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Words for Business People

Zeami expressed his ideas about art and stage performance in many literary volumes including "Fūshi kaden." However, the insight implied in his words is not limited to art and Noh. In the modern context, Zeami's position can be interpreted as the owner and the producer of the "Kanze Theatrical Group." He gave considerable thought to the survival of his troupe. Beginning with the training methods for his fellow actors, he wrote down specific advice for his successors on how to win against their competitors and how to attract more attention from the audience. It is more like a book on strategies for surviving a severe competition within the entertainment industry, rather than a book of art theory for the sake of art.

Zeami believed that everything is based on relationships, such as the relationship with the audience, the relationship with popularity, and the relationship with the organizational system. He recognized these relationships are constantly evolving and explained in great detail how a Noh actor can perfect his performance art in such a changing environment.

If you replace the words "Noh" with "business," "audience" with "market," and "popularity" with "customer response," you can understand his words as suggestions for business people, who live in a highly competitive world. Let us introduce a few signature expressions from the gem of his wisdom.

Shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Remember your original intention)

This widely known phrase was created by Zeami. Although it is used today in the sense of "don't forget your initial ambition", Zeami's original meaning was slightly different.

For Zeami, "shoshin (original intention)" referred to a coping strategy to deal with a new challenge; i.e. your idea to overcome difficulties. Therefore, "Remember your original intention" means "capitalize the learning from your new experience in how you overcame your challenges when you encounter ordeals".

Zeami repeatedly mentioned "original intention" in his "Fūshi kaden" and other volumes, and summarized his ideas in the late period of his life in "Hana kagami," written in his early sixties. In that volume, Zeami discussed three "original intentions": first, "Zehi shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Never forget your original intention in youth);" second, "Tokidoki no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don't forget your intention at each moment);" and third, "Rōgo no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don't forget your intention in your advanced age)."

Zehi shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Never forget your original intention in youth)

Always remember the art and skills you acquired through failures and travails in your youth. Such memories will eventually support your success. If you forget your difficult experiences in youth, you cannot naturally acquire the process to improve your Noh art and hardly become skillful. You should, therefore, never forget your experiences in youth as long as you live.

Tokidoki no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don't forget your intention at each moment)

"Tokidoki no shoshin" refers to your experiences on each occasion that collectively form the accumulated wisdom and skills to compete in performance; i.e. to manage the challenges. It is important to utilize your wisdom and skills in a way suitable for each moment of your life, from youth to your prime to old age. If you forget your experience; i.e. skills demonstrated in the performance each time, you can learn nothing for your next performance. If you accumulate all the learning from characters and dramas you performed, all of your performance in your latter days will come to be with special aura.

Rōgo no shoshin wasuru bekarazu (Don't forget your intention suitable for your advanced age)

"Rōgo no shoshin" means that you need to acquire an artistic aura that is suitable for your advanced age. Even when you grow old, there will still be new challenges you must face. Advanced age should not become an excuse for being satisfied with your current skill level, but rather you should encounter each thing with fresh mind that you experience for the first time. This is called "Rōgo no shoshin."

As explained, "shoshin wasuru bekarazui (Remember your original intention)" suggests that you face new experience with a fresh mind and attitude to take on challenges while honestly recognizing your own immaturity. If you do not forget these attitudes, you will be able to face new ordeals regardless of your age. Zeami is telling you to remember your learning from the failures.

In our society today, at various stages of our lives, we are forced to venture into things that we have no prior experience with. According to Zeami, "getting old" itself is new experience to all of us. This is the time where "original intention" will play. It is neither anxiety nor fear to us at all, but is an opportunity to take on for our life.



O-doki, Me-doki (robust moment, weak moment)

In Zeami's era, there were Noh competitions, following the form of Tachiai Noh. Tachiai refers to the system in which several Noh actors perform Noh on the same stage on the same day in competition with each other. If an actor loses the competition, his reputation will decline and his patron might go away. Tachiai was a place for intense competition with the performer's life as an artist at stake. However, all the participants in a competition experience the tides of momentum. Zeami called the time when you have momentum o-doki, and the time when others have the momentum me-doki.

