Archive for the ‘Noh’ Category

I was planning on continuing on with my response posts on Pacific Island history, but writing about “Deep Kyoto Walks” made me want to skip ahead to Eiko Ikegami’s “Bonds of Civility.” Her socio-cultural analysis is really deep and interesting, but in the process Ikegami provides a wonderful image of culturally vibrant early modern Japanese cities, full of active intermixing of culturally engaged social circles. The sort of thing that still goes on, in its own way, in Kyoto (and Tokyo, and elsewhere) today, and I felt so lucky to get a brief glimpse of it, a toe in the water so to speak, during my brief weeks in Kyoto. And this is what Deep Kyoto reminds me of…

For the TL;DR crowd, in summary Ikegami’s book is a fascinating read on:
(1) the role of cultural/artistic social circles in forming a “public sphere” in early modern Japan
(2) discussion of the popularization and commercialization of the arts – no longer just for elites, poetry, ikebana, Noh chanting, etc. were now enjoyed as hobbies by common townsfolk, and were enjoyed in social circles and in paid-for lessons.
(2a) discussion of popular publications on the arts, incl. early modern versions of fashion magazines and teach-yourself guides to music, painting, and poetry.

Throughout much of the thirteen chapters of Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture, Eiko Ikegami examines various aspects or facets of the impact or implications of a single argument: namely, that social circles in Tokugawa Japan organized around artistic or aesthetic activities constituted “publics” or a “public sphere,” contributing to the construction of a shared public consciousness that spanned much of the archipelago and crossed status categories. Ikegami defines civil society as “a domain of private citizens that has a certain degree of autonomy from the state” (19), and argues that while the feudal structure of Tokugawa Japan, including strong shogunate & daimyō controls on political expression, and enforcement of status boundaries, prevented the development of a “civil society” such as might resemble that which first emerged in Europe, aesthetic gatherings such as poetry circles, within which people shed their status identities and engaged with one another through artistic/cultural identities in a relatively egalitarian manner, served this purpose for Tokugawa Japan, providing a space of social/cultural interactions largely autonomous, in certain important ways, from the state’s controls.

This was able to take place because of Tokugawa attitudes and practices regarding the realms of the “private” (私, watakushi). While the samurai authorities were quite wary of political associations, following after the ikki of the Sengoku period, and anticipating the destructive power of shishi groups such as emerged in the Bakumatsu, aesthetic groups such as poetry circles and ikebana clubs fell for the most part under the radar, so to speak, of the authorities. And so it was that some form of “civic associations” or “civil society” was able to take place within these aesthetic circles. If we think of these circles not individually but in aggregate, as prominent in individual’s lives, and as tightly and complexly linked through the interpersonal social networks of all their members, we can begin to see how such seemingly innocuous things as shamisen lessons can, in aggregate, constitute an entire “society” of amateur cultural actors unto itself, within or on the flipside of the “public” society – composed of merchants, artisans, farmers, fishermen, samurai – acknowledged, regulated, and taxed by the authorities.

“Karasuma Street,” a woodblock print by Clifton Karhu, depicting a row of machiya along one of Kyoto’s major streets, which, it is easy to imagine that 100, 200, 300 years ago, as well as today, may have been the site of any number of cultural social gatherings, a private space for the discussion of alternate “public” discourses.

This brings us to Ikegami’s interesting and important discussion of Japanese notions of “public.” Connecting in some interesting ways with Roberts’ twin concepts of uchi (the inside, private realms) and omote (official, outward-facing), Ikegami discusses how the Japanese concept of ōyake or (公, “public”) came, as in English, to conflate the meanings of both (1) open and accessible to all the people, and (2) controlled or owned by the government. The public thus became conflated with the authorities, as seen in terms such as kōgi (公儀, “public order”) and kubō (公方, “the person of the public,” i.e. the shogun as the embodiment of the public order), to which the shogunate appealed, in commanding everyone’s service to public order, and public interest. But, as the samurai authorities in the Tokugawa period left considerable autonomy to private matters (watakushi, related to uchi), these artistic networks were able to enjoy considerable autonomy, and to constitute between them an alternate “public” – a collection of “enclave publics” in Ikegami’s terms – within which the popular people’s attitudes, ideas, could be exchanged, and a “popular voice” could emerge.

