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Question154 Who was the rival of Kan’ami and Zeami?

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Kan’ami and Zeami are known as the father and son who took Noh to a state of perfection. They employed elements from a variety of popular performing arts in the Northern and Southern Courts and Muromachi periods to create the foundations of the Noh handed down to us today. Did you know that they once had a rival?

In early times, Noh was known as Sarugaku, and many local performing arts with Sarugaku in the name were part of life throughout the Kinki area of western Japan. Kan’ami and Zeami were from “Yamato Sarugaku,” but we also know that a star character named Inuō (or Dōami) was popular in “Ōmi Sarugaku.”

Inuō was a master of Tennyomai (the dance of the heavenly maiden), with a graceful performance style. Even Zeami admitted that “Inuō is the flower of the art.” After the death of Kan’ami, Inuō was even viewed as the leader of Noh and won favour from the then shogun Yoshimitsu.

The current five Noh schools including the Kanze school are all descended from Yamato Sarugaku, which features mimicry, while the other Sarugaku schools, including Ōmi, Settsu and Ise Sarugaku, no longer exist. The impression of subtle, profound and graceful beauty that many people have about Noh seems not simply the speciality of Dengaku but rather of Ōmi Sarugaku.

Kan'ami and Zeami aggressively adopted the performance styles of contemporary rivals including Inuō in the process of creating their art. Although Ōmi Sarugaku disappeared, we can say that its spirit still lives on today.

(Mar. 12 2019)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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