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An Introduction to Medieval Japanese Theatre

An Introduction to Medieval Japanese Theatre that includes information on the ancient art forms of Noh and Bunraku.

Roman Delo

on 20 October 2013

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Transcript of An Introduction to Medieval Japanese Theatre

An Introduction to
Medieval Japanese Theatre

Medieval Japanese Theatre
Creativity in Japan developed over many centuries
Both Noh and Bunraku are listed on UNESCO Cultural Heritage Lists
Noh is a simplistic and elegant form of musical theatre
Bunraku is a form of puppet theatre that is accompanied by the shamisen instrument
Noh and Bunraku focus on stories that address Buddhist and Confucian morals
Both affected Japanese society throughout the Feudal era
Many significant figures led the way in the art form's development
Theatre has become one of Japan's most significant
art forms
It serves as a constant in Japan's ever-changing world
Theatre allowed the elite and common to enjoy unique entertainment that commented on society
Noh, Bunraku continue to preserve national heritage and tradition throughout the many dramatic centuries
Films and Bibliography
An RD Production
What is
Bunraku Theatre?
Traditional form of Japanese puppetry
Bunraku was for the Medieval commoners
Became Japan's most popular form of Theatre
Puppets controlled by 3 puppeteers
Main puppeteer controls facial features and right arm
Other 2 assistants control left arm and legs
Assistants clothed in black (so they're "invisible" )
Characters represent character types
Bunraku is the perfect synchronisation between puppets, shamisen and chanting
The History and Evolution of Bunraku Theatre
Bunraku can be traced back to Heian Period
"Puppet-turners" brought to Japan from Central Asia
For 600 years, puppets were unsophisticated
They lacked arms, legs and facial features
17th century saw the evolution of Bunraku Theatre
18th century saw the visual emergence of puppeteers
Puppets became more sophisticated
Chikamatsu Monzaemon led the way in Bunraku evolution
His influence as "Japan's greatest dramatist" led to Bunraku's popularity
He is believed to have written over 100 plays
Modern unfamiliarity with Monzaemon led to
decline in popularity
National Noh Theatre
The National Noh Theatre continues the preservation of Noh as one of the world's oldest art forms.
Bunraku Theatre is one of the most well-known forms of Japanese Theatre. The main puppeteer controls a majority of the puppet, whilst the 2 assistants clothed in black (who are to be seen as invisible), control the legs and left arm.
This image shows a typical Noh performance. As you can see, the main actor, or shite, shares the simple stage with musicians. Noh Theatre lacks props and scenery, with the word "noh" being roughly
translated to "talent" or "skill".
What is
Noh Theatre?
Noh is one of the world's oldest forms of Theatre
It is a classical masked Japanese drama
Noh incorporates dramatic elements with music
Ancient language, ritualised gestures and slow movements tell a poetic story
Characterised by Buddhist themes, rich costumes and masks, and bare stage
Masks portray and convey different messages
Fans represent objects and are the only props used in Noh Theatre
Rich and poor can now enjoy Noh Theatre
Actors and musicians share the stage

History and Evolution of Noh Theatre
Kyogen Theatre
Kyogen is comedic theatre
The aim of Kyogen is to encourage laughter amongst the audience
The distinct type of theatre has 2 functions:
To serve as comic relief within Noh plays
To serve as a discreet play between Noh performances
Kyogen Plays are based around everyday situations
Noh Theatre evolved from Sangaku Entertainment
(Sarugaku Theatre and Gagaku Theatre)
Sangaku brought to Japan during Nara Period
Sarugaku included acrobatics and magic
Gagaku was reserved only for the Imperial Court
Kan'ami united Gagaku and Sarugaku to form Noh
Zeami (Kan'ami's son) perfected storytelling dance after his father's death
Ashikaga Shogunate became Noh financiers
After Zeami's death, Noh continued to evolve
Noh became more sophisticated and evolved during
Onin Wars
Both the poor and rich enjoyed Noh during
Tokugawa Period
It became the official Tokugawa ceremonial art
Larger focus on tradition than innovation
Lack of creative individuality in
modern Noh Theatre

2 Images of a Typical Modern Noh Theatre
Images Part 2
Noh Theatre evolved from Gagaku Theatre (pictured above)
These are 2 common
masks used
in Noh
As you can see in these images, Bunraku puppets are extremely intricate and fragile.
Images Part 2
In Bunraku performances, puppeteer assistants are clothed in black hoods, to make them invisible from the audience. It wasn't until the 18th century that pupeeteers appeared on stage
National Bunraku Theatre
The National Bunraku Theatre in Osaka opened in 1984 and serves as the headquarters for the world famous art form.
Web Document:

• Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013, Noh theatre (Japanese drama) -- Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Chicago, United States of America, viewed 4 September 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/416766/Noh-theatre.
• Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 2013, Bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre) -- Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, United States of America, viewed 2 September 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/84740/Bunraku.

Web Document (no author and no publication date):

• What is Noh? – Noh – Meet the Kids – Kids Web Japan – Web Japan n.d., Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Tokyo, viewed 2 September 2013, http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/meet/noh/noh02.html.

Web Document (no author):

• Introducing the world of Noh : What is “Noh”? 2013, viewed 2 September 2013, http://www.the-noh.com/en/world/what.html.
• Introducing the world of Noh : What is Kyogen? 2013, viewed 2 September 2013, http://www.the-noh.com/en/world/kyogen.html.
• Introducing the world of Noh : Origins and History 2013, viewed 4 September 2013, http://www.the-noh.com/en/world/history.html.
• Noh Theater 2012, viewed 2 September 2013, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2091.html.
• Bunraku – Japanese Puppet Theater 2012, viewed 4 September 2013, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2092.html.
• Japanese Culture – Entertainment – Noh Theater 2011, viewed 4 September 2013, http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/noh.shtml.

Please note that the Websites listed below are the links to the numerous web documents that were used in the websites for research compilation.

• Kids Web Japan n.d., Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Tokyo, viewed 2 September 2013, http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/meet/noh/.
• Japan Arts Council 2004, Japan Arts Council, Tokyo, viewed 2 September 2013, http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/.

Video Weblog Posts (e.g. YouTube):

• walkingthroughapark 2007, Noh Theatre, online video, viewed 4 September 2013,
• JapanSocietyNYC 2010, Kashu-Juku Noh Theater, online video, viewed 4 September 2013,
• unesco 2009, Ningyo Johruri Bunraku Puppet Theatre, online video, viewed 4 September 2013,
• Begbie, T 2008, Japanese Bunraku puppets, online video, viewed 4 September 2013,
Bunraku Theatre (Film)
Noh Theatre (Films)
This video includes parts of the Noh play of 'Lady Aoi', and the Kyogen play of "Tied to a Pole'.
This is a documentary on Noh Theatre.
However, narration is included that tells
of the history of the Art Form and of
other important information about

This documentary is UNESCO's official video
on Bunraku Theatre, otherwise known as
"Ningyo Joruri". The documentary provides
interesting information on the ancient form of Japanese puppetry.
Full transcript