(Text and Photo by Yumi Shingu)
As a photographer documenting Noh plays, I feel the following themes make Noh appealing to a broad audience.
Awe for nature
Since ancient times beliefs that gods reside in all natural things have prevailed in Japan. “Yamamba (Mountain Crone)” seems to represent such god-like existence.
In Noh, animals often possess power that transcends humans, for example as the spirit of a fox does in “Sesshoseki (The Killing Stone).”
Noh has usually been played outdoors since the beginning of its over 650 years of history, and only in the modern time after the late 19th century has Noh been performed on stages built inside buildings.
Even today, outdoor presentations of Noh are popular. The stages’ surroundings and nature become essential elements in such Noh performances.
Prayer for Peace
The protagonists of Shura Noh are ghosts of warriors. They describe how they fought battles in their lifetimes and recount the miseries of wars. One of the underlying messages of the plays is often a prayer for peace.
In “Hagoromo (Celestial Feather Robe),” the reconciliation of two opposing individuals or cultures is symbolically depicted in a fisherman’s act of returning the precious feather robe to the Celestial Maiden. With her feather robe, the Celestial Maiden dances in joy and gifts many treasures to Earth as she rises to the sky and returns to her home in heaven.
Lions in “Shakkyo (Stone Bridge)” are messengers of Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva).
The central theme of many Noh plays is the celebration of peace, happiness, and prosperity.
Sympathy with Others – Hearing Voices, Salvation of Souls
The protagonists of many Noh plays reveal their sorrows and sufferings or regrets.
Often, they are ghosts. They appear before the living (Waki-kata and the audience) because they want their voices to be heard.
A mother searching for her separated child is a storyline shared in some Noh plays, for instance in “Hyakuman.”
In “Akogi,” the ghost of a fisherman, who was cruelly killed due to his sin of breaking the no-fishing rule, emerges and, to express his agony, he re-enacts scenes of how he used to fish and how he was killed.
Noh adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello” is set in the characters’ afterlife. The souls of Othello and Desdemona pass each other despite their continuous love for each other.
Noh is often called “the art of requiem.” Here, the performance of “Hagoromo” is dedicated to the deceased’s souls on the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Born and living in Japan. Graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (B.A. in anthropology) In recent years, she is introducing the charms of Noh and Kyogen through photography which is becoming her lifework.
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