Feel the heart and the world of Noh in a real Noh theatre

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Written by Editorial department

Composed of "Noh" and "Kyōgen", "Nōgaku" is one of Japan's representative traditional performing arts. Passed down from generation to generation for over 700 years, starting from the samurai society of the Muromachi period, it is said to be the oldest existing theatrical performance in the world. It has greatly influenced other theatrical performances such as Bunraku, Kabuki, Opera, and even modern theatre plays. In 2008, it was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Nishinomiya Noh Theatre stands in "Hyogo prefecture, Nishinomiya city, Naruo-cho" a place also appearing in the Noh play "Takasago". The antique Noh stage made of Japanese Cypress is located inside a modern concrete construction completed in 2017. You can watch the performance from the audience seats, or get onto the stage to feel the profound spirit and world of Noh.

On the stage, you first wear white tabi and learn the basics of Noh.

The trial program at Nishinomiya Noh Theatre starts out by wearing the white tabi. It is considered important manners to wear white tabi when getting on the Noh stage, so they are indispensable for getting on the stage. After you've worn the pre-prepared white tabi the instructor, master Umewaka Motonori, will appear. Master Umewaka Motonori is a Noh actor from the prestigious Umewaka house with roots going all the way back to the era of Sarugaku, the roots of Noh, in the 15th century. After a detailed explanation on topics such as the naming and structure of the stage, and the painted pictures, watch a easy to understand video that explains the history and basics of Noh. Begin your journey to the world of Noh by feeling the fragrance of the Japanese Cypress, a tree considered sacred, used in building the stage.

The trial program on the Japanese Cypress stage is a valuable experience.
The trial program on the Japanese Cypress stage is a valuable experience.
Upon entering Nishinomiya Noh Theatre you must change to white tabi, an imperative part of Noh tradition.
Upon entering Nishinomiya Noh Theatre you must change to white tabi, an imperative part of Noh tradition.

Get on the stage and experience the basic movement of Noh: "Suriashi" (sliding feet)

After getting acquainted with the basics via the lecture of master Umewaka, finally get on the stage. There are also manners for climbing the stairs. When getting onto the stage you must start climbing with your left feet, and when getting down you must do so with your right feet. On the stage you will first experience Noh's basic walking motion, "Suriashi". "Suriashi" is a manner of walking without moving your upper body, keeping your center of mass horizontal to the ground. It is not exclusive to Noh, many martial arts use the same movement. Relax your heart and walk slowly while stretching your toe in a straight line from your heels to your toes.

A demonstration of "Suriashi" from master Umewaka. You can see his toes are not arched.
A demonstration of "Suriashi" from master Umewaka. You can see his toes are not arched.
It is important to calmly sharpen your senses, and walk slowly without hurry.
It is important to calmly sharpen your senses, and walk slowly without hurry.

Feel the profoundness of Noh, hiding infinite expressions in it's simplicity

The program continues on the stage. Lined up on the back of the stage are one of Noh’s most notorious elements: Noh masks. They are tools that express emotions with subtle changes to angles up and down, left and right. The ones lined up are the most classical masks selected from over 60 types and 250 shapes. They are not imitations made for the trial program, but genuine masks the Noh players actually use in plays. After hearing an explanation of how each is used and the plays in which they're used by master Umewaka, put them on yourself and walk onto the stage. You will probably notice how difficult it is to perform "Suriashi" with limited visibility, and once again feel the impressiveness of the Noh actors.

When taking a Noh mask, it is mannerly to hold them by the holes where the strings go through. It is important to be careful to never touch the face.
When taking a Noh mask, it is mannerly to hold them by the holes where the strings go through. It is important to be careful to never touch the face.
Experience "Suriashi" with the Noh mask on. With limited visibility, it's difficult to even walk straight.
Experience "Suriashi" with the Noh mask on. With limited visibility, it's difficult to even walk straight.

Listen to the Hayashi music performance just like in an actual play, and even experience touching and playing the instruments.

You may optionally experience the characteristic Hayashi music of Noh plays. Noh players, called "Hayashi-kata" specialize in each of the 4 types of Noh instruments: The transverse flute, the hip drum, the shoulder-drum, and the stick-drum. Besides playing the instruments, they are also in charge of stage proceedings, giving signals for things such as the start and changing of scenes. The Hayashi program begins with an actual performance by a Hayashi-kata on the stage. You will undoubtedly be drawn in deeper into the world of Noh upon hearing the awe-inspiring performance. Of course, you can also touch and experience playing the instruments. You don't need to worry even if you're a beginner because the Hayashi-kata for each instrument will teach you the ropes from the manners of handling the instruments to how to actually make the sounds.

An exciting performance just like in an actual play from the Hayashi-kata.
An exciting performance just like in an actual play from the Hayashi-kata.
The Hayashi-kata give detailed explanations of each instrument.
The Hayashi-kata give detailed explanations of each instrument.

Optionally, enjoy toasting with historic local Sake in break time.

In the optional break time, there will be a lineup of carefully selected recommended sake from local breweries. Nishinomiya city, where the Noh theatre is located, is a leading Sake center known since the Edo period as a prominent Sake producing region, with a whole 12 sake breweries inside the city. Each brewery brews sake with different characteristics and features, inherited from their long history and tradition. Only in the Sake center Nishinomiya, can you enjoy Sake tasting in break time. Besides enjoying the taste of the Sake, feel the Japanese culture in your own hands with traditional tools like the "Shuki" flasks and "Masu" cups. We also have Japanese tea prepared for those who do not drink alcohol.

Break time with local Nishinomiya Sake, while listening to explanations from staff.
Break time with local Nishinomiya Sake, while listening to explanations from staff.

Optionally, try on the costumes and watch a play.

What can the climax of the trial program be if not watching an actual play? Observe the dressing up of the Noh actors before the play. You can see the male Noh actors transform into female characters of the play, while listening to explanations of the tools and outfits. The dressing up is not usually open to the public, so this is a very valuable experience. Although this day consisted only of watching, you can try on the outfits yourself if you wish. And then after learning the story of the play via a picture‐card show, watch the play "Hagoromo". Watching all the Noh actors from up-close is a truly overwhelming experience.

Trying on the costumes is a valuable experience you can't get from a regular viewing.
Trying on the costumes is a valuable experience you can't get from a regular viewing.
Watch a part of the play "Hagoromo", played in the same way as an actual main performance.
Watch a part of the play "Hagoromo", played in the same way as an actual main performance.

You can experience these things here!