enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Ancient Japanese Theatre

“Gigaku” (伎楽) is an open-air theatrical performance in which the characters dance to the accompaniment of music while wearing large masks known as “gigakumen” (伎楽面). At one stage, “gigaku” was performed in Buddhist temples during memorial services and other Buddhist services, but the performance soon died out, meaning that little is known about it. According to historians, “gigaku” performances began with a procession called a “gyodo” (行道), followed by a “shishimai” (獅子舞) which purified the stage. Next, the performers would don masks and perform a mimed dance. “Gigaku” declined during the Heian period (794–1185), ultimately becoming a ‘lost art’ of the Tenpyo era (729–749). However, “gigaku” was revived in 1980 in a performance staged as part of “rakukeihoyo” (落慶法要), a Buddhist ceremony to commemorate the completion of repairs to Daibutsuden (大仏殿; the Great Buddha Hall) of Todaiji Temple.

Gagaku and bugaku
By the early Heian period, music of various kinds from Asian countries had been transmitted to Japan. The music was reorganised into “saho” (左方; the left group) and “uho” (右方; the right group). Music from the Chinese mainland was organised into the former, while that from the Korean peninsula was organised into the latter, which led to the development of musical art of “gagaku” as we know it today. “Bugaku” (舞楽) was a type of dance performance that involved music thus developed .The dances in “bugaku” consisted of “samai” (左舞; dances of the left), which were performed to “saho”, and “umai” (右舞; dances of the right), accompanied by “uho”. The dances of the left and right were performed in turns, with the paired musical accompaniments. This turn-based system was called “tsugaimai” (番舞). The two contrasted with each other in various respects, including in the dancers’ costumes (dancers of “samai” wore red dress, while those of “umai” wore green dress), the musical instruments used, and the composition of the performance. “Bugaku” continues to be performed on many occasions, including in courtly ceremonies and in Buddhist and Shinto rituals, by the artists of the Imperial Household Agency’s Music Department as well as by those in other groups.

Sangaku and sarugaku
“Sangaku” (散楽) is a collective term for various forms of circus-style entertainment, including acrobatics, magic tricks, and mimicry. “Sangaku” had arrived in Japan by the start of the Nara period (710–794), and the imperial court established an official department called “Sangakuko” (散楽戸) to train performers. The “Sangakuko” was abolished in 782, but some of the arts survived and became known as “sarugaku” (猿楽). “Sarugaku” is the origin of what later became “noh” (能) and “kyogen” (狂言).