Noh, Kyogen
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Noh, Kyogen

Performance of Noh
Performance of Noh

Noh and Kyogen is one of the traditional theater forms of Japan.
They were accomplished earlier than Kabuki.
("O"s in both words are pronounced long, so they are read as "Nˆ", "Kyôgen".)

In a simple term, Noh is a musical drama and Kyogen is a comical or satirical drama.

History of Noh and Kyogen

The origin of Noh and Kyogen is mostly unknown.
But it is thought to be some stage performances from China around the 7th century.

They developed into comical performance among the general public.
Additionally, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples made the performances for the festival.

In the 14th century, Kan-ami, who is a leader of a theater, surveyed various performances with his son Zeami, and made a new performance.

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu at the time was very impressed with it, so he took Kan-ami and Zeami under his wing.

Since this, they created many excellent performace, then Noh and Kyogen were completed.

In Meiji period (1868-1912), these were polished up as a world-class art.
So some Noh-theaters were built in this period.

Elements of Noh and Kyogen

Stage of Noh
Stage of Noh

Performance and plays

One performance contains 3 to 5 plays, and both Noh and Kyogen are played.
It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to play each drama.


Stage of Noh and Kyogen is a square, about 6 meters on a side.
This stage has no curtain.
A big pine tree is painted on the wall at the back of the stage

It has 4 pillars on each corner, and a roof coveres the stage.
And a corridor run from the left wing to the stage.

Players appear through the corridor.

Noh theater had been built in the precinct of Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple until the late 19th century.
The audience watch the performance in the open air.

Sometimes, special Noh performance is held in the evening.
In the dark, bonfires are built around the stage and the performance is held in the subtle and profound atmosphere.
It is called "Takigi-Noh".

Play of Noh

Noh is the musical drama, but it looks like Japanese traditional dance.

The performers are only a leading role called "shite" and a few supporting roles called "waki".

Shite plays with wearing a Noh mask which is carved in wood.
The role is mainly God, devil, soul, etc. and the player wears a suitable mask for the role.
The movement is relatively slow, and the player shuffles along the stage.

The players of waki don't wear any mask.
They play the male roles in the real world like samurai, priest.

At the back of stage, there are some music players.
They play "fue" like a flute and "taiko" and "tsuzumi" like drum.
And there are also some singers on a side of the stage.

Play of Kyogen

Kyogen, Photo by tenaciousme

Kyogen is the comical or satirical drama.

The leading role is called "shite" like Noh, but shite of Kyogen usually wears no mask.

And supporting roles are called "ado".
They play more actively than Noh.

Seeing Noh and Kyogen

There are several Noh theaters in main cities in Japan. Japan Arts Council

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