Asian Studies

The return of the noh masters

Japanese Studies students tell us about their involvement in Munenori Takeda’s visit to Edinburgh as part of a UK tour of performances and workshops.

For the second year running, Japanese Studies is welcoming noh masters to Edinburgh for a series of educational and public events.

Photo of noh performers at airport
The noh masters at Haneda Airport: “We’re off to Scotland and England for nine days of workshops and performances!”

Having previously visited with Yuji Morisawa, a master of kotsuzumi noh drumming, Munenori Takeda is returning with three other noh performers - Fumiyuki Takeda, Yoshiteru Takeda and Nozomu Kunugi - for a UK tour of workshops and performances. The visit is supported by the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh, Daiwa Foundation and arts company Intervalle.

Established in the 14th century, Noh is a form of classical Japanese musical drama still regularly performed today. It combines masks, costumes and minimalist props (such as fans) into a stylistic, dance-based performance, requiring highly-trained actors and musicians.

In preparation for the two-day visit, Japanese Studies students have been researching the various elements of noh, from mask and costume design to stage set-up and usage, and presenting their findings in promotional posters, pamphlets and videos.

Collaboration and inspiration

Photo of Lexin Zhang and Gavin Lawson
Lexin Zhang (l) and Gavin Lawson (r)

Lexin Zhang was a member of the team who won the noh video design challenge set by Helen Parker (Lecturer in Japanese) and Fumiko Narumi-Munro (Teaching Fellow in Japanese), and judged by a panel of teaching and communications staff, and postgraduate students.

What she enjoyed most about the challenge was the collaboration: the team spent about four days researching and scriptwriting before shooting the footage and editing it together with illustrations.

Lexin’s looking forward to experiencing the noh performances; in one of the sessions, ‘Understanding mugennō’, there will be a digest from the play Izutsu, while ‘Experiencing mugennō’ will feature a classical noh style performance devised by Takeda-sensei from a student-written synopsis, as well as the chance for participants to experience types of singing and verse chanting.  

Lexin says: “I learned a lot about the stage design from making the video.  Now I can learn about other aspects and the actual performance itself.”

A noh twist for a local favourite

Two teams of students won awards for summarising, in modern Japanese, stories that might be dramatized as a noh play.

Loki Beoufgras-Aliphat was one of the team who wrote “Yami no Hana”, which the noh masters will use as the basis for their performance at ‘Experiencing mugennō’, something Loki describes as a “real honour”.

For the same challenge, Gavin Lawson’s team chose the popular local story of the faithful dog Greyfriars Bobby. Gavin had heard about kabuki (another form of traditional drama) before, but noh is new to him since starting the Japanese Studies programme this year. Through the noh masters’ visit, he is looking forward to learning more about traditional Japanese culture.

Grace Kok, whose team won one of the poster awards for the visit, adds: “I’m curious about how they conduct a performance. Do they sing, like opera, or read a script, like drama?”

Talents and professional experience

Photo of Josh Croall
Josh Croall

In the pamphlet category of the students’ design challenge, two entries were adjudged to be equal winners: one on noh scripts and stories; and one on noh stage design.

Josh Croall led one of these teams, and was impressed by the talents - and in some cases the professional experience - his teammates could offer; “Some were really well suited to this kind of project and it was a good way to get the best from them.”

Kuba Gad, one of the team behind the stage design pamphlet, wanted to give readers an idea of how the stage is used in noh performances. Researching and writing the English text, he “traced the journey of the actor moving around the stage”, and made it clear that other performers, such as musicians, use the space in particular ways too - everyone has their role.

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