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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TITLE: Kyodomen Raijin
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Raijin Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyodomen
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: late 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Kyodomen is the folk theatre of Japan, developed in small villages around local myths and legends. At the founding of a shrine or temple, local carvers would make masks to dedicate to the local Shinto gods or spirits. Wearing the mask invoked the god and allowed the invocation of supernatural powers to benefit the village. Raijin is one of these gods, the god of thunder and lightning in Japanese lore, who frequently carries a hammer or drum. He usually appears together with Fujin, the lord of the winds, who wears a leopard skin and carries a bag of winds (possibly derivative of the Greek god Boreas) on his shoulders.

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TITLE: Noh Zaoh
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Zaoh Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Noh Drama
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

The Noh theater evolved from a combination of Chinese Nuo opera, popular village entertainment known as Sarugaku, and courtly Bugaku dance to become a uniquely Japanese form of high culture. Noh, or Nōgaku, probably first emerged as a distinct form of theater in the 14th century.  A wide variety of plays developed over the ensuing three hundred or so years, with masked characters playing an important role in most.  The masks require the actors to communicate through posture, body movement, and vocal control, whose perfection requires years of intense training.  Although the masks prevent the actor from using facial expression, the most expertly carved masks can be made to express different emotions at different angles, so that he actor can change facial expression by the tilting his head.

This mask is known as Zaoh and represents a Buddhist saint named Kongo Zaoh Gon Gen. He became enlightened after practicing asceticism for 1000 days atop Mount Kinpo.

For more on Noh masks, see the excellent book by Michishige Udaka and Shuichi Yamagata, The Secrets of Noh Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International , 2010).


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Noh Ko-Jō
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Jō Kyo-Kei (Old Man) Mask
MAKER: Takiyama Ichiemon (Iso Tanba City, Hyogo, Japan, 1940- ) and Ohoshima Jyunji (Fukuchiyama City, Kyoto, Japan, 1930- )
CEREMONY: Noh Drama
AGE: 2011
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; horse hair; acrylic string

The Noh theater evolved from a combination of Chinese Nuo opera, popular village entertainment known as Sarugaku, and courtly Bugaku dance to become a uniquely Japanese form of high culture. Noh, or Nōgaku, probably first emerged as a distinct form of theater in the 14th century.  A wide variety of plays developed over the ensuing three hundred or so years, with masked characters playing an important role in most.  The masks require the actors to communicate through posture, body movement, and vocal control, whose perfection requires years of intense training.  Although the masks prevent the actor from using facial expression, the most expertly carved masks can be made to express different emotions at different angles, so that he actor can change facial expression by the tilting his head.

This mask is known as Ko-Jō (or Ko-Jyo) and is a kind of Jō-Kei (old man mask) created by the famed carver Koushi Kiyomitsu in the late 14th century. This specimen was acquired from Inoue Corporation of Kyoto.

For more on Noh masks, see the excellent book by Michishige Udaka and Shuichi Yamagata, The Secrets of Noh Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International , 2010).


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Kyōgen Usobuki
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Usobuki Kyodomen Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyōgen Dance Drama
AGE: Unknown
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: horsehair; paint; lacquer

Kyōgen is a popular form of Japanese theater. It was traditionally used in village plays and developed alongside Noh theater, where it was performed at intermissions.  Unlike Noh, which tends to have serious themes, the kyōgen generally takes the form of comedic plays.

The usobuki (sometimes transliterated usofuki) (“air blower”) is a comical character who appears to be blowing mightily. It is commonly thought to derive from a folk story about a boy named Hyottoko, who could produce gold from his belly button.  It is used in different plays to represent a wide variety of roles, including a sinner on his way to the underworld, a scarecrow, insect spirits, and even plant spirits.


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Kyodomen Fujin
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Fujin Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyodomen
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment; Spirit Invocation
AGE: late 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Kyodomen is the folk theatre of Japan, developed in small villages around local myths and legends. At the founding of a shrine or temple, local carvers would make masks to dedicate to the local Shinto gods or spirits. Wearing the mask invoked the god and allowed the invocation of supernatural powers to benefit the village. Fujin is one of these gods, the lord of the winds in Japanese lore, who wears a leopard skin and carries a bag of winds (possibly derivative of the Greek god Boreas) on his shoulders. He usually appears together with Raijin, the god of thunder and lightning.

