Tag Archives: Tatsushige no kai

Some thoughts on Semimaru

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.

Rebecca Teele Ogamo

The Second Tatsushige no Kai: Shoki – 20 March 2016

Following last year’s successful performance of the virtuoso Noh Mochizuki, on March 20th 2016 Udaka Tatsushige is going to stage his second independent Noh event. This year he is going to perform the rare play Shōki. Shōki (in Chinese Zhong Kui), a character known in China and in Japan, is characterised by a massive beard, hence the theme of this event, ‘beards’.

The event is going to feature a very special guest: poet Tanikawa Shuntarō, who will read poems from his repertoire, including Hige (‘Beards’). Other performances in the program are the solo chant with drum accompaniment from the noh Sanemori (Udaka Michishige and Kawamura Sōichirō) and the Kyogen Akutaro (Shigeyama Yoshinobu), all of which are stories about bearded characters.

For more information about the program and to reserve a seat please visit Tatsushige’s site (in English).

Shōki (also romanized as Syouki) is a legendary character who lived in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Having failed the legendarily difficult admission exam to become a civil servant, he committed suicide. When Emperor Genso was informed of these facts, he dressed Shōki’s dead body in green court garb, bestowing official rank, and provided for a generous burial service. Before long the spirit of Shōki, now in the underworld, regretted having killed himself, and swore to protect the country. He then became a household deity with a fierce aspect, driving away evil spirits and curing illness. In Japan Shōki can be still seen drawn on paper amulets against smallpox, as a doll given to children when they turn five, or as a guardian figure on the roofs of old houses.


‘Shoki, the demon queller’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

The first Tatsushige no kai: “Mochizuki” 14 March 2015

Udaka Tatsushige (Photo: Stephane Barbery)

On 14 March 2015 Udaka Tatsushige (first son of the INI founder Udaka Michishige) will hold the first Tatsushige no Kai, an annual Noh performance event he is producing, featuring high-caliber actors and musicians. Each year Tatsushige is going to take the main role in a particularly challenging play from the Kongo school repertoire. On the occasion of this first Tatsushige no Kai, Kongo Hisanori, grand-master of the Kongo School, has chosen for him the virtuoso Noh play Mochizuki. Family tickets and ‘next generation’ tickets for students and Noh theatre beginners are available!  Check out the full program in English here!

Mochizuki: March 14th 2015, 14:00-17:00 – Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto


Mochizuki: the story

Mochizuki tells a story of revenge, celebrated in classical Japanese literature as an example of loyalty and selflessness in the face of injustice. Lord Tomoharu was assassinated by his cousin Mochizuki, who took over his land and property. In fear for their lives, Tomoharu’s retainers scattered and his wife and son fled their home. When the play begins thirteen years have passed, and now one of the retainers, Tomofusa, is the innkeeper of the Helmet Lodge in the post town of Moriyama. One day two guests, a mother and son, appear without any servants. Tomofusa recognises them as the wife of his master and their son, Hanawaka. At the same time, Mochizuki, the killer, is on his way back from the capital, stops at the Helmet Lodge. Tomofusa recognises him and, together with the wife and son, plots to avenge their master. Mother and son pretend to be entertainers and, together with Tomofusa, they dance for Mochizuki as they pour him copious amounts of wine. Mochizuki is lulled by the wine and the wonderful dances so that he doesn’t realize what is happening when Hanawaka and Tomofusa approach him. They declare their identities and strike him down, finally avenging Tomoharu’s murder and restoring his properties to his family. (Story Outline by Rebecca Teele Ogamo).

What is so special about Mochizuki?

  1. A Meiji-period colour photograph of the shite ready to perform the ‘lion dance’. Note the two golden fans on the head, simbolizing the lion’s jaws (From Albert Kahn’s ‘Archives of the Planet’).

    Mochizuki follows the conventions of the ‘genzai-mono’ or ‘real world’ category, meaning that the all the action unfolds on the stage before our eyes chronologically, and all characters are human beings, as opposed to other Noh plays where characters are often spirits or ghosts travelling in space and time. It is a less ‘abstract’ and much more ‘theatrical’ in a western sense, Noh play.

  2. While supernatural beings are represented by masks, the Noh conventions require that human beings who are alive at the moment of the dramatic actions are performed without a mask. Although a mask is not used, the shite is required to maintain a completely expressionless face: actors rely on their movement and ‘presence’ to convey the emotions of the character they represent.
  3. The role of Tomoharu’s son is performed by a child actor. Pre-pubescent children can be seen on the Noh stage portraying top-ranking nobles (such as emperors, or the general Minamoto no Yoshitsune). However in other cases they take the role of normal children, as in the case of Mochizuki, where the son of performs a dance in which he mimes the striking of a little drum at his waist.
  4. After the child has entertained Mochizuki with his dance, it is Tomofusa’s turn. He performs a special version of the shishi-mai, the famous lion dance that can be seen in the Noh Shakkyo. Shishi-mai, or lion dances, were brought to Japan from China and gradually incorporated into the performance rituals of shrines and temples, finally finding their way into Noh drama as well.  However, while in Shakkyo the character of the shite actually is the mythical lion that is the attendant of Monju, bodhisattva of wisdom, appearing on the stone bridge leading to his Western Paradise and found frolicking among the ponies there, in Mochizuki the shite is a human being who, within the frame of the ‘real world category’ play, performs a lion dance. He wears a beautiful brocade robe, a red wig, a red cloth that partly conceals his face, and a headpiece with two golden fans spread open, symbolising the lion’s jaws. This type of ‘performance within the performance’ creates an interesting game of mirrors, which is even more meaningful if one thinks that the shishi-mai is a celebratory dance.

In the trailer below you can have a taste of how the dramatic entrance of the shite on the notes of the lion dance.

Mochizuki: March 14th 2015

Make sure to check out the Tatsushige no Kai website (in English) for more information on the performance and for ticket reservation. The Tatsushige no Kai has made special arrangements such as family seats, ‘next-generation seats’, and a child nursing service. An English translation and synopsis of the play will be available. There will be a reception with light refreshments served in the lobby after the performance. If your time permits, please join us for a chat.



Iccho (Shoulder drum and Chant) Eguchi

Shimai (Dance excerpt)  Kasa no Dan

Kyogen (Short Comic play) Kagyu (‘The Snail’)

Noh Mochizuki


Saturday, 14th March. 2015 14:00-17:00 p.m. (doors open at 13:30)


The Kongo Noh Theatre
Nakadachiuri-agaru, Karasuma-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto. 602-0912.
Subway Karasuma-Imadegawa (K06), South Exit (n.6). Walk South 300m.
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