Last Friday (January 14) my religion class visited the National Noh Theater to watch a Noh play. In my class we read a lot of Noh scripts, so this was a chance to get to see one for real. We had studied this specific play right before we saw it so I already knew the way the story goes, but I was very surprised to see that the back of every seat had TV screens that could be turned on to display the subtitles in both English and Japanese. You can see the screens on the back of every seat in the picture above. I thought the stage was very lovely, but unfortunately we were not directly in front of the play. The front actually faces to the right. I was a bit surprising that many ladies came dressed in kimono to watch.
When you go to see a Noh play, they are always accompanied by another play called a 'Kyogen.' I guess the Kyogen is more the comedy piece, compared to the serious and religious nature of Noh plays. I really enjoyed the Kyogen, but it was unfortunately really short. After a 20 minute intermission, which involved me and a classmate seeking out a convenience store since I hadn't eaten before I got there, the actual play begun.
We saw Yamanba (The Mountain Crone). It's a play about a dancer who is famous for a song and dance called Yamanba. She decides to make a pilgrimage to a temple and travels through the mountains when told that Amida Buddha also traveled through them as well, so to travel the mountains would be to follow in the Buddha's footsteps and therefore bring you to enlightenment. Along the way she meets the real Yamanba, who begs her to show her the dance so that she may be relieved of her clinging in the world. The dancer agrees, and it appears that the two become one during the dance since the actor for Yamanba is the one performing the dance, not the dancer herself. After the dance, Yamanba disappears and the play ends.
Now, the script is only about 14 pages, but it takes two hours to perform. I tried to follow the play in Japanese at first, but the script is written in classical Japanese so I ended up switching it back to English because I just don't remember enough classical Japanese anymore. The English translation was a lot different from the one we read in class and even cut some portions of the play out. I think if I hadn't studied the text previously I might have been confused at some points because they didn't tell you what was going on until after.
As far as the play itself though, I honestly thought it would never end. I must have started falling asleep about half way to two-thirds through. Apparently I must have hid it well though since my classmate thought I had been nodding as if I understood the feeling and meaning of what was going on. The rhythm of the drums they were beating and the-I don't know what it's called, shouting? chanting?-just became so soothing it put me to sleep. I wasn't the only one though, since I saw many, many people sleeping through the entire thing. It makes you wonder why they all came to watch it in the first place. To get a good nap?
Noh is known for the elaborate masks the actors wear. I was sitting directly in front of where the dancer had been sitting during the play. The more I looked at the dancer's mask, the more I kept feeling like it was piercing into my soul...
If invited to see another Noh play, I'm not sure I would be very enthusiastic about it. Although my classmate says she slept through the whole thing during the first play she saw, but since it was her second time she was able to stay awake, so maybe the same could apply to me?