These words - famous as the title of the writing by Kuniko Mukoda, a television scriptwriter and novelist - were coined by Zeami. "When you feel that you are overwhelmed by your competitor's momentum," he said, "don't make too great efforts in winning in minor competitions and don't worry too much even if you lose such minor battles. Rather, prepare for a larger competition in the future." When you are in the midst of me-doki (a weak moment), you never win however much you struggle. It is better to wait for o-doki (robust moment) and then go for winning.

Zeami recognized that the flow of the o-doki and me-doki is an inevitable fate. "There is o-doki and me-doki in your time." "Whatever efforts you make, after a good time for your Noh comes, bad moments are inevitably appearing. This is a cause and effect beyond your ability. It is, therefore, important to weather these times and make them a part of your power." Furthermore, Zeami suggested that "believe in yours, and you will win."



Jisetsu-kantoh (Get the timing)

This expression was also coined by Zeami. "Jisetsu" here means the moment when a Noh actor comes from the backstage to the stage and appears on the hashigakari (the gangway bridge). The agemaku (the curtain) quickly goes up, and the audience awaits the first words of the actor appearing on the bridge. "Jisetsu-kantoh" is the skill with which the actor astutely recognizes the heightened excitement and expectation of the audience and vocalizes his first word with exquisite timing to capture their full attention.

Zeami suggests the importance of mastering right timing. Whatever right things you say, if you pick wrong timing, your words do not reach the hearts of the people. We all have some experience of failure due to missed timing; for example, in negotiating a business deal or bringing a proposal to a superior. Zeami says timing is all about sensing the movement of the human mind. He continues we missed it because we did not grasp the mind of the other.

"It is critically important for Shite to draw maximum possible attention of the audience to the protagonist himself at the right moment shortly after the first appearance on the stage. It is the most important moment for the entire performance to be successful, and it can only be achieved through mastering timing."

Being right is not enough. Timing is essential for making people to accept your rightness.



Shūjin-aigyō (Being loved by the audience)

Zeami mentioned that the center objective of the theatrical group was "Shūjin-aigyō." "Shūjin-aigyō" means that being loved by the public is the core of the group.

"Even though he is a splendid Noh actor, he cannot make his theatrical group to prosper if he is not loved by the public."

At the time of Zeami, Noh was usually performed at "kisho," i.e. before aristocrats and samurai. However, Zeami thought he should not be satisfied with being accepted only by the upper classes of the society.

"If a Noh actor cannot be acclaimed by the audience in any place - places with upper class people, at a temple in a deep mountain, in a rural village, in a remote area, or at the festival of a shrine - he cannot be acclaimed as a master who leads and make his theatrical group to prosper."

Zeami's ideal Noh actor, who is always enthusiastically acclaimed for his performance wherever he performs, reflects his father, Kannami. Kannami understood what was expected, read the atmosphere of each occasion, adjusted himself to the atmosphere, and performed Noh accordingly. Kannami was skillful to perform Noh in such a way. Zeami said that we cannot keep our popularity without such an instinct.

Zeami also suggested "shūjin-aigyō" as the strategy for a time when one has lost popularity or was in me-doki.

"Even if you are lionized in the capital city, me-doki sometimes comes regardless of your efforts and you must endure. However, if you do not lose popularity in rural and remote areas, your performance art will never come to an end."

If you are supported by the public, you can survive regardless of the popularity in the capital city. If you do not lose your place, you will always have a chance for recovery (o-doki).



Riken-no-ken (Objectively observe yourself)

You have to closely examine yourself from the left, right, front, and back. This is called "riken-no-ken" or "Kenjo-dōken". Kensho(jo) is the seats for the audience. Therefore, this phrase suggests observing yourself just from the audience's perspective.

No one can physically look at oneself. Zeami suggested that we should cautiously behave so as not to become self-righteous, by having, for example, a person who can give you an honest and objective feedback.

