Dōjōji holds a special place in all traditional Japanese performing arts. The story of the dedication ceremony for a temple bell which leads to the revelation of its horrific history is one that is met by audiences with anticipation. The original bell, we learn, was destroyed many years before when it was used as a hiding place by a monk fearing for his life. The woman who had been led to believe that the monk would one day take her for his wife learns that this is not true. Her devastation at this betrayal of her love for the monk leads to her transformation into a serpent by her single-minded passion to find him as she follows him to the temple of Dōjōji where he has taken refuge. Finding his hiding place within the bell, she coils her serpent form around it, her passion burning him to a crisp. Priests preparing for the dedication ceremony are warned not to allow any women the temple precincts until after the ceremony is over, but they are no match for the spirit of the woman who come to avenge herself again on the bell, persuading them that as an entertainer is beyond gender. They even find an eboshi, the lacquered hat worn by shirabyoshi dancers, for her so she can perform in celebration of the raising of the bell.
The nō version of Dōjōji emphasizes the unique relationship between the shite and the musicians, especially the hip and shoulder drums, to express intense primal emotions of resentment and of desire. Each of the two drums has a particular instance when they become one with the actor in his role of the woman seeking her revenge, but finally being driven away by the earnest prayers of the temple monks.
The first performance by a nō actor is considered to be especially important, a coming of age in his mastery of his skills in all aspects of his art, from chant and dance, to costuming as he accomplishes the change into serpent form within the bell and then battles the monks who seek to vanquish the spirit.
On Sunday, December 11th, Udaka Norishige, will be performing Dōjōji at the Kongō Nōgakudō as the main feature of a memorial performance observing the sankaiki, or third anniversary of the death of his father, Udaka Michishige, who passed away on March 28, 2020. The traditional way of counting age in this case is based on the concept of cycles, with the first cycle considered to be accomplished at death, the first anniversary a year later, and the third at the end of the second year anticipating the start of the third year after death. Just as asymmetry is preferred over symmetry, odd numbers are considered preferable to even ones and to be more auspicious.
This is a performance dedicated to the memory of Udaka Michishige well-known as a performer, mask carver, teacher, and writer of and about nō and nō masks and also an affirmation of the resolve of his three children, mask carver Keiko, and actors Tatsushige and Norishige to continue on the path their father introduced them to and which they now are following each in their own way and also always supporting each other.
To this end they are also curating a display of performance photographs of their father, including photos of the three plays he authored and performed in: Shiki: Hototogisu, Genshigumo: Inori, a Prayer for Peace, and Ryōma as well as some of his nō masks. There will be a thirty-minute intermission between the performance by Udaka Tatsushige of the maibayashi of Tenko, the main dance section of a play in which the spirit of a young boy dances in joyful gratitude for religious services offered on his behalf after his death and Dōjōj allowing for more time to see the photos and masks.
This is a very special performance on many levels, and we look forward to seeing you there
December 11th 2022 from 14:00 (doors open at 13:00) at the Kongō Nōgakudō.
Tickets prices are:
¥6,000 general admission
¥8,000 A seats (facing the chorus or far right of stage front)
¥11,000 S (Stage front, toward the back and right of stage front)
Participants will study nō dance and chant according to the Kongō school tradition, and learn about various aspects of nō performance, including masks and costumes. The training period will culminate with a public recital alongside professional actors on a nō stage located within a gorgeous Kyoto-style traditional townhouse.
How does training work?
Nō classes take place daily, in the morning, or in the early afternoon. Every day you will be coached by one of our instructors, and you will be encouraged to practice independently in preparation for the following class. (A day-to-day calendar will be announced after the selection is complete).
What makes studying with the INI unique?
The intimate environment in which lessons take place, reflecting the traditional nō training style, allows students to interact directly with the teachers. Lessons comprise both group work and one-to-one coaching.
For this 2023 edition of our Summer Intensive, the INI will collaborate with Discover Noh in Kyoto. Participants will be given the opportunity to explore Kyoto with a professional tour guide, discovering the deep connections between nō and the city.
