Studying Yoro



I am studying the maibayashi from the noh Yōrō (養老) which inspired Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well. The main character of the play is the deity of a mountain from which an elixir of eternal youth flows. The deity reveals to be at the same time the guardian of the mountain (山神) and an avatar of Yōryū Kannon (楊柳観音), the Willow Kannon. The willow tree is associated with the element water, and this Kannon is depicted with a vase containing a medicine. This representation also overlaps with that of Suigetsu Kannon (水月観音), the Water and Moon Kannon. Famous Korean depictions of this deity were displayed at the Sen-oku Hakuko-kan in Kyoto last year. It was such a wonderful exhibition!




20 questions on the Japan Times




Wow… my last post dates back to August! I have been pretty busy keeping up with work and research duties and had little time to update my little blog here. I will make that a New Year proposition. Meanwhile, Mika Sato Eglinton, fellow PhD at Royal Holloway, theatre scholar and journalist, was kind enough to invite me to answer 20 questions on my life in Japan, which appeared on the Japan Times this Sunday. It was great fun to try come up with answers. Newspapers have limited space so my verbose answers had to be cut, and something got a bit lost in the process, but that is part of the game! Anyway, I will leave a link to the article here!

Diego Pellecchia

Thoughts on my first run-through of the Noh Hagoromo

Hello, everyone. I have not posted for a while on this blog. Recently I have been pretty busy with my new job at Kyoto Sangyo University, as well as with various research projects in which I am involved. Also, I have been busy preparing for a training run-through of the play Hagoromo. This performance took place in the context of a kenkyū-kai, which is a training session organized by Udaka Michishige, in which his students (including me) take turns performing noh excerpts or, as in this case, full noh plays. This time I took the shite role in the full noh Hagoromo, which I performed in plain kimono/hakama, but wearing a mask. In the latter part of the play, I also wore the chōken cloak which symbolizes the robe of feathers. This was an approximation of a full performance and served the purpose of helping me familiarize with how it feels to perform with a mask and with a chōken. So, how does it feel?

Wearing a noh mask severely restricts the actor’s vision. In particular, peripheral vision is obstructed, and one can only see ‘in front’. What ‘in front’ means may depend on the mask and how it fits on your head. In the case of the zō-onna mask I wore yesterday, ‘in front’ meant in ‘in front and slightly below’, though not ‘below’ enough to allow me to see the stage as I walked towards its edge. The risk of falling from the stage is real. I saw that happen to someone else last year, and it was not good. In the case of practice sessions like these, the instrumentalists are sitting on the floor rather than on stools, which makes it hard to find the end of the part of the stage where the actor is supposed to dance. Obstructed sight impacted on my sense of position on stage. Where am I? How far am I from point A? How many steps can I take before I get to the edge?


One more thing that I noticed is that I had trouble measuring not only distances but also angles. Some movements request you to face different directions: as long as someone is standing in front of you, you know where to point, but when you need to face the front of the stage, what do you rely on in order to be sure to be facing the front, perpendicular to the edge of the stage? Chairs lined up in parallel lines in front of you may help. Also, it is possible to use architectural elements at the bottom of the hall as a reference to guess how centered one is on stage.


I found the angle issue particularly challenging when facing the audience (no audience this time, just empty chairs) while standing on the hashigakari bridge. The hashigakari is not perpendicular to the main stage but follows a diagonal line. Hence, if I stand on the bridge with my feet perpendicular to its edge, I would be facing somewhere between the front and stage right, looking away from most of the audience. I tried to draw this – not sure you guys can see what I mean. Should I adjust my angle to actually face the audience? This is something I had not considered until I got on stage yesterday. (We do not use a hashigakari in usual training).

Training sessions like these are useful precisely because they urge you to think about aspects of performance that cannot be really appreciated until you try them first-hand. I am grateful I had the chance to perform Hagoromo this time.

Photos below come from a trip to Yogo Lake 余呉湖 (just north of Biwa Lake) I took a few months ago. Yogo Lake is one of the many areas in Japan transmitting local versions of the Hagoromo legend (the most famous one being set in Mio, currently Shizuoka Pref.) In this version, the Angel descended on Yogo Lake and married the fisherman who took away her robe. The couple had several children, but the Angel eventually returned to the heavens. One of the children was particularly intelligent and eager to study, so he was sent to study with a monk living in a monastery nearby. The monk recognized the child’s exceptional talents and sent him to Kyoto to continue his studies. The child grew up to be none other than Sugawara no Michizane, one of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history and literature, who would be deified post-mortem as god of poetry!


