Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question38 Was Toyotomi Hideyoshi a great Noh actor?


Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a feudal lord who unified Japan in the 16th Century. If you survey the changes in the art of Noh, you will find that he played an important part. He was immersed in the world of Noh as a performer himself, and actively protected the art as a man of power.

After learning Noh at the Konparu School, Hideyoshi cared very much for acting, and held so many performances. Once he held a three-day Noh performance featuring some leading generals, including Tokugawa Ieyasu (the future first shogun in the Edo era) and Maeda Toshiie (the future lord of Kaga Domain). Hideyoshi devoted himself to the performance, and played 16 pieces in the three days. The program consisted of so many pieces, some of which are hard to play; you might be surprised that Japanese medieval warlords were such great actors. Nevertheless, it is not sure if the performances were of high quality, because you could say that the man of power held the program to satisfy himself. It is said that Hideyoshi did not have a sufficient skill in chanting.

You would be also able to measure his self-contentment by the facts that he made playwrights to create several new pieces for his performance to idealize his footprints. “Akechi-uchi” is one of the famous pieces created by order of Hideyoshi, which was based on his retribution of Akechi Mitsuhide (the assassin to Oda Nobunaga.) It is believed that Hideyoshi performed the piece himself.

Hideyoshi also had a great influence on the Noh community. He patronized Konparu-dayū and financially supported the four Yamato Sarugaku theatres. On the other hand, he forced to attach the actors outside of the four theatres, including the Uji and the Tanba theatres, to the four major ones. It is not too much to say that Hideyoshi started to make up the future main currents of the four Yamato Sarugaku theatres.

(Aug 21, 2008)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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