Shigeyama Hangata kyōgen

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This past Saturday before rehearsal I went to Munakata’s Yurix Performing Arts Center (I don’t know what a Yurix is…) to see the young kyōgen stars (sort of) of the Ōkura school’s Shigeyama family perform one traditional and four shinsaku (new) kyōgen. The event was illuminating, but curious, to say the least, as what the group performed really got me thinking about how amorphous kyōgen really is.

First there is the traditional side. I have already spoke about the idea that within every school (Ōkura, Izumi and Sagi) there are families (such as the Shigeyama’s, Nomura’s, etc) and within those families are different ways of performing. While the uniqueness of an actor is nothing new in the western world, because kyōgen is a traditional performing art, there is the expectation that what is being done is a preserved version of what once was. In the rules for being an intangible asset it says that it is expected of a recipient (person or place) that they will continue to maintain, with little deviation from, the style of the art that has been passed down through their respective generations. Typically, the weight of carrying on the family traditions resides primarily with the first born son of the main line. In the Shigeyama family, this is Sengorō XIV’s job today.

Then there is the innovation side. The Shigeyamas are kyōgen’s bad boys and are known collectively as “Ōtofu kyōgen.” In an interview with Sennojō Shigeyama the Japan foundation did, Sennojō explained that when his grandfather was performing, because his style was so “bland,” critics started calling Shigeyama kyōgen tofu kyōgen. However, this label was quickly embraced as a compliment by the family, and Sennojō suggests that because tofu goes with anything and everyone can enjoy it, being tofu is a good thing. I think this label enabled them to let their creative impulses fly in a way that may seem contrary to traditionalists. Sennojō, after all, was one of the first kyōgen actors whose inter-arts collaborations did not rock the foundations of the traditional performing arts world.

But Sennojō is not a first son, he is a second. The second, third and so on, born sons have more freedom to experiment because they typically aren’t saddled with the burden of exacting transmission. So, for example, since Sennojō was the second son of Sengoro XI, this is probably the reason why he had more freedom to pursue those non-traditional projects. Today. Sennojō’s son Akira and his son, Dōji, also enjoy such freedoms and have been long active in inter-cultural performances in Japan and abroad.

At Saturday’s performance, this push and pull between tradition and artistic innovation slapped me in the face. First and foremost is that while four of the five members of the production are not the main-line’s actors, Sengorō XIV is- in fact he the family namesake (as of 2016, which would explain his inclusion in this event, I think)!  So what is the deal with him acting in these non-traditional kyōgen? More importantly, why are these plays being presented falling under the umbrella of kyōgen?

Watching the first play, the traditional Kaki Yamabushi, I could see how the Shigeyamas live up to their name while doing what most would call “kyōgen.” Compared to the Nomura kyōgen I had seen recently and the Sagi kyōgen I watch all the time, this was like kyōgen on speed. The gestures were bigger, the laughter more booming, the zaniness way more pronounced. Sengorō played the role of the offending yamabushi and watching him ravenously devour those persimmons spoke to the boldness of Shigeyama kyōgen. I found myself wondering if the Ōkura school’s 13th iemoto, Toraaki, who, if you remember criticized the Sagi kyōgen of the time for being “hectic” and “saying nonsense,” was spinning in his grave.

I then watched the group perform a collection of some truly odd plays. Form-wise, some could be considered kyōgen, while more extreme others were perhaps “inspired” by kyōgen and might better be considered experimental theatre. There was an air of modernity that all of the shinsaku kyōgen breathed, as they employed modern pop music, disco balls, sporadic contemporary dialogue, and other performing art forms. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk made not one, but two appearances!

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Tanuki Yamabushi. A nonchalant tanuki (Sengorō) could care less about a loud mouthed yamabushi (Dōji) and his companion (Shigeru).

At first, I grumbled “well, this isn’t kyōgen.” But then I thought, wait a minute, am I falling into the trap that all those traditionalists have set for me?  I am in Yamaguchi to prove why traditional thinking has limited our understanding of kyōgen to the professional families and I am simultaneously lamenting innovation when I see it? What a hypocrite!

OK, this is kyōgen. So then is what I saw Shigeyama kyōgen because it employs Shigeyama style? Or is it Shigeyama kyōgen because it was performed by Shigeyama family actors? At what point does what a kyōgen performer does cease to be “kyōgen”?

Perhaps more important (to me, anyways) is at what point does kyōgen cease to be “Fill-in-the-blank-of-a-family” style kyōgen? The answer to this question has TONS of ramifications. Of course the family name is the obvious answer, but if the style a family chooses to employ is utterly fluid, then there is no so such thing as a style, per say. Does this make any attempt to describe its features moot? On the other hand, if it’s style is definable, then shouldn’t the family simply be the (albeit very talented) artistic vessels for which the form is being communicated through, implying anybody can do “Fill-in-the-blank-of-a-family” style kyōgen?

All of this makes my brain hurt- but it makes my heart happy. Art is pretty cool. Shigeyama family: shine on you crazy diamonds!

Weekly Rehearsal, February 18

This week’s rehearsal was quite comprehensive and included the rehearsal of three plays. It was a great opportunity to learn more about how the senior members rehearse versus how the younger members approach a play for the first time.

The rehearsal started with Bunmei and Tsuchimura, practicing the play called Fukurō. I have never seen this play before, but it is a yamabushi (mountain priest) play where an older brother, fearing his younger brother’s strange behavior of late is due to possession, enlists a yamabushi to recite healing prayers. Soon after the yamabushi begins, the younger brother begins hooting and jumping around, and the older brother says that because his brother was in the mountains recently, it must have been owls that have possessed him. The yamabushi sets to work only to be caught up in the same behavior as the younger brother and before long everyone is hooting and jumping up and down.

Bunmei and Tsuchimura didn’t really practice the speaking parts, but rather focused on the incantations Tsuchimura, as the yamabushi, is required to do. In kyōgen these incantations are basically noh-style chants. Since the group has been influenced by various noh schools, I am not sure which, if any, noh school’s style they are mimicking at this point. However, there is certainly a “way” in which it needed to be done as Tsuchimura was assisted by Professor Inada who, as always, seems to be the expert on the rhythm and pronunciation of the text.

