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Question150 What is “karagoto”?

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It might be said that Noh is synonymous with Japanese culture, like Kabuki or Bunraku. In fact, though, quite a few Noh plays feature legends or historical events from China. Zeami named such plays “karagoto” (matters of China) and described the mindset for performing them in “The Flowering Spirit.

One might guess that “Yōkihi” (Yang Guifei) and “Kantan” (Handan) are classified as karagoto plays because of their titles, taken from the name of a Chinese heroine and a place in China, respectively. A famous piece for beginners, “Tsurukame” (The Crane and Tortoise; See Trivia Q142) is also a karagoto play. Meanwhile, “Kan-yō-kyū” (The Palace of Xiányáng), is based on the attempted assassination of Shi Huangdi and appeals to those with a love of Chinese history.

One of the special features of karagoto plays is the use of exotic props and costumes. For example, the leading character of “Yōkihi” appears holding a tō-uchiwa (Chinese fan) in her hand. A play based on an Indian myth imported from China, “Ikkaku sennin” (The One-horned Immortal), is the story of a hermit who has a horn on his forehead, as its name suggests. There is a special mask with a horn that is used only for this play.

There are also several kyōgen plays that display influences from China. “Tō-zumō” (or “Tōjin-zumō”; Chinese Sumo Wrestling) tells the story of Japanese sumo wrestlers who beat Chinese opponents during their stay in China. It is a spectacular and fun play featuring a scene in which the chorus sings a song in gibberish fake Chinese.

(May. 15 2018)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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