Train intensively in noh dance and chant.
Practice in a small group for an immersive experience.
Fees include : Dance/chant lessons, materials, Kongō school nō fan, participation in the final recital, and a certificate of completion. Fees do not include: White tabi (split-toe socks), transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.
Noh mask carver Udaka Keiko, who also teaches to INI members during workshops and residencies, has recently been interviewed by BBC World for an episode of the popular podcast The Documentary, researching the world of “ojōsan” or young women in contemporary Japanese society. Keiko was asked questions about women and representations of women in noh. You can listen to the episode here.
This year’s Tatsushige-no-kai, Udaka Tatsushige’s self-produced performance event, features the famous play Semimaru. The masks which will be seen in this performance are the Semimaru from the Kongō collection and a Masukami carved by Udaka Keiko. As the day of the performance approaches (28 August 2022) we asked INI founding member Rebecca Teele Ogamo to share some of her thoughts about this highly poetic and touching play.
Semimaru introduces a prince and princess, Semimaru and his sister Sakagami, who, because of karmic misdeeds in past lives, are forced into circumstances opposite what might be expected of their royal birth. The prince is blind, and the princess is not right in her mind. While there are many legends associated with Semimaru and shrines dedicated to him, such as Seki Semimaru Shrine in Shiga prefecture, Sakagami is an original character created by the author, Zeami.
At the start of the drama Semimaru because of his affliction, is being taken to be abandoned at a lonely mountain barrier at the order of his father the emperor. Though his eyes are unable to see, he has the insight to understand this seemingly cruel fate as a demonstration of his father’s compassion and concern as he is being allowed the opportunity to make positive advances towards his fate in future lives. A humble sympathizer provides him with a simple hut. His head shaved to indicate he has renounced the world, he is left with his biwa, a kind of lute, of which he is a master. Perhaps we might call him a kind of “old soul.”
Sakagami, on the other hand, seems to see all too well, the intensity of the passion with which she perceives discrepancies in the order of the world lead her hair to stand on end and her words are taken as wild ravings to be mocked by those she encounters. What is the proper order of things? Seeds planted in the ground manifest as flowers above us; the moon shines in the sky above, while, moonlight, its reflection, penetrates the depths of the sea. An over-active inquiry into such things can lead down the slippery slope of heresy and of madness.
Sakagami’s wanderings after Semimaru has left the capital take her at last to a place where she hears the unexpected sound of a lute which she recognizes and brother and sister meet in the mountain depths. Reunited, they share their mutual pain and sorrow, until drawn by her destiny to wander, Sakagami leaves, even as Semimaru is destined to stay where he is. They part weeping, with Semimaru calling that he hopes his sister will visit again. She turns, her tears, which he cannot see, her answer.
In the photos above, Udaka Tatsushige’s father, the late Udaka Michishige, performs Semimaru at the old Kongō Nō Theatre.
The Semimaru mask used by the Kongō school shows the aristocratic features of a young man who seems in deep meditation, eyes half closed, but other senses alive to other information: the sound of concern in a retainer’s voice, the feeling of a breeze on the skin, the scents of the forest. The mask seems to accept and absorb what is around it without any negative or judgmental response. Even when the mask is moved, its expression seems to change very little.
The Masukami mask associated with the Kongō school for the role of Sakagami is seen in roles of goddesses or of women moved by heightened emotions, such as a shrine maiden in a state of possession. As the performer moves, an expression of grief changes to frustration or a cool despair appropriate to a goddess knowing displeasure with the human world, or with fellow divine beings. It is a powerful mask that challenges the viewer to rip aside the veil blurring the distinctions between worlds. A mask called Zo-Onna with similar qualities is often used for the role.
