Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question158 Why is “Taiten” performed only at the time of an era-name change?


In 2019, there was a change in era name from Heisei to Reiwa, in line with the succession to the throne of a new emperor, and a new era began. The Noh play performed at the time of an era name change is a modern piece by the Kanze school called “Taiten”. This is a festive play created to celebrate Taishō Emperor’s enthronement. German literature scholar Fujishiro Teisuke was in charge of the lyrics and the 24th head of the Kanze school, Kanze Motoshige (Sakon), set the words to music. Its premiere was in 1915 (Taishō 4).

Originally, “taiten” meant a critical ceremony, and we also refer to the imperial ritual “sokui-no-rei (an enthronement ceremony)” for the imperial ascension as “gotaiten”. The story of the Noh play “Taiten” is related to this gotaiten.

The play is set at the time when the ceremony for announcing the new emperor’s coronation takes place at Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto. The ambassador (waki) makes the announcement to the shrine, and the goddess (tsure) appears with auspicious omens and dances in front of the ambassador. After a while, Amatsukami (God of Heaven) (shite) appears and performs a kami-mai (god dance) praising Emperor Meiji’s virtue and celebrating the new reign. The mask for the shite is “Mikazuki”, the same one worn by the main characters in “Takasago” and “Yumiyawata”. The attire is that of a god. The actor places a round crown decorated with chrysanthemums on top of a kurogashira (black wig) and wears atsuita (a thick kimono for male characters), awase-kariginu (lined informal outer garment), and hangiri (hakama trousers with gorgeous patterns). As Amatsukami dances jauntily and celebrates the reign, Karyōbinga (kalavinka; in Buddhism, an imaginary bird with a beautiful call living in Paradise) appears as well as a phoenix and a red-crowned crane as symbolic omens of fortunate. It is a piece filled with auspicious elements.

The year 2019 offers is a rare opportunity to perform “Taiten”, with the era name change in May followed by the enthronement ceremony in October. In July, the piece was performed for the first time in 30 years, at the Yokohama Noh Theater with Katayama Kurōemon the Ninth as the protagonist. The last performance, in 1990 (Heisei 2) at Atsuta Jingu Shrine, was supervised by Professor Emeritus Nishino Haruo at Hōsei University. The story was revised to suit the present age with some alterations, including a change of setting from Heian Jingu to Ise Jingu.

The play “Heian” is a modification of “Taiten”. This was performed at Heian Jingu Shrine in 1961 (Shōwa 36) with a prayer for “public peace and national prosperity” instead of “the throne”. Due to its content, “Heian” is not restricted in terms of performance opportunities. In May 2019, it was staged in Kyoto Takigi-Noh.

(Oct. 21 2019)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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