail.

Schools of Noh, the World's Oldest Performing Art

As you can see from 3:45 in the video, Noh is mainly performed by Shitekata who plays the main character while wearing a traditional Noh mask and the Wakikata plays a supporting role.
There are 5 major schools of the Shitekata, the Kanze school, Konparu school, Hosho school, Kongo school, and Kita school.
These 5 schools are called the 5 major schools of Shitekata.

The Difference Between Kyogen and Noh

Image of Noh Stage
Photo:Noh Stage

Kyogen is a traditional performing art that is inseparable from Noh.
Noh and Kyogen are collectively referred to as Nohgaku or Nogaku.

Noh is centered around Kabuki theater and Kyogen is centered around comical dialogue.
Famous actors that come to mind are Mansai Nomura and Motoya Izumi.
There is an impression that the performing arts culture is a profession only for men, and while this was mostly true in the past, in modern times, there are around 200 female Noh performers carrying on the traditional performing art.

If You're Interested in the Traditional Performing Art, Noh...

We recommend visiting a theater to appreciate traditional culture.
Nohgaku can be seen in Noh theaters, such as those in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto, and there are many events held all over Japan as well.
Performance information is distributed by the Nohgaku Performers' Association.

Also, there are programs that you can participate in called "Noh Dairengin" that are held for the purpose of spreading the traditional culture.
These are programs in which people who are interested in Noh can participate in and practice "Takasago" for a couple of months and finally perform it.
It's a valuable opportunity for the general public to participate in traditional performing arts.

If you're unable to go and see a Noh performance, you can also start with Noh song books or other Noh-related materials.
Since its establishment in 1907, Nohgaku Shorin is a publisher that specializes in traditional performing arts with the goal of keeping traditional culture alive and to continue to support the spread and development of Noh.

Summary of Noh, the World's Oldest Performing Art

Traditional culture tends to have a high knowledge threshold, this is not just limited to Noh.
However, once you know how things work you can enjoy the depth of the traditional performing art.
The video summarizes traditional performing arts in an easy-to-understand and condensed manner so be sure to check it out!

Dressing up in costumes and actual performances are also shown from 7:25 in the video, so if you haven't watched it yet don't miss out!

Written By
Last Updated : Aug. 16, 2022
吉田 セツ(Setsu Yoshida)
After working in education, I returned to the countryside and became a double-employed writer.

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The World's Oldest Theatrical Art Form, Noh, a Traditional Culture That Has Been Loved by Many for More Than 1,300 Years!
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