These aesthetic social circles were further able to be seen as separated out “private” spaces because of the history of certain arts as being associated with spaces on the margins or outside of normal society, or even with connecting into the otherworldly. The spiritual ritual origins of Noh (for example), and its associations with the otherworldly, with liminal space and the transportation of the audience into a spiritual or dream realm or state, and the identification of performers/entertainers as being outside of the normal status hierarchies, is thus tied into this idea of performing arts as being outside of normal “public” society. Ikegami calls these arts “za arts” both because of an association of these circles with the medieval guilds known as za, and because they were practiced in zashiki meeting rooms. Later on, in the Tokugawa period, the commercial marketplace is added to these artistic spaces, as another major space belonging to the popular “public,” and existing somewhat outside of the discursive control of the authorities (the official/governmental “public” – or ōyake).

Detail from the 17th century “Night Festival of Tsushima Shrine” screen, held at LACMA. This takes place in Nagoya, and I suppose we could assume that most of these figures are preparing for the festival, or are on their way to the festival. But, this might stand in, if you’ll allow, for any number of other fûzokuga (genre paintings), in which we see the chaotic, vibrant, life of a city. Even regardless of the festival, how many of these people coming and going are members of poetry circles or ikebana groups, or are amateur hobbyist students of Noh chanting or kabuki dance?

In art history, as well as in early modern cultural history more broadly, we often touch upon the existence of artistic networks as we discuss the lives and activities of individual “great” artists; we know that the literati artist Ike no Taiga, for example, or the scholar Hiraga Gennai, were actively involved in many such circles and networks, through which they interacted with other artists and scholars. However, through Ikegami’s descriptions, we begin to get a sense of these circles and networks being much more widespread, much more pervasive, than we might have ever imagined otherwise. Not just poetry circles and kabuki fan clubs, but amateur Noh chanting, shamisen lessons, and ikebana groups, among many others, featured prominently, it would seem, in the cultural life of Japan’s major cities. One begins to get an impression of a lively, vibrant cultural scene, in which on any given night dozens (upon dozens?) of rooms spanning many of Kyoto’s city blocks were occupied with cultural activity – and through this cultural activity, socialization and interaction across status boundaries, building personal social networks through which political knowledge and consciousness spread.

Ikegami identifies the commercialization and popularization of the arts in the Edo period – that is, the shift of many arts from being chiefly elite pursuits to being more widely and popularly practiced – as playing a key role in the development of a widespread popular political consciousness, popular political discourse, and a collective notion of (proto-)national identity; this in turn set the stage, she argues, for a stronger, better prepared populace for the modernity which Meiji was to bring. This commercialization and popularization took place through in-person gatherings, meetings, and lessons, but also through a myriad of popular publications we normally do not hear about in either art history or intellectual history discussions of the period, including guides to Noh chanting, shamisen playing, and poetry composition, which made these arts more widely available.

Further, Ikegami argues, popular publications in general, in all of their myriad forms and contents, contributed to linking the disparate parts of the archipelago into a singular, unified cultural consciousness. Whereas Mary Elizabeth Berry, in her Japan in Print, focuses more narrowly on the popular imagination of “Japan” as constituted through encyclopedias, guides to famous places, guides to samurai houses, and the like – a Japan formed of the aggregation of the things described in these books – it is less so in Japan in Print and more so in Bonds of Civility that we see a strong, clear argument for books and prints (any and all books and prints) connecting people into a shared cultural discourse, and into a collective shared identity simply through having read the same books, being familiar with the same authors, artists, cultural referents and cultural practices (8-9).

Right: A woodblock print by Suzuki Harunobu, c. 1765-1770, in the Freer-Sackler collection. Three girls examine what appears to be a banzuke, a listing of either sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, or courtesans. Perhaps this lists the upcoming season of kabuki performances or sumo bouts, or lists the “greatest” wrestlers, actors, or courtesans of the year. In any case, these girls share in cultural knowledge of, and fannish interest in, these things, just as we today share in celebrity gossip, scheduled concerts or events we’re excited about, or whathaveyou. And countless other people, across the city and across the realm, are reading this very same banzuke, and are connected to these girls in being familiar with the same cultural goings-on. Whether as “fans” or not, they are still in one sense or another members of a shared community.