After the two senior members practiced, the group returned to rehearsing Miyagi Daimyo. I learned from Tarō on Sunday that all three actors in this group had never performed this play before. However, they have each had between five and ten years experience as Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen Preservation Society members, so they have, no doubt, seen it many times. This is an interesting thing when thinking about how the rehearsal process occurs. As I have mentioned before, unlike a pro rehearsal (or pro rehearsal with amateur students) in which the master recites and the student repeats, the Sagi actors just jump in. While I was, at first, confused by the Yamaguchi Sagi method because it seemed counter-productive due to the limited rehearsal time that exists, I can see now that the argument can be made that each of these actors have been absorbing the plays for at least five years.

In other words, observation on the way to do it is still occurring, it’s just that it is a slow, slow boil. In the professional world a similar boil occurs with the actors training from the time they are 2 or three years old and, while they perform sporadically as children, they don’t become regular actors until they are in their late teens, early twenties. Even then, as I have mentioned, some plays are off-limits to them because they have not mastered the skills necessary to perform them. However, this process, while it gives the learning pros lots of time to observe, it also gives them a lot of time to practice.

But in Sagi kyōgen, since most people come to the art later in life and, since rehearsal time is very limited, performing a play is a little more trial by fire.  Because of this, I am starting to think the observation process is the most crucial element in unpacking exactly what Sagi kyōgen is.  Most interesting for me is this process highlights that Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen is a collective effort. Unlike the child pros-to-be, who typically strive to emulate a single master (usually a boy’s grandfather), an adult Sagi kyōgen actor watches and learns from everyone in the room. A Sagi kyōgen performance is thus a culmination of that collaborative effort.

Yes, Bumnei as the senior member, Tarō as a very experienced actor, and Professor Inada as the group’s historian continue to provide context and guidance. but it seems to be less about copying and more about discovering. By this, I mean discovering an essence of what Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen is not something that begins with a single member, but rather by a group. Again, yes this a journey that the pros go on as well, but they have a defined leader.

If I can get artsy for a second. It is commonly thought that while Japanese traditional arts are a facsimile of what was performed in olden days, the fact that every artist is different means the art does evolve. Scholarship has focused on what are the constants in arts like kyōgen, but if an art form is a living breathing thing, how do we engage in questions of artistic ability and meaning? I imagine it is safe to say that it can’t be limited to an actor’s ability to embody a standard, but rather what the actor does with that standard. However, I do think in the pro world there is a tendency to put more weight on how the actors embody what their art should be and what it could be is less discussed. What really makes me excited about Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen is that in its preservation process, the question of standard seems to take a back seat to potential.

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Zeami, what a looker.

Each actor is pure potential and how they interpret the combination of performances they have watched into a performance of their own is what makes Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen, Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen. Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen isn’t necessarily a form, it’s an idea inspired by a form. In a way, its very practice is the embodiment of that word in Japanese aesthetics which noh master Zeami prized so highly: yūgen. This word literally means “mysterious,’ but it is applied to something which captures a subtle, profound, allusion to something  intangible. Zeami used it to describe a good noh actor’s ability to capture existential conflicts and life’s beauty. I think, Zeami’s description highlights yūgen’s other world, an electric potential for what could be- this is what I am seeing in Yamaguchi. I wonder, what might be gained if we thought of the pro art forms as perspectives rather than embodiment? If we paid less attention to form and instead focused on function?

OK, enough of my musing, back to the rehearsal. The rehearsal ended with Tarō, Bunmei and Tsuchimura practicing Sakka, this time Sakka being played by Tsuchimura, the master being played by Bunmei, and Tarō Kaja being played by Tarõ. Needless to say, the performance was very different than when Sakka was played by Tsuchimura. I am not sure why the group is practicing this play as I don’t think they are doing it in November, but I definitely want to keep seeing it to better understand each actors’ unique interpretations.

Weekly Rehearsal, February 11

It was a cold, cold day yesterday when the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actors gathered for their weekly rehearsal. Attendance was a little low, I’m guessing because of the holiday.

February 11 is National Foundation Day, the date that marks the ascension of Japan’s first Emperor, Jimmu, to the throne and Japan’s official formation as a country in 660BCE. Jimmu himself is a legendary figure, supposedly the grandson of Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess who brought the world into being.

The story of Amaterasu is recorded in the Kojiki, which was written around 712 ACE, and contains Japan’s oldest records. Amaterasu’s legend is a pretty important when talking about Japan’s traditional performing arts, particularly kagura and noh. Although all of it is interesting, the relevant part of legend begins when Amaterasu’s tempestuous rival and brother, Susano-O, dropped a flayed horse (Amaterusu’s favorite animal) on her sewing circle causing death-by-shock to of one of Amaterasu’s favorite ladies in waiting. Amaterasu, so upset, fled to a cave, Ama-no-iwato, and cloistered herself inside, blocking the entrance with a huge boulder, causing darkness to fall across the land.

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The gods gathered outside the cave and tried to figure out how to get Amaterasu out and bring the sun back. The goddess of revelry, Ama no Uzume had an idea. She placed a mirror on a nearby tree, turned over a wooden washtub, and proceeded to strip off her robes, stomp her feet, and do a suggestive dance. This sight was so comical that the gods began laughing, causing Amaterasu to wonder what was going on and peek out. Catching the sight of her glorious reflection in the nearby mirror, Amaterasu came out of the cave just far enough for the god, Ame no Tajikara-O, to yank Amaterasu out and seal the cave behind her. Amaterasu joined the merriment, effectively assuaging her anger and bringing light to the world.

 Uzume’s dance is supposedly the inspiration for the creation of kagura, which is Japan’s oldest performing art. Additionally, the stamping Uzume did is supposedly the reason why the stamping in noh dance exists. This is my own personal opinion, but as a researcher of kyōgen, I also like to take stock in the fact that the world was illuminated thanks to comedy.

Anyways, the rehearsal began with Tarō and Tsuchimura practicing Kaki Yamabushi. I’m not sure, but I would guess they are going to be doing an appreciation performance at a local public school in the coming weeks, so they need the practice. This rehearsal was quick and perfunctory, as both have performed this show so many times, they can do it in their sleep.

