My Saturday began with a trip to Yamaguchi’s Prefectural art museum. I am a bit ashamed to say this is the first time I have gone, mainly because it has a pretty high caliber collection of local art and touring exhibits. I went to hear Tarō speak about a collection of Mōri family masks and costumes from noh and kyōgen which are typically kept at Noda Shrine. As I learned, the collection, which was basically all about 300+ years old was some of the remaining pieces that hadn’t been auctioned off during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) when the clan system was dissolved and the Mōri clan started selling off their collections. Tarō’s talk was basic in nature, and introduced the crowd to the differences between noh and kyōgen masks and explained the intricacies of noh/kyōgen costumes and props. Afterwards, I got to meet the curator of exhibit and learned that many of the Sagi actors in Yamaguchi were born in Yamaguchi, mainly in the seat of the Mōri clans power, Hagi- I need to look into this.
I also got a question answered which I asked some time ago regarding why Sagi kyōgen was popular in Yamaguchi, despite the Mōri clan’s longstanding grudge against the Tokugawa government. According to the exhibit, the 2nd generation Mōri daimyo befriended Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd Tokugawa shogun and, as a result a large number of Kita and Hosho school noh families moved to Yamaguchi with the daimyo’s support. While this doesn’t speak directly to Sagi kyōgen, it illustrates that the Mōri clan wasn’t necessarily a long-suffering opponent of the Tokugawa clan. As Tarō said to me later in the day “It was the Japanese way at that time. Friends today, but tomorrow…?”
Anyways, turns out Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat will be making its way to Yamaguchi’s Prefectural Art museum- looking forward to seeing that in real life!
Later in the day I took my first Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen lesson. After some sound advice from a man much wiser than I, I decided to take advantage of Tarō’s time being freed up since his kyōgen classroom is on hiatus, and ask him to start teaching me Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen. Since the typical time in which this would occur, should a local wish to participate, is on Saturdays from 5pm-6pm before the main rehearsals, so it is for me.
I was pretty unsure of what to expect for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Tarō was aware I had taken kyōgen lessons with both the Shigeyama family in Kyoto and with the Izumi school’s Ogasawara Tadashi in Tokyo. I performed as the master in the play Shibiri as part of the summer Traditional Theater Training program offered by the Kyoto art center in 2011. This program lets people study for 3 weeks with either professional Kanze noh actors, Ōkura kyōgen actors (Shigeyama family), and nihonbuyo dance teachers and perform on the Kanze Kaikan noh stage in Kyoto. It’s really an amazing thing- Yes, I am plugging it and yes, you can still sign up for this summer! I spent almost a year learning Izumi style komai (short kyōgen song and dance pieces) from Ogasawara sensei in 2014-15 and he was the one who introduced me to Sagi kyōgen in Yamaguchi and Sadogashima.
Secondly, I was also unsure of how I would be taught, since: A) the kyōgen language is not something I can just read off the page- it is in old Japanese and I have enough trouble with contemporary Japanese! and: B) we had not discussed what we would be working on.
True to the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen way I heard about, though not yet seen, we wasted no time sitting and reading and got right to it. The rehearsal started off with Tarō showing me the basic introduction nanori, or name announcing, which is the same in a number of plays, along with some basic movement (kata) when entering, walking and turning. He spoke the text aloud, asked me to repeat it, and corrected my pronunciation when necessary. As I am not an actor, per se, I was of course given the obligatory note “speak from your diaphragm.”
Comparatively speaking, all three kyōgen stances require one to bend the knees slightly, bring the chest forward and pull the head back. While the Shigeyama style required me to bend my legs a lot (mainly because I am tall), the Izumi school required almost no bending at all. The Yamaguchi Sagi style sits somewhere in the middle, with my legs being slightly bent. I’m not 100 percent sure at this point, but I also think the Shigeyama style also may require a kind of forward leaning that is more pronounced than the other two, but admittedly, I didn’t pay as much attention to this in my first Yamaguchi Sagi rehearsal, so I will have to keep an eye out about that in the future.
Some other differences included the way you point the fan as the master when you call for Tarō Kaja (the Yamaguchi Sagi people have a unique way of doing this) and, when doing the michiyuki (walking pattern) which designates traveling over a distance, the Yamaguchi Sagi style has one walk in a triangular pattern between the the USR shite pillar (same place as the nanori), the DSR sumi-bashira, the DSL waki-bashira and then back to the shite pillar, whereas the Shigeyama version is more of a circle. I am not completely sure, but I seem to remember the Izumi michiyuki pattern was also a triangle.
After the basics, Tarō asked me, so “what play do you want to do?” I was afraid he was going to ask me that- and believe me, I can only assume my reaction was the same as what a new doctor might have if he walked into a hospital on the first day and the staff said “so what operation do you want to do first?” Terrifying. Since Tarō knew I had done Shibiri, we decided to do that one, but this time I had to be Tarō Kaja. The play is only about 10 minutes long, which is good, since I would prefer to be able to take small bites first. Since we had no script, and I knew even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time to properly translate the script AND practice this week, I started my tape recorder. The lesson consisted of Tarō playing both parts and me repeating the part of Tarō Kaja, since that is who I was supposed to be playing.
As with any art, its the seemingly easiest things that are the most unbelievably complex. I found myself tripping over my own feet trying to do the basic walking I needed to do and repeatedly caught my body relaxing into a position which was incorrect. We spent a good 5 minutes on me trying to say the phrase “aita, aita aita aita” which basically means “ow, ow ow ow!” Listening to the recording of me doing it, I can hear what I am doing wrong, but I still don’t think I quite understand how to say it right. In revisiting the lesson I also heard myself repeatedly speaking in the patterns of the Shigeyama style of kyōgen and though, at the time, I thought I was repeating what Tarō was saying, I was, in fact, not saying it correctly at all. Boy, I hope Tarō doesn’t regret saying yes to me!
At 6pm the main group arrived and rehearsal began. It was a busy day for the middle school girl, who was required to not only practice her “hooting” as the owl-afflicted brother in the play Fukuro, but also the role of Tarō Kaja in Miyagi Daimyo because the woman playing that role was absent. As I know the reading of the scripts are difficult for everyone, I was surprised to see that although this girl had played the role of the master in this play when she performed it, she still knew all of Tarō Kaja’s lines anyways. I am going to try and take a lesson from her and attempt to remember all the lines of Shibiri, not only my own.
The last rehearsal of the day was Busu. Thanks to Tarō’s lecture at the museum earlier, I learned a little something interesting about one of the performers- the one with the incredible voice. I noticed his practice fan was not like the others, it was gold with green horizontal stripes. Since Tarō had identified this type of fan as one used by the Kanze noh school (of which Tarō studied with at the Tokyo Arts University) I knew immediately this actor must also have experience with Kanze noh- which would explain his crazy strong voice. I’m not saying that noh actors have a “stronger” voice than kyōgen actors or that Kanze noh is known for its strength of voice over other noh schools- just that the fan made it clear this actor has had prior training outside of his work as a Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actor. I’ll be interested to hear more about his experiences when I start interviewing in a few weeks.