Get preview of noh festival planned for 2020 Games

Courtesy of the Nohgaku Performers’ Association

A scene from “Tsuchigumo” (Spider)

The Japan News In a bid to drum up interest in the “largest-ever” noh festival, scheduled for next year during the 2020 Tokyo Games, a preliminary event will take place this year on July 31 and Aug. 4 at the National Noh Theatre, located near the main Olympic venue.

The upcoming “Noh and Kyogen Performance — Essence Noh,” is a selection of classic noh and kyogen plays, each of which will run for about one hour or less so the audience can grasp the essence of Japan’s oldest traditional entertainment in a short time, at a reasonable price and with various kinds of assistance.

The organizer is hoping this pre-event will spark first-time noh spectators’ interest in next year’s 12-day “Nogaku Festival 2020,” where masters of noh schools will gather to perform.

A similar event was undertaken in 1964 when the 10-day “Olympic Nogaku Festival” was held under the government’s policy to “present Japan’s most valuable artifact” as a symbol of postwar rebuilding. This year, the organizer is trying to approach a wider range of people, including foreigners.

“We have an impression that noh is recognized more overseas than in Japan,” an organizer said, citing several reasons why foreigners are good at “enjoying the feel” of the art — such as the distinctive stage structure of no curtain or stage sets, and costumes and masks that change meaning based on the lighting and story subjects — rather than trying to “understand” the story line and conversations in the play.

“Essence Noh” features four sets of plays — all performed with English and Japanese subtitles — based on different themes. For example, the set of noh and kyogen performances shown on the afternoon of July 31 will have the theme “barrier-free,” and be supported by sign language, braille and an audio channel, among other services for audience members with disabilities.

The performances to be held on the last day — “Fukuro” (Owl) for kyogen and “Tsuchigumo” (Spider) for noh — will be aimed particularly at non-Japanese audience members and be performed with Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean subtitles shown on a monitor in front of each viewer’s seat, as on an airplane. The “Multi-language Support” runs from 4:30 p.m. until 6:20 p.m.

A summary of the plays in English as well as a multilingual pamphlet on “Enjoying Noh and Kyogen” will be handed out before the shows so people can concentrate on the performance instead of following the subtitles. The audience can take pictures with a performer wearing a noh costume at the venue.

“The answer to ‘Who are the Japanese? Why do they act in certain ways?’ can be found in those traditional arts,” the organizer said. “There must be interesting information in noh about Japanese people’s ethnicity.”


Venue: The National Noh Theatre (5 minutes’ walk from JR Sendagaya Station)

Admission: ¥3,500 for “Multi-language Support.” All seats must be reserved.

Contact: The Nohgaku Performers’ Association at (03) 5925-3871 (only in Japanese) or for English, send an email to or visit

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