Tag Archives: Tokyo

Restaurant with Noh stage to open in Tokyo this month

Suigian (水戯庵), a sushi restaurant featuring a noh stage, is set to open in Nihonbashi (Tokyo) on March 20, 2018. The restaurant will offer daily performances of Noh and Kyogen. I have mixed feelings about it. Yes offering this kind of performance is not philologically incorrect as people did eat drink and even smoke inside noh theatres in the past. Yes, we need to bring more people closer to noh so we should embrace ways to popularize it. But would you like to watch noh with the noise of people drinking cheering chewing etc? With the smell of food and alcoholic burps in the air? Would performers like it? The restaurant looks posh enough and is endorsed by performers (you can see famous actors and musicians featuring the photos on the website) still…  I wonder what plays they will perform… in the case of Noh, I can think of very few that I would enjoy watching while having something in my stomach… I wonder what you guys think!




New Kanze theatre to open in Ginza

Following the rumours that came out last fall, the Kanze Association has officially announced that the Kanze Noh Theatre will move from its current location in Shōtō, Shibuya to a new building in Ginza,  Nōgaku Times (Feb. 2014) reports. The move will be completed in 2016, with the theatre opening in fall. The traditional wooden stage will be rebuilt in the new location, and the hall will be provided with the same number of seats of the current theatre, which will continue to host shows until March 2015. Kanze-kai performances will take place at the Umewaka Nōgakuin kaikan in Nakano until the moving operations are complete.

The current Kanze Noh Theatre in Shibuya
The current Kanze Noh Theatre in Shibuya

The rationale behind this huge operation stated in the article appear to be the ageing of the current early 1970s building. Moreover, the Kanze Association appears to be prepping up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will function as a huge attention catalyst for Japan, and a chance to promote traditional arts internationally. However, an article appearing on Gendai Bijinesu  (Oct, 6th 2013) hinted at the unstable economic situation of the Kanze Association (i.e. the Noh establishment at large). It seems that, whatever difficulties Kanze is undergoing, they decided to face the crisis with an important investment rather than with austerity, a choice that is up to the expectations for a Noh school often considered to be  representative of the Noh tradition in Japan and abroad, and that might well pay off in the long run.

Fashionable Ginza at night
Fashionable Ginza at night

Is the Kanze Noh Theatre for sale?

Selling Noh by the pound

According to the business magazine Gendai Bijinesu (Kodansha) the Kanze Nōgakudō in Shōtō, Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most exclusive residential areas, may be soon put up for sale. In the article reporting the news, the land on which the theatre is now built, measuring 840 tsubo (approx. 2,777 square meters) is stated to be worth over 30 billion yen (approx. 30 million US dollars). Fujisawa Shōwa, owner of  Yodobashi Camera, who lives in the neighbourhood, has been identified as a potential buyer. According to an unspecified major real estate company, the Kanze-kai (that is, the company that owns and manages most of the Kanze school property) is considering selling the theatre. Of course – I would add – selling does not mean shutting down the business, but simply relocate elsewhere while cashing what is an extremely valuable piece of land in the heart of Tokyo.

The Kanze Noh Theatre, Shibuya, Tokyo (Google street view)

What crisis?

How to interpret the potential sale of the Kanze Nōgakudō? Could it be justified with a need to renovate the venue? Or is it yet another sign of the crisis that is tightening its grip on the Noh establishment? The post-Lehman financial shock is only an additional factor to a more specific, economic but also cultural (can we separate the two?) crisis that Noh is undergoing since the early 1990s. The Noh audience is ageing, therefore naturally reducing, a trend that might lead to its biological extinction within some 20 years, unless critical measures are taken. According to the Gendai Bijinesu article, the Kanze-kai has shown a loss amounting to 10 million yen between the 2009-2011 fiscal years. However, the manager of the Kanze Nōgakudō has explained that, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the construction of a safer building has been discussed, and that money is not really the issue. What we should be more concerned with is the ageing of the Noh audience, and the consequent need to make efforts to attract a new generation of young spectators.

This is certainly true, and it would impact on the economic condition of Noh the large majority of Noh actors, who are in need of financial support in order to continue to perform their art. Of the three great performance traditions of Japan, Noh is the only one which, after having lost its aristocratic patrons with the advent of the Meiji restoration, is struggling to survive while maintaining its economic independence, counting primarily on amateur practitioners who learn directly from professional performers (and pay directly to them). Kabuki is managed (owned?) by Shōchiku, a huge movie and theatre production company, and is supported by corporate sponsorship. Bunraku has lost the battle, and is now surviving thanks to public subsidy. Noh still lingers in a limbo between feudalism and capitalism. Meanwhile actors who can’t make ends meet sell their costumes, masks and books, while Wanya-shoten and Hinoki-shoten, publishers of Noh books, close shops in Tokyo and Kyoto. Does Noh need a new economic model in order to get out of this darkness?