Semimaru is sometimes described as being a terribly tragic play as brother and sister are caught, willy-nilly, by a karmic fate that seems unbearably cruel. My own impression, through the power of the masks I’ve seen in performance, is of two survivors who deal with their fate differently, one with acceptance, the other with resistance, who meet and share nurturing tears, before parting to fulfill their destinies. Through the creation of the role of Sakagami Zeami introduces a meditation on an understanding and approach to the conundrums of life which are as immediate today as when the play was written.
We decided to hold the INI Summer Intensive Workshop in the summer of 2022, while Japan still kept its borders closed to those without a residence/work/study visa, knowing that it would be difficult to welcome guests from abroad. We were glad to receive a number of requests, though only two applicants, Arden Taylor (USA) and Florian Ehrard (GER) were eventually able to participate. While Florian already studied with the INI in the past, Arden joined us for the first time. Arden was kind enough to sent us a thoughtful reflection on the his experience with the INI.
Diego Pellecchia – INI Program Coordinator
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have had the chance to participate in the International Noh Institute’s summer training program 2022. I am still a novice in noh, having begun my studies of the texts in the third year of my MA at the University of Washington’s Japanese literature program. There is so much to explore just in the renga-influenced text itself, even though I do enjoy the performances, that I assumed (as is perhaps the vice of most literature majors) that the most interesting part of noh was its text. I never could have imagined, before experiencing it first hand, what it really means for a performance tradition to be “transmitted.”
For this year’s program, we had three instructors: Diego Pellecchia, Udaka Tastushige and Udaka Norishige. Diego was our contact while preparing for the program, and was the most strict with us (which I was grateful for) about etiquette during practice. As an American, and particularly a white masculine academic, I recognize the need to practice cultural appreciation rather than appropriation, and Diego was able to help us to be as respectful as possible and to convey our gratitude. Diego is also a professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, which means that he was able to impart not only the practical, but also the academic features of noh throughout our practice. Diego’s passion for the art is contagious, and the seriousness with which he treats it gives weight to everything we do together.
The two brothers who were our main instructors, Udaka Tatsushige and Udaka Norishige, had nearly opposite teaching styles, but both myself and my cohort agreed that we felt incredibly lucky precisely because of this. The two styles could be summarized thusly: start from the mind, and start from the body. Like Diego, most of Tatsushige’s lessons were conducted in English. Tatsushige speaks excellent English and takes a very cerebral approach to his practice, which he is very good at conveying. He claims that the process of learning noh was not instinctive for him, and exactly because of that, he developed his own method for conceiving of the motions and intentions behind standard forms in the dance and acting aspects of the performance. It is difficult for me to put into words how much I felt was generously given to me in our talks between practice.
Norishige, on the other hand, more often focuses on the precision of the movements themselves. He speaks in a soft and endearing Kyoto accent, and most often arrived to practice in a yukata. On our first day, he offered us tea and Japanese sweets with the traditional Kyoto omotenashi (welcoming spirit). In addition to the precise corrections of our movements (which effectively cross any language barrier, as they only require observation and imitation), Norishige also took the time to share aspects of the practice that he himself finds fascinating. Among these were photographs of performances he and others had partaken in, as well as the depth and complexity of the musical accompaniment to full noh performances. On one afternoon, I arrived to the training space to find him practicing the kotsuzumi (the smaller of two drums usually included in performance). Although it sounded just like a performance drum to me, he laughed and kindly explained that this was a practice drum, with synthetic materials that – though perfectly suitable for practice – lacked the warmth, resonance, and indeed the organic nature of the true instruments. Numerous engages like this with all three instructors added immeasurable depth and value to the experience, which I am now struggling to put into words.
This year, we also had the additional treat to be able to observe and learn about mask carving from another of the Udaka siblings, Udaka Keiko. Keiko was extremely patient and just as forthcoming as her brothers in explaining her philosophy toward the art, though indeed quite different from the performance aspect. I was taken aback not only by the extremely time-consuming and diligent process of construction, but by Keiko’s unique relationship with her art. She explained that, while the heights in artistry achieved with the Sengoku Period (1467-1615) masks have likely been unmatched even today – resulting in the prevalence of copy-making within the industry – there is never a peak or final stage in the world of art, even one as steeped in tradition as noh. To move past what seems to be a peak in aesthetics requires innovation, and also courage, and yet to reach that point in the first place also requires a lifelong devotion to the history and living nature of the art as it exists today.