How can we look at ourselves just as the other sees us? Zeami used the word "Mokuzen-shingo." "When your eyes watch the front, put your mind behind yourself." In other words, he suggests that we must endeavor to objectively observe ourselves from the outside of us. This is not limited to the world of stage arts.

Zeami continues "If you do not pay attention to how you look from behind, you will not notice that your back expresses shabbiness." Zeami said that such neglectfulness is unacceptable.

The older you become, and the higher your status rises, the more important you see forward, and you tend to neglect how you look from behind. However, in order to avoid being base, you need to step back from yourself and observe yourself objectively.

Overall, it is always difficult to objectively observe yourself. However, such efforts are even more critically important in living the life today.



Ie, ie ni arazu. Tsugu wo mote ie to su. (A family does not continue until the art of performance is passed down.)

You cannot say that a family line has passed to a successor simply because the family continues to exist. A family line continues only by inheriting the art of performance passed down within the family. This is what the subject phrase means.

The subject phrase followed after what Zeami was saying; "if you cannot see any talent in the person, you must not pass down the secrets of an art to him, even if he is your child." Within the competitive world, it was necessary to have such strict discipline to maintain the art of performance passed down through the family.

Today, we often see "So-and-so Junior" striding around in many fields. We should give Zeami's lesson serious consideration.



Keiko wa tsuyokare, jōshiki wa nakare. (Practice more. Don't be conceited.)

Jōshiki means arrogance or conceit.

This phrase means "you need to keep a strictly disciplined attitude in your practice for performance as well as for the stage. You should never be arrogant." Zeami repeated this in his written works for later generations.

Until Zeami, the public believed that the attraction of performance art belonged to the youthful body of the actors, and thereby beauty was temporary. However, Zeami's philosophy overturned the conventional wisdom. He believed that the art of performance should be perfected throughout one's life.

"Rōkotsu ni nokorishi hana (Natural beauty remains in an aged body)." These are the words of Zeami upon observing his father's performance. Zeami repeatedly warned that even if you attain the ultimate in the art of something, that is not the actual goal. You should be humble and practice more for a higher perfection.

The conceited mind causes a person to decay. This is true anytime anywhere.



Toki ni mochiyuru wo mote hana to shirubeshi

This phrase means that you should take that a good thing is what is beneficial for the moment, and a bad thing is what is useless for the moment. Zeami recognized the world in relative terms. He used the word "flower" here as a comprehensive concept involving various positive aspects such as beauty, charm, and delightfulness.



Nen-nen kyorai no hana wo wasuru bekarazu

"Nen-nen ni sari kitaru hana no genri" means that a Noh actor should not forget any of the skills he naturally acquires through his life experiences, including the naivety of his childhood, the skills of his youth when he pursued becoming a full-fledged actor, and the sense of satisfaction gained after acquiring full skills. Zeami suggested that a Noh actor is to show various expressions in his drama, such as showing the art of a beautiful boy at times while at another time showing the art of a matured person. From the moment he becomes a disciple to the time becomes fully experienced, a performance actor must store his entire life within himself and express these experiences within his performance. Daily discipline is important.



Hisureba hana

Zeami demanded that one have unique secret skills, which are known exclusively by the actor himself. He should not use such skill on normal occasions but use it to overwhelm his competitor at a crucial juncture. Even today, if you possess a "flower" capable of opening possibilities for yourself, you will be able to seize an opportunity at a critical moment.



Jūsuru tokoro naki wo, mazu hana to shirubeshi

"Jūsuru tokoro naki" means "not fixating on one moment." Zeami mentioned that the constant change without any stagnation is the center of the art.



"Yoki gō no jū shite, ashiki gō ni naru tokoro wo yōjin subeshi."

Gō here means "achievement." Therefore, this expression means that "you should be cautious of sticking to something deemed to be good, because it might be eventually turned to be bad." Zeami warns us to pay the closest attention on the changing nature of surroundings.

Zeami recognized that, for living in the constantly changing world, the human being is to face and deal with these changes. The same can be applied to the art. In those changes, he pursued an enterprising and not fixating spirit that is never afraid of change.


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