Seeing Noh Theater in Kansai

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 28, 2023

Seeing Noh Theater in Kansai

A combination of music, dance, and poetry, Noh theater dates back to the 14th century, making it the oldest dramatic form in Japan. The performances are based on ancient myths and often feature a supernatural being who has taken human form to narrate the story. Many performances are technically nogaku, which is a combination of Noh and kyogen. The latter is a type of comic theater performed during the intermission.

There are several places where you can see Noh performances in Kansai.

1. Yamamoto Noh Theater

Right next to Osaka Castle is Yamamoto Noh Theater. This is an ideal location to see a performance because Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who built Osaka Castle, was deeply involved in the world of Noh, even acting himself. The original theater was constructed in 1921, but it was destroyed in the war. The building that stands today dates back to 1950 and is smaller, with seating for 109 people and floor cushions for 115 more.

Materials in English, Chinese, and Korean are available to foreign visitors to help them understand the performances. To learn more, you can also participate in workshops, take tours, and attend lectures.

2. Ohtsuki Noh Theater

Another option next to Osaka Castle is Ohtsuki Noh Theater. Constructed in 1935, it survived the war, unlike most of the theaters in Kansai. Another feature that makes it unique is it has always had chairs rather than gallery seats. Today, the theater holds regular performances of both traditional plays and new pieces. There’s a dedicated explanation corner where you can gain more information to help you follow what’s happening in the performance.

3. Kawamura Noh Theater

To see Noh in Kyoto, one option is Kawamura Noh Theater. It runs a program called Enjoy Noh, which is specifically for people who have never seen a performance before. In addition to the performances, there are opportunities to learn interesting facts about Noh to help you understand the art, see the Omote masks up close, and walk on stage yourself in tabi socks to try out the Noh poses.

4. Kyoto Kanze-kai

A larger Noh theater in Kyoto is Kanze-kai. The performances are all in Kanze style, which is the main school of Noh. In addition to monthly plays, the theater puts on special performances. This includes Suutai, which is Noh with just chanting and no instruments. There are performances with young players (including recitals that allow the performers to practice) and Noh workshops. You can reserve tickets for most of the shows online up to the day of the performance — shows by amateurs are often free. Just be aware that some of the performances can last for four hours or more.

Noh theater will likely be quite different from anything you have ever experienced. For instance, there are no props on the stage — just a painting of a pine tree on a backdrop. Plus, the actors all wear masks that hide their facial expressions, meaning you’ll need to rely on their gestures to understand their emotions. It’s definitely worth making it to at least one performance while you’re in Kansai.

Sawai Susao, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Justin Hanus editor

2 comments so far

Maria Petz-StifterPosted on8:01 pm - Aug 29, 2023

I would like to know,if there will be any Noh performances in Kyoto or Osaka in October, 2023?


Leave a Reply