2017.12.1/Posted by Alexine Castillo Yap
After having spent about 3 months in Tokyo already, I was beginning to get a bit concerned that I haven’t found time to see any traditional Japanese performing arts yet. Thankfully, the International Center Komaba Office had organised a performance and workshop of the highly valued traditional Japanese performing art, Noh, in Building 18 last Friday, December 1st. Held at a convenient time for students, the event was followed by an after-party at the 21 KOMCEE West basement. Great food and lively company closed off what had been an entertaining and educational evening that allowed international students to immerse ourselves in, appreciate, and deepen our understanding of Noh and its place within Japanese culture and society.
Known for the distinctive masks and unique singing style employed in its performances as well as its rich history, Noh was listed among UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. Renowned Noh performer Mr Tsunao Yamai began the event with a lecture and workshop about Noh, explaining its history and several important aspects in detail. An interpreter, Ms. Miho Tsujii, was present so that non-Japanese speakers could understand the lecture and workshop in English. In addition, print materials in English from the National Noh Theatre, containing more information about Noh and Noh shows in Tokyo, as well as information about a related performing art, Kyōgen, were distributed to all the audience members.
From explanations of the highly-intricate costumes used in performances, to an in-depth exploration of its essence as a very spiritual art form, Mr Yamai effectively communicated the significance of Noh and what makes it such a treasured art form for Japanese people and, indeed, for many around the world as well. We even got to see, in part, how Mr Yamai’s costume had to be put together, which required an assistant, Ms. Mayuko Kashiwazaki, who also sang during the performance, to accomplish the task.
To deepen our immersion with the art form even further, the interactive workshop allowed the audience members to sing a Noh song with Mr Yamai, and even imitate some Noh movements. This workshop and lecture was then followed by the performance itself, which was an excerpt towards the end of a longer Noh play. It was breath-taking—the dance had an almost hypnotic appeal, and even though I couldn’t understand the song used in the performance, I could certainly feel the emotions that it wished to communicate. And, of course, the costume and mask worn by Mr Yamai were a highlight, considering how lavish and beautiful the textiles were, and the air of mystery given by the mask.
Going to the event made me appreciate just how specialised Noh performance is as I witnessed first-hand its highly unique style and the amount of practice and energy required to successfully deliver a performance. Mr Yamai himself even admitted that typically, Noh performers can only do one performance a day due to the large amounts of effort required on a Noh performer during a show.
Overall, it was a refreshing experience especially after such a busy week. I am looking forward to attending the next event set up by the International Center Komaba Office. As Mr Yamai explained, this cultural treasure faces extinction due to the dwindling numbers of people interested in keeping it alive, which is a shame, but it all the more inspires me to make sure I get to see these performances and thus help it continue to live on, as with many other performing arts around the world. Maybe I’ll finally book a ticket to see a Noh play for myself at The National Noh Theatre.
Alexine Castillo Yap