Art is all too often dismissed as superficial or extraneous. But, whether for Japan in particular, or with potential applicability for other societies as well, Ikegami makes a powerful argument here for the importance of aesthetics, art, fashion, and popular culture in constituting spaces of popular consciousness and political discourse, contributing in an important way to the emergence in Tokugawa Japan of commoner discursive / cultural / societal prominence. As she points out, the segregation of the kabuki theater and the Yoshiwara to their own walled-off districts, though meant to separate them away from normal public society, resulted in each of these areas – to a certain extent, enclaves protected from direct shogunal interference – becoming pressure cookers or Petri dishes of popular culture. Fandom, publications, popular referents, and perhaps most significantly fashion, emerged out of these areas, functioning as a significant way in which commoners could construct and declare their identities. Fashion inspired by the worlds of Yoshiwara and kabuki quickly became quite influential among elites, reversing for perhaps the very first time the cultural flow (where previously it was elites who developed new cultural expressions, and commoners who adopted them in efforts to elevate their own cultural status); this may seem superfluous, but it is in fact profoundly significant, representing the cultural power of the commoner class, and of popular commercial culture. Even while commoners were still denied explicit voice in political process, we can now see how artistic circles, popular publishing, fashion, and the social rituals of the commoner districts combined to create a real sea change in commoner voice, influence, power, prominence, in certain other key cultural/social respects.

I wrote the above as a response paper, for my advisor, in December 2014, and have not altered it much in adapting it to the blog. I add the following, new, now, in June 2015:

In sum, this book is fascinating both for its overarching argument about “publics,” and for its content, at times, on certain subjects I have never happened to read up on elsewhere – e.g. kimono pattern books and the development of Edo fashion. In addition to this, though, I truly love this book for (a) the way it brings the cities of early modern Japan alive, inspiring images of cultural/social life of a city, constituted in the aggregate of countless poetry circles, shamisen lessons, and so forth. Who knows what goes on in back rooms across Kyoto, Tokyo, Naha, Honolulu, New York, and San Francisco today? Such liveliness, such vibrancy! And I also love this book for (b) the way it argues for the importance, the significance of the arts in social and political history. This is an art history which focuses not on individual works, or artists, or schools, movements, or styles, but goes beyond that to talk about the cultural life of the city more broadly, incorporating countless common dabblers and hobbyists, and paying little attention to the quality or meaning, or even content, of their artistic production. And yet it is still a cultural history, if not strictly speaking an “art history,” which argues boldly and oh-so compellingly for the vital relevance and significance of artistic and cultural activity to the history of the development and activity of social and political “publics” or “public spheres” – which might otherwise be dismissed by most historians as frivolous or peripheral.

Left: The upstairs room at Fukushima Shamisen, a shamisen workshop in the Higashi Chayagai of Kanazawa. Who meets and practices shamisen together here? What do they discuss? How did rooms like this one, and the “space” of the shamisen lesson, or group practice, serve as the site of political discussions outside of what might be said, and overheard, “in public”? How did rooms like this one, and the meetings and activities that took place there, constitute the social and cultural life of the city?

All photos are my own (with the exception of the book cover).

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I’ve added a new link to the Theatre section over there on the right. Much thanks to Prof. K. Saltzman-Li for introducing us to this list of available translations of Noh plays, and to Michael Watson of Meiji Gakuin for compiling and maintaining it. The list includes all 253 plays in the active repertoire, plus a handful more. A powerful resource for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out which plays are available in translation, and where to find them.

And, though the interface is quite plain – it really is little more than a pageful of text, with some links – it’s actually a wonderfully useful resource. Not only does it have the list of translations of a play, but gives some of the basic information about each play – presumed author, schools actively performing it, and the category of the play – as well as, in some cases, a bit more commentary or links to secondary sources discussing the work. If even for nothing else at all, just having such a complete list, easily skimmable in romaji, is a great thing to have.

Watson also provides links to:

(1) an extensive bibliography of Premodern Japanese Texts and Translations, including many writings about Noh by Zeami, Zenchiku, and the like, along with numerous other works, from Muromachi monogatari to poetry collections, diaries, and histories.

(2) The UTAHI Hangyō bunko (半魚文庫) website (all in Japanese), which has pure text transcriptions of over 300 Noh plays.

Below: the stage at the National Noh Theatre in Sendagaya, Tokyo. I think. Please correct me if I’m mistaken. Photo my own.

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After hearing about Theatre of Yugen for so long, I have finally had the pleasure of attending one of their performances. The group, based in San Francisco’s Mission District, is one of the premier groups in the US producing and performing contemporary/fusion pieces grounded in, based on, built around, the aesthetics, techniques, etc. of the Japanese traditional drama forms of Noh and Kyogen.

