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Spiritual Noh Mask


   Noh is an important form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. One characteristic is the use of masks

The Noh mask is called omote.  As we can understand from the fact that Noh mask controls the importance (rank) of Noh drama, the mask is quite significant for Noh actors. In most cases, there is no particular mask assigned to a particular character. Rather, the type of masks to be used is designated for each drama. Therefore, it ultimately depends on shite (protagonist)  to decide which mask he will use for the drama, and he selects from those available.


          Covering the face with a mask is related to the transformation of a person, just like make-up. It is said that a Noh mask has more power than just a tool of disguise; it has an element of the spell, which provides spiritual power to the Noh actor.


        It is unclear how Noh masks emerged. However, it is held that Noh masks of current forms and names were developed from the middle to late Muromachi era. The masks are carved from blocks of Japanese cypress and painted with natural pigments on a neutral base of glue and crunched seashell. There are approximately 450 different masks mostly based on sixty types, all of which have distinctive names.




Okina (elderly man)

This type of Noh mask is incorporated from sarugaku, which was the original form of Noh. It is said that the Okina mask were already in use at the end of Heian era. This is the oldest category among Noh masks.

Types are: Ha kushiki-jo,Nikushiki-jo,Kokushiki-jo, Chichi-no-jo, Enmei Kaja.



Jō (elders)

This category includes masks of elders, such as Kojō, Asakuranojō, Sankōjō, and Waraijō. These masks are often donned when shite performs a personification of a ghost in maeba (the first half of the story) in Waki Noh (the First-group Noh) or Shura Noh (the Second-group Noh).


Onna-men (women)

As many people are reminded of this type of masks when it comes to Noh masks, these are the most popular masks and come in a variety of styles. The women's masks are minutely classified mainly based on age and character. Ko'omote, Wakaonna, Zō, and Magojirō express young, beautiful, and distinguished women.
Ohmionna is also a young but more touchable woman. Fukai and Shakumi express sophisticated middle-aged women. Compared to Fukai, Shakumi mask has stronger facial expression. Deigan has golden eyes, which express the woman belonging to the unreal world. Rōjo and Uba are old women.


Otoko-men (men)

The masks included in this category are varied based on the social status and the scene in drama. This category includes masks, such as Heida, Chūjō, Jūroku, Hatachiamari, Dōji, Kasshiki, and Yaseotoko.

Kijin (demons)

The masks in this category are believed to have appeared early in the development of Noh art. They express some supernatural existence, such as oni (demon) and tengu (long-nosed goblin). They are classified into two large categories:

   Tobide which are used for demonic gods and evils (O-Tobide, Tenjin, Ko-Tenjin, Shikami, Kurohige, Kojishi, ...

  Beshimi, ," which includes tengu (long-nosed goblin). The famous Hannya mask is included in this category.



Onryo (spirits and ghosts)

these masks represent the revengeful ghost as it appeared from Hell. Male characters Ayakashi, Yase-otoko and Kawazu, and female such as Yamanba en Deigan.

The famous Hannya mask is included in this category.



THE EXPRESSION OF NOH MASK - "teru" and "kumoru"


   The facial expression of Noh mask is called "medium expression," because it is difficult to determine the emotion the mask expresses. The skills of Noh actors give facial expression to the Noh masks, which do not give an expression of clear emotion. The well-known emotional expression of Noh masks are "teru" and "kumoru." The gesture of raising the face slightly upward is called "terasu," which makes the Noh mask appear to be smiling. On the other hand, the gesture of tilting the face slightly downward is called "kumorasu," which makes the mask appear to be also weeping.



   A Noh actor, who finishes putting on his costumes, faces the mirror in kagami-no-ma (the anteroom for performers) and solemnly dons a Noh mask. For a Noh mask, we use the verb "don" instead of "wear." By putting a mask on and physically unifying with the mask, a Noh actor's spirit is also unified with the mask. Such unification enables the actor to express emotional movement of the character he plays

    A Noh actor has extremely limited sight when he dons a Noh mask since the eye holes on the mask are very small. It is difficult for him to determine the direction on the stage while he is wearing a mask. The Noh stage, therefore, is designed to lead actors, who have narrow sight, in the appropriate direction through the use of columns, etc.



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