Next, the younger actors (both age-wise and experience-wise) did a first read of the play Hone kawa. This is a pretty funny play in which a priest, trying to teach his acolyte how to be shrewd in the face of public requests, winds up causing some serious havoc thanks to the acolyte’s literal applications of the priest’s directions. While these actors were given a script last week, they were given a new one this week, which indicates that the group decided to use a different version of the play. The Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen preservation society retains several actor’s diaries (including, of course, their founder, Shōsaku Shunnichi’s) and these diaries have slightly different versions of the plays. I am interested to learn whose version is being done and why they chose it.

Bumei was not present, so Tarō and Tsuchimura read the parts of the priest and the acolyte while the three others performed the roles of the visitors who come requesting things. I don’t know if Tarō and Tsuchimura will be playing these roles in the actual production or not.

As this was the newbies introduction to the play, it was interesting to see how they approached it. For the most part, the reading consisted of Tarō and Professor Inada making clear how to read the old Japanese. Old Japanese is not like old English. While a contemporary English speaker may need to do a bit of leg work to understand the content, they can at least read the words on the page. Old Japanese on the other hand, is not only hard to understand, it is also, in many cases, impossible to read unless you know how. There is also a trend now where fewer and fewer young people are able to read kanji (the Chinese characters used in Japanese language) that isn’t used on a daily basis. While this may be a pleasant conundrum for a language studies researcher to sink his or her teeth into, for everyone else, it is one more reason why Japanese research (in Japan and outside Japan) is so complicated.

It was clear Professor Inada was the expert here, often helping Tarō. Those watching also had copies and were furiously scribbling down notes on how to read the play and how to pronounce the lines. As I watched this, I began to wonder why Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen has been transmitted this way, as opposed to the way the pros do it. The pros typically teach a play by the master reciting the play and the student attempting to mimic him. Such a process is arguably how the style remains consistent, since the student is taught to copy the master. Of course, every student, as he ages and becomes a master himself, adds his own spin on things, and presumably this spin is how the art form evolves. But the Sagi kyōgen actors in Yamaguchi have, since Shōsaku, learned by throwing themselves directly into the play rather than following a system where copying the master is the heart of learning. I am curious to find out what is gained and what is lost by this change in transmission technique.

Finally, the three actors performing Busu practiced. This was interesting because, while in the week prior, they sat in front of Bunmei who gave them notes as they read, the group sat in a triangle and simply practiced it. Tarō occasionally gave notes from the sideline, but for the most part, the actors were on their own. After awhile, I stopped watching the actors and instead watched  Professor Inada, whose actions are always telling. While he is not an actor, he always sits in rehearsals, silently bobbing his head with his eyes closed, marking the correct rhythm of speech. You can tell when the actors are not capturing the “correct” way to do it, because Professor Inada suddenly stops and waits for the train to get back on the track.

In the case of this practice, it was clear the train was rarely on the track. This is not a criticism of the actors, my guess is they just don’t have the experience with the play. But, certainly related to my interest in the means of transmission, I am very interested to see how practice evolves over the coming year and how Tarō and Bunmei guide them. I think this process will reveal a lot, not just about how the unique transmission process captures the spirit of Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen, but also what is most important to this group in regards to the overall experience.

Mansaku-Mansai kyōgen in Nagato 

This past Sunday, February 5, I headed over to Nagato to see Nomura Mansaku and his son, Nomura Mansai, perform at the Nagato Regional Cultural Facility (ルネッサながと). The program consisted of three plays that showcased the variety of kyōgen’s plays as well as the diversity within the Nomura style itself.

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Mansaku is arguably one of the most famous kyōgen actors alive today. Not only is his Mansaku-kai the go-to group when talking about Izumi School kyōgen, Mansaku himself has been bringing kyōgen to international stages since 1957. Mansaku, along with the Ōkura school’s Shigeyama Sennojō (who died in 2010), was a major reason why kyōgen came to be respected as its own art form in the post World-War II period. Both of these actors also challenged conventions by performing in collaborative projects with non-kyōgen actors (which, if you recall from my previous posts, is one of the “reasons” for Sagi kyōgen’s professional demise in the Meiji period). Mansaku’s son, Mansai, is one of kyōgen’s young bucks (though Mansai is now 50), who is following in his father’s footsteps, both as a kyōgen actor and as an innovator of kyōgen.

Since the Nagato Center has a proscenium style theatre, the noh/kyōgen stage had to be suggested (as the Sagi actors do in Yamaguchi when not performing at Noda Shrine’s stage) with well placed poles indicating the hashigakari (bridgeway), shite, waki and metsuke (sumi) pillars. The stage did have a built in kirido, or sliding stage door where the kōken stage assistants (and musicians) enter. Unlike the Sagi shows, however, the stage setting also included the three pine trees which mark areas of the hashigakari.

The play began with the obligatory introduction speech by the third star of the event, Ishida Yukio, who has been a student of Mansaku’s since he was in middle school and is now, along with Mansaku, a designated Intangible cultural asset. Mr. Ishida began by asking how many people in the audience had seen kyōgen before and seemed genuinely shocked to see almost everyone in the audience raise their hands. Regardless of the general knowledge, Mr. Ishida proceeded to talk about the plays being performed, about kyōgen conventions the plays would address, and about the stage itself.

Interestingly, the plays presented offered three very different versions of Mansaku kyōgen, I thought.

The first was a play called Irumagawa. In this play a daimyo runs into a local while attempting to cross a river. The local explains the river is too deep and the daimyo shouldn’t try to cross it. The daimyo tries anyways and when he fails, he angrily explains to the local that because he knows the Iruma dialect has a peculiarity which makes anything said have an opposite meaning, he thought he was being told the river wasn’t deep. The local explains that because the daimyo was not from around there, he was speaking to him in a regular dialect, hence the misunderstanding. This leads to the daimyo to play a game where he asks the local to speak to him in the Iruma dialect, gives the local all of his possessions (including the shirt off his back), and squeals with delight when the local says “I humbly thank you…for nothing!” The play ends with the daimyo using some reverse logic and stealing his possessions back from the local who chases angrily after him.

Mansai played the role of the daimyo and I was immediately struck by how much his style of kyōgen resembled a noh performance. Mansai spoke in a deep, booming and throaty voice that followed a strict rhythmic pattern. The pattern was, of course, specific, to the Mansaku way of doing kyōgen. However, it was the vibration of his voice that really reminded me of a noh. The actors playing Tarō Kaja and the local mimicked this vibration to a degree, but because Mansai’s character was the imposing one, the other two has a less pronounced resonance in their speaking.

