Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question119 Was Ii Naosuke a Noh/Kyogen playwright?


Ii Naosuke, Tairō (chief administrator) of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the late Edo Period, has an image as an oppressive and despotic politician from his association with the Ansei Purge (1858-59) and the Sakuradamon Incident (1860). Nevertheless, he was also an outstanding man of culture.

The Ii clan were the feudal lords of the Hikone domain (currently part of Shiga Prefectue), and many of the lords loved Noh. They employed the Kita School as in-house Noh performers and the Ōkura School as Kyōgen performers.

Naosuke was the 14th son of the 13th lord (sometimes referred to as the 11th)* and under normal circumstances would never have been able to become the lord himself. After the deaths or adoptions of his 13 brothers, however, he became the 15th lord (or 13th). During his youth, he gave himself up to the artistic world, including calligraphy, painting, poetry and tea ceremony, as well as Noh and Kyōgen. In tea ceremony, he is the originator of the famous saying “Ichi-go ichi-e” – literally, “one time, one meeting” (often translated as “for this time only” or “one chance in a lifetime”).

Naosuke was well-versed in Noh and Kyōgen, and wrote some plays himself. Today, one Noh play and two Kyōgen plays survive. The Noh play, “Tsukumae” (a place name), is set at Lake Biwa and has a strong atmosphere of celebration. One of the Kyōgen plays is called “Oni-ga-yado” (The Demon's House); the other is a revived piece “Tanuki-no-haratsuzumi” (The Racoon Dog's Belly Drum), commonly known as “Hikone-danuki” (The Racoon Dog of Hikone). The Kyōgen plays were presented to Shigeyama Sengorō, a leading actor who worked for the Hikone domain. Even today, the two plays are regarded as special to the house of Shigeyama Sengorō. “Oni-ga-yado” was premiered by Shigeyama Sengorō IX a few days before the Sakuradamon Incident.

There was a Noh stage at the residence of the Ii clan, Hikone Castle. The stage was moved to the Hikone Castle Museum and reconstructed in its original shape. Today, it is mainly used for Noh performances.

* There are two ways of counting the generation, because two people became the lord twice.

(March. 4, 2013)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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