Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question161 How many kinds of Noh mask are there?


Noh actors use masks to play many roles, including women, old people and demons. These masks all have names, such as “Ko-omote,” “Magojirō,” “Hannya” and “Beshimi.” The total number of mask types may exceed 200. For easy understanding, the types are classified into categories, such as “okina-men,” “jō-men” (both masks of old men), “onna-men” (female mask), “otoko-men” (male mask), and “kishin-men” (demon’s mask).

These did not all emerge at the same time. For example, there are some influences in the demon’s masks from masks for gigaku (pantomimes) and bugaku (masked dance) that came from the continent, from the Asuka period to the Heian period.

Okina-men is a mask used in okina-sarugaku, which is older than Noh (see Trivia 39). The shape of the separated jaw-section, “kiri-ago,” is distinct from other Noh masks. That is why it is distinguished from jō-men, even if it is also for an old man.

On the other hand, the onna-men and otoko-men of today have been passed down since the Muromachi period, after Kan’ami and Zeami are said to have completed Noh. It may be that the dramatic character intensified, and more diverse Noh masks were needed.

In the case of onna-men in particular, minor differences arose, reflecting the role. Compare, for example, Ko-omote and Magojirō. Each represents a young woman, but can we not feel the more adult appeal of the slimmer cheeks of the latter? After all, it is Magojirō that is used a lot for the performance of a woman in love, such as in “Matsukaze,” “Izutsu,” and “Nonomiya.

(Jun. 16 2020)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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