The second performance was Kamabara. In this play Tarō Kaja, upset by the quarreling of his master and his master’s wife, tells them he can no longer take it and is going to commit seppuku (ritual disemboweling) with the sickle he uses to harvest. To Tarō Kaja’s surprise, this backfires, and the two go off expecting Tarō Kaja to do it. The remainder of the performance revolves around Tarō Kaja willing himself to do it, failing multiple times because of his own cowardice. In the end, gazing at the sickle, Tarō Kaja realizes it would be improper of him to kill himself without first doing his chores, and he postpones the suicide and goes off to work.

This play is probably best described as a virtuoso piece since the majority of it revolves around Tarō Kaja alone on stage. Mansaku played the role of Tarō Kaja. In terms of staging, this play was unique because, unlike the typical kyōgen, which starts with the main character (usually) going to the shite post and doing a nanori (name announcing), this play begins the minute the actors come onto the hashigakari. As for Mansaku’s performance, itself, it was interesting because Mansaku, while sort of adhering to similar vocal patterns as Mansai, deviated quite a bit from them. As the 85-year-old Mansaku is a kyōgen master with a lifetime of experience, it is evident why he would be able to do such a thing. Like a master pianist, he can play as would be expected to in his sleep, so his performance is all about how he interprets that knowledge. This creates a kind of dual narrative, which includes both the story itself as well as the story of Mansaku’s take on his art. I will say, however, that listening to Mansaku’s projection, it sounded as if he had smoked 1 million too many cigarettes. Since Mansai is his son, and speaks with that gravelly booming voice, I wonder if this is just the vocal fate of all Nomura style actors?

The last play was a crowd favorite, Roku Jizo. In this play a country man comes to the capital to enlist a famous sculptor to create six jizo statues (Buddhist stone sculptors) for his town. However since the man does not know what this sculptor looks like, he is quickly conned by a local ne’er do well who says he can do it in a single day (provided his assistants do the work). The shyster then enlists three bumbling accomplices to pose as these statues and decides that he will tell the country man that he has kept three in a separate place so the three can run to the next location and assume the role of the other statues. The next day the country man comes, comically remarks about the statue’s “lifelike” qualities and goes from one site to the next. However, the country man keeps wanting to make comparisons, requiring the crooks to run back and forth, causing hilarious mix-ups. Finally the country man bumps into the scheming quartet and realizes he has been duped and chases them off.

As Krusty the Clown says “It’s a great piece of buffoonery, if you pull it off” and these guys did. Ishida played the role of the shyster and his style seemed to be somewhere in-between Mansaku’s and Mansai’s. While the acting of the piece had traces of the noh-like style of Irumagawa, Ishida carried himself with a similar “lightness” to Mansaku. The result was a performance that started off like Irumagawa, but eventually transformed into Kamabara.

Overall, I think what I took away from this performance is how much diversity exists, even within a supposed “style” of kyōgen. The Nomuras, who are under the umbrella of the Izumi school of kyōgen, are known for their specific style of performance. Within that style there exists the individual styles of each of its members. While each actor conforms to certain stylistic elements, how they execute them is wholly unique. This really challenges the idea that a traditional performing art exists in a fixed state. If there is this much individuality between father and son, how much difference can we assume must exist between Edo era Nomura kyōgen and today’s kyōgen?

Rehearsal, February 4

This past Saturday was the first actual rehearsal of the year. I was anxious to see what plays were going to be chosen. As I mentioned, last week there was a lot of toying around with ideas, and because Bunmei arrived with the same scrap of paper that he’d been scribbling notes on the week prior, I wondered if there had been no decisions made. However, decisions were, in fact made, and I got to witness how the group begins rehearsal on a play.

Several of the group’s members were given photocopied scripts from the Record of Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen playbook and rehearsal began. The actors sat in front of Bunmei, facing him and they went about reading the script aloud. As the group went right into reading, I got the impression that they had experience with the plays they were working on already, but I’m not sure.

The reason why I think the actors must have experience with the plays is based on how the rehearsal functioned. A professional rehearsal is typically conducted with a master speaking the lines and the students repeating the master precisely, paying close attention to the musical qualities which define the speech. The Yamaguchi Sagi actors, however, read the scripts outright, with Bunmei giving occasional notes. This suggests to me they know the plays well enough that they understand how the lines must be spoken. Whether this means they have watched it enough times, or performed it, I am not sure. One of the actors did have a tape recorder, presumably so he could practice on his own.

The first play was Busu and Bunmei, along with Yamazaki-san and Masui-san, played the parts. Since the role of the master was played by Bunmei, and that isn’t a very big part, I am guessing that one of the actors who was absent on Saturday will actually be playing this role, and Bunmei was just filling in. The second group rehearsed Miyagi Daimyo, with Moriwaki-san (as the daimyo), Shinbo-san (Shinbo-kun’s mother, as Tarō Kaja), and Fukushima-san (as the lord) playing the roles.

It is interesting to note that in both of these plays, pairs of actors who worked together during the Fall 2016 performance, were again in plays together. Yamazaki and Masui were both in Fumi Ninai and Moriwaki and Fukushima were both in Inabado. I am wondering if the pairs are made simply because they work well together, as I have learned from Bunmei is a very VERY important consideration, or because of their levels of skill? I’ll have to ask about that.

In terms of the rest of the group, I saw that a few others had scripts, but not everyone, which makes me think they may have not decided what all the plays are going to be. Also, Bunmei, Tarō and Tsuchimura did not have scripts. Since they are the senior members, and I am sure they will be performing, perhaps they are still trying to decide what play to do.

Rehearsal, January 28

This past Saturday was the post-show rehearsal for the annual Yamaguchi Prefectural University performance. Along with costume maintenance, the group began the process of choosing the shows for the fall 2017 performance.

Like the post-show rehearsal for the fall 2016 performance, this rehearsal began with the group carefully pressing and folding the costumes they used for the show. After the show they were all carted away in a storage container until they could be properly stored in their spot at the Yamaguchi Transmission Center.

Before talking about the act of storage, I want to mention why preservation of costumes is so important. First is the costume’s rarity. It is especially difficult for any traditional theatre performance group because their costumes are usually of a style that is no longer manufactured, thus making the acquisition of new costumes difficult.