The tree on which the robe of feathers was hanging


Yogo Lake is a very peaceful place


The statue of the Tennin

Filming noh performance at the Kongo Noh theatre

On June 15 2017 Kongo school actors will perform the plays Hashitomi and Kokaji as part of the research project on Noh as intermedia, led by musicologists Jaroslaw Kapuscinski (Stanford University) and François Rose (Pacific University), with Takanori Fujita (Kyoto City University of the Arts. Kongō Tatsunori will take the lead role in Hashitomi, while Udaka Tatsushige will perform the main role in Kokaji. I, along with Rebecca Teele, have acted as consultant and local coordinator here in Kyoto. The project is still in the works, so I should refrain from saying too much about it… Two full noh plays will be filmed live, and the resultant audiovisual recordings will be available as part of an educational website exploring the connections between the various media that constitute a noh performance. 

Diego Pellecchia

Heian Jingu Takigi Noh pre-show at Kyoto Porta Shopping Mall

Yesterday I went to see Kongō school actors perform an abridged version of the play Tsunemasa at Kyoto Porta Shopping Mall, B1F Kyoto station. Udaka Tatsushige took the shite role. The actors were forced to perform on a very small platform – quite a task when you wear a mask that restricts your vision considerably. The performance was a pre-event aimed at advertising the big 2-day Kyoto Takigi Noh 2017 @Heian Jingu June 1 and 2. This year’s topic is ‘A Fantastic Tour of Kyoto Powerspots’. The Kyogen Bōshibari was performed by Okura school actors.

Diego Pellecchia

New challenge accepted: Hagoromo 羽衣


Hirasawa Yumiko in the Noh Hagoromo (Photo: Fabio Massimo Fioravanti)

In 2016 we celebrated Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday with a Taikai, a large performance event in which I danced the shimai excerpt from the Noh Kurama Tengu. This coming summer (2017) we are not going to hold a public event, but a closed-door practice session in early August. I am going to take the main role in the play Hagoromo, performed in its full format, with costume and mask. My teacher assigned me this role knowing that I have been wanting to perform a female role after a long series of warriors, gods, tengus, etc. (the only exception would be the tsure (secondary) role of goddess I have occasionally performed in other practice sessions – see, for example, this old post).

Hagoromo is a relatively short one-act play, following the Aristotelian unities of time, space, and action. The action takes place on Miho bay (currently Shizuoka Pref.) just before dawn, when the fishermen’s boats return to the shore after night fishing. There, a tennin (a celestial maiden living in the ‘palace on the moon’) who has descended on earth in order to admire the beauty of the scenery, has taken off her ‘robe of feathers’ (the hagoromo) before bathing into the sea. The fisherman Hakuryō has found the hagoromo hanging on a pine branch and decides to take it back to his village. The tennin demands that the robe is returned to her: without it, she cannot fly back to the moon. Hakuryō says that he will give the robe back if she performs one of her famous dances, but without the robe the tennin cannot dance. Hakuryō insinuates that if he gives the robe back in advance, she will leave without dancing. However, the tennin reminds the fisherman that lie and deceit belong to the world of the humans: deities don’t lie. Ashamed of his distrust, Hakuryō finally gives back the robe. The tennin dances, admiring the beauty of Miho bay. Finally, she sends blessings and gifts, before flying back to the moon as the dawn breaks.

Despite its apparent simplicity, Hagoromo is a demanding play. The focus of the action is the shite, who sings or dances almost without interruption since its entrance. It will be my first time to perform the graceful jo-no-mai slow tempo dance. It will also be my first time to perform in kinagashi, that is, with a kimono-style costume instead of the large ōkuchi trousers used for male roles or, sometimes, for goddesses. The type of costume influences how one performs. In this case, the kinagashi style will considerably restrict the length of the steps I will be able to take.

Hagoromo will be an interesting challenge. This summer I will perform Hagoromo in a kenkyūkai (practice session), but I wonder if my teacher is not thinking about having me perform this noh on the Kongo Noh stage sometimes soon…

Hayashi kenkyukai next Sunday



Every year February Udaka Michishige hosts the hayashi kenkyūkai. In Japan a kenkyūkai is a meeting of people gathering for a day of intensive study. In this case we members of the Kei’un-Kai and INI (Udaka-sensei’s students) get together for a day of intensive noh practice. In a hayashi kenkyūkai we perform only maibayashi and full noh plays performed in kimono and hakama. Those of us who study instruments also join as musicians when we don’t chant or dance.

This Sunday I am going to perform Takasago maibayashi, featuring the godan kamimai, one of the fastest dances in the Noh repertoire. I will also play the taiko for Makura Jidō maibayashi, featuring the gaku, another godan (five sections) dance.

