TITLE: Noh Ko-Omote
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Omote Onna-Men Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Gunma Prefecture
CEREMONY: Noh Theater
AGE: 1950s-60s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; 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 Ko-Omote, the naive young girl. Noh theater has many types of Onna-men (female masks), often with subtle variations in expression.  The Ko-Omote is probably the best known. 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: Noh Okasshiki
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Okasshiki Mask
MAKER: Takiyama Ichiemon (Iso Tanba City, Hyogo, Japan, 1940- )
CEREMONY: Noh Drama
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; lacquer; 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 Okasshiki (or simply Kasshiki) and represents a young Zen Buddhist lay monk, whose role is announcing the day’s menu in the monastery dining room. He is easily recognized by his ginkgo leaf-shaped bangs. 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: Kokushiki-Jo
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Kyodomen Kokushiki-Jo Mask
MAKER: Habu Mitsuma
CEREMONY: Okina (翁)
FUNCTION: agriculture; purification; spirit invocation
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: animal hair; pigment

The Okina is an ancient Japanese dance ritual that uses forms of mask known as kokushiki-jo and hakushiki-jo. These are among the oldest masked characters in Japanese ceremonies, originating as folk masks (kyodomen) used in ancient sarugaku (“monkey music”) theatre (circa 1000-1300 CE) and migrating to the formal stage for use between noh plays. The kokushiki-jo and haukshiki-jo both represent old men with divine qualities, but with slight differences in appearance. Unlike noh theatre, the Okina dance is mute, and it is performed by a kyōgen performer rather than a noh actor.

The Okina plays an important ceremonial role in the Shinto religion, because the kokushiki-jo performs the Sanbasō, a prayer-dance celebrating the emperor’s peaceful rain and seeking blessings for a bountiful harvest.


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

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TITLE: Kyōgen Ko-Tengu
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: Japan
ETHNICITY: Japanese
DESCRIPTION: Ko-Tengu (Celestial Dog) Kyōgen Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Kyōgen Theatre
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1960s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: laquer; paint; bronze sheet

The tengu is a legendary being very important to Japanese mythology, found in both folk tales and Shinto and Buddhist religious doctrines. Despite the reference to dog in the creature’s name (“celestial dog”) and origin, it is also associated with a predatory bird. The role of the tengu is ambiguous, with some sources treating it as a demon and others as a protective demi-god. Its form, too, varies between that of a large bird of prey and a brightly-colored human, nearly always with an exceptionally long nose.

The tengu is a popular masked character in Kyōgen theatre as well. Kyōgen is a traditional form of Japanese comic theatre, usually performed in village celebrations or as interludes between traditional Noh dramas. Kyōgen is performed by both masked and unmasked characters, whose role is defined in each traditional play. The actors are accompanied by flute, drum and gong music, but Kyōgen emphasizes dialogue and action over song or dance. In these plays, the tengu typically plays the role of trouble-maker (sometimes dupe) or mystical protector.


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

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