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Kōgyo in His Own Words
“Nōh and Nōh Pictures”

Sakamaki Kōgyo, “Nō to nōga,” Bijutsu no Nihon, 6-1 (1914) 4-5


How I developed my interest in noh

I first developed my interest in making pictures of nō when I first saw a nō performance. It was 1883. The Russian crown prince (currently the emperor) made a visit to Japan, and he was to travel to Tokyo, among other things to attend a performance of the play Shakkyō to be performed by Umewaka Minoru. On his way the crown prince was attacked in what is called the Otsu Incident (outside of Kyoto) and his trip to Tokyo was cancelled. But I still had the chance to see the performance of Shakkyō. I had no idea what Shakkyō was, nor did I know anything about nō, but I did understood that it brought dance (mai) and song (utai) together.  As I saw more and more performances, I learned about the colors and their distribution for nō pictures. I learned first the patterns of the costumes, and came to realize that the color schemes (of the costumes) were essential to pictures of nō. Since I wanted to paint elegant people, I was attracted to doing pictures of nō.

My stepfather, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, was widely known for his pictures of beautiful women, but when you look at these pictures you realize that most of the models came from the demimonde world. They were not usually refined young woman of good families.  But as Yoshitoshi went more and more to nō gatherings he realized that his former models were not refined, and that there was a big difference between the young woman who attended nō gatherings and those who went to other kind of plays. In his last major work, Aspects of the Moon, he used the beauties who attended nō performances as his models. 

Nō movements (kata) and nō pictures

One cannot learn to do nō pictures in a morning and an evening. Without at least 5 or 10 years of experience, one will not understand nō’s charm (omoshiromi). Without understanding its aesthetics, one cannot create pictures of nō. Each school of nō learns to move differently.  Some people are attracted to the Kanze style, others to the Hōshō style. I prefer to taste them all. It is impossible to understand nō by looking only at performances of one school. Of course those who study utai (chanting and singing) cannot go to all five schools, but that is not true with artists of nō. People who appreciate art do not look only at Southern Sung paintings to understand the essence of art. They must appreciate Kanō, Tosa, and Shijō paintings as well.  Since each school performs around 200 plays learning about the nō of all of the schools is difficult. In a play like Hachinoki one can look at a painting and easily tell which school is performing the play, but in other plays there are more subtle variations from school to school. When I turned out the 250 prints of Nōgaku zue a few years ago, I struggled hard with this problem.  Nō is not revealed only through outward gestures, but also by beautiful inner movements (kata of the hara or abdomen, that is, the locale of true understanding).  Thus there are movements (kata) that don't move, and the artist must reveal the beauty of the coloration that goes with these (non) movements.

Nō masks

Many different masks are used in the performance of the nochiba of the play Dōjōji, but they are all in the hannya category of mask. I can still remember a Tosa School hand scroll (emakimono) I saw a few years ago in which the artist portrayed the face of Kiyohime as her jealousy turns her into a snake as she crosses the Hidaka River. When I visited Kurokawa, I saw a nō mask in the home of a nō performer exactly like the face in the scroll. I have no idea if the mask carver saw the scroll, or the scroll painter saw the mask, but I was intrigued by the coincidence. 

People in ancient times, that is, in times when they did not have to struggle to continue to exist, had simpler faces than people today, and it is these faces that are revealed in nō masks. Kyoto faces are found most frequently among the masks for woman.  While there are some Edo faces, Kyoto faces are most frequent. Today, Shimomura Kanzan’s older brother is an exceptional mask carver.  [Shimomura Kanzan, 1873-1930, was a Nihonga painter who was a close associate of Okakura Tenshin.]

The regional coloration of Kurokawa nō

In addition to the Kanze, Kita, Hōshō, Komparu, and Kongō schools of nō, the Kurokawa School maintains a special, simple style. The farmers of Kurokawa in the Shōnai district of northern Japan, practice nō zealously. Of course between busy periods of the agricultural cycle, but even while working in the fields they sing and chant nō. I traveled to Kurokawa to study their performance and gather material, and contributed a painting of Kurokawa nō to the Bunten (periodic art exhibition). One can only be astonished by their commitment to nō. During the performance season, elementary school children go after school to the homes of the shite actors to watch them practice. Even though the actors are not great, it is fascinating to watch. 

There is a kyōgen play named Kirokuda. In the play, Tarōkaja leads oxen through a snowy mountain pass. This is hard to appreciate when one watches it in Tokyo. But when one is in the snowy, mountainous country of Kurokawa, one can appreciate the play much better.  Kurokawa nō has come to Tokyo, but the people in the capital cannot appreciate its simplicity.  Even those who understood it, did not give it high marks. But Kurokawa nō made a deep impression on me. The local dialect is unlike ours, and the performances are done in dialect. 

Richard J. Smethurst - UCIS Research Professor - Department of History - University of Pittsburgh

Prints from Nōgaka zue

Plays discussed by Sakamaki Kōgyo in “Nōh and Nōh Pictures”"

Shakkyō 石橋

Shakkyō 石橋 Print

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Lions dancing on a stone bridge

Hachinoki 鉢木

Hachinoki 鉢木 Print

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Sacrificing the dwarf trees

Dōjōji 道成寺

Dōjōji 道成寺 Print

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Scorned maiden and the temple bell

Kirokuda 木六駄

Kirokuda 木六駄 Print

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The half-delivered gift


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