After watching and enjoying their “A Minor Cycle: Five Little Plays in One Starry Night” (written by the Philadelphia-based Greg Giovanni), I find I have a great deal to say, as usual, but I feel at the same time hesitant. It is one thing to write for a general audience, for whomever should stumble upon this humble blog, and who should be interested in musings of a random individual such as myself; it is quite another to write commenting on, reviewing, something in which a close friend was closely involved, and knowing that members of the troupe may come across this and read it. It is one thing to speak of Theatre of Yugen, letting others know about them, and encouraging them to go see Yugen productions, and to be interested in Japanese(-inspired) theater. It is quite another to write to, for, the troupe themselves, praising or criticizing (even if almost exclusively the former) and otherwise analyzing or simply commenting upon their production.

There is so much to say, and yet I am hesitant to say anything at all. Well, but I suppose I must say something. I must, at least, record my thoughts and impressions, if for no one else, then for myself. And if others, if members of the troupe, should happen to see this, then so be it, I suppose. Shô ga nai.

The Minor Cycle is a series of five short plays, retelling traditional stories such as that of Sir George & the Dragon, or of an episode from CS Lewis’ Prince Caspian, set within the framing device of a series of songs sung by the characters Mr. and Mrs. Darling – the parents of Wendy, John, and Michael Darling, who have flown off with that Pan boy. This sets the tone of a theme of Edwardian England, of traditional children’s stories. Small, brightly colored kids’ chairs, hint at the idea of a nursery, that is, of all five of these stories taking place as just that, stories, within a children’s book.

I could go on to detail numerous aspects of the production, commenting on everything from the choice of this prop to the style of that interpretation, but I think that will just end up getting long, listy, and tedious. To sort of summarize, then, let me just say this – all too often, we see performances which come as a result of a mere dabbling in drawing upon these forms without a true understanding of Noh, or kyogen, of their philosophies, aesthetics, and traditions, and without true skill and experience in the techniques and forms. These pieces end up feeling too experimental, and more to the point, the sense of a lack, of a failing, is palpable. Such is not at all the case with Theatre of Yugen. The expertise, the authenticity of the knowledge, technique, talent, of all involved is clear throughout the production, in everything from voice and movement, to costume, props, and set pieces, to the structure and themes of each piece. From the makeup and costumes, to voice and movement, nothing feels like they “got it wrong.” Nothing here is Chinese or Korean or just plain mistaken – everything comes across as a well-informed, expert choice, whether it’s in Edwardian-esque costuming that perfectly recalls the silhouette or form otherwise of traditional Noh/kyogen/kabuki kimono; in the reference to the subjectivity of time – a moth lives but one season, but for the moth, that one season is an entire lifetime; in the careful, expert position of the performer’s hands, and motion of their feet, as they cross the stage in precisely authentic Noh fashion, regardless of the Western storybook character they are playing; or in the lilting tones of the performers’ chants, recited in English, and telling an English tale, but reproducing quite well the distinctive sounds of Noh, kyogen, or kabuki, conveying to the audience the specific aesthetic of each of these forms, not as a blending or a mish-mash, but authentically. The first piece, in particular, relating an encounter between Queen Lucy of Narnia and a magician on an isle of invisible creatures, feels less like a modern/contemporary piece concocted by American performers experimenting with Japanese forms, and more like a genuine, authentic Kyogen that might have existed if the traditional repertoire included classic stories of British children’s literature. For the uninitiated spectator, it most likely feels quite experimental, bizarre, and “modern” or “artsy”, but it is initiating them not into wacky, bizarre, experimental theatre so much as it is providing an initiation into elements of traditional Japanese theatre. It may seem wacky, bizarre, and experimental to some, but to those more familiar with Japanese theatre, there is an element of authenticity, of genuineness in not only technique or style, but in theme and philosophy as well, that comes through quite clearly, and personally, though it may perhaps be an odd priority to have, for me, this makes all the difference, and is the crucial foundation for an enjoyable, meaningful, piece.