The kamimai is not my first godan dance: I already studied the godan hayamai for Tōru and the gaku for Kantan. However, the speed of the kamimai in Takasago is quite a challenge. It requires not only confidence in the movements, but also full understanding of the music, and ability to think well ahead in order to keep up with the fast tempo.

Anyway, good luck to me!

–Diego Pellecchia

Events celebrating Noh actor Akira Matsui in London


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noh_akiramatsuriNoh time like the present is a series of Noh-related performances taking place at LSO St. Luke in London 24 -25 February 2017, celebrating Kita-school actor Matsui Akira, one of the few professional Noh actors intensively participating in non-traditional performances. Matsui recently turned 70, just like Kanze-school shite actor Tsumura Reijirō, another pioneer of intercultural theatre emerging from the Noh world. My teacher, Kongō school actor Udaka Michishige, also turned 70 last year. A generation of Noh actors opening the doors of noh training to the ‘world outside tradition’.

All information and details are available on the Japan-UK Events Calendar website – here

“These two performances at LSO St Luke’s are a rare opportunity to experience the 650-year-old art of noh, and the genius of classical noh performer Akira Matsui, now age 70, in a bold collaboration with western opera, theatre, ballet, music and poetry. We are particularly pleased that this special programme will include ‘Rockaby’ by Samuel Beckett.


The project also includes a range of education activities ‘Getting to noh… more’, including a Seminar on Noh Theatre and Western Culture, at 6pm on 20 February 2017 at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and a series of lecture-demonstrations on Noh Maskmaking, in partnership with The Japan Foundation, from 17-24 February 2017 in Norwich, Oxford, Durham, London, Southend and Dublin.”

— Diego Pellecchia

Japanese Performance Theory Workshop at University of Michigan


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I repost here information on the forthcoming Japanese Performance Theory Workshop at University of Michigan, organized by Prof. Reginald Jackson. This looks like a wonderful chance to start thinking about how we could build bridges between the scholarship on Japanese theatre, often based on a literary/historical approach, and the rich variety of methodologies that have become common practice in contemporary performance studies.

image.jpgThe following is quoted from the University of Michigan, Center for Japanese Studies website:

The Japanese Performance Theory Workshop (JPTW) intervenes between Japanese Studies and Performance Studies to foster generative critical engagements with Japanese performance. Through seminar-style discussions, performance screenings, research presentations, and writing exercises, this intensive week-long summer workshop will help participants working on Japanese performance at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels develop better conceptual, methodological, and pedagogical tools.

At a basic level, the JPTW represents an experiment designed to address a few overlapping gaps. The initial idea for this residential workshop emerged several years ago, mainly out of frustration with a prevailing conservatism in the study of Noh drama within the Japanese academy especially. The theoretical and methodological worldliness that often characterized literary study of premodern and modern narratives did not obtain for some sectors of the academy devoted to “traditional Japanese theater.” It felt like there was a wealth of fascinating material being underserved by painstakingly informative but unduly positivistic approaches. What if there was a way to energize that material along different lines?

There also seemed to be a gap between conceptually vibrant performance studies scholarship that dealt mainly with modern and contemporary western forms, on the one hand, and historically astute but conceptually dilute work on traditional Japanese performing arts, on the other. Performance Studies programs tend to neglect East Asian performance traditions, while studies of East Asian performance—of the premodern era, in particular—tend to lack theoretical rigor. While there exist intensive summer opportunities for students of various academic and artistic backgrounds to study Japanese performance traditions, both in the U.S. (e.g. the Noh Training Project) and in Japan (e.g. the Traditional Theater Training Program), there are no comparable opportunities for university students and faculty to study Japanese performance with an emphasis on strengthening conceptual approaches to it and analytical writing about it. Given these circumstances, the basic aim of the JPTW will be to provide a venue in which to study Japanese performance practices and critical theoretical approaches to Japanese performance in relation to one another within the context of an intensive summer workshop.

JPTW is a residential summer workshop that focuses on improving engagements with Japanese performance and performance theory. The program will host advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty (five each), working across fields such as performance studies, Japanese literary and cultural studies, ethnomusicology, visual arts, dance studies, and creative writing.

To the extent that a rigorous engagement with Japanese performance need not require Japanese language skills or a performance background, neither of these is required for admission to the program. Indeed, this background can often inhibit more adventurous interpretations. Along these lines, the JPTW will maintain a critical stance toward prevailing notions of expertise and will explore forms of producing knowledge that do not adhere strictly to either an Area Studies model or a practice-based model.


— Diego Pellecchia