Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question35 Is there any special technique in making female masks?


There are roughly 60 basic types of Noh masks. If you read reviews of Noh performances accompanied with pictures, you have a large number of opportunities to see female masks. Female masks have expressions that emphasise the characters' grief, pleasure and melancholy, or mixtures of strong emotions they have, by means of the spectators' empathy.

They have a special distinctive feature in the eyes: the shape of the holes. The eye holes of female masks are generally squarish, rather than round, with the possible exception of masks that depict old women or those who have strong infatuation. The corners of the eyes are sharp especially in the masks depicting young women.

Perhaps because the eye holes are squarish, they have faint and unfocused appearance of round eyes, and they may describe subtle expression that will excite the audience’s empathy. The two square holes have mysterious power to capture and sway the audience emotionally. The shape of the eye holes becomes roundish as the age of the character rises. Those of the middle-aged women's masks are almost oval and have the effect of describing the maturity.

There are many hidden staging techniques in Noh plays which have minute but profound effect, which are not exaggerated yet perceptible, to attract the audience.

(Aug 4, 2008)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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