I had initially planned to extend my stay in Japan and try another noh training program as well, which also happened to be run out of Kyoto, even though the Kongo School is the only one of the five main noh schools consistently active since the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) that is based in Kyoto. As it happens I was not able to change my flight, but – even though I am loath to leave Kyoto – I am paradoxically grateful for this too. I admit a slight obsession with noh, to the extent that I would gladly take any opportunity to learn more about it. But my main takeaway from this program is, as I said at the start, the importance of transmission.
Noh is not the kind of art that can be explored or studied on one’s own, no matter the effort. It is not a static object that can be bought or handed off at a distance. It is a living tradition that has been conveyed to the present day, master to pupil, for the last seven centuries. While the basics of the art remain the same in each of the five schools, the deeper understanding of what precisely is aesthetically the most appealing and why are unique to each school. But most importantly, noh practice is not simply “practice,” but – as explained by Tatsushige – a combination of “renshu” and “keiko.” While both of these words translate to English as “practice,” only renshu refers to the simple process of repeating certain actions until muscle memory is created. “Keiko” on the other hand involves something much deeper. It involves relationships; between one’s teacher and oneself, oneself and one’s fellow students, and perhaps most of all, between oneself and the piece one is practicing. Anyone can perform the movements in noh, as few are physically demanding and modifications exist for any movements that are. But the main thing that I learned, especially from watching my teachers perform on our last day together, is that two people performing the same piece, even doing the same movements to millimetric precision, will not produce the same results.
Noh is not just an art in itself, it is a tradition that is passed from person to person. Part of that tradition includes a relationship with one’s teacher. It is through this relationship that one achieves understanding of each individual piece, and it is only upon achieving this understanding that the potential for achieving mastery lies. It is said that one cannot be considered a master of noh until reaching the age of sixty, at which point one is considered likely proficient enough to perform certain pieces considered to be of particularly high (or “heavy” in Japanese) kurai (rank). In other words, true mastery of noh requires a lifelong practice, and even then, there are still depths to be reached within this rich tradition. Part of our keiko necessarily included sharing a part of ourselves with our teachers, as they did with us. In that way, as the tradition became a part of us, we too became a part of it.
I was especially lucky – although it is hard not to feel equally guilty about this – that the travel restrictions to Japan meant that there was only one student besides myself in the program this year. This meant that we were able to not only receive very individualized lessons, but also to share in just that much more time with our teachers. It would be difficult to choose a favorite aspect of the program, but the part I most miss is undoubtedly the conversations shared with them. Anyone can, and everyone should, take this incredible opportunity to take part in this centuries-long tradition of performing arts in Japan’s beautiful cultural capital.
The INI – International Noh Institute is now accepting applications for its 2022 Summer Intensive Program. Participants will study noh dance and chant according to the Kongo school tradition, and learn about various aspects of noh performance, including masks and costumes. The training period will culminate with the participation in a recital.
Train intensively in noh dance and chant. Practice in a small group for an immersive experience.
Perform with professional actors.
Watch noh performances on traditional stages.
Visit noh-related historical locations.
Experience living in the ancient capital, Kyoto.
Training period : July 11-24, 2022
Recital: July 24th
Fees: Regular ¥ 70,000 Repeater ¥ 60,000 INI member ¥50,000
Capacity: 8 participants
Fees include : Dance/chant lessons, materials, Kongo school fan, participation in the July 24th recital, and a certificate of completion. Fees do not include: White tabi (split-toe socks – around ¥700- ¥1000/pair) Transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.
Director: Diego Pellecchia (Kyoto Sangyo University)
How to apply: Send an email to ini.kyoto[at]gmail.com Please attach your C.V. and a brief statement of interest. We are aware that traveling may be difficult during the current pandemic. Feel free to contact us for more information about the program.
