TITLE: Viejito Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Mexico
SUBREGION: Michoacan
ETHNICITY: Purépecha
DESCRIPTION: Viejito (Little Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Danza de los Viejitos
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; maque; cotton thread; ixtle fiber; shoelaces

The Danza de los Viejitos is one of the oldest ceremonies in the Purépecha regions of Michoacán. In it, four dancers dressed as old men, with white suits, a colorful sarape, beribboned straw hat, wooden clogs, and a wooden cane, dance to the music of violins, clarinets, and guitars. The purpose of the dance is to pray for a good harvest. Normally, four dancers appear, representing the four primordial elements (earth, fire, water, and air) and the four colors of maize (yellow, red, blue, white). Masks may be made of wood, paste, or terra cotta.

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TITLE: Nafana Bedu Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Africa
COUNTRY: Côte d’Ivoire
ETHNICITY: Nafana
DESCRIPTION: Female Bedu Association Female Plank Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Purification; Secret Society
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Nafana people of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have developed a Bedu Secret Society only in the last century. It is probably a successor to the Sakrobundi Secret Society banned by the British due to the Society’s function of violently punishing supposed sorcerers.  The Bedu society is charged with the less malignant function of village purification during a month-long new year’s celebration annually, as well as during harvest festivals and funerals.  The bedu itself represents a mythical ox-like beast that, in Nafana myth, cured a sick child and later disappeared into the bush.  Although these masks are worn over the face, their exceptional size requires them to be made of relatively light wood.

Bedu masks come in both genders, with the male masks having horns, and the female (such as this one) having a circle or disc on top. Most such masks of either gender are painted in kaolin clay with abstract geometrical patterns, checker marks and jagged fins being favored.  Sometimes red, blue, or black pigments are used as well.

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TITLE: Child’s Monkey Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Saru (Monkey) Mask for a Child
MAKER: Unknown maker in Sagano, Kyoto
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Purification
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: washi (Japanese paper)
OTHER MATERIALS: newspaper; water-based paint; adhesive; string

Masks made from washi (thin but tough Japanese paper) are traditionally used by ordinary Japanese people during popular summer festivals in Kyoto Prefecture, such as Otaue Matsuri (rice planting festival) and rice harvest festival. They typically represent a lucky totem, such as the rabbit (usagi), dragon (doragon), raccoon dog (tanuki), or monkey (saru). Most often, such masks are worn by children, although adults may join in the fun as well.   The inscription reads: “Protection from Evil Mask, Saga.”

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TITLE: Child’s Dragon Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Doragon (Dragon) Mask for a Child
MAKER: Unknown maker in Sagano, Kyoto
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Purification
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: washi (Japanese paper)
OTHER MATERIALS: newspaper; water-based paint; adhesive; string

Masks made from washi (thin but tough Japanese paper) are traditionally used by ordinary Japanese people during popular summer festivals in Kyoto Prefecture, such as Otaue Matsuri (rice planting festival) and rice harvest festival. They typically represent a lucky totem, such as the rabbit (usagi), dragon (doragon), raccoon dog (tanuki), or monkey (saru). Most often, such masks are worn by children, although adults may join in the fun as well.  The inscription reads: “Protection from Evil Mask, Saga.”

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TITLE: Child’s Rabbit Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Usagi (Rabbit) Mask for a Child
MAKER: Unknown maker in Sagano, Kyoto
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Purification
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: washi (Japanese paper)
OTHER MATERIALS: newspaper; water-based paint; adhesive; string

Masks made from washi (thin but tough Japanese paper) are traditionally used by ordinary Japanese people during popular summer festivals in Kyoto Prefecture, such as Otaue Matsuri (rice planting festival) and rice harvest festival. They typically represent a lucky totem, such as the rabbit (usagi), dragon (doragon), raccoon dog (tanuki), or monkey (saru). Most often, such masks are worn by children, although adults may join in the fun as well.   The inscription reads: “Protection from Evil Mask, Saga.”

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TITLE: Kitsune (Fox) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Kyoto
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Washi Kitsune (Fox) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: Agriculture; Celebration; Purification
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: washi (Japanese paper)
OTHER MATERIALS: water-based paint; silk cord

Kitsune, or fox, masks are popular in Japan and worn in many types of theater and Shinto celebrations. Wood and kanshitsu masks are used in theater; paper masks like this one are used primarily by the public during festivals such as rice harvest or Oji’s Kitsune no Gyoretsu (Fox Parade) on New Year’s Eve. The fox’s popularity is related to its role as a shape-shifting messenger of the god Inari, protector of rice and fertility. The fox can act benignly or malevolently, bringing a rich harvest or wealth, or stealing these things.

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TITLE: Tajikarao No-mikoto Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Miyazaki
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Tajikarao No-mikoto Mask
MAKER: Hiroaki Kudo (Amano Iwato, Takachiho, 1961- )
CEREMONY: Kagura
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint

Kagura is a form of music and dance from the Shinto religion. The Kagura involves maikata, or masked dancers with elaborate costumes and wigs, and hayashikata, or musicians playing the odaiko (large drum), kodaiko (small drum), chochigane (Japanese cymbals), and yokobue (a Japanese flute).

