Dover Book

Text Box with description of Book

As with everything Japanese, Nō Theatre (also called Noh), and Nō mask construction were (are) art forms which required mastery, and would also take a great deal of study and research for us in the West to fully comprehend. I will supply a little information derived from Wikipedia. There are many other online resources available on this topic, of course and numerous example of Nō Theatre you may watch on YouTube.

Nō Theatre began in the fourteenth century, and was developed by Kan'ami and his son Zeami. The word Nō means "skill" or "talent." Nō Theatre is a musical drama with typically three or four musicians playing a flute and different drums. Dance is part of the drama. Nō Theatre is the oldest form of Japanese classical drama still performed today, and only since 1947 were women allowed to act in a Nō performance. A performance usually consists of five Nō plays with comedic Kyōgen plays in between. Today there may be only two Nō dramas and one Kyōgen at a performance. Wikipedia describes the subject of Nō Theatre as based on tales of traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating the story. Emotions are conveyed by stylized conventional gestures, and of course it is the masks that represent the characters.

The mask carvers, as the actors, required highly skilled artisans. There are a number of men who are known throughout Nō history for their timeless creations. By the nineteenth century, there was a decline in the quality of mask carving. The masks were carved of cypress, paulownia or other light wood, according to Perzyński.

As for this book, Dover has condensed the contents of Perzyński's original two-volume work to include mostly pictures, and a brief history of Nō Theatre, masks, and mask carvers. There is also included a layout of a traditional Nō Theatre stage and back-stage areas. The book is arranged chronologically, and also by mask artisan, with a brief note on the use of the mask and its type and the approximate date it was created. In the back is an "Illustrated catalog of mask types" grouped, for instance by "mature men" or "demons," and also includes additional information on the use of the mask. Not all the masks shown in the book are included in the catalogue, but there is a reference to the type of mask. Additionally, the catalog includes masks not pictured in the main part of the book. There is a lot to enjoy about this book and the pictures are fascinating. One thing that is unfortunate is that they're all in black and white. I have included some images found online, because in color they are really astounding. Incidentally, according to this book, these ancient masks are still used, stored wrapped in silk in a wooden box between performances. Wow!

Here are some of the masks pictured in this volume. I chose one from each category of the catalog in the back of book. The category is listed first, followed by the page number, the name of the mask, its carver, and an approximate date.

Boys; page 82, Atsumori mask: Mitsunao, before 1750
Young Men; page 91, Ko kasshiki (small novice): Kawachi, died 1645
Mature Men; page 37, Yase otoko (emaciated man): Himi, late 14th or early 15th century
Old Men; page 106, Kammuri jō (old man): Katsumitsu, early 18th century

Ko kasshiki (small novice)

Yase otoko (emaciated man)

Kammuri jō (old man)

Atsumori mask

Young Girls; page 105, Shigan (child's face): Katsumitsu, (see above)
Young and Mature Women; page 43, Ōmi onna (woman from Ōmi): Echi, late 14th century
Old Women; page 30, Yamauba (old woman of the mountains): Shakuzuru, late 13th or 14th century

ōmi onna (woman from ōmi)

Yamauba (old woman of the mountains)

Shigan (child's face)

Blind Men; page 73, Semimaru (a blind musician): Mitsuteru, early 16th century
Demons and Monsters; page 27, Amazakuro (sweet pomegranate): Shakuzuru, (see above)
Gods and Sorcerers; page 64, Shiro tenjin (white tenjin): Hōrai, first half of 15th century
Kyōgen (comedy); page 122, Oto (youngest girl): Mitsumoto, first half of 19th century

Amazakuro (sweet pomegranate)

Shiro tenjin (white tenjin)

Oto (youngest girl)

Semimaru (a blind musician)

Here are some masks found at the Pitt Rivers Museum Japanese Collections, Oxford, England

Japanese Nō Masks

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