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Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question155 Which place has produced many Noh mask makers?

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When people hear the word Noh, many probably think first of Noh masks. Forms of masque entertainment around the world include “Commedia dell’arte” in Italy, “Sande Nori” in Korea and “Topeng” in Indonesia, but rarely is the use of masks as diverse as it is in Noh. There are many types of female masks alone, from young girls to old ladies.

Noh masks are made from wood such as Japanese cypress. For Noh masks, the method used in their creation is termed “utsu” (literally, to strike) rather than “kezuru” (to shave). Since the Momoyama period, Echizen (now in the northern part of Fukui Prefecture) has produced many professional groups of craftsmen called “men-uchi” (mask makers).

Hereditary families such as Ōno Demeke and Echizen Demeke who were active until the end of the Edo period originated in Echizen. Why did so many mask makers come from this area?

According to a legend from Ikeda-cho, also in present-day Fukui Prefecture and known as “Noh Town,” when the Kamakura-era regent Hōjō Tokiyori wintered in the local district of Mizuumi, the villagers danced “Dengaku” to comfort him and in return learned “Noh dance” from Tokiyori. The folk performing art that originated from this episode, “Dengaku and Noh dance of Mizuumi” (an officially designated significant intangible folk cultural asset), has been handed down to the present day, and it continues to be performed as a religious offering for the town shrine.

Geographical factors may also have contributed to the number of local mask makers. Mountains offering plentiful supplies of wood surround the location, while crowds of travellers and merchants in the area for worship at Hakusan sacred mountain provided easy access to glue and whitewash as a colouring agent. The area is also close to Kyoto and Kanazawa, where Noh was active.

(Apr. 23 2019)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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