Kagura dance is not totally abstract, but rather is designed to tell a story, usually of Shinto origin.  The performance of a dance is intended not just to celebrate a holiday or entertain an audience, but as a religious duty to pray to Shinto gods for a good harvest or fish catch, or protection from disease or natural disaster. Kagura is now commonly performed at temples and in farming villages after the rice harvest to thank the gods for their bounty.

This mask represents the Shinto god Ameno Tajikarao No-mikoto, who created Mt. Togakushi by taking the solid rock door leading to a cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu had hid herself and throwing it toward Nagano.  Amaterasu had denied the world light by hiding in a cave after her godly sibling annoyed her, and Tajikarao, the god of strenght and sport, both restored the sun to the world and created a new mountain. The dance reenacts this heroic act.

For more on Japanese Kagura, see David Petersen, An Invitation to Kagura: Hidden Gem of the Traditional Japanese Performing Arts (2007).


Click above to watch a short documentary about the Kagura ceremony of Japan.

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TITLE: Bugaku Korobase Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Nara Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Bugaku Mask of Korobase (Crane)
MAKER: Nakabo Ryudo (Nara, 1940- )
CEREMONY: Bugaku
AGE: 2019
MAIN MATERIAL: polyester resin
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; silk cord; brass bell

Bugaku is an official court dance of Japan, dating back to about 500 C.E.  During the Heian period, Bugaku dances were so central to protocol that nearly all ceremonies and festivals included them. The dance was especially important in appeasing angry gods, purifying the village, and petitioning the gods for rain or a good harvest.  The dance is performed to the music of drums and flutes. The dancers enter the stage singly in succession, then dance together in pairs, in synchronicity to varying tempos. Each dance has its own mask and is named after the mask.

Bugaku masks were sometimes made of wood and sometimes from kanshitsu, a composite of sawdust and resin shaped over a mold. In modern times, Shinto temples have increasingly requested mask makers to produce thick polyester resin masks that are harder and more durable than wood or kanshitsu, as well as easier to reproduce once the mold has been sculpted,

The Korobase dance, also called Tsurumai (Crane Dance), is a slow, quiet dance involving four dancers in identical masks. The dancers represent cranes, the calls of the cranes represented by the bells hanging from their beak tips. The dance supposedly derives from two Chinese legends.  In one, eight Chinese recluses living on Mt. Konron come down into the city, and in the other, cranes dance on the beach to the music of a Chinese zither.  In the dance, the dancers form a square and do a slow, coordinated series of movements. The climax occurs when they join hands and sweep around in a circle, evoking with the dark blue sleeves of their robes the take off and flight of the cranes.

For more on Bugaku masks, see Kyōtarō Nishikawa, Bugaku Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. 1971).


Click above to watch a short documentary film about the Bugaku dance of Japan.

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TITLE: Bugaku Sanju (?) Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Nara Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Bugaku Mask, probably representing Sanju
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bugaku
AGE: late 19th century
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; water-based paint

Bugaku is an official court dance of Japan, dating back to about 500 C.E.  During the Heian period, Bugaku dances were so central to protocol that nearly all ceremonies and festivals included them. The dance was especially important in appeasing angry gods, purifying the village, and petitioning the gods for rain or a good harvest.  The dance is performed to the music of drums and flutes. The dancers enter the stage singly in succession, then dance together in pairs, in synchronicity to varying tempos. Each dance has its own mask and is named after the mask.

Bugaku masks were sometimes made of wood, like this one, and sometimes made from kanshitsu, a composite of sawdust and resin shaped over a mold. This mask was heavily danced in the late 19th century, and probably represents Sanju, a red-faced Japanese military hero. This is a highly martial dance, with the dancer wearing a helmet, a sword, and a long halberd (naginata) or spear (yari), and assisted by several young assistants (traditionally six, but often reduced now to four or two).

For more on Bugaku masks, see Kyōtarō Nishikawa, Bugaku Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. 1971).


Click above to watch a short documentary film about the Bugaku dance of Japan.

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TITLE: Bugaku King Rangryo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Nara Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: King Rangryo Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Bugaku
AGE: ca. 1910
MAIN MATERIAL: hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; water-based paint; brass-sheeting; hardware; animal hair; silk cords

Bugaku is an official court dance of Japan, dating back to about 500 C.E.  During the Heian period, Bugaku dances were so central to protocol that nearly all ceremonies and festivals included them. The dance was especially important in appeasing angry gods, purifying the village, and petitioning the gods for rain or a good harvest.  The dance is performed to the music of drums and flutes. The dancers enter the stage singly in succession, then dance together in pairs, in synchronicity to varying tempos. Each dance has its own mask and is named after the mask.

Bugaku masks were sometimes made of wood, like this one, and sometimes made from kanshitsu, a composite of sawdust and resin shaped over a mold. This mask was danced in the early 20th century.  It is similar to a much older one in Nara, used at the Kasuga Taisha for festivals.  The chin is attached by silk cords to allow the mouth to swing freely with the dancer’s movements.

The Rangryo mask represents a young Chinese king who was renowned for his beauty, but who could not intimidate his enemies. In battle, he donned a hideous mask surmounted by a dragon to hide his face and frighten his enemies. The dance is a solo dance; it is highly martial and more active than many other Bugaku dances.

For more on Bugaku masks, see Kyōtarō Nishikawa, Bugaku Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. 1971).


Click above to watch a short documentary film about the Bugaku dance of Japan.

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