Also, though I feel I am having some trouble articulating it, there is something important in this in that the main thrust is in the story, and in the style/technique/form/mode itself, and not the act, the experiment, of the fusion, the creation, the invention. For modern(ist) artists, it is not the end result that is the key to their art, but the concept behind it, the act of defiance, of experiment. For Magritte or Duchamp, it is not the final result, the painting of the pipe labeled “This is Not a Pipe,” or the porcelain urinal labeled “Fountain,” in its color or texture, in its aesthetics – least of all in the fine craftsmanship and technique of its production – that matters, but instead, the focus is in this question of ‘what is art’? This may seem quite deep, deeper conceptually than a Rembrandt, but in its effort to be conceptual, experimental, a-traditional, or anti-traditional, it is actually quite frivolous and superficial, even nonsensical. It lacks the depth of tradition, of skill, of refined technique, of deep, strong connection to a traditional historical cultural context, possessed by someone like Rembrandt, or better yet, someone like Wen Zhengming or Zhao Mengfu, emulating the ancients. For traditional Noh and kyogen performers, for professional kabuki actors, the myriad of elements of style, technique, and form of traditional theatre is not an experiment; it is not something cherry-picked or dabbled in, played around with, gamed, but rather something one devotes oneself to, practicing and refining one’s connection to a deep and strong tradition. The same, it seems, goes for Theatre of Yugen as well. The Noh or kyogen elements in Theatre of Yugen do not seem tacked on, or mixed-in, but are fundamental. While many other contemporary theatre companies are like Robert Rauschenberg, picking up all sorts of things and throwing them together to create a thoroughly modernist, experimental, assemblage, Yugen is more like Xu Bing, someone deeply and thoroughly trained in, expert in, and philosophically devoted to, an artistic tradition, drawing upon that tradition to create something decidedly new and untraditional, but which nevertheless does not stand opposed to, nor is in any way disrespectful to or dismissive of, that tradition.

All that said, I find it interesting that the Theatre of Yugen (best as I gather) produces/performs not traditional pieces, but chiefly new compositions, and quite often, Western/fusion pieces. How does one practice Noh or kyogen truly, authentically, without practicing and performing traditional pieces in the traditional manner? How does one maintain the authentic technique of someone skilled, experienced, well-practiced in the traditional form, without it transforming into something very different, some Theatre of Yugen style that rings untrue? A formal certificate hanging in the lobby and signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs supports the idea that they are doing something right, that what they are doing is authentic and traditional to some significant degree, and some, if not all, members of the company do have experience practicing, training, with genuine traditional masters in Japan. But, still, I wonder.

If the following goes against the intentions, philosophy, or desires of the founders/leaders of Yugen, my sincere apologies, but what a thing it would be, to see them perform not in a black box theatre, reminiscent of the experimental and modernist, but on a proper Noh stage, possibly welcoming masters from Japan, doing training workshops, practices, and performances of traditional pieces, in addition to the occasional contemporary American creation. How I would love to see something like that, and, even, to become involved and to take part.

I have gotten off-topic here, towards the end, but I suppose, by way of a conclusion, “A Minor Cycle” was powerful, beautiful, fun but also intellectually stimulating, and managed to incorporate Edwardian English stories into something that nevertheless rings true as, on some level, genuine and authentic to the traditions, aesthetics, techniques, philosophies, of Noh, kyôgen, and kabuki. I regret that I do not currently live in a city where I can be surrounded by, let alone more directly involved in / connected with, such cultural activity, more regularly, and I eagerly look forward to seeing the Theatre of Yugen again.

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Thanks much as always to Mr. Mark Frey of the JETAANC Kabuki Club for the updates on Kabuki news, which I can then pass on to all of you, faithful readers.

Firstly, the big news this month is that popular film/TV actor Kagawa Teruyuki has joined the ranks of the Ichikawa family of kabuki actors, taking on the name Ichikawa Chûsha IX.

Ichikawa Chûsha (Kagawa Teruyuki, left), with his father, Ichikawa En’ô (formerly Ennosuke, right). Image from Asahi Shimbun.

After his parents divorced when he was young, he had very little contact with his father, the famous kabuki actor Ichikawa Ennosuke III, who has now taken the name Ichikawa En’ô II. En’ô is famous as a master of keren (stage special effects), including chûnori (wirework, flying out over the audience), and as the pioneer of Super Kabuki, which employs such special effects, as well as lighting, makeup, and other elements in a truly over-the-top manner. The 72-year-old En’ô has not been seen onstage in eight years, due to medical problems, and Kagawa has stated that while he had considered simply sending his son to become a kabuki actor in order to continue the lineage, with En’ô ill, he felt it better that he go as well, to do his duty to the family. Duty to the family, and the obligation to perform if born into a kabuki family, seem major elements of the life of a kabuki actor; but the impression I get from news articles is that Kagawa does not feel forced into doing this, so much as that he is choosing to do this, and that it feels right. In one article from the Asahi Shimbun, he speaks of a “sense of mission,” and of feeling right in the makeup, saying that “When my father applied stage makeup on my face for the first time, I thought, ‘Hey, you are 40 years too late,’” and that “it feels as if this were all a grand scheme for fathers and sons to be reunited.” In an article in the Mainichi Shimbun, he says “I think it’s destiny. I’m keeping the promise made when I was born into this family.”

