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Noh: The Demon of Dojoji / Kyogen: The Fortified Beard
From: Old Noh and Kyogen Illustrations from the Early Edo Era

Noh: The Demon of Dojoji
Kyogen: The Fortified Beard

Japan's traditional performing arts of Noh and Kyogen developed together in the 14th century during the Muromachi period (1333|1573). Today, they are thought of together as the art of Nogaku, or as Noh & Kyogen.

Noh is a kind of symbolic drama colored with the graceful aesthetic effect of quiet elegance that is expressed through the word yugen ("elegant, refined, and elusive beauty"). Its subjects are taken from history or classical literature, and it is structured around song and dance. Its most obvious characteristic is that the main actor performs while wearing a mask of exceptional beauty. Its themes are more concerned with human destiny that with events, and it developed into a highly stylized and refined performing art that takes place upon a very simple stage. The play known as The Well-Curb is often used as typical of the vision-like Noh plays of its dramatic world. When audiences experience Noh, they are touched with a feeling different from that evoked by other theatrical forms.

Kyogen is a kind of spoken drama that is based upon laughter and comedy. In contrast to Noh, it uses the everyday life of the common people in feudal society or folk tales as its subject, and realistically depicts a kind of "Everyman" figure. This dynamic art\whose typical main character is a servant named Taro Kaja\evokes a gentle and entertaining humor