Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question160 What is the record number of performances in one day?


The lord of Satsuma Domain in the late Edo period, Shimazu Shigehide, is remembered as a person who attracts both praise and censure in heavy doses. He was nicknamed Rampeki Daimyō (literally, a feudal lord who adores and imitates Western-style customs), because he enthusiastically embraced and promoted foreign culture and research, even studying Dutch himself. He also visted the Dutch trading house in Dejima, Nagasaki, and became good friends with Dr Siebold. At that time, it was unusual for feudal lords to interact directly with foreigners, so we may conclude that he was an enlightened ruler.

Shigehide also directed his interest to Chinese and Japanese culture, including Noh. It seems that Noh and Kyōgen were famous even in the land of Satsuma, which is far from the capital. Records say that another Noh lover in the region, Shimazu Iehisa, employed famous Noh actors from Kyōto. Even so, Shigehide still stands out as far than normal when it comes to Noh.

In 1764 (Hōreki 14), the then 20 year-old Shigehide played the shite parts (leading roles) in all five performances of the Hōraku Noh (dedication of Noh plays) at Inari-jinja Shrine: “Arashiyama,” “Tamura,” “Hagoromo,” “Ataka” and “Yumi-Yawata.” To be able to perform so many pieces, despite the intense movement required of shite actors (see Trivia 46), we can see Shigehide was devoted to Noh.

Furthermore, it is recorded that in 1765 (Meiwa 2) he tried to perform 20 Noh plays and 10 Kyōgen pieces in a single day. This is an astonishing number, as the usual performance format of this period was about five plays per day, and is thought to be the all-time record high number of program performances. The episode demonstrates Shigehide’s extraordinary involvement in Noh.

It may even put him above Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a Noh fanatic.

(Apr. 22 2020)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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