Tag Archives: atelier

INI trainees – Hana Lethen


Hana Lethen

Hana Lethen lives in Texas and is a junior at Princeton University majoring in Comparative Literature, with a focus on Japanese and Russian language and culture. She spent her spring semester 2016 in Kyoto studying Japanese language, society, and traditional theater through Columbia University’s Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies.

Hana decided to take her exploration of Noh to a higher level, attending a number of performances along with fellow KCJS students, and also practicing Noh chant and dance with the INI. Here are a few insightful reflections on her experience.

Diego Pellecchia, INI Junior Director

Discovering Noh Through Dance

by Hana Lethen

When I asked Monica Bethe, the professor for a course on Noh that I took this past semester, for support regarding my final paper comparing ballet and dance in Noh theater, I was expecting book recommendations. So, I was a bit incredulous when she suggested that I take lessons— “the best way to learn is to dobut soon realized what a great opportunity had presented itself.

With an introduction and much help from Diego Pellecchia, who was co-teaching my Noh course, I went to okeiko every week during my last month in Kyoto. On the first day, I was very nervous. The only thing I knew to expect was that okeiko would be very different from practicing ballet, which I have done since I was five years old. I had an impression of Noh as a very traditional and elite art, so I expected okeiko to be somewhat rigid.

However, when I entered the okeikoba, I was surprised by the intimate and almost relaxed atmosphere. First, we spent about an hour having tea and chatting with Udaka-sensei, who, for all his talents and experience, was very kind and not at all intimidating. It was during this tea session that I began to realize that the constrained schedule of normal life does not apply to the okeikoba. Time here is fluid; okeiko starts and ends basically when Udaka-sensei deems appropriate. Noh is a combination of religious ritual and artneither of these can be rushed.


Learning the hiraki kata

We began my first lesson with a bit of practice chanting the text which accompanied the dance from Tsurukame which I was to learn. I have always dreaded singing or speaking onstage, so my thoughts at this point were along the lines of “I came here to learn the dance, not the chanting…” But, I realized that a large part of the beauty of Noh comes from the unity of dance and poetic text, so I overcame my initial reservations.

Learning the dance, too, proved to be as much about “letting go” as it was about precisely learning the movements. Having extensive ballet experience was helpful in terms of coordination, but it also meant that I had some assumptions about dance lessons that were challenged in okeiko. At first, I somewhat expected Udaka-sensei to break down each movement for me, as a ballet teacher would do. More than this, however, my okeiko involved watching Udaka-sensei’s movements and imitating them as carefully as possible. Like much Japanese traditional fine art, dance in Noh is subtle, but expressive; restrained, but powerful. Although some movements felt unfamiliar, I tried to understand the general flow of the dance.

I was impressed by the atmosphere at the okeikoba of humility and of respect for the art of Noh. I was also touched by the attention Udaka-sensei devoted to each of his pupils—even to me, a complete novice. Reading and learning about Noh, and also seeing Noh performances, as part of my academic course was extremely valuable, but getting a small glimpse from the performer’s perspective in okeiko made Noh come alive for me in an entirely new, exciting way. Professor Bethe was right—I am not sure how I would have written my final paper for her and Diego’s course without firsthand experience of dance in Noh. And, ultimately, I gained much more from okeiko than a final paper. I developed very special appreciation for Noh through an experience that I would love to have again if I get the chance.

Thank you, INI!


Chant lesson with Udaka Norishige

Learn Noh mask carving from a professional Noh actor

Autumn is finally here! The leaves are turning to beautiful shades of red and gold in the crisp autumn air, and we are getting ready to admire the gorgeous foliage on the hills that surround Kyoto, the ancient capital. In this wonderful and refreshing atmosphere we renew our invitation to visit Udaka Michishige’s Noh mask carving atelier.

Udaka Michishige is unique in being both a Noh actor and a mask carver. Students in his mask carving classes in Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo learn to sculpt masks of a high quality that can be used on stage. Every two years a group mask exhibition is held in Kyoto to show the latest results of students efforts. These mask exhibitions include free-standing displays of some masks, performance pictures, costumes and lecture-demonstrations to promote a deeper understanding of the place of the Noh mask in the world of Noh.

Contact us to arrange a visit of Udaka Michishige’s atelier in Kyoto, Nagoya, or Tokyo.

(Poster design by Elaine Czech)



Pictures from the INI Noh mask carving/painting hands-on session – July 2014

On July 20th 2014 Udaka Michishige’s Noh mask carving atelier opened its doors to Kyoto residents and exchange students from Japan, Lebanon, France, China, Thailand, and Italy who wished to explore the world of Noh masks. Participants were able manipulate the fragrant hinoki wood, and tools such as saws and chisels, and try their best in the first stages of the carving process. Later they were introduced to the basics of painting, such as application of gofun shell powder and natural pigments. Udaka Michishige explained how the wood is cut respecting the way the tree grows, and provided insights on mask techniques from the point of view of the expert Noh actor, as well as mask carver.

It’s a been a lovely Sunday morning and we look forward to welcoming other participants in the near future!


Participants of the February mask carving atelier special opening

In January and February 2014, Udaka Michishige’s Noh mask carving atelier in Kyoto opened its doors to observers. We received many requests (thanks Kyoto Journal for helping with the promotion!) from professionals, university students, Japanese, non-Japanese, travelers and residents who were curious to come see how Noh masks, mysterious objects of transformation of the Noh actor, are created. Here are a few pictures of the participants of the February 27th session. We are planning to hold more mask-related events this summer, so watch this space for further information!

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[Extended] Noh Mask Carving Atelier – Special Opening (February 2014)

The Noh Diaries

Due to popular demand the Special Opening of Udaka Michishige’s Noh Mask Carving Atelier has been extended. We have received many requests of Japanese and non-Japanese, Kyoto residents and Kyoto visitors who wished to learn about the world of Noh masks from the direct experience of a professional carver and actor such as Udaka Michishige.

Three new dates (February 6th, 20th and 27th) have been added. There are two time slots: afternoon (14:00~17:00) or the evening (18:00~21:00).

This is a great opportunity for those interested in masks and in the mask-making process, as well as in the use of the masks in actual performance: Michishige is the only Noh actor who is also a skilled mask carver, regularly using his own masks on stage. In 2010, Michishige published the photobook The secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha/Oxford) with photographer Shuichi Yamagata. I have posted more about Michishige’s activities as mask…

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Noh mask carving atelier – special opening

The Noh Diaries

Udaka Michishige’s Noh mask atelier will open to guest observers on January 9th, 16th and 23rd from 14:00 to 17:00 or from 18:00 to 21:00. This is a great opportunity for those interested in masks and in the mask-making process, as well as in the use of the masks in actual performance: Michishige is the only Noh actor who is also a skilled mask carver, regularly using his own masks on stage. In 2010, Michishige published the photobook The secrets of Noh Masks (Kodansha/Oxford) with photographer Shuichi Yamagata. I have posted more about Michishige’s activities as mask carver here.

If you are in Kyoto don’t miss this chance to be introduced to the world of Noh masks – both Japanese and English speakers are welcome! Observers are admitted FREE OF CHARGE

To reserve a place, or for more information, please feel free to contact me here.

Shintai, for roles of young gods, by Udaka Michishige (Photo: Fabio Massimo Fioravanti) Shintai, for roles…

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