On the Life of Udaka Michishige: September 18, 1947~March 28, 2020

Udaka Michishige, master actor of the Kongō School of Noh, and noh mask carver, passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family, on March 28, 2020, after living with a very aggressive type of lymphoma for over a year.

  Born in Kyoto on September 18, 1947, Michishige entered the Kongō School as a live-in apprentice in 1960 at the suggestion of his father at the age of 13. The word around the theater at the time was that there were great expectations for the new member of the family who was said to be a little unusual and to like English.

  Through the influence of his great-grandfather, Kawada Shoryō, a Tosa, Shikoku, clan samurai artist and scholar instrumental in debriefing John Manjiro, the castaway rescued with his comrades by a whaling vessel, returning many years later, and of his father, also an artist and historian, Michishige-sensei was always naturally curious about differing perspectives and drawn to them.

  On becoming independent in 1970, he soon had international, as well as Japanese, students. A passion for making masks lead to the formation of the Men no Kai carving group in 1978. Members, attracted to his excitement in sharing the world behind the mask as well as the craft itself, followed him in seeking the goal of creating masks for use on stage.

  Michishige also had a strong conviction from an early age of the importance of the jiutai, the chorus in noh, and the support and production groups Udaka Koenkai formed in 1983, and Noh-o-tanoshimu kai started in 1984, presented opportunities for him to choose challenging plays and to highlight the importance of the chorus leader, at times taking this role rather the main role. In consideration of his activities and excellence in all aspects of noh, he was designated by the government as a representative of a National Intangible Cultural Asset in 1991.

   Always challenging himself and the world of noh, Michishige never turned away a student, regardless of nationality or gender, convinced that Noh had a transformative and evocative power that anyone could respond to and embody themselves through training. His idea of a “Noh Renaissance” encompassed this embrace of a wide range of students and an approach to training that insisted on the development of concentration and intention through meditation, voice and body through exercises he designed to complement each person’s personal instrument, their body.

  Through the noh he authored he sought to reveal how close to us the veil between past and present always is. In 2001 he wrote and performed his first original noh play, SHIKI-HOTOTOGISU on the celebrated haiku poet Masaoka Shiki. In the same year he wrote HEIWA NO INORI: GENSHIGUMO, A PRAYER FOR PEACE, for which he took the unusual step of inviting non-performers to take the stage in the role of spirits in a memorial requiem for those caught up in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The play was first performed in Kyoto in 2003. RYŌMA, focusing on Sakamoto Ryōma, one of the architects of the Meiji restoration and influenced by Kawada Shoryō, was performed in 2003 at the Kōchi Museum to celebrate its 10th anniversary, accompanied an exhibition of Michishige’s great-grandfather’s paintings.

  In 2019 Michishige was chosen as the 29th recipient of Hosei University’s Saika Prize, awarded each year since 1988 to a person involved in noh for their lifetime achievements in supporting and transmitting noh. While in the hospital, in response to receiving this honor, he wrote about his hopes and dreams for continuing to make noh more readily accessible on an international scale through training in Japan. He also wrote both a noh and a kyogen play during the early days of his hospitalization.

  The magnitude of what he shared so generously, exacting the same discipline and enthusiasm from others as he demanded of himself, is too large to comprehend as yet. He is sorely missed, even as we understand his was a life well lived, and his passing a journey he embarked on with the preparation and thought for others with which he approached every challenge. Members of INI, cherishing the gift each has received, will carry on his legacy.

  Udaka Michishige is survived by his wife, Mariko, and their three children: noh actors Udaka Tatsushige and Norishige, and mask maker Udaka Keiko.

Photo: Fabio Massimo Fioravanti

Announcing, with regret, the passing of Udaka Michishige-Sensei

On March 27th, 2020, Udaka Michishige-Sensei passed away quietly at home surrounded by his family. He had been battling cancer for over a year.

While we are greatly saddened to have to give you this news, we are also relieved that Michishige-Sensei is now free of the trials of his illness, and that he was able to spend his last days at home with his family as he wished.

Michishige-Sensei has left to continue his journey, leaving us to cherish our memories of what we have learned, the gifts we received, and to nurture and pass on the seeds of his passion for noh which he shared with us all so generously. He lives on in each of us.

Please enjoy a glass of wine and sing some lines of utai in his memory, and in celebration of a life well-lived.