Noh theatre costumes, masks, musical instruments, and prints are currently on display at theTrame Giapponesi – Japanese Tales exhibition at The Museum of Oriental Art in Venice. The International Noh Institute is one of the patrons of the exhibition and two of its members, Monique Arnaud and Diego Pellecchia, have contributed with essays published in the catalog.
The central section of the exhibition is dedicated to the costumes purchased by Prince Enrico di Borbone Parma during his long journey around the world between 1887 and 1889, now preserved in the museum and never exhibited to the public in their entirety until now. To accompany the costumes, some noh masks from the collection of Renzo Freschi of Milan will also be on display, together with a number of gorgeous drums used by the noh hayashi ensemble.
In addition to these items, photographs of noh performances by Fabio Massimo Fioravanti as well as documentaries on noh theatre are on show. Fioravanti has photographed performances by the Kongo family and Udaka family over a number of years.
The exhibition runs until July 3rd 2022. Don’t miss it!
I am currently living in Japan, with a Cultural Activities Visa that allows me to make a tailored program for myself. In addition to Noh Theatre, I am also currently studying butoh, kyūdō, and several dance styles. I arrived in Kyoto after having studied the Ko-tsuzumi for a few months in Kanazawa. I was lucky enough to get into Japan, considering the global pandemic that was going on. This also explains the special conditions in which I took the Summer Intensive Course. I was the only student who was able to get into the country. Therefore, my experience was, once again, quite unique.
I was born in a family that treasures the arts and have always felt a strong connection to them, especially theatre. I first encountered Noh through a workshop I took out of curiosity a few years ago, when I was living in Belgium. I was practicing Iaido at the time and it seemed like a natural meeting point between Japanese Martial Arts and Theatre.
At first, I didn’t really know what to think of it. I knew I was in love with it, but couldn’t explain where my fascination for it was coming from. Everything about it seemed like it came from so far away that I doubted I would ever begin to understand it. I imagined it’d be a one-time workshop that’d just be a little experience outside my comfort zone.
I entered a Lecoq Technique Movement Theatre school in Brussels. That’s where I crossed paths with Noh again. Indeed, part of Jacques Lecoq’s work method was created from research and work with Noh professionals; mask-makers, and actors. This discovery, among other things, made me realize that, to become the actress I wished to be, I needed to broaden my horizons and truly emerge myself in foreign performing art forms, and that Japan was the place where I’d start my research. With all that in mind, I participated in the Intensive Summer Workshop at the INI in Kyoto.
My time with Udaka Tatsushige-sensei wasn’t just about learning to dance and to sing one piece. I am truly thankful for the gift of time and of knowledge he gave me. He made me see that Noh is more than just an ancient art form, but that it has very modern sides to it, that it evolves while respecting its roots. What makes it come to life, and, in my opinion, has helped to keep it alive for so many centuries, is its unique structure and the dedication with which it was passed onto the following generations. Being able to witness it, and to get a glimpse of what it means to be a Noh professional (an actor, mask-maker, or even musician), was incredibly inspiring to me. When I arrived on the first day, my knowledge of Noh theatre was similar to a seed that had just been planted in fresh ground. It needed that little push for its roots to go through the shell, and for the plant to start growing in hope of reaching the surface.
On a more personal note, I can say that Noh gave me a kind of stability that I’d never experienced before. Working with kata that have been passed down for hundreds of years gave me a feeling of safety and grounding during the practice. Repeating, again and again, the same movements without having to question myself every step of the way was very refreshing. The different concepts found in the practice of Noh showed me a new way to work on my future projects.
Udaka-sensei’s teaching method helped me get rid of the feeling of being just an outsider trying to get a grasp of a different culture. Through conversations before or after okeiko, he shared his insights with me and helped shape the way I look at theatre today. And for that, I will always be thankful to him and to the INI members. There is an infinitely long path ahead of me. One that I cannot wait to continue walking on.