Left: Kagawa Teruyuki, out of kabuki makeup. Photo from wiki.d-addicts.com DramaWiki.
Kagawa has played roles in numerous TV dramas, including Mr. Brain, Kômyô ga Tsuji, and Ryômaden, and many films, from Tales of Earthsea and Sukiyaki Western Django to the 20th Century Boys trilogy and Tokyo Sonata. His son, 8-year-old Kagawa Masaaki, has taken the stage name Ichikawa Danko V, while a cousin has followed in his uncle’s footsteps, becoming the fourth Ennosuke.

A news post on Kabuki-bito.jp (the official website of professional kabuki) has some great pictures from the name-taking ceremony & performances.

Some other news articles covering the topic, though the information overlaps a lot:
*Actor Kagawa debuts in Kabuki, succeeds Ichikawa Chusha (Kyodo News)
*At 46, actor continues in father’s kabuki footsteps (Japan Times)
*Actor Kagawa debuts in Kabuki, succeeds Ichikawa Chusha (Mainichi)
*Kabuki actors get new names while movie star makes debut (Asahi)

I have myself never yet had the fortune of attending a shûmei (襲名, “name succession”) performance, with its accompanying kôjô (口上, “stage announcement”), but it seems a rather special occasion. It goes beyond simply going to see a play, but is an important moment in kabuki history – in the careers of these actors, and of their families and lineages. As the actors appear on stage making the formal announcement of their new names, and congratulating one another, one gets a glimpse into their relationships, and their world. I would love, one day, to attend such an event, and to be able to say afterwards that I was there when so-and-so the fourth became so-and-so the third, or whatever it may be.

Meanwhile, a friend who I know from the University of Hawaii has posted a brief review of his experience in the Kyoto-based Traditional Theatre Training program (TTT).

It is a three-week program offered every summer in which participants are given the opportunity to train intensively in either Noh, Kyôgen, or Nihon Buyô. (I had thought that it was one week per form, but actually it’s a full three weeks in one form of your choice – much nicer.) And, apparently, many of the teachers speak excellent English, so a high level of Japanese language ability is not required. Personally, I’d rather train more explicitly in kabuki, including voice, stage fighting, mie poses, acting, and not just in the dance form kabuki employs / draws upon. But, nevertheless, this seems like an amazing experience. You get to train with Kyoto-based masters, in genuine traditional performing spaces in Kyoto, including the Ôe Nôgakudô (Ôe Noh Theatre) which I got to visit briefly when I was in Kyoto two summers ago, and, you get to be in Kyoto. I’m sure the program is quite intense, but, whatever time you might find in the evenings, weekends, or before or after the program, you’ll be in Kyoto already! Lots to see and do and enjoy, in what is quite possibly my favorite city in the world.

The classes are very small, which means it’s intimate and you get more attention, I’m sure, and, I get the impression that demand (surprisingly) is low enough that it might not be too competitive getting in. (If anyone knows different, let me know.) The program is also surprisingly cheap, this current summer costing only 50,000 yen for students in tuition & fees (or 70,000 if you’re not a student or practicing artist). Airfare, housing, and living expenses are extra, I’m sure, but even so, I don’t think I have ever heard of another program that is so inexpensive in its tuition and fees. The 10-week language program I attended in Kyoto two years ago cost around $4000 for the summer.

So, if you’re interested in Japanese traditional theatre, and especially if you happen to already be in Kyoto (or elsewhere in Japan) and can therefore save on airfare & housing, check out the TTT program. I hope to take part myself sometime in the next few years.

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Thanks much to Dr. Diego Pellecchia for publicizing the publication of this new book on the intersections of Japanese Theatre and Germany & Italy.

Info about the book reposted from the publisher’s website:

Scholz-Cionca, Stanca / Regelsberger, Andreas (Eds.)