On behalf of INI, Kyoto, Rebecca Teele-Ogamo

Studying nō with the INI – Valentin Gabelier

It has been a little bit more than three years now since I started to study with Udaka-sensei and it’s difficult to summarize what it has given me on a personal level and how it has influenced my work. However, I would like to try to describe some of my experiences, thoughts, and impressions.

     I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Kyoto City University of Art. I have an interdisciplinary approach in which I use sound, video, sculpture, installation and performance. My research is focused on the plural and shifting nature of voice. I consider voice as a privileged medium to transform our delimitations, to go beyond the borders between the self and the otherness, the body and its environment.

     I first encountered Nō through a sound recording that I found in a library in France. I was deeply moved and shaken by the voices of both the chorus and the musicians, and for a long time I was mainly interested in Nō for its unique chant and its music. 

     So, when I started to go to Udaka-sensei’s okeiko, I was thinking of just studying the chant for only few months for my research. And here I am 3 years later, learning how to perform dances accompanied by music. By following Udaka-sensei’s teaching, and being able to see his other students’ okeiko, I started to understand the beauty of Nō dance and how the chant, the dance, the music and all the scenic aspects are inextricably linked to each other.

     After learning more about the staging and the narrative, I found very beautiful the unique relation between the voice and the self in Nō, where the same character can be embodied at the same time by the voice of the shite and the multiple voices of the chorus, by the body of the shite and by the mask.

     Considering my art work and my research, Nō has taught me a lot, not only about the use of the voice, but about all the performative aspects:  the ways of using your body, the use of space, the tension, the intention, the relation with the audience, the construction of all the layers that overlap to form this very sharp shape and powerful energy.

     When I first discovered Nō and started to read about it, I learned that it was transmitted from father to son, so for a long time, I thought that this world was inaccessible to common people, and even less so to foreigners. Therefore, I had never thought that I could learn Nō one day. So when Diego introduced me to Udaka-sensei, I felt incredibly lucky. Udaka-sensei’s very warm welcome, the very relaxed discussions we had while drinking tea before each okeiko, helped me to feel at ease. And maybe above all, his dedication to Nō as both an actor and a teacher made me understand how deep and rich this performative art is.

     Nō belongs to the kind of art that is limitless, the more you learn about it the more you realize you don’t know. I love this sensation, though it can be dizzying sometimes. Today I keep learning and discovering things that still amaze me and give me a richer understanding of Nō.

     On a personal level, being able to learn from Udaka-sensei and his two sons and to witness their total commitment and dedication to their art is very inspiring and pushes me to give the best of myself in my art production as well. Their teaching keeps making me more focused, brings me self-awareness, self-confidence, and a very precious and particular sensitivity that profoundly influence my work and my daily life.

     I am very happy to share these moments with all the INI members and I want to thank Udaka-sensei and his family for their great benevolence and the very special attention they give us. The practice of Nō opened new horizons to me and I am glad to know that I still have so much to learn and discover from it.

valentingabelier.com

“Talk to me” Video installation (2017)

Cancelled: Call for participants – INI Kyoto Summer Intensive 2020

Dear Applicants to the INI Kyoto Summer Intensive 2020

I regret to inform you that because of the recent outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) the 2020 Summer Intensive course has been cancelled.

The whole world is being affected by the outbreak, and Japan is no exception. Though we may be experiencing a slower increase in the number of infections as opposed to other countries, it has become clear that holding our intensive course and recital this summer would be unrealistic. 

On behalf of our main instructor, Udaka Tatsushige, I would like to thank you all for sending your applications and statements of interest. Though we do not have a definite plan for 2021, we are committed to re-schedule the intensive program when possible. It would be wonderful to see you all then. 

All best wishes and please do take care during this difficult time.

Diego Pellecchia (Course Coordinator)


The INI – International Noh Institute is now accepting applications for its 2020 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 at the Kongo Noh Theatre.

Program highlights

  • 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.

Details

  • Training period : August 10-22, 2020
  • Recital: August 23rd
  • 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 August 23rd 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 expense.