Second, and perhaps more important, is that if you can get a new costume, it is going to be unbelievably expensive. A good kimono, which is by comparison, is easier to acquire (most women in Japan own one for certain formal occasions), can easily set you back upwards of 5000 USD. This is because of the immense amount of craftsmanship it takes to make.

For example, in 2015 I met a woman who makes kimonos. I asked her how much it would cost to make a woman’s kimono. She said it started at about 2500 USD. As a nice dress could easily cost that, I said “that’s no so expensive.” She then explained that it did not include the other parts of the kimono, just the robe itself. In particular, the obi, which is the large swath of cloth wrapped around the waist that hides the garment’s excess cloth, started at around 7500 USD! In other words, the cheapest, simplest, woman’s kimono that this woman made started at 10,000 USD.

So, imagine the cost of creating a non-everyday piece of traditional clothing. In a 2007 interview, which was included as part of the program for a Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen performance in Kyoto, the group mentioned that aside from finding new members, new costumes continues to be an ongoing challenge.

Finally, as each piece of a traditional costume is unique, a noh or kyōgen group, of course, would want to preserve them. Along with masks and props, costumes serve as an historical artifact that identifies the history and pedigree of the group. While compared to the pros, Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen props, masks and costumes are nowhere near as old, they still retain a lot of meaning for the group.

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When returning the costumes to labelled paper packaging, the folding of each costume was done in a very specific way. As these costumes have been folded and unfolded a number of times, the creases where the fold should occur is evident in the fabric, but there is still a specific way one must reach that fold. Among the costumes being stored, the nagabakama, or trailing long pants typically worn by masters and daimyo characters, was the most complicated to fold.

First, the pants are placed on the floor, first with the back side upward. The pleats are then pressed down by hand to make the pants as flat as possible. The pants are then turned over, with the front-side upward, and again straightened to be as flat as possible. Using the existing creases from years of folding, the pants are then folded four times from the bottom until they reach the top of the pants where the ties and back piece of the pants are. The back is then folded over the folded pants, so the crest on the back piece is face up. Finally the long strings which are used to tie the pants onto a person are folded in half, and half again (with about 1/3 of the string remaining untied) and the left strings are folded over the right on top of the (now) folded rectangle of cloth in an x-shape. The remaining ties are then threaded through the x-shape creating a lattice effect of tied strings. It appears this does not have any purpose beyond properly folding the ties (it is not used to bind up the pants, for example).

The nagabakama are then placed on top of the corresponding folded kataginu (large shoulder pieces that create a triangle shape) and the costume set is placed in its marked paper wrapper. The pair I watched being folded did not fit into the paper, so they had to unfold the costume and do it all over again. Such an activity takes a LOT of patience.

After this was done, the group sat and watched as Bunmei perused the group’s play catalogue. At first I was not sure what was going on, but I soon realized that he was considering what plays the group was going to do for the fall 2017 production.

It seemed the process was quite democratic. Bunmei first consulted with senior members and Professor Inada as to what plays they thought might be appropriate, or what plays these members wanted to do. He then expanded his request to the group at large, asking if there were any plays that individual members were interested in doing. However, no one really offered their opinions (save for one, whose request was considered “too difficult”) and the decisions seemed to be made by Bunmei, Tsuchimura, Taro and Professor Inada.

Because the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen group is volunteer-based, it does not operate like the pros. Along with the play itself, I observed that the following was considered:

  1. When did they last do the play being proposed? As the group is limited to a repertory of about 40 plays (as opposed to the pros who have anywhere from 190-240), this is an important consideration.
  2. Who is available?  I assumed they consider the frequency with which people attended rehearsals during 2016 as an indication of this. Concretely, I know they also asked people, point blank, about their perceived availability in 2017, and if people who live far away could make the time commitment (one actor travels quite a distance).
  3. Since there are both men and women, what dynamic is created by pairing certain actors with others? There was quite a bit of discussion about having one of the smaller women playing an imposing daimyo. While Taro thought this might be too weird, Bunmei thought the weirdness of it would be interesting.
  4. What plays will help less experienced performers expand their abilities? As the youngest performer is 14 and some actors have only been performing for about 2 years, the group has to consider how to maintain their repertory through calculated instruction. In the professional world there is a system of hiraki, or gateway plays, which serve as tests of an actor’s acquired skill and proof of their ability to move to more difficult plays. Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen does not have this system. I should ask them to rank the plays they deem the easiest versus the hardest in their repertory…
  5. How do all the plays chosen will play off each other. This is a common consideration for any season scheduling, be it a Western playhouse, or a Japanese traditional art. You have to think about the whole package!

In the end, Bunmei didn’t make up his mind, but rather took some notes to digest later on. The group is currently toying with the play the middle school girls did at this most recent show, Miyagi Daimyo, along with a crowd favorite, Busu, Onigawara (which they did recently at the fall 2016 Saga show) Nukegara (which is very similar to Shimizu), Kubi Hiki (Neck Pulling), and Hone Kawa (The Mixed Up Acolyte).

Ultimately, I believe the choice is Bunmei’s, but I will be interested to see how the program comes to fruition and whether or not it changes as the year progresses.

One may wonder why the decision of a fall program needs to be done in January, but if you think about the schedule the group keeps, it isn’t much time at all. For a performance at the start of November, the group will only have about a total of 36 days (and roughly 72 hours) of rehearsal. Compare that to the average rehearsal time of an Equity western play (there are all sorts of variables but I am using the typical LORT contract for a small cast show), which is 6 weeks, with one day a week off and an average of 48 hours per week of rehearsal (this increases to 52 on the tech week before the show’s open). In other words, the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen people have less than a week and half of an Equity schedule to do the same thing. Yipes!

2017 Annual January Performance

Sunday, January 22, 2017 was the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen Preservation Society’s annual winter performance. Unlike the one this past fall, which was presented by the Sagi actors, this performance was sponsored by Yamaguchi Prefectural University. This year marked the 9th collaboration between the Preservation Society and the University.

I was a little worried, as were the actors, because of the weather, which could not make up its mind, raining one minute, sunny the next, snowing the next. However, by performance time the weather was clear and over 300 people came to see the show. I was at the performance last year, and this was a much larger crowd (of course, last year there was a blizzard).

