enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Noh” theatre consists of three elements: dances called “mai” (舞), singing parts known as “utai” (謡), and instrumentation called “hayashi” (囃子). “Noh” is performed on dedicated stages, and almost all the characters are performed wearing masks. “Noh” actors perform ritualised postures and dances to the accompaniment of the “utai” and “hayashi”, and these performances turn an empty space into a world of limitless theatrical expression.

“Noh” traces its history to the 6th century, when “sangaku” (散楽) was imported into Japan from the Continent. “Sangaku” eventually became known as “sarugaku” (猿楽), and the comic mimicry element of “sarugaku” prevailed during the Heian period (794–1185). However, during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), “sarugaku” theatres started to stage a new type of performance called “noh”. The catalyst for this change came when a “sarugaku” player took on the role of a character in “Shikisanban”, a play involving shamans in a temple’s requiem. During the Nanbokucho period (South and North courts period; 1336–1392), “noh” was predominantly performed by the Yamato sarugaku yoza (大和猿楽四座), which were based in Nara’s Kofukuji temple, and these performances focused exclusively on mimicry. However, at the start of the Muromachi period (1336–1573), the head of the Yusakiza troupe (later known as Kanzeza), Kan-ami, introduced the elements of singing and dancing of “dengaku” (田楽) and Ohmi “sarugaku” (近江猿楽) into the performances. These new elements imbued “noh” with a more profound and mysterious quality called “yugen” (幽玄). Kan-ami’s son, Zeami, enhanced “noh’s” profundity further by establishing a new style called “mugen noh” (夢幻能). “Mugen noh” presents a dreamlike world in which the actors play the spirits of historical personages in settings associated with the figures. Zeami’s efforts helped develop “noh” into a more sophisticated dramatic art.

During the Momoyama period (1573–1615), the ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, established a policy of protecting “sarugaku” players. This policy was upheld by the Edo Bakufu government of the Tokugawa Shogunate (which lasted from 1600 to 1868).
Noh players became affiliated with the Edo Bakufu and with the “han” domains, and their remuneration was guaranteed. It was during this period that the present form of “noh” theatre took root. For example, Kita Shichidayu was permitted to establish his own school of “noh”, and the present-day guild system and categories of roles (e.g. “shitekata” [main roles] and “taikokata” [drum-player]) were established. During the Meiji period (1868–1912), "noh" became known to overseas audiences. Since then, it has significantly influenced artists and playwrights the world over.

Note: On the panels as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.