Zeami, also called Kanze Motokiyo, was a Japanese aesthetician, actor and playwright in the early Muromachi period (1336-1573). He was born in 1363 as a son of Kan’ami, a master Noh player. His childhood name was Oniyasha. He named himself Zeamidabutsu, a Buddhist name of the Jishu sect, which was later contracted into Zeami. However, he was commonly called Saburo.
When Kan’ami’s company performed in Kumano for the 3rd Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 18-year old Shogun was fascinated by Zeami, who was at the age of 12. Since then Zeami was patronized by the Shogun and his accomplished performance was highly appraised by the nobility and high-ranking warriors. Nijo Yoshimoto, the regent and a famous renga poet of the time, was also impressed by his talent and presented him with the name Fujiwaka.
Being in contact with aristocratic culture and arts, Zeami enhanced his aesthetic thory. He established the Noh theater in the present form with his father and succeeded the title, Kanze-dayu, after his father’s death.
He wrote a lot of Noh plays, which are still performed in the same forms today, and also wrote practical instructions for actors including Fushi Kaden and Hanakagami. His aesthetic senses represented by the words “Hisureba hana nari, hisezuba hana naru bekarazu to nari. (If the secret of the flower becomes known to the public, it is not a true flower anymore.)” give vivid impression even to the people living today.
Ichikawa Danjuro is a stage name taken on by successive Kabuki actors of the Ichikawa family. Its yago (guild name) is Naritaya. The design of the Ichikawa family’s jomon (the formal crest) is “mimasu,” in which three squares nested inside one another, and the most frequently used kaemon (the sub-crest) is “gyoyo-botan (a peony flowere surrounded by apricot leaves).” Prior to taking the name Danjuro, an actor frequently had the names Ichikawa Shinnosuke, then Ichikawa Ebizo.
Ichikawa Danjuro I (1660-1704) was the founder of the aragoto style of the present Kabuki performance. Borrowing an idea from Joruri (Japanese-styled puppet play), he came up with the scenes of fierce god or demon appering at the finale of the traditional aragoto style of the dramas dealing with a valiant warrior, and created a new style of aragoto, which is typical to the Kabuki Juhachiban (a collection of 18 plays of the Ichikawa Danjuro line of actors) still performed today. Among them, Shibaraku, Jayanagi, Narukami, Fuwa and Kanjincho were first played by Danjuro I. He also wrote many Kyogen plays under the name of Sanshoya Hyogo. Ichikawa Danjuto XII is the current holder of the name Ichikawa Danjuro.
The Chorei-beshimi mask represents Kumasaka no Chohan, who was a mighty thief in the Noh play “Kumasaka” and “Eboshi-ori,” both of which tell the story of Ushiwakamaru beating Kumasaka no Chohan in the Heian period (794-1192). The climax of “Kumasaka” is the vigorous fighting scene of Ushiwakamaru vs. Chohan. This mask is characterized by its great, round metallic eyeballs with large holes for pupils protruding from beneath the forehead. It has a wide flattened nose and broad mouth, which look even humorous. As a whole, it gives a vigorous and comical impression and successfully represents the dauntless mighty thief.
Kamigata Ukiyoe is ukiyoe print made mainly in Osaka dating from between the late Edo period and the early Meiji period (1800s).
The subjects of the paintings are dominated by Kabuki actors rather than beautiful women and scenic vistas. Unlike the prints made in Edo, today’s Tokyo, actors were painted as they were, without being beautified.
The technique to print woodblock prints in full color was invented in 1765 and the colored print style quickly took off and became popular among the common people in Edo.
In the next quarter century, Ukiyoe welcomed its golden age and Utamaro enjoyed his heyday. In 1791, right before Hokusai and Sharaku came to the scene, ukiyoe was starting to be made in Kamigata, today’s Kyoto and Osaka.
Kamigata Ukiyoe became known as “Osaka Prints” outside Japan and its collections are housed in art museums world wide including the British Museum.
Awaji Puppet Theater is a form of Ningyou Jyoururi, or traditional puppet theater, in which puppeteers manipulate dolls accompanied by joururi, a traditional narrative ballad played with shamisen, a three stringed instrument. Awaji Puppet Theater is a tradition that has been passed down over the years on Awaji-shima Island, Hyogo Prefecture.
According to historical records, Awaji is where Japanese puppet theater originated and this area is said to have produced many puppeteers who traveled to other parts of Japan practicing the craft.
Awaji Puppet Theater is characterized by the use of large puppets performing compelling period dramas with exaggerated movements. This is a vestige from the days when the performances took place in small huts called nogake which lacked adequate lighting.
Awaji Puppet Theater flourished during Edo period. However, today there remains only two puppet theater groups; Awaji Ningyo-za which plays at the Great Naruto Memorial Museum and Ichimura Rokunojyou-za which performs and is preserved at Awaji Ningyou Jyoururi Shiryoukan.
Ukiyoe are woodblock prints depicting aspects of life in the Edo period. 'Ukiyo' means the present world and ukiyoe are pictures that take as their subject daily life, scenery and people during that period.
Lives of the common people were first depicted in Kyoto during the Azuchi-momoyama period. After that, ukiyoe spread and became popular among many people in the Edo period.
In the beginning, depictions of people were only painted by hand or printed in a few light colours. But with advances in printing techniques and the improvement in quality of paper, colorful prints called nishikie, were also made and became popular.
The subject matter of ukiyoe varies from figures, such as beautiful ladies, actors and samurai, to famous views and humorous stories.
Although the artistic level of ukiyoe is very high, they were only printed to be used as fliers or posters. In the Meiji period, they were even used as a wrapping paper for export pottery. Many foreign artists were influenced by the prints that they saw this way.
Ukiyoe is famous all over the world and attracts many people.
The hagoita originated in China and was brought over to Japan during the Muromachi period. At first, it was only used as a toy, or as equipment to play hanetsuki (a badminton-like game), but it gradually became an article to drive away evil spirits, and later became a charm given to women on oshogatsu (new year's day).
During the Edo period, hagoita decorated with pictures of Kabuki actors were very popular. Today, the hagoita has been designated as a traditional Tokyo handicraft.
Since the Edo period, a famous fair called Hagoitaichi takes place at Asakusa Temple over three days from December 17th. Many visitors come each year. The decorated hagoita sold at this event are famous for being made in Kasukabe, or Iwatsuki-ku in Saitama Prefecture.
Additionally, at the Hagoitaichi, hagoita with pictures of the people who received the most attention during the year, are notable and are often taken up by the media.
Kurokawa Noh drama is a traditional form of folk theater that is performed in Tsuruoka district (or in the Kushibiki Ooaza Kurokawa area), Yamagata Prefecture. It is designated as an important intangible cultural asset.
This Noh drama has been performed for 500 years as a dedication to Kasuga Shrine, the tutelary shrine of Kurokawa. The main difference between this Noh drama and other forms of Noh is that it was not a sophisticated drama performed for people of the samurai class.
In fact, Kurokawa Noh was traditionally a drama form beloved and enacted by farmers. There are further differences to other Noh, such as the separation of seats. At present, Kurokawa Noh is performed by about 160 actors, and has 230 masks, 400 typical Noh costumes, as well as 540 repertoires and Kyogen numbers.
Undoubtedly, Kurokawa Noh is a traditional folk performance on a huge scale. Annually, it is performed 6 times at the shrine and over 10 times outside, in response to demand.