Since this was a University event, the majority of the audience was made up of students from the University’s Japanese history and culture classes (though the usual fans were there as well). Since the audience members at the fall show were older, I was excited to see how younger people responded to my survey. However, I was worried that because the audience was younger, they wouldn’t waste their time filling out surveys.

listening-to-taro

This year’s performance was unique because Tarō’s kyōgen classroom middle school students from Ōdono were the event’s opening act, performing Miyagi Daimyo. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but Miyagi Daimyo is better known as Hagi Daimyo. However, as I understand it, because the city of Hagi was the seat of power for the region’s chōshū’s clan, to do a play making fun of a Hagi daimyo’s lack of culture was a serious breach of etiquette- so, the Sagi performers simply changed the setting to Miyagi.

A quartet of actresses performed this play. This is the same group who performed the play as part of the recent Cultural festival. This time, however, they were much more confident. I was particularly impressed by the vocal ability of the girl playing the offending daimyo, as well as the magnetic presence of the girl playing Taro Kaja.

After the first performance the girls came back out and did a little Q&A with Tarō about what it is like to perform kyōgen. The most common observation was that to remember a play in a familiar, yet unfamiliar, language was truly challenging. Then Professor Inada Hideo came out and he and Tarō discussed the past year’s achievements of the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actors.

2016 was an auspicious year for the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actors. In January, Yonemoto Bunmei and Tsuchimura Hirotaka both received awards recognizing their many years as Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen performers (at this point it is 30 years of acting for Bunmei, I believe Tsuchimura-san has been performing for about 25 years). In June Tarō received an award for his dedication to the promotion of Yamaguchi Arts and Culture. Aside from Sagi kyōgen, Tarō is an active promoter of a number of artistic activities in Yamaguchi, so it is nice that his efforts have been recognized. Tarō also won an award in October for distinction as a  Sagi kyōgen performer.

tricking-the-master

“Don’t look at me! And give Tarō some sake next time, or else!”

After a brief intermission, the event continued with performances of Shimizu and Sakka. The audience really responded favorably to Sakka and it is little wonder why, as Tsuchimura and Bunmei have incredible on-stage chemistry that made the play really hilarious. My favorite part of watching the two perform, is when, after Tarō Kaja (Tsuchimura) is told to copy his master’s (Yonemoto Tarō) words and actions, Tarō Kaja’s precise mimicking earns him a beating. Tarō Kaja, assuming this is part of the copying he is supposed to be doing, then beats Sakka the same way. The look on Tsuchimura’s face when he got up to beat Bunmei was transcendent. It contained the mischievous essence of the Tarō Kaja character. It also contained a malevolent glee from being able to inflict the same punishment on someone else that Tarō Kaja was forced to endure. It was a veritable Mobius Strip, displaying the ridiculous nature of power. The picture doesn’t do Tsuchimura’s achievement justice, but if Zeami had seen Tsuchimura’s performance, he would have said: “that’s how you make a flower bloom”.

mimicking-the-master

Tarō Kaja (Tsuchimura) heads towards Sakka (not pictured) to give him a beating.

After the show, I was shocked that I not only received a good amount of surveys, but I basically got almost the same amount returned as when the audience was 500 people. I am very much looking forward to reading these.

enaki-2017

A few hours after the performance I went to an enkai (show after party), which was held at a hotel in nearby Yuda Onsen. Since I had gone to the enkai in January 2016, and it was relatively casual, I assumed the atmosphere would be the same. I left on the suit I wore to the show, but figured I could get away with sneakers, since I would probably be taking off my shoes anyways (in many restaurants, you take off your shoes before entering). Boy did I feel stupid. This was not the laid back kind of enkai, but the ceremonial kind, where you had to listen to a million speeches and everyone was dressed to the nines. The 10,000 yen cost should have tipped me off…

That being said, it was a very nice event. It was comprised of Sagi kyōgen people and a host of supporters from the University, from the Yamaguchi Education Board, and friends. Tarō, Bunmei and Tsuchimura were all the guests of honor and had to give several speeches throughout the evening. I was seated with a mix of Sagi kyōgen actors and local supporters, so I got to talk with some really interesting people and get to know some of the performers better. At the end of the evening I met a man named Mōri Motonari who invited me to his museum in Hōfu- Now, he didn’t elaborate, but his name is suspiciously the same as the famous daimyo of the region’s Mōri clan (they would become the Chōshū clan), who lived in Hōfu. I think I am going to have to take Mr. Mōri up on his invite.

The official festivities ended and just as I was about to get a cab home, Bunmei invited me to a nijikai, or second party. I accepted, assuming that it would be a bunch of the Sagi kyōgen actors. But it wasn’t. It was just him, his wife, and me. I have been terrified to speak to Bunmei, in spite of his very friendly demeanor, mainly because he is a good ol’ Yamaguchi boy who uses a lot of local slang that I don’t understand. But a few beers later and we were chatting it up about kyōgen, art, and life in Yamaguchi. It was really fun. Bunmei is a truly “down to earth” guy, who just happens to be master actor.

Rehearsal, Saturday January 14

Saturday, it was back to work for the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actors. They are prepping for their 1st big show of the year this coming Sunday.

The rehearsal started with Tarō going over some of the upcoming performances, aside from the one they are rehearsing for. These guys are busy and already have several engagements scheduled over the next two months, including an upcoming Traditional Performing Arts Festival at the beginning of March.

Since the show on Sunday the 22nd will be a combination of Tarō’s kyōgen classroom and the Preservation Society members, the group only rehearsed two plays: Sakka and Shimizu.

During the rehearsal of Shimizu, in which Yonemoto Fumiaki is playing the thief, Sakka, there were numerous times in which he was prompted by the stage manager (not really a stage manager, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll call him that). However, his response was always the same: “I know the line, you’re rushing.”

This encouraged me to really think about the relationship between the speaking of kyōgen’s lines and speed. I have considered why a line spoken with too much emotion is contrary to kyōgen, but why should a line being said too fast or too slow also be undesirable? I think the answer may be simple. It’s because kyōgen is sarugaku.

Before the Meiji period both noh and kyōgen were simply referred to collectively as sarugaku, or sarugaku noh and sarugaku kyōgen. The Japanese characters for this word being 猿 (saru- that means monkey!) and 楽 (gaku), or “music”. In other words, though kyōgen appears to be more dialogue based, it is still grouped under the umbrella of performative “music.”