Japanese Theatre Transcultural
German and Italian Intertwinings

2011 · ISBN 978-3-86205-026-0 · 230 S., kt., · EUR 27,—

Japan and Italian Opera, Kawakami and Sada Yacco in Europe, Mussolini on the Kabuki stage, Brecht adapting a Japanese melodrama, a genuine Japanese Threepenny Opera by Inoue Hisashi, Heiner Müller´s Hamletmachine haunting Japanese playwrights, commedia dell´arte encountering Kyogen in hybrid masks: these and other instances of mutual perception and exchange in the theatre cultures of Italy, Japan, and Germany are highlighted in the essays of this book. It sprang from a symposium held in Trier in 2009, which brought together scholars and practitioners from the three countries to explore asymmetrical and shifting intercultural relations and their impact on theatre practices, institutions, ideologies and collective imaginaries.



Chapter I: Reconsidering Cultural Difference
Erika Fischer-Lichte (Berlin): Interweaving European and Japanese Cultures at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century: Japanese Guest-Tours in Europe
Diego Pellecchia (London): The International Noh Institute of Milan: Transmission of Ethics and Ethics of Transmission in a Transnational Context
Marumoto Takashi (Waseda University, Tokyo): Comedy and Laughter on the Japanese and German Stage: A Comparative Attempt

Chapter II: Intertwined Threads of Reception
James R. Brandon (Hawaii): Mussolini in Kabuki: Notes and Translation
Pia Schmitt (Trier / Tokyo): Early German Encounters with Japanese Performing Arts – On Hermann Bohner’s Examination of Nō
Andreas Regelsberger (Trier): The Rediscovery of Brecht’s The Judith of Shimoda
Stanca Scholz-Cionca (Trier): Brecht Revisited: Yabuhara, the Blind Master Minstrel, by Inoue Hisashi
Bonaventura Ruperti (Venice): Greek Tragedies in/and the Productions of Ninagawa Yukio
Luciana Galliano (Venice): Japan and Contemporary Opera (in Italy)
Donato Sartori (Padua): Masks: East and West Confronted
Chapter III: Present Trends
Niino Morihiro (Tokyo): Social Criticism in Japanese Theatre: The Dramatist Sakate Yōji and the Little Theatre Movement since the 1980s
Peter Eckersall (Melbourne): Dreaming of the War in Shinjuku – Kawamura Takeshi and Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine in Japan
Thomas Oliver Niehaus (Bochum): Directing in Japan
Katja Centonze (Venice/Tokyo): Topoi of Performativity: Italian Bodies in Japanese Spaces/Japanese Bodies in Italian Spaces

My congratulations to Diego on getting published, and especially in a volume alongside such prestigious figures as Prof. James Brandon. I especially look forward to reading his essay, as well as that on the rediscovery of Brecht’s “The Judith of Shimoda,” a German play first performed in English here at the University of Hawaii just last year.

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A few posts ago I mentioned that there was “a Noh performance I saw years ago in London, something very much modern and Western and experimental and whatever, but drawing upon Noh,” and that I would re-post what I had written about it at the time. Here it is (my new comments from today in italics):

June 15, 2007

I met up with a friend for a play – I’m at a loss for the proper words to describe it, but independent post-modern highly artistic English-language rewrite of a classic Noh play ought to cover it. It was actually really cool.

The play is about a samurai retainer, named Nakamitsu, who is ordered by his lord (Mitsunaka) to kill his lord’s son, Bujio. Bujio had been sent to a monastery to learn and to become a wise, educated, and deserving heir, but instead he lazed around and did not study. Out of anger, therefore, his father orders him killed. However, Bujio’s retainer feels it his duty to sacrifice himself in his lord’s place; this retainer is Nakamitsu’s son Kuchio. So now Nakamitsu must choose between Kuchio and Bujio, whether to kill his lord’s son, or his own.

I’ve never heard of Nakamitsu as a traditional play, though searching for “Nakamitsu Noh”, that is, 『仲光 能』, in Google in Japanese does seem to yield quite a number of references to it. Even if it is a traditional play – and the core of the plot certainly makes it seem it could be – I have to wonder how much has been changed. Bujio and Kuchio do not sound to me like normal Japanese names, and the idea of having Nakamitsu’s father be Mitsunaka also seems a Western contrivance.

