Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question139 Were there Noh actors who worked as warriors?


Noh developed from sarugaku under the support of powerful figures such Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Actually, Noh actors were not necessarily feeble people who were constantly protected. Particularly in the Sengoku period, many actors were naturally accomplished at military arts, because they were always close to warlords.

For example, Ōkubo Chōan (see Trivia 92), a senior vassal for Ieyasu who took part in the development of Iwami Ginzan silver mine and Sado Kinzan gold mine, was born in the family of an in-house Noh actor and served Takeda Shingen.

It is said that the founder of the Kita School, Kita Shichidayū, was born the son of an eye doctor in Sakai and became a Noh actor by displaying his skills to Hideyoshi, who loved Noh. He therefore considered himself much indebted to the Toyotomi family, and he served Hideyori after Hideyoshi's death. During the summer siege of Osaka, he placed himself under the command of Sanada Yukimura. Although Shichidayū was captured after the fall of Osaka Castle, it is said that he was pardoned by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was reluctant to lose his performing skills.

In contrast to Shichidayū, some Noh actors fought on the Tokugawa side. The sixth head of the Hōshō School, Hōshō Katsuyoshi, was excellent at military arts and served warlord Ogasawara Hidemasa for 400 koku (salary unit by quantity of rice). Katsuyoshi took part in the summer siege of Osaka because his master Hidemasa took Tokugawa's side, and he is said to have received a reward from Ieyasu for his zeal in battle.

In the Edo period, when Noh was established as a ceremonial performance for the Tokugawa shogunate, Noh actors were granted samurai status and worked for salaries. Although they stopped taking part in wars, they actually became warriors themselves.

(April. 26 2016)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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