It is easy to see why one might not think about this. Unlike noh, kyōgen appears to be an art with primarily spoken, rather than sung (or chanted) dialogue. The characters 狂 (kyō) and 言 (gen) are typically translated to mean “wild words.” While there is always an ongoing debate about this translation, the “gen” part certainly puts an emphasis on “words.” To compare this to nōgaku’s 能 (nō) and 楽 (gaku), which might be translated as “skilled song” it certainly seems speech a key component in kyōgen. Adding to this, in Sagi kyōgen, in particular, the speaking style is such that it sounds very close, presumably, to the way an everyday (albeit Medieval) person would speak.

But if we discard the surface realities and instead focus how kyōgen engages with the gaku in sarugaku, it makes complete sense why the speed would matter so much. While a single speed change may not mar it, try to sing your favorite song with a variety of changes to its tempo and rhythm in random areas- it would still sort of be the song because the words were the same, but tampering with the melody may completely change the intent of the song itself. It’s like mixing that bluegrass cover of Snoop Dog’s Gin and Juice with a version your rap-impaired friend does at karaoke with the original version- what a train wreck on the ears that would that be?

Now let’s complicate things by considering that kyōgen will always have two or more performers in a single play, making it not a solo, but a duet, trio and so on. I am reminded of the time I listened to the complaints of a band director for a musical, who expressed his frustration for constantly having to change the band’s rhythms and tempos to suit individual actors and choruses who could not “keep a beat.”

Let’s also look at the other side, when a song is sung well. When someone, or a group, who is/are really amazing is/are doing it, the song takes on a life of its own and the unique qualities of the performers shine through. So it is with kyogen. While the Izumi, Ōkura and Sagi school may all do the play Busu, their unique “singing”style is what makes the play theirs.

This also may answer a question I have had for quite some time: Why do all kyōgen actors love Jazz music so much? I have never met a kyōgen actor who doesn’t like Jazz . I realize now the two have a lot in common. Both engage with a basic musical skeleton that requires the talent of applying a unique perspective, all while “keeping the beat.” Both groups collaborate under this unifying beat to create a cohesive product that for lack of a better description, “sounds good.” And  while mastery in both creates the freedom of endless possibilities, all it takes is one person dropping the beat to bring the group to a screeching halt.

Considering this brought me some newfound respect for the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen actors. Many of these actors have been doing this for over 20 years, trying to capture the melody in an art form that seems to have no relationship to music, yet can not succeed without an acute understanding of it.

 

Happy New Year from Yamaguchi

This New Year’s Eve was my first one in Japan, despite my living here for about 4 (non-consecutive) years. I was invited to tag along for midnight ceremonies by the family of one of Taro’s Kyōgen Classroom students. Along with being a fun experience it also gave me the opportunity to learn a bit about some local history as well.

New Year’s in Japan is a big deal and Yamaguchi is no exception. I spent the days before scrambling to write and send out nengajo, postcards which wish friends and family a happy new year. You might consider these cards as Japan’s Christmas Cards. Along with a card that typically has the upcoming year’s Chinese zodiac animal (this year the rooster), it also has lottery numbers at the bottom of the card which are chosen towards the end of the month of January. All cards are delivered (assuming you have given the post office sufficient time) on January 1st.

rurikoji

At 11:15pm, I met up with my hosts at our local 7-11 and they drove to Yamaguchi’s most notable temple, Rurikoji. Built in the 1400s, I was told the pagoda (thanks for the correction, Josh!) is usually classified as one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful. On the temple grounds (Kozan Park) is the burial site for many of the Mori clan, the ruling daimyo (feudal lords) of area during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and key members of the overthrowing of the Tokugawa government during the Meiji Restoration. The Mori clan was also instrumental in patronizing Sagi kyōgen, making Sagi kyōgen a popular form of entertainment in the prefecture. On the grounds there is also the tea house, Chinryu, where Meiji Restoration hero, Saigō Takamori (I believe in a previous post I mentioned he is considered the “last samurai”), supposedly plotted with the Chōshū clan against the Tokugawa government.

bell-ringing

Upon arriving, we were immediately handed a card with a number which enabled us to ring the temple’s large bell. Numbers 1-108 are distributed and on New Year’s, Buddhist temples across Japan each ring their bells 108 times to signify the 108 sins of Buddhist teachings. I was number 61, so I stood in a line and waited my turn. Upon arriving at the top of the structure holding the bell, I was instructed to ring the bell twice (I guess the 108 number is more symbolic than literal since, if I was number 61, and 60 people before me rang the bell twice, we were already at 120).

mochi

After finishing the bell ringing, we went downstairs and were given some freshly grilled mochi. Mochi is rice pounded until it creates a kind of glutenous blob, which is then prepared in a variety of ways. If you find it in a grocery store, it most likely will have a filling of sweet red adzuki beans. The act of mochi pounding and eating grilled mochi are both New Year’s traditions. If you’ve been to a Japanese grocery store around the New Year, you may have seen those large white plastic things, typically with a plastic orange on top. Inside these are mochi cakes, which you can either grill or pop in the microwave until they puff up. You can eat them plain (as I did on New Year’s Eve) or you can put something sweet on them.

After the bell was rung by the 108 ticket holders, they started a Buddhist service, but we split, the family wanting to go to another location, this time the Shinto Shrine Furukuma Jinja, to make their New Year’s prayers. The family’s daughters had taken part in a recent festival at this shrine, so this was the reason why we went to this place, in particular. There are numerous shrines and Buddhist temples all over Yamaguchi and I was told that the place the family went last year was uncomfortably crowded. Here we went through the ritual of first washing our hands at the bachi (water basin), then approaching the shrine and offering a small amount of money (throwing it into the sasenbako, or wooden coffer at the front of the shrine), ringing a large bell, and bowing twice, clapping twice, making a wish or prayer (typically for something you may want to come true in the coming year), and bowing again. Along with the ritual festivities, the shrine also had a few carnival games for kids to play and numerous prayer goods (wish tablets, wish arrows) for sale.

furukuma

Typically, which shrine you visit will be related to what kind of help you are seeking. Nearby my home is a shrine which is specifically dedicated to the health of children, so presumably, those who desire such fortunes, went there on new year’s eve. Furukuma jinja, as was explained to me, was related to the famous scholar, poet and statesman, Sugawara no Michizane. As the story goes, after Sugawara died in 903, terrible plague and droughts affected Japan and the people attributed this to Sugawara’s angry spirit getting revenge for being exiled by the current rulers. As a result, Kyoto’s famous Kitano Tenman-gū was built, but this was not enough and 70 years later, Sugawara, renamed Kan Shōjō, was deified as the kami, or spirit, of learning Tenjin-sama. Furukuma is a 645 year old shrine which claims to have a connection to Sugawara because his ill son died nearby in Hofu (the Tenjin Shrine in nearby Hofu is, in fact, a destination for Japanese students wishing to prosper academically- maybe I should visit!). However, as Sugawara is a popular deity in Japan, it may have just been the desire of the Ouchi, and later the Mori, clan to erect a shrine to Sugawara.

