Update: 22 March 2016


Nohgaku is a traditional Japanese public form of entertainment which includes noh and kyogen (comic theater during the interlude), and has been registered by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The dances and stories performed by the actors on stage and the music played aren't the only points. Nohgaku also displays a unique sense of Japan.

The History of Nohgaku

Nohgaku's origin can be traced back to the Nara period in the 700s, when sangaku was introduced in Japan from China. Sangaku, which employs comical performances and acrobatics, as well as mimicry, was a popular entertainment in temples and shrines and had spread among the masses. Nowadays, nohgaku is well-received even abroad and can still be enjoyed all over Japan as public entertainment and as a Shinto ritual.

Noh Actors

The protagonist in nohgaku is called "shi-te". Aside from taking the role of a human, the shi-te can also be a god, a warrior's ghost, a woman's ghost, a madwoman, a tengu (a super natural mountain spirit with red skin and a long nose) or a dragon god among a wide variety of roles. The opposite of shi-te is called "waki", which is a role that is indispensable in most of the performances.

The Music of Noh

On the stage, aside from the performance of noh actors, musical accompaniment that matches the scene is also essential. An important factor is the instruments they use such as a transverse flute called nohkan, kotsuzumi (shoulder-drum), otsuzumi (hip drum) and taiko (stick-drum) as well as the voice of the percussionists like "yo," which is a yagoe or a "ho," which is a hagoe, as they hit the percussion instruments, such as taiko, and liven up the stage.

The Noh Stage

The noh stage, where noh is performed, is made from Japanese cypress. Among these, two of the most popular places for noh are the National Nohgaku Theater, which is a public theater and the nohgaku theater built on top of the sea at the World Heritage Site, Itsukushima Shrine.

Points to Attending the Theater

Before going to the theater, we recommend that you buy the written shisho (poetry and prose) at the theater shop in order to further enjoy nohgaku. The flow of the story is thoroughly written on the shisho, which is the program's script, as well as the position of the characters, their emotions, and the period background.

Theater Etiquette

When going to see nohgaku you can wear casual clothes since there isn't a dress code. In the past, there was a lot of clapping and yelling from the audience during the performance, but the audience doesn't clap that much these days. Watching the performance silently is the typical etiquette for nohgaku.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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