Impressions from this year’s Zeami memorial seminar

Every year on the 8th of August there is a meeting of Noh researchers and enthusiasts, organized in memory of Zeami (1363-1443) in the Nara prefecture by the Association for Noh and Kyōgen Studies. Please read this past entry – Remembering Zeami, where I explained in detail what the seminar consists in.

Luckily, I had the chance to go there this year too, so I would like to share some more images and thoughts on this event.

On August 7th we went as usual to the temple of Hōzanji in Ikoma, for the yearly exhibition of manuscripts. Some of them are written in Zeami’s or Zenchiku’s hand, while others are later documents related to the Komparu school of Noh.

Hōzanji - a smaller prayer hall (beyond it, the Hannya cave)

A prayer hall of the Hōzanji complex (beyond it, the Hannya cave)

View over the town of Ikoma from Hōzanji

View over the town of Ikoma from Hōzanji

As you might guess, taking photographs of the manuscripts is forbidden. So I’ll use for illustration an image that was already on the web – a fragment of the “Eguchi” manuscript by Zeami.

Noh "Eguchi"

Noh “Eguchi”

Like the other Noh manuscripts by Zeami (“Tomoakira”, “Unrin’in”, “Morihisa”, “Kashiwazaki” a.o.), it’s written mostly in katakana – for very practical reasons in fact. Besides it being the simplest way to ensure the correct pronounciation of the words, this kind of script helps synchronizing the syllables to the chant (fushi 節) . Not to mention that it makes easier the use of kakekotoba – projecting two meanings on one word, the stylistic device that accounts for much of the typical flavour of Noh texts.

Leaving back Hōzanji, for the ones in the area August 8th begins with a visit to Fuganji 補厳寺, the place where Zeami deepend his studies of Zen in his late years. There is not much left of the temple itself, as it burnt to the ground about two centuries ago. However, the family which owns the place now has inherited the old temple records, which mention Zeami (his Buddhist name Shiō 至翁), as one of the donors of the temple.

The gate of Fuganji

The gate of Fuganji

Pine tree guarding the entrance to Fuganji

Pine tree guarding the entrance to Fuganji

The seminar, usually held in Nara, took place this time in Tawaramoto, the town where Fuganji is located. The reason behind this change was the celebration of 30 years since the creation of the monument marking Fuganji as a place related to Zeami.

Zeami sangaku no chi - "The place where Zeami came for his Buddhist studies "

Zeami sangaku no chi – “The place where Zeami came for his Buddhist studies “

The monument was created at the initiative of Noh researchers Omote Akira and Itō Masayoshi, the ones who discovered the names of Zeami and his wife’s in the old temple records. The donations of many Noh enthusiasts from all over Japan made the completion of this monument possible.

One more image from the surroundings of Fuganji, located in the Ajima district of Tawaramoto.

tanbo

If you ignore the utility poles in the background, do you think that this landscape has changed much since Zeami’s time? Facing the broadness of this view, I found myself trying to imagine what Zeami’s eyes saw, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the environment that shaped his thought and of what inspired him to write his plays. Not much of a clue for research, but I somehow have the feeling that just by seeing this landscape we get a little closer to Zeami.

 

Advertisements

Tokyo Theatres in April

With me caught up in this and that, another month has passed without any new updates on this blog. I apologize to my readers. It just happens that I was on vacation 🙂 I spent around two weeks away from the Japanese stage, only to realize how much I would miss it.

And that, in spite of the fact that on the night before my departure I went to see a fabulous dramatization of Terayama Shūji’s Den’en ni shisu 『田園に死す』“Pastoral: To Die in the Country” at Za Suzunari, which gave me enough food for thought over the holidays. Nonetheless, after two weeks the withdrawal symptoms were so acute, that right after landing at Narita, I went straight to KAAT in Yokohama to catch Chiten’s “Demons”. I’m glad to say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done on the spur of the moment.

