Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question50 Which side of the stage ranks higher, right or left?


On stage, Noh actors generally work on the basis that the side of the stage on their left (right for the audience) is superior in rank. It is a general rule that a performer takes a step to the left when he moves from a stationary position, at the beginning of a dance, for example. There is a form of acting called "sa-yū" (left and right). The performer moves the left arm and the left foot together to turn to the left, and vice versa for right turns. Variations include ko-sayū (slightly left and right) and ō-sayū (sharply left and right), according to the numbers of steps. When a performer does ko-sayū from a stationary position, he raises his left arm to turn to the left, lowers his right hand holding a fan to take two steps forward, then further lowers his right hand and raises his left hand to take two more steps forward. This form was originally called "sa-yū-sa" (left, right and left). In "Okina", which is a special Noh play as well as a kind of divine service, the leading actor does sa-yū-sa when he enters. The actor purifies the left side, the right side, and the left side again, and then makes a bow.

The left has traditionally been placed above the right in Japan. For example in the ancient Japan, there were two Cabinet positions, the Minister of the Left and the Minister of the Right, and the former was superior to the latter. The Minister of the Left was officially supposed to sit at the left-hand side of the Emperor. It is believed that the left is prioritised in the Noh theatre in conformity to this tradition. Some say that the precedence of the left was made after the imperial system during the Tang dynasty (618-906) in China. In this era, the Emperor officially sat on the north side looking at the south; the left-hand side of the Emperor, or the east, was prioritised because the sun rises in the east. On the other hand, however, the right was prioritised in the ages of Qin and Han in China.

(Jan 15, 2009)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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