Updated: May 23, 2017
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Nō: You Will See The Deep World Of Japanese Art Through It

Nō is a Japanese style of theater that seems to be addictive to foreigners as well. It started in 1300`s and is still played in Japan.

Japanese traditional theater - Nō

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Have you ever heard of the traditional Japanese theatre style called Nō?
If you are planning a visit to Japan, and have an interest in traditional culture, Nō theater is something you will not want to miss! If you are visiting Tokyo, The National Nō Theater in Shibuya gives performances several times a week.

Nō (能) is a very distinctive style of theater, which originated in the 1300's but is still regularly performed to this day, making it the oldest living theatrical style in the world.
It is well-loved in Japan, and is even shown on TV, but it may seem strange to foreigners who haven't encountered it before, since there is nothing quite like it!
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Elaborate costumes, traditional masks, and a strongly stylized method of acting, which is really a kind of highly-disciplined dance form, combine to create an intense experience. Some people suggest that this form of theater might resemble the classical Greek style, because Nō performance is also accompanied by a chorus, and conveys the story through symbolism and verse, with only a minimal use of set design and props.

There is no curtain in a Nō theater, and the play begins when the actors take the stage. The actors in a Nō play chant and sing their lines in a style very different to any other art form, accompanied by music that punctuates important events in the story.

Unlike more common types of musical theatre, the music in Nō does not take the form of songs so much as it plays a role in the storytelling – for this reason, it is often said that the silent parts form the heart of Nō music! The entire performance is governed by strict aesthetic rules, with a language in movement and form that is almost like a ritual.

The actors train hard to become extremely skillful, learning how to chant and sing the lines expressively, to make symbolic gestures to carry the meanings and tell the story, and to use their masks to convey emotion and feelings even more deeply than can be achieved by their faces.

It is a difficult art form to master, and Nō actors begin their training as very, very young children. In the past, Nō actors came from families who were devoted to the art, and were always male, but these days others, including some women, can train to act in the Nō style.

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Typically, a Nō play centers around a main character (called the shi-te, 仕手) and his nemesis or counterpart (called the waki 脇).
The shi-te and waki may also have companions, depending on the story, and there may be one to three stage hands (who dress in black and do not play specific roles as part of the story) who help these main characters to express the action in the play.

In general, only the main character wears a mask.
The chorus is made up of six to eight people who do not act on stage, but who rather provide a narration, commentary or counter-point to the action or the protaganist's thoughts and state-of-mind.

The “orchestra” also provides support off the main stage, and is made up of only four people – three drummers, and a flute. The main part of the Nō stage itself is quite small, and square, measuring 5.4 meters on each side.

The stage always has its own roof, even when the theater is indoors – this is partly because in the past, Nō was performed outside, but also because it is felt that, even in indoor theaters, the stage roof creates a space apart, consecrated to the action of the plays.
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A great deal of what makes Nō exciting to watch is being able to enjoy how deeply the actors can make the audience feel the plays within the strict constraints of the theatrical form.

Far from limiting the range of expression, the Nō style creates a magical tension that gives the experience a very other-worldly quality.

Perhaps because of this, many Nō plays feature a mystical or mysterious element, centered around supernatural themes, and populated by characters who may actually be, or be influenced by, ghosts, gods, demons, or animals.

With thoughtful and moving other-worldly themes, plus comic interludes, the Nō performance goes far beyond mere entertainment, creating a weird and wonderful experience wholly different from anything else.

A word of warning, however – once you get a taste for Nō, you will be addicted!
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