About Den’en ni shisu and Akuryō you will most surely read again on this blog soon. Let’s see what the month of April has in store for theatergoers:

  • Nylon 100℃ will perform Pan’ya Bunroku no shian – zoku『パン屋文六の思案~続・岸田國士一幕劇コレクション』at the Aoyama Round Theatre from April 10th through May 3rd. The performance is conceived as a collage of several one-act plays written by Kishida Kunio (1890-1954), who is often referred to as “the father” of modern Japanese theatre. This stage is the best occasion to catch up with the latest work of Keralino Sandorovich, the leader of Nylon 100℃ and one of the most notable Japanese artists of the moment. Both a theatre director and a musician, KERA is one of the very few people whose wit and insight manages to give entertainment theatre that twist which transforms every show into a lasting memory.

    Tessenkai Noh (April 11th, Hosho Noh Theatre)

    Tessenkai Noh (April 11th, Hosho Noh Theatre)

  • Among the Noh performances of this month the Tessenkai program on April 11th at the Hōshō nōgakudō might be a good choice. Shitekata Shibata Minoru will perform Oshio 『小塩』, a Noh based on a love story from “The Tales of Ise”, quite rarely seen on stage. After the kyōgen Uo sekkyō 『魚説教』, we will be able see Uzawa Hisa’s Kanawa 『鉄輪』– a Noh about a woman’s jealousy. Strong human emotions such as jealousy become motives in various Noh plays – Aoi no Ue 『葵上』“Lady Aoi” is the most famous example. But in Kanawa the rendering of such emotions gets a bit out of the ordinary, in that there is nothing of the hurt but dignified aura of Lady Rokujō (the main character in “Lady Aoi”). Kanawa shows us a simple woman, invoking magic to take revenge on the one who hurt her. Her wrath can only be tempered by the powerful onmyōji Abe no Seimei. One of the highlights is the mask Namanari 生成, used exclusively for this Noh play.

    Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (April 5-27, National Bunraku Theater)

    Sugawara denju tenarai kagami (April 5-27, National Bunraku Theater)

  • At the National Bunraku Theatre a performance of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami 『菅原伝授手習鑑』 is scheduled for the interval April 5th – 27th. This classic of ningyō jōruri 人形浄瑠璃 puppet theatre, based on legends surrounding the personality of Heian period scholar Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), will be performed in its entirety (tōshi kyōgen), which means that we will have the chance to spend a whole day in the bunraku theatre, enraptured by the magic of the moving puppets.

The first day of April marks a new beginning for most of the people living in Japan. The fair weather and the cherry trees in bloom wouldn’t leave us any other choice than to look ahead with hope and expectations. While keeping an eye on the Japanese stage, don’t forget to enjoy your spring 🙂

Tokyo theatres in January

The Japanese word for hibernation is tōmin 冬眠 🙂 Apart from some notable noh and kabuki performances this month, there are very few stages I can recommend. I guess everybody is recovering after the very intense last months of the past year or preparing for TPAM – The Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (February 8th – 16th), which is the most awaited event of the first half of this year.

After contemplating the idea of introducing some commercial theatre shōgyō engeki 商業演劇 for a change or maybe some popular drama taishū engeki 大衆演劇, which really never rest, I soon concluded it might be too tricky, so I’ll be staying on safe ground with the few titles I’m sure I can trust.

"Okina" (Tessenkai, January 13th 2014)

“Okina” (Tessenkai, January 13th 2014)

The first performance of every year in the world of Noh is “Okina”『翁』, a very special and very old play which is considered to be at the roots of Noh. Closer to sacred ritual than theatre, it is a performance where the actor in the leading role wears the mask of a god on stage – a mask called hakushikijō 白式尉 used exclusively for this play – and performs a dance, which is a prayer for a peaceful and prosperous year.  For more information on “Okina” and stage photos, please visit this page on Noh.com. “Okina” is featuring in the program of the National Noh Theatre on January 7th, however only as chant (suutai 素謡) performed by shitekata Komparu Yasuaki. It will be followed by kyōgen Neongyoku 『寝音曲』and the noh Taema『当麻』. I would actually recommend the Tessenkai program on January 13th, which features the whole performance of “Okina”, but it seems all tickets have been already sold out.