In the summer of 2016 two Italian film makers, Giuliano Cammarata and Alessio Nicastro, visited Kyoto, where they documented the training sessions and performances of Udaka Michishige and his students. The Flight of the Heron is an excerpt from a forthcoming longer documentary, featuring interviews with Michishige, his sons and daughter, and with members of the International Noh Institute.
We are glad to share this short video on occasion of the First Udaka Michishige Memorial Recital, taking place on August 22 2021 at the Kongō Nō Theatre in Kyoto. Subtitles are available in English, Japanese, and Italian.
Udaka Michishige was an important actor of nō, one of the most elegant Japanese performing arts, and the only shite actor of his generation who was also a nō mask carver. When he was twelve years old he became the final live-in apprentice, or uchi-deshi, of Kongō Iwao II, the 25th Grand Master of the Kongō School in Kyoto. Since that time, he dedicated his life to studying, practicing, and teaching nō. During the more than fifty years of his career as a professional nō actor, he reached the peak of this artistic discipline, including the authoring and performance of three original nō plays. In 1986, he founded the International Noh Institute (INI) in order to offer training in chant (utai), dance and mimetic movement (shimai), and mask carving to all the non-Japanese interested in nō theatre who approached him. Since that time, Michishige taught students from all walks of life: actors, dancers, designers, mask makers, musicians, psychologists, and scholars, from all over the world through INI programs. In 2016, to celebrate his 70th birthday and his extraordinary career, he performed the rare play called Sagi (The Heron). An actor may play this role only during two specific periods of his life: during his childhood or when advanced in years, often at the age of 70. Michishige had not performed this nō during his childhood and, on that occasion in 2016, he took this role for the first and only time.
The Flight of the Heron is a short documentary inspired by the documentary photography about Noh theatre taken over ten years’ time by photographer Fabio Massimo Fioravanti within the Kongō School of nō and focusing on Udaka Michishige, actor and nō mask carver. Michishige, his children, who have inherited his knowledge and craft, and his western pupils, who support his legacy with dedication, were filmed during the months before Sagi: a rarely performed play staged for the first and only time by Udaka Michishige in celebration of his 70th birthday. Through the Udaka family it is possible to discover the most human aspect of the rich artistry of nō: a form of theatre which has been transmitted continually for more than six centuries, as its traditions are passed on through its practitioners even as Japan has changed with the times, an art which demands the devotion to become one with the currents of its flow.
This year’s Tatsushige no Kai (Nō actor Udaka Tatsushige’s annual self-produced performance) will feature the nō Chikubushima in the nyotai variant. The performance will take place on July 11th 2021 at the Kongō Noh Theatre in Kyoto and will be simultaneously streamed online for those who will not be able to attend in person.
In the standard version of the play Chikubushima (synopsis) a dragon god appears in the second act, accompanied by the goddess of music Benzaiten. However, in the nyotai (female body) version of the same play, the roles are inverted, and the main character in the second half is Benzaiten. Likewise, in the first act Benzaiten in the form of a woman is the main character, while the accompanying character is the Dragon God in the form of an old man.
This version of the play is particularly consistent with the topic of the play, in which Imperial envoys sent to worship at Chikubushima island (on Biwa lake, close to Kyoto) are surprised that women, too, are allowed on such sacred ground. It is then explained that women may worship here because the shrine on the island is also dedicated to Benzaiten (Sarasvati), who appears in the form of a woman. Benzaiten is also thought to be a manifestation of Buddha.
Another important feature of this year’s Tatsushige no Kai is the participation of Hatano Yoshiko, a female nō actor in the Kongō school, performing the special dance excerpt from the play Semimaru, in which Princess Sakagami wanders the mountains to the East of Kyoto to find her brother, who now lives in the wilderness after being exiled from court because of his blindness.
Finally, part of this even’s revenues will be donated to Seki Semimaru Shrine to contribute for the reconstructions of its buildings.