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Question39 What is “Okina”, the piece classified in Noh, but not a genuine Noh play?

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“Okina” is a kind of divine service to pray for the peace of the world and the country. It is said that the piece is classified in the genre of Noh, but not exactly a genuine Noh play. Unlike other plays, the piece has no particular plot. It had been performed by Shinto priests as divine services before Kan’ami and Zeami established the current style of the art. “Okina” is performed to celebrate happy events, such as a New Year’s Day or openings of new theatres, and precedes any other pieces.

Every actor purifies himself before the performance. The orthodox method of the purification is very strict; for seven days before the performance, leading actors cannot eat meat or wear clothes made of animal skins; the actors and other main performers keep themselves away from fire used by other people. The purification may be done more or less in an informal way at the present time.

On the day of the performance, an altar is set up in the dressing room, and the boxes for the okina and kokushiki-jō masks and the stage properties are placed there together with some offerings. It is customary for the performers to get together and have a ritual libation of sake to purify them before the performance. The musicians play a note, and the performers strike sparks with flint for purification. Then the person holding the mask box, followed by the other performers, crosses the bridgeway to enter the stage.

This is a ritual stage action that the audience also join, called “okina-watari.” It is one of the special features of “Okina” that the actors wear the masks on stage. The action represents the transformation from a human being to the God.

(Sep 1, 2008)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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