Noh "Koi no omoni" (Yokohama nogakudo, January 25th)

Noh “Koi no omoni” (Yokohama nogakudo, January 25th)

Another very interesting Noh performance will be held on January 25th at the Yokohama nōgakudō, where Kanze Tetsunojō will be performing Koi no omoni 『恋重荷』. It is the story of an old gardener who falls in love with a court lady of high rank. In order to cure him of his passion, she challenges him to lift up a heavy rock, but the task proves to be too much for the old man. He dies and appears again as a vengeful spirit, tormenting the court lady by placing an invisible weight on her shoulders. As she repents, he changes his heart and becomes her guardian spirit. As you can probably guess, it is a Noh play with many subtleties, although the plot seems very simple at first sight.

Meanwhile the world of Kabuki will be celebrating the revival of a work which will be performed in its entirety for the first time in 150 years – Sanzen ryō haru no komahiki 『三千両初春駒曳』(information available in English here). The story brings together Edo period anecdotes about to a plot to kill a shōgun, however transposed in late Azuchi-Momoyama period, when the successors of Oda Nobunaga were fighting over power. The arrival of a beautiful Korean princess brings a charming twist to the story. This work is known to Kabuki lovers for two particular scenes, which are usually played separately. However this time the entire original script has been revised and arranged, as to make possible the staging of the whole play – a kind of kabuki performance known as tōshi kyōgen 通し狂言. Behind this very ambitious undertaking stands Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugurō VII, who will play the lead role. Onoe Shōroku IV, Onoe Kikunosuke V and Nakamura Tokizō V will also be starring. Sanzen ryō haru no komahiki is being performed in the great hall of the National Theatre 国立劇場 from January 3rd through the 27th.

"Tokaido Yotsuya Kwaidan" (Haiyu-za, January 16th-26th)

“Tokaido Yotsuya Kwaidan” (Haiyu-za, January 16th-26th)

Turning our eyes towards contemporary theatre we find… Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kwaidan 『東海道四谷怪談』on the stage of Haiyū-za!! As intriguing as it may sound, Tsuruya Nanboku’s kabuki play was adapted to the modern stage and performed for the first time in this version fifty years ago. We’ll get the chance to see this adaptation again, this time under the direction of Yasukawa Shūichi, in a series of events commemorating 70 years since the inauguration of Haiyū-za 俳優座, one of the places that serves as reference point in the history of modern Japanese theatre. Those of you who didn’t have enough of Oiwa’s story after this year’s Festival/Tokyo could check out the Haiyū-za version of it.

By the way, there is another modern adaptation of a kabuki play by Tsuruya Nanboku – Sakurahime 『桜姫』, performed by Hmp Theatre Company エイチエムピー・シアターカンパニー at AI-HALL in Itami (Hyōgo) from January 31st through February 2nd. This work seems to be the first in a series entitled “The roots of Contemporary Japanese Theatre”, initiated by the company. The concept of this stage sounds very interesting and I wouldn’t miss if I were close by.

I’ll stop here before I bump into more modern stage versions of kabuki or noh plays. Not that anyone would mind, but it starts feeling somewhat… haunting.

Don’t you think? 😀

Remembering Zeami

This year marks the anniversary of 650 years since the birth of Zeami 世阿弥 (1363-1443) and 680 years since the birth of his father, Kan’ami 観阿弥 (1333-1384). They were the first in a long line of performers who contributed to shaping Noh theatre into the refined form that reached our time.

Apart from the anniversary itself, there is actually a commemorative seminar dedicated to Zeami, held every year on the 8th of August in the city of Nara. The event is organized by the Association for Noh and Kyōgen Studies and spans over two days, consisting of a short symposium, a display of old manuscripts related to Noh and a visit to Zeami’s bodaiji (family temple).

