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【Culture】Takigi Noh, classical musical theater with the light of bonfires2015.08.06

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A classical musical drama performed on an outdoor stage with the light of bonfires at night. The blazing fire in an open-air setting helps draw spectators into the mysterious and profound world of the Japanese art form.

The event is called “Takigi Noh.” Takigi means firewood. Noh or Nogaku is Japan’s most ancient form of musical theater. Takigi Noh originated in the Buddhist ceremony held in 869 at Kofukuji Temple in Nara city, Nara prefecture. The theater reached the peak of its popularity during the Edo Period when it became the preferred entertainment of the samurai class. Now, the outdoor play is frequently staged at shrines, temples and parks across the country.

Noh has significant cultural values backed up by its long history. It originated in a form of the entertainment that came from China in the eighth century. It became Japan’s Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1957 and UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2001.

The actors wear lacquer-coated wooden masks and gorgeous costumes. The mysterious masks contribute to the creation of magical atmosphere on the Noh stage. There are more than 200 kinds of masks which are broadly divided into five categories. They are men, women, old men, demons and ghosts. Many of men and women masks put on thick white makeup with the coating of a white powder pigment made from shells. The pigment is used for the painting of Japanese dolls as well.

The performers never express emotions through facial expressions. They convey their emotions through gestures and dances with the music played by a wooden flute and three kinds of drums. In addition, the actors often change the angle of the masks they wear. When the mask is tilted upward, it appears to be smiling. When it is tilted downward, it looks sad and gloomy.

Among the famous Takigi Noh sites are Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto, Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.

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