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.
Noh performance pertaining to the Date clan has been handed down in Toyoma Town in Miyagi Prefecture for 230 years.
During the Edo period, Noh was considered to be important as Shikigaku (music and dances performed at official occasions) of the warrior class. In the Sendai domain, Noh of the Konparu Okura school was given generous protection and encouragement by the successive domain lords.
In the territory of the Toyoma-Date family, who followed the formalities of the Date clan, Noh was also extensively practiced and handed down by the warrior class.
After the abolition of clans in the Meiji period (1868-1912), the warriors who handed down Noh plays became farmers, which resulted in Noh becoming widespread among townspeople. While many Nohgaku in the territory of the old Sendai domain died out, Noh was inherited in Toyoma Town as Toyoma-Noh. As a precious cultural heritage that hands down traditional Noh and Kyogen to the modern age, it was designated as a folk cultural property by the prefecture.
Toyoma-Noh is presented to the public as Takigi-Noh (traditional plays put on outdoors with light supplied by bonfires) twice a year, in Shinryoku Takigi-Noh in June and on the eve of Toyoma Autumn Festival in September. Elegant plays performed by the light of burning torches transport spectators somewhere ethereal.
The annual grand festival is held at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, in September every year. Osaki Hachimangu is a historic shrine founded in 1607 by Date Masamune as the highest guardian god of the Sendai domain, which boasted the revenue of 620,000 koku of rice.
The gorgeous Shaden (shrine building) architecture represents the reins of power held by the clan. As the oldest structure ever built in the Toshogu style known as Gongen-zukuri, which brings the culture of the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598) to the present day, the shrine pavilion was designated as a National Treasure in 1952.
At the annual festival, the valiant Yabusame (horseback archery) ritual, which has been handed down since the Edo period (1603-1868), and the Noh Kagura, a designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property, are dedicated to the deities.
The Shinko (God’s Travel) Festival held during the grand festival period was revived in 1984. The magnificent procession of the black lacquered large mikoshi (portable shrine), which is said to have been dedicated by Date Masamune, goes through the city, attended by about 500 worshippers in white costumes. The procession route is crowded with spectators who want to see this grand parade.
Chujo is one of the Male masks used to portray a male character. The Chujo mask is often used for a respectable noble man. It is said that the mask was modeled after Ariwara no Narihira, a famous Heian poet whose court rank was middle captain of the Inner Guard, chujo, hence the name of the mask.
While it has sharp facial features with slightly slanted eyes, its feminine and thin mouth, the high painted eyebrows and painted black teeth, which were typical of a court nobleman of that period, give a gentle impression. The two deep knots between the eyebrows create a melancholy countenance.
The Chujo mask is generally used to represent a spirit of the Heike prince or an aristocrat in such plays as “Kiyotsune,” “Michimori,” “Tadanori,” “Unrinin,” and “Tooru.”
Juroku is used to portray a male character such as a young warrior or a prince of the Heike clan. This mask is said to represent Taira no Atsumori (1169-1184), a nephew of Taira no Kiyomori. The name of the mask “Juroku (‘sixteen’ in Japanese)” is said to be derived from the fact that Taira no Atsumori died at the age of 16, when he was defeated by Kumagai Naozane in the Battle of Ichinotani, which is referred to in the Tale of the Heike.
The mask’s decent countenance with cute dimples and bright eyes fully expresses susceptibility of the youth. While the Doji mask is called the mask of the Full Moon, this Juroku mask is called the Mask of the 16th Moon. It is used for the plays such as “Atsumori,” “Tomonaga,” and “Tsunemasa.”
As the word “manbi” literally means “ten thousand coquetries,” the Manbi mask expresses coquetry of a young woman. This mask creates different impressions according to light and shade. When seen from the front, its long-slitted eyes and small projecting under jaw give an impression of a beautiful woman. But when it is tilted upward, it looks smiling prettily. And downward, it looks like a woman smiling fearlessly.
In the play “Momijigari,” the Manbi mask is used for a beautiful woman, who is actually the demon taking on the form of a woman. In the plot, Taira no Koremochi joins the feast held by young women in the mountain. Drunk by sake and the woman’s dance, Koremochi fell asleep. In his dream, he receives a message from the deity and slew the demon. The Manbi mask is also used for a demon taking on the form of a beautiful young woman in such plays as “Yuya” and “Sessho-seki.” The Manbi mask has a mysterious charm with both coquetry of an adult woman and prettiness of an innocent girl.
It is said that the Tenjin mask represents the furious countenance of Sugawara no Michizane, before he was deified. It is used for various heavenly gods including Michizane.
In the play “Raiden,” Michizane lost his position as Minister of the Right and was banished to Kyushu on account of an intrigue by a jealous Minister of the Left. Dying in rage, he transforms himself to Raijin, the god of lightening and thunder, and brings calamities to the court and capital, but was defeated by the Priest Hossho-bo from Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei. As the emperor decided to deify him as Tenjin, the god of study, Michizane’s spirit is finally appeased.
The reddish coloring, the hair around the lips, the eyebrows, and the gold metal eyes give the mask an air of heightened emotions and movement. However, the mask's unassuming nose, thin lips, and open mouth exposing upper and lower teeth are simple and human-like.
The mask is also used to portray Idaten, who is a swift-footed deity, in the play “Shari,” and Amatsu Futodama, a deity who defeats the devil by using the golden tablet and the bow and arrow, in the play “Kinsatsu.”
The Ko-jishi mask is a kind of fierce deity masks representing a young lion, which is an imaginary holy creature and is often treated as an elfin-like being. The lion masks originate in Lion Dance in Dengaku and Sarugaku, which were introduced from China in the ancient times. The Ko-jishi mask is gold in color and has the up-slanting eyes with the eyeball looking upwards, which express an alert and agile young lion taking aim at his prey. Compared with the O-jishi mask, which is used as a parent of Ko-jishi, this mask is full of youthful vigor. The Shikami mask is sometimes used in stead of Ko-jishi, for it also looks like a young lion clenching its teeth.