The way to Hōzanji

The way to Hōzanji

This year’s seminar debuted as usual with the exhibition of documents at Hōzanji 宝山寺, a temple located in the mountains near the city of Ikoma, Nara prefecture. Zeami’s famous treatises on the art of Noh and several Noh plays in his own handwriting, manuscripts by his son in law Komparu Zenchiku, registries and other very precious original documents related to the history of Noh are taken out from the archives of the temple on this day and displayed publicly. Besides responding to the curiosity of researchers interested in seeing the original manuscripts, there is very practical reason to this display. In order to be kept in good condition, old documents need to be taken out and aired at least once a year (a practice called mushiboshi). The story of how these documents came into safekeeping at Hōzanji is pretty interesting in itself. They all had been handed down in the Komparu family (Zeami left many of his writings to his appointed successor, Zenchiku), but during the second half of Meiji period (1868-1912), when the Noh theatre world was shaken by a severe crisis, the head of the Komparu line of performers of that time, Komparu Hachirō, feared for the safety of the archive, so he sent all the documents into the trusted custody of his brother, who was the chief priest of Hōzanji.

It is there that they have been discovered in the early days of the past century. A large part of the documents has been donated to the Nogami Memorial Noh Theatre Reaserch Institute, where they can be found today under the name of Hannyakutsu bunko 般若窟文庫 (the “Hannya Cavern archive”), which alludes to the huge cavern visible from the precincts of the temple, where it said that the ascetic En no Gyōja had read the Hannyashin-kyō (“The Heart Sutra”) as part of his religious austerities. However, the most valuable manuscripts – the ones written in the hand of Zeami and Zenchiku themselves – have been designated important cultural property of Nara prefecture and have remained in Hōzanji, being shown to the public only once a year on August 7th, the day before Zeami’s commemoration.

Flowers on the path to the temple related to Zeami

Flowers on the path to the temple related to Zeami (how suitable for the man who wrote about the “Flower” of Noh in his treatises)

For the participants to the seminar dedicated to Zeami, the day of August 8th starts early in the morning with a visit to Fuganji 補厳寺, the temple where Zeami and his wife’s names are registered. Fuganji, located in the countryside of Nara prefecture, was a large and influential temple of the Sōtō Zen sect, but its main building burned to the ground at the end of Edo period (1603-1868). The old front gate serves as a reminder of the once flourishing temple. Apart from it, some documents remained and were handed down to the present owners of the property. Zeami’s name appears in the register of people for whom the temple performed ceremonies after their death. It is only on this day, August 8th, that the registers can be viewed by anyone interested. In front of a small altar with a memorial plate bearing Zeami’s name, we have the chance to remember the man whose creations have the power to enchant us to this day.

The seminar itself is being held during the afternoon, usually in the conference hall of the Nara National Museum. Each year researchers present their latest studies on Noh history, in an attempt to deepen the understanding of how Noh was performed in Zeami’s time. This year’s keynote speech was held by professor Takemoto Mikio (researcher in the field of Noh studies, Waseda University) and tackled the characteristics of a manuscript handed down by Zeami to Zenchiku, called Nōhon sanjūgoban mokuroku “An inventory of 35 Noh plays” (the document belongs to the Hōzanji archive). Most of the plays mentioned on that list are no longer extant, while others exist with a different title, making it difficult for researchers to grasp whether such inventories can be indeed relevant to the history of Noh. It is nonetheless fascinating to know that there is still much to search for and to discover, in order to understand how Noh developed in its early days.

Nara tōkae, the festival of lights

Nara tōkae, the festival of lights

All in all, it is a pretty exciting event for Noh enthusiasts, who gather from all the corners of Japan to Nara just to take part in this meeting. It just happens that the Zeami memorial seminar coincides every year with the famous Nara tōkae, the light festival at the beginning of August. Thousands of candles are lit all over the city, creating a sea of lights – both as a remembrance of those departed and as a prayer for peace. It is just another reason to conclude that Nara is the place to be every year around the 8th of August.