Diego Pellecchia

Beautiful poster: Tokyo University Kanze Noh

Todai Kanze KazurakiI spotted this beautiful, Alphonse Mucha-inspired poster promoting the Todai (Tokyo University) Kanze students and alumni performance (December 21st, Kita Nogakudo, Tokyo). The image portrays the goddess of Mount Kazuraki appearing in the Noh Kazuraki 葛城. Not being able to use stage pictures of professional actors, university clubs usually draw their own posters, which I often find more interesting than the professional ones. As in the play, the goddess here appears bound with vines and ashamed to show her face, points that were used  creatively by the artist who drew this, fitting perfectly in the deco-like graphic concept of the poster. Well done!

Hosei University Noh Research Institute – 60th Anniversary Symposium

On November 18th I attended the 60th Anniversary symposium, organised by Hosei University’s Nogami Memorial Noh Research Institute. As Prof. Yamanaka Reiko explained in her introduction, the symposium was the latest of six decennial events that mark the growing progress and outstanding research results of the Research Centre. This year’s symposium was entitled ‘Noh no shosa wo kangaeru‘ (‘reflections on the shosa of Noh). Shosa literally means behaviour or comportment, but it is generally used in the performing arts to indicate ‘movement’. As Yokomichi Mario has described in volume IV of the Iwanami Shoten lectures series on Nogaku, in Noh shosa refers both to the dance and to the mimetic aspects of Noh movement.

The symposium opened with a talk by Ondrej Hýbl, a student of Okura-ryu Kyogen actor Shigeyama Shime, who introduced the activities of the Kyogen company he founded in Prague. Hýbl has been involved in Kyogen training in Kyoto as he studied at Osaka University. The achievements of his Czech Kyogen group are truly amazing! (check out this video of the Kyogen Kuchimane). During his speech Hýbl emphasised the need to discuss ways of opening the teaching of Noh and Kyogen outside Japan. I will talk more about this towards the end of the post.

The second talk was given by Kōno Yoshinori, a famous swordsmaster, who talk about changes in the swordsmanship techniques in relation to body parts such as thighs and lower back, which are also fundamental in Noh movement. You can see more about Kōno-sensei on YouTube.

The third talk was given by Nakatsuka Yukiko, who demonstrated the work in progress of a team of researchers she is part on 3D digitalisation and reconstruction of Noh movement. The team has produced a software they call ‘composer’, basically a sequencer drawing on a database of Noh kata acquired with motion capture techniques, that can be mounted in sequences and adjusted in time and speed, in order to suit various kinds of chants. With the Noh composer it is possible to reproduce Noh dance just by knowing which kata are executed, without the need of an actor. One of the main purposes of such technology is to record movements of Noh actors today so that they can be studied in detail in the future, something that cannot be done by simply noting kata in words. Though this kind of technology is moving its first steps, sometimes with rough-looking results, I am sure they will reach a very high level soon. 20 years ago we played Tetris, now we have Call of Duty.

Then followed two conversations. The first was between Noh actor Kanze Tetsunojō and Prof. Yamanaka, touching various aspects of the transmission of Noh movement. Despite his wide experience, it seems to me that Tetsunojō-sensei still is very much grounded in the traditional environment in which he grew up. By his own admission he has little idea of how to help the spreading of Noh outside Japan, a topic I was hoping to hear more on from his perspective. The second conversation, between Kabuki actor Nakamura Kyōzō and Prof. Kodama Ryūichi, discussed Kabuki movements in various styles, also comparing Noh with Kabuki.

A general discussion closed the symposium. I am very happy to have participated to the event, which was brilliantly conducted by Prof. Yamanaka Reiko. While Noh is imprisoned in literature courses outside Japan, it was very refreshing to attend a conference entirely dedicated to movement. I am convinced that Noh should always be taught as performance everywhere it is introduced. It is the only way to save it from the commonplace image of old and boring theatre. However, the wealth of performance theory available in the English language is unavailable in Japan, where traditional performing arts still reside in an academic field isolated from theatre studies. Will post more about this topic as soon as an important publication I have contributed to comes out in print.

As for the dissemination of Noh abroad, Hýbl-san pointed out a crucial aspect of Nogaku: both Kyogen and Noh are arts where perfection is valued, not creativity. This made me think of how Noh actors are more like sportsmen than artists: they spend their lives training on fixed models, largely ignoring all that does not belong to this world. While non-traditional artists draw inspiration from various sources, often deepening the knowledge of other arts (cinema, literature, painting) or even travelling and living abroad, 99% of Noh actors live in isolation from the world.  Obviously when they are confronted with questions such as ‘how do you spread Noh abroad’ the answer is something like: “well, I don’t know… Noh is like this, take it or leave it”. From their perspective there does not seem to be a need of exploring outside its ‘traditional’ boundaries. Where this attitude will lead, I am not sure. What I am sure, though, is that 90% of the audience who attended the symposium on a Sunday afternoon was over 60 years old, which means that in some 30 years they are likely to be all dead. Will they have passed their interest for Noh down to their grandsons by that time? If not, I wonder who will still go to the Noh theatre, except for me and a few others I know (if we are still around). Edward Shils wrote that when tradition becomes useless, it dies. Will it survive in computer generated animations? I hope not.