Instructors: Udaka Tatsushige, Udaka Norishige (Kongo school actors), Udaka Keiko (noh mask carver) 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. Application deadline June 1st 2020


Images of previous training programs and recitals

Udaka Michishige awarded prestigious prize

Udaka Michishige has been awarded the Saika Prize 2019 by the Nōgaku Research Center of Hōsei University. The Prize was established in April 1988 to commemorate the donation of the Kanze Shinkurō Family Archive. It is awarded yearly to individual performers or institutions who have distinguished themselves for their efforts in the development and transmission of nō and kyōgen.

Udaka Michishige has been awarded the prize because of his outstanding career as actor and mask carver, but also as educator of both Japanese students, many of whom have become professional performers, and international students, with the International Noh Institute.

Study Noh theatre’s theory and practice in Venice

Nō theatre classes resume at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy. Monique Arnaud, certified instructor of the Kongō School and INI senior member, will teach nō chant and dance in a series of five meetings organized by Gesshin, a student association led by Luca Domenico Artuso, who also trained with INI in 2018.

For info: gesshincafoscari@gmail.com

Documentary: ‘Noh men – the spirit of noh’

Japanese historian and documentarist Jeffrey Dym (Sacramento State University) has recently released ‘Noh men – the spirit of noh’, a full-feature documentary on noh masks. The excellent documentary explores different aspects of noh mask making and use on stage and features numerous interviews with different mask specialists and professionals, among which Udaka Keiko, daughter of Udaka Michishige. The rich materials and clear delivery of the content make this documentary particularly suitable for educational purposes.

Udaka Seiran Noh 2018 – Hanjo and Kuzu

The 2018 Udaka Seiran Noh performance will take place on Sunday 9th September at the Kongō Noh Theatre, in Kyoto. This year’s event features two plays: Hanjo (starring Udaka Norishige) and Kuzu, performed in the hakutō variant (starring Udaka Michishige).
Hanjo(班女)tells the story of Hanago, a female entertainer working at an inn in Nogami, who falls in love with Fukakusa no Shōshō, a gentleman from Kyoto. The two exchange fans before he departs. Heartbroken, Hanago cannot but think of her lover, and is expelled from the inn. She then reaches Kyoto, where she entertains people at Tadasu-no-mori, near Shimogamo Shrine. She is famous for her songs and dances about Hanjo, a Chinese courtesan who wrote verses about her lost love. In the meantime, Fukakusa-no-shōshō has been looking for Hanago. Having heard that she performs at Tadasu-no-mori, he visits there. The two recognize the fans they once exchanged and are happily reunited.
Kuzu(国栖)offers an entirely different kind of atmosphere. Fearing for his life after being attacked by a rival, Emperor Tenmu (interpreted by a child actor) has escaped to the Yoshino mountains along with his retainers. There he meets an elderly couple that offers him shelter and food. The old man first serves a local fish to the Emperor, who only eats half of it. He then releases the other half in the river, and the fish miraculously comes back to life. This is interpreted as a sign that the Emperor will be able to return to the Capital safely. Soon after this, soldiers sent by Tenmu’s rival reach the elderly couple’s house, but the old man manages to hide the Emperor under a boat. Later the Buddhist guardian god Zao Gongen and a Celestial Maiden appear and dance in celebration of the Emperor.

The 19th Udaka Seiran Noh no Kai 2018

Place: Kongō Noh Theatre, Kyoto.
Date: 9 September 2018 (Sun)
Time: Doors open at 12:30 the performance starts at 13:00 and is expected to finish at around 17:00.
Program:
  • Greetings and introduction: Udaka Tatsushige
  • Noh: Hanjo (Shite: Udaka Norishige)
  • Kyōgen: Niku jūhachi
  • Noh: Kuzu – hakutō (Shite: Udaka Michishige)
Tickets:
Front seats・8,000円 Side seats・6,000円 Corner seats・5,000円 Students・3,000円
For tickets or other inquiries contact us.

Video: ‘The Spirit of Noh’

Singaporean cinematographer Edwin Lee (Fallout Media) just published a mini-documentary entitled ‘The Spirit of Noh’, starring Udaka Michishige. Edwin’s lens shows the beauty of noh masks (all of which were carved by Michishige himself) and costumes with extreme close-ups and slow-motion sequences, techniques rarely used in documentaries featuring noh. Check it out and let us know what you think!

‘The Spirit of Noh (能)’ – oldest drama in the world from Edwin Lee (Fallout Media) on Vimeo.