When people go to Japan, sometimes tradition is what they want out of their experience. One of the most traditional forms of art is of course, Noh. Noh is a type of theater performance that started in the 14th century, and is known for the poetic, monotonous movements, and plots that are rich in history.
It became popularized by someone named Zeami during the Muromatchi perod, but Zeami soon fell out of favor with the government and was soon banished. However, four other troupes became established, and they received sponsorship and patronage from the government as a result.
Noh became standard during the Tokugawa period, where it focused on tradition than innovation. Today, only five Noh troupes are still around. How to go watch Noh though? Read on to find out.
How to get tickets
Typically, you have to get them either at the box office, or online. Tickets Today is a great site to get them from, and you can purchase other tickets there too for other performances.
The typical Noh program these days lasts a couple of hours, with some comedy acts in between. They’re anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 yen on average, but you can buy discounted tickets for a single act, which many choose to do when they initially attend a Noh show. They’re quite long, and for some tourists, it can be a bit hard to sit and watch a show for a long time. These partial shows offer a chance to experience this without spending all day at one.
Outdoor Noh stages do exist, since it’s how it was originally watched, but tickets for these tend to be harder to obtain. The National Noh theater website also discusses where to purchase tickets as well.
Things you should learn before going to watch
Noh happens on a stage that’s square with roofs that have four pillars. Every side of the stage is opened up minus the back that has a wall with a tree painting. You normally see an oblique bridge that goes at an angle for the performers to enter an exit. There are indoor venues nowadays in order to accommodate modern-day viewers, but typically they’re outdoors.
Every performer in Noh is male and have various roles. The main role is the Shite, which is usually the main character. This person is typically a holy man, a deity, demon, or a spirit.
The Waki means supporting actor, normally playing a priest or samurai. The Waki portrays the living while the Shite portrays the dead.
Then there is the Hayashi, which are the musicians, usually four in number. These also involve the jutai, who are the chorus within the performance.
Finally, there is the Koken, which handle the stage props and are typically stagehands. They dress in black and shouldn’t be regarded during the performance.
Another part you’ll notice are masks. These are made out of Japanese cypress and are used to portray who the Shite is to be, whether demon, deity, even man or woman. These masks are three-dimensional, so if you move your head around, they change expressions, with each movement.
Props and Costumes
Most costumes are garments with an extra texture or layer that are both elegant, but also showcase bulkiness. One of the key parts of Noh is the fan, which is held in the hands. The open or closed nature showcases what the actor is doing, and commonly represents hand-held items such as a lanterns and daggers.
One aspect you will see as well is the kyogen, which is the intermission . It consists of comedy acts full of witty jokes, satire, and even expressive actions that used to make the audience laugh. They last about 15-20 minutes, and often portray everyday life of people during that time.
Place to watch
There are places in Tokyo to see Noh performances. Ginza Six is a recent Noh performance center, and it opened in April of last year. The place spans about thirteen floors, with a beautiful indoor Noh center.
Miyajima right outside Hiroshima is another great place which has the four pillar stage Noh is known for. The shrine does many performances on a regular basis.
Chusonji shrine located on Hiraizumi is another popular place.
Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine contains Noh performances too.
Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo also has performances. This location is popular since it’s near many other popular attractions in Tokyo.
Mannar while watching
The first thing to know about Noh is usually the story. Ideally, if you know the name of the story before you see it, you’ll be able to read a synopsis of this. Most of the plays involve dreams, spirits, and ghosts, often involving ghosts visiting people in their dreams.
The kimonos, masks, and other cultural elements only are seen in Noh. You probably notice this when they first arrive on stage. The best thing to do is to respectfully watch the performance and what the actors do.
Noh performances typically have programs. If you’d like to learn more about the show, consider buying one. They’re in English normally too.
If you have large bags, make sure to put them in a locker if available beforehand. The seats are small, so it might not fit if the baggage is huge.
For dress code, there isn’t one. However, don’t show up in grungy ware. Remember, the actors are close and will see you, so be respectful.
Some halls do have diners, so during intermission make sure to get a snack. Don’t eat or drink during the shows. If you need water, leave and fulfill that desire.
Along with that, don’t enter during the show. It distracts the actors and is rude. Ideally, wait until the program finishes, then head to your seat when intermission begins.
Don’t take flash pictures in the theater. Sometimes photos are allowed, but check with the venue. Always turn off your phones and electronics before the show.
Finally, when the Utai and Hayashi leave the stage, clap. It’s a traditional element of noh theater.
Noh theater is a fun experience. If you want traditional Japanese shows, with interesting and poetic movements, this is an option. If you visit any of the shrines nearby with Noh performances, check out showtimes to see available times.
Remember the etiquette listed above, along with elements of these shows. They do contain fun experiences for everyone to enjoy, and although it differs from Kabuki, it’s traditional Japanese performances many enjoy, and love to check out whenever possible.
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