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Noh beginners invigorated after learning new techniques

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Participants receive instruction from a noh actor in Tokyo.

By Tatsuya Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNogaku is included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Many people may think noh is difficult to understand because the art form is expressed through utai, referring to lines and songs; hayashi, referring to musical accompaniment, and mai, referring to dances performed to the accompaniment.

However, some people who have learned noh say it is interesting and refreshes their mind and body.

On the morning on Aug. 8, 15 people in their 20s through 70s gathered at the Kanze Noh Theater, located on the basement floor of the Ginza Six commercial complex in the Ginza district of Tokyo. They stepped onto the stage.

In a five-day program to learn about noh, called “Asaichi Nohgaku Salon” (Early morning noh salon), participants tried basic mai techniques such as suriashi (a style of walking that involves sliding one’s feet) and various forms of dancing. Participants struggled hard with these techniques, but the noh actors demonstrated them while kindly saying such things as, “You’re doing well.” In a lesson for utai chanting, participants chanted utai in loud voices with smiles.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The kumo no ogi (cloud fan) mai dance form

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The sakazuki (sake cup) mai dance form

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Participants chant while sitting in the correct posture.

  • Munenori Takeda

A female company executive who participated in the program, said, “The suriashi technique was so difficult that I could not do it, but I think mai dance helps improve core strength. Chanting utai in a loud voice makes me feel extremely good.”

Munenori Takeda, who served as an instructor, said with a smile, “It’s not a practice, but a salon. So I hope participants just enjoy performing noh.”

Noh is a representative Japanese performing art that has been performed for more than 600 years. Since some lines and intonations retain styles established in the Muromachi period (early 14th century to late 16th century), it is difficult for modern people to understand some words. “Experiencing the art with the five senses is more important than knowing it in the head. In ordinary theatrical performances, the audience enjoys a story. Seeing a nogaku is more like watching pictures, rather than a theatrical performance,” Takeda said.

The noh salon program is meant to allow participants to experience noh by actually having them do utai chanting and mai dancing. Each form of mai is an important element in expressing the beauty of noh’s style. “They express specific feelings and scenes, so we hope the audience will focus on each form of mai,” Takeda said.

For example, kumo no ogi (cloud fan) is a mai form performed when seeing the sky, mountains and clouds, while sakazuki (sake cup) is performed when offering someone something like sake.

The rhythms of utai chants are written in seven-five syllabic meter and chanted in an eight-beat rhythm. “Straighten your posture, breathe with your belly and chant in a loud voice,” Takeda said.

Another installment of the nogaku salon program is also scheduled to start in November. For inquiries, email Kanze Noh Theater at kanzekai@kanze.net. Information about noh performances, the schedule for the workshop for children and other events are available on the website of the public interest incorporated association The Nohgaku Performers’ Association. (http://www.nohgaku.or.jp/)

Events for beginners

There are programs to help beginners become familiar with noh. The “Hajimete Noh” (First noh) event, in which digest versions of noh plays were shown, was held in August at the Kanze Noh Theater. Noh actors explained the story lines of noh plays, the actions of performers, the meanings of utai chants and other elements. They also revealed the secret of the noh stage structure, among other things.

To help participants familiarize themselves with noh, some performances have Japanese or English subtitles or are accompanied by noh actors serving as guides. It is best to confirm this information with the theater, organizing groups and others.

■Munenori Takeda

Noh actor Munenori Takeda is a shite performer of the Kanze school. He is a member of The Nohgaku Performers’ Association and a member of the board of directors of the Kanzekai, a general incorporated association. He studied under his father Munekazu Takeda and Kiyokazu Kanze, the 26th grand master of the Kanze School. He does about 100 performances a year, while also being active both at home and abroad in giving lectures, running workshops for beginners and other events.Speech

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