TITLE: Noh Zaoh
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
DESCRIPTION: Zaoh Mask
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.