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TITLE: Menburyu Hannya Mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Saga Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Hannya
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Menburyu (Furyu) Dance
AGE: early 2000s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; lacquer; brass; gold dust; horse hair

Menburyu is a form of Furyu, a is a sacred masked dance native to Saga Prefecture in the autumn to seek an abundant harvest. In modern Furyu, dancers are accompanied by brass gongs and taiko drums. The Menburyu form of Furyu is practiced primarily in the southwest region of the prefecture and features a Hannya, or female serpent who has become a demon through spite and jealousy. The origin of the dance is believed to be a military battle in which defending forces attacked an invader at night wearing demon masks, wigs, and loud music to frighten the enemy. Other forms of Menburyu feature the tentsuki mask, representing a half-with a drawing of a dragon. When a Furyu dancer wears a mask, he is considered to incarnate the Buddha.

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TITLE: Noh Hannya
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Gunma Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Hannya Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Noh Theater
AGE: 1950s-60s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; brass; gold dust; lacquer; silk string

The Noh theater evolved from a combination of Chinese Nuo opera, popular village entertainment known as Sarugaku, and courtly Bugaku dance to become a uniquely Japanese form of high culture. Noh, or Nōgaku, probably first emerged as a distinct form of theater in the 14th century.  A wide variety of plays developed over the ensuing three hundred or so years, with masked characters playing an important role in most.  The masks require the actors to communicate through posture, body movement, and vocal control, whose perfection requires years of intense training.  Although the masks prevent the actor from using facial expression, the most expertly carved masks can be made to express different emotions at different angles, so that he actor can change facial expression by the tilting his head.

This specific mask represents Hannya, the soul of a female who has become a demon or ghost through jealousy or obsession. The mask is designed to look angry from straight ahead, but sorrowful when tilted downward. Only exceptionally skilled carvers are able to produce a Hannya with the ability to convey both malice and misery.  Light-skinned Hannya like this one denote aristocratic women; red masks indicate peasant women.  All such roles were traditionally played by men.

For more on Noh masks, see the excellent book by Michishige Udaka and Shuichi Yamagata, The Secrets of Noh Masks (Tokyo: Kodansha International , 2010).


To watch a short documentary about Japanese Nogaku (Noh drama and Kyogen plays), click above.

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TITLE: Ondeko Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Sado Island
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Oni-daiko
MAKER: Ohoshima Jyunji (Fukuchiyama City, Kyoto, Japan, 1930- )
CEREMONY: Ondeko Dance
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; cashew tree lacquer; brass; gold dust; cloth; Velcro straps; horse hair

Ondeko, also known as Oni-daiko, is a demon character that performs solely on Japan’s Sado Island. The masquerader dances vigorously to the music of flutes drums in order to drive away evil spirits and to ensure a good harvest. It probably originates in Buddhist dances from the eight or ninth century C.E., although its precise origin is contested. The configuration of the performance varies across Sado Island.  In the central part of the island, the demons are either black or white and dance with two lions, suggesting a tie to China’s Tang Lion Dance.  In the southern part of the island, two demons always dance together. In the north, the dancers include an old man (Mamemaki) who scatters beans from a wooden box for good luck.

This specimen was acquired from Inoue Corporation of Kyoto.

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TITLE: Bugaku Somakusha
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
SUBREGION: Osaka Prefecture
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Somakusha Mask
MAKER: “Miyatake”
CEREMONY: Bugaku
AGE: 1990
MAIN MATERIAL: kanshitsu
OTHER MATERIALS: lacquer; kaolin clay; gold leaf; plant fiber; horse hair

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 (like this one) made from kanshitsu, a composite of sawdust and resin shaped over a mold. This mask is a near replica of one from the 1920s or 1930s kept in the Shitennō-ji Temple in Osaka.

The Somakusha is thought to represent the god of a mountain who dances for a flute playing hermit who descended from the mountain after his devotions there.

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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