What I am more and more realising while I am in Japan, is that if foreigners want to learn Noh, they should not expect Japanese institutions to offer ways of doing it. We non-Japanese who have an interest in Noh should get together and do our best to discuss ways of transmitting Noh abroad. As Hýbl pointed out, Nogaku is taught and learnt by imitation, not through books. It is then necessary to find a way for Noh and Kyogen masters to frequently travel or to live for longer periods outside Japan, or for foreigners to live for longer periods in Japan, where they could learn the art and then be able to transmit it to the ‘outside world’. Thanks to the efforts of the International Noh Institute, I feel I am on the right track. I look forward to discussing again about this very important topic with Ondrej Hýbl, Prof. Yamanaka, and the other scholars who took part of the symposium.

PS: speaking of anniversaries, this is my 100th post! : )

Tickets giveaway! Noh: TORU 3 November 2012


For international students in the Tokyo-Yokohama area:
Do you know about Minamoto-no-Toru and his world? Answer the following question for a free ticket to the Sanrinshojo Noh performance of TORU on November 3rd.

In TORU a Priest meets an Old Man who is going to collect salt water to make salt. In what Noh play do two sisters appear who are also collecting salt water?

A free ticket is available for the first three correct answers to the question. When applying be sure to state your name, age, nationality/country, the name of institution where you are studying in Japan and address where we should send your ticket. Deadline for answers is October 19th. 

Send your answer to: ogamo-tr@mbox.kyoto-inet.or.jp (INI – International Noh Institute)



10th, and Final, Sanrinshojo series Noh Performance



Master-Actor UDAKA Michishige

3 November 2012 The National Noh Theatre, Tokyo
 1:30~4:20 p.m. (doors open at 12:30p.m.)

Synopses of the plays will be available at the theatre free of charge in English, French, German, and Italian.

UDAKA Michishige created his ‘Sanrinshojo series’ to take on the challenge of performing in Tokyo once a year one of the ten great classics of Noh drama. The title of the series is from lines in the Noh MIWA that refer to the development and purification of the body or action, speech or vocal expression, and mind or intention. When these become one on stage an unforgettable experience of the world of Noh occurs. Before this final performance of the series, UDAKA Michishige treasures advice he was given ten years ago, the words of Edo period poet Basho: “Do not follow in the footsteps of the men of the past; rather, seek what they sought”.

In the Noh Toru we meet the spirit of Minister Minamoto-no-Toru. He built a magnificent villa in Kyoto where he created a replica of the salt kilns of Shiogama in Miyagi prefecture. This highly evocative Noh describes the beauty of the Matsushima area, one of the three most famous scenic spots in Japan, through the eyes of Toru. The Noh closes with the Jusandan-no- mai, the kogaki variation featured in this year’s performance. A Dance in Thirteen Movements, it repeats the standard five movements of the Haya-mai Fast Tempo Dance in the Banshiki mode related to the element water, and closes with three movements of the Kyu-no-mai, Rapid Dance in a rapturous meditation on the fleeting beauty of life.

Commentary:     Dr. ONO Yoshiro, Professor (Kyoto Institute of Technology)
Kyogen:                AKUTARO (MIYAKE Ukon)
Noh:                      TORU Jusandan-no-mai (UDAKA Michishige)

Reserved (stage front) 7,000 yen, Reserved (side) 6,000 yen, General admission (middle) 5,000 yen, Student (middle) 2,000 yen. For tickets or further information contact: ogamo-tr@mbox.kyoto-inet.or.jp and mention INI (International Noh Institute) when you book your ticket!

↓↓↓ Download the programme below ↓↓↓

11/3 – 10th Sanrinshojo: TORU「融」

The National Noh Theatre, Tokyo 1:30~4:20 p.m. (doors open at 12:30p.m.)

Commentary:  Dr. ONO Yoshiro Professor, Kyoto Institute of Technology
Noh: TŌRU jūsandan-no-mai  UDAKA Michishige

Tickets: Reserved (stage front): 7,000 yen
Reserved (waki-shomen–facing the chorus):  6,000 yen
General admission (naka-shomen–facing the sighting pillar):  5,000 yen
Student (naka-shomen–facing the sighting pillar):  2,000 yen

For tickets or further information contact: ogamo-tr@mbox.kyoto-inet.or.jp


Synopses of the plays will be available at the theater free of charge in English, French, German, and Italian.