TITLE: Bugaku Korobase Mask
TYPE: face mask
SUBREGION: Nara Prefecture
DESCRIPTION: Bugaku Mask of Korobase (Crane)
MAKER: Nakabo Ryudo (Nara, 1940- )
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.