For the theatre buffs out there, you may recognize Kan Shōjō as a character in Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy, the famous bunraku and kabuki play.

Finally, while it may seem weird that we went to a Buddhist temple to ring a bell and a shinto shrine to pray, I think this kind of activity is indicative of how religion plays a role in Japanese life. As Japan is a country with no real religion (Shinto is more of a belief system than an actual religion), all the imported religions may (or may not) play a role in daily life. Since Buddhism is certainly the oldest, it is the religion you will find most prevalent in Japan. However, I’m not sure how many Japanese people would identify as “Buddhists” if you asked. There are Christians and Christian traditions celebrated here as well; Yamaguchi has a few Christian churches- though, again, I don’t know if participants would consider themselves “Christians” or not.

A Trip to Niho Elementary

On the 19th of December I went along with Taro and Tsuchimura-san to a school performance the Yamaguchi Sagi kyōgen group was doing for Niho Elementary School. Today’s performance of Kaki Yamabushi (The Persimmon Thief) was scheduled thanks to one of the Preservation Society members being a teacher at the school and the audience was comprised of first through sixth year students.  While the first through fifth year students were being introduced, perhaps for the first time, to kyōgen, the sixth year students had already spent time learning Kaki Yamabushi in scheduled lesson plans.

We arrived about two hours early and set up.  The performance, like many school performances (either in Japan or the US), was held in the auditorium/gymnasium. As with all the Yamaguchi Sagi kyogen traveling performances (basically any performance that isn’t at Noda Shrine), the group brought five wooden posts, a pole and a backdrop of the pine tree you will find on any noh stage.  Four of the five posts create the four pillars of a noh stage and the fifth post designates the hashigakari, or bridgeway exit/entrance. The pole is set on top of the fifth pole and the upstage left pole to create the illusion of a bridge.

About 10 minutes before show time, the audience of students showed up, each carrying a their own chair to sit on.  The principal made a very quick announcement and the organizing teacher in grey hakama (Japanese trousers) and a black kimono with a white nagajuban, under kimono (very typical attire for a noh/kyōgen performer playing the role of the kōken, stage assistant, or simply formal clothes for offstage wear) explained a bit about the show and kyōgen history.  Taro told me afterwards that he thought part of the reason the students were so enthralled by the days performance started with them seeing one of their teachers in such a unique outfit.

The Persimmon Thief is a common introduction piece played in school performances. Taro told me that depending on who is available to perform, the group will either do this show or Busu (The Delicious Poison), if there are three actors available.  Both of these shows are action heavy and rely less on language for the audience to enjoy them, so it is understandable why these are introduction show.

In this play, a thirsty yamabushi (mountain priest) gets caught pilfering persimmons from a local orchard.  The owner of the orchard knows that there is a person in his tree, and so he decides to have some fun by pretending he believes the culprit to be a variety of animals, which the yamabushi humorously tries to mimic. The Yamaguchi Sagi version is unique in that it is the only version where the yamabushi must pretend to be a cat.  As a cat lover, I like this, particularly as there isn’t a single kyōgen in which a cat appears (there is one where it is mentioned, Keimyo, or Killing the Cat).

Surprisingly, the audience understood a lot more of the language than I expected, and,of course, laughed enthusiastically as the yamabushi pretended to be a serious of ridiculous animals. I also noticed that Taro, as the yamabushi, made eye contact with the students when playing the role-  that was unique, I don’t think I have ever seen a kyōgen actor do that.

nido-performance

After the show, there was a workshop where the kids got to ask the performers questions and try doing kyōgen themselves.  At first I thought such a thing was sure to be a disaster. My experience as an English teacher in Japan told me any activity where volunteering was necessary is always excruciating. But I was happily mistaken. In fact, as one who has spent a lot of time doing arts education in the classroom, I was shocked that every question the students asked during the Q&A allowed Taro to address crucial elements of understanding kyōgen. After the show I asked him if these students had prepared these questions, because I couldn’t believe they were just coincidentally perfect, explaining that in my experience the Q&A session typically revolved around asking an actor what his favorite food was, or how he became an actor. Taro said they were all off the cuff and that he, too, was surprised by the relevance of each question. So, just lucky, I guess.

The students then got up and practiced doing kyōgen walking and speaking practice. Along with the students, their teachers and the principal also tried. This kind of thing is always my favorite part of a school performance because it highlights just how difficult something that looks easy really is. Walking- right?  Anyone can do that! But that is not so in an art like kyōgen and, as Taro explained to the students, it takes more than three years of practice to get it right.

After the show was over and we had taken all the items back to Taro’s car, we were then brought to the principal’s office where we sat, chatted, and had coffee. The principal explained that he was fairly unfamiliar with kyōgen, himself, and marveled at the complexity of it. Compared to a US school show, this experience was unfamiliar to me. In all my years working with LAUSD schools, I don’t think I ever talked to a single principal, it was always a teacher who had scheduled the event. There is, of course, something inherently Japanese in the whole process of meeting the principal, thanking him for allowing the performance to happen, etc.  But I really liked how the whole event was framed by an understanding that the students were not only learning about kyōgen, but about a part of Yamaguchi history as well. It brought the sense of community to the forefront in a meaningful and tangible way.

Of course, Yamaguchi is not Tokyo, and perhaps the small town structure enables such an event to take place- I haven’t been to a school performance done by professional kyōgen actors in Tokyo or Kyoto, so I can’t speak to what such an event in a big city is like.  Perhaps it is less personal, but perhaps it isn’t. I suppose I’d better get to one of those!