The Words of ZeamiEstablishing the Noh Brand

The Words of Zeami
illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

Subtlety and Profoundness

Zeami added unique value to Noh as being totally different performance arts from the other ones. In other words, he differentiated the Noh from the others by developing “brand” around it. The image of the brand is “subtlety and profoundness.”

Originally, Yamato sarugaku, to which Zeami belonged, was the performance art of mimicking, while its competitor, Ohmi sarugaku, featured subtle and profound beauty, focusing on the sophisticated dance of celestial maidens. Zeami incorporated the subtlety and profoundness of the rivaling art into his Noh.

What are then subtlety and profoundness?

Zeami mentioned in his work “Hana kagami” that “to be subtle and profound is the most important element in Noh art.” He then suggested that the best example was a boy around twelve years old who stood on a stage without donning a mask. Subtle and profound refer to a condition which is soft, gentle, and beautiful. The beauty of Noh music and the posture of a Noh actor, who quietly dances, are subtle and profound. Even for the drama categorized in Oni, a Noh actor is required to dance beautifully rather than pursue realism.

The beauty of Noh is created by orchestrating the beauty of each artistic element, including chant, dance, instrumental and vocal music, and gorgeous costume. The comprehensive nature of Noh art is its unique quality, one that differentiates it from other performance arts. In addition, Zeami created “kuden,” which is the present-day grand master system. Because of the grand master system, the value of subtle and profound beauty was further mystified and lent even greater authority. At the end of this process, the “brand image” of Noh was established.


One cannot speak of Zeami’s Noh without referring the concept of “Hana (flower).”

What is “flower”? By thoroughly following the inevitability of surrounding environment and your own innate nature, you create a new appearance suitable for each moment. This is the meaning of “flower.” Zeami found the archetype of “flower” within the natural beauty of a seven or eight-year-old child. A child, just like a flower bud, slowly blooms, and it flourishes beautifully and eventually its petals are scattered. If you can still keep some beauty even after you are aged, you have “makoto no hana (genuine flower).”

Although the youth has the “flower,” it is temporary (jibun no hana). Zeami describes “makoto no hana (genuine flower)” as the form of beauty which is not lost even after accumulating years. To acquire the “genuine flower” is what Zeami aimed for in the art of his performance.

In his art theories, Zeami repeatedly mentions this concept of “flower.”

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