Having heard that it was an English version of a classic play, I was expecting something much more traditional. It was far from that, but it was nevertheless wonderful. There was something of a preshow while people found their seats – quite disturbing really, essentially two of the actors doing a strip-show right down to their thong underwear. I suppose it was meant to set the scene as being a strip club or something, because a number of gangsters then burst in, shouting in Japanese. One pulls a gun on a second man, and the third begs that he be shot instead, his friend spared. The two argue for some time over who should be the one to die, to sacrifice themselves in order to save their friend/colleague.

Everyone changes into traditional robes, and the play begins in earnest… relating this tale of Nakamitsu. It was very artistic, using colored swaths of fabric to represent different things, and even at one point to move the very ground under a character, as the cloth is pulled out from under him. The stage was like a fashion runway (a long strip of stage, with audience on either side, not a traditional/standard theatrical space at all), which was strange, but actually worked out really well, as there were only two rows of audience on either side of this strip – it made you get really enraptured into the atmsophere of the play. A painted pine tree stood at one end of the stage – a traditional essential element of Noh, to represent the Shinto aspects of spirit and power in nature, as well as the unreal, spiritual nature of the events being depicted and the eternal and the universal as well. A small but fantastically versatile set of exotic (traditional non-Japanese, and non-Western) musical instruments sat at the other end, played by whichever actors were not on stage at a given time. – The actors were quite versatile too.

One of the instruments was kind of like a kettle drum, like two giant gongs or woks stuck together, and with large dimples in it like a kettle drum. I am really curious what this was, and what culture it might come from. It was played masterfully with gentle taps of the hand or fingers, and resonated long enough that the sound of each tap blended with previous taps to form a sound which resembled or emulated a full set of instruments – like playing one violin or guitar or drum or whatever and having it sound like five.

The instrument, as I learned shortly afterwards, is called a hang. It seems like it would be a traditional instrument from somewhere in Southeast Asia perhaps, based on its sound, but was apparently developed quite recently by a group based in Switzerland. They only produce a very limited number of them, and the process of ordering is extremely difficult, as I understand it. Which is a terrible shame, because if it were a traditional instrument, well, even gamelan instruments or shamisen are not that hard to come by. Also, interestingly, I’ve seen/heard people playing them several times in London, e.g. just hanging out in the park or at a flea market, playing, and yet have never seen the instrument in New York or Japan. You’d think if it was some new age newly hip thing, and if some random middle class white kids in London could get their hands on one, then Americans or Japanese would have too…. Maybe it’s just about the prohibitive costs of flying to Switzerland to visit the studio in person, which is apparently a necessary part of the purchasing process.

Wow, there was just so much to it to talk about. The adoption of the Noh techniques of self-narration: characters saying “He pulls his sword, and prepares to kill his only son.” rather than simply speaking lines or having a separate narrator. The Noh technique of walking a few steps, and through narration and symbolic movements, representing the journey of many miles. The intensity of their performance – all the men were completely covered in sweat by the end. The very warrior-like and manly dance number at the end – a lot of very strong movements and “hoo hah” sort of vocalizations, more like a karate kata than a dance, I suppose, but bordering indeed on the kind of artistic symbolic meaning of interpretive dance.

Overall, certainly one of those artsy productions that not everyone will “get” and not everyone will like. But Julia and I definitely enjoyed.

I would love to see it again. Wish it were going to be performed again, here, or in New York, or somewhere (and somewhen) I might be able to catch it.

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Over the last few months, or the last few weeks, really, I have come to hear of several US-based troupes devoted to traditional Japanese theatrical forms – or at least to adapting these forms into modern pieces.

Two in particular that come to mind are the San Francisco-based Theatre of Yugen, and the Los Angeles-based Arigato Kai, which I just learned of today.

I know that New York doesn’t have quite the same reputation as LA or San Fran for being specifically strong in East Asian culture, because we’re too busy being strong in representation of *every* culture, but I wonder if there are any troupes like these based on the East Coast? Not that I would necessarily be up and joining them, after being in *one* performance of anything ever, that I would suddenly start considering myself an actor, but, just to be involved, to make some connections, even just at the very least to be aware of their performances and events (such as the kabuki movement workshop Arigato Kai held the beginning of this month in LA) and hopefully maybe attend some. If/when I ever settle down somewhere and establish myself, I’d love to start building connections with a troupe like these.

But, anyway, if you’re on the West Coast, and are interested in Japanese theatre as I am, then lucky you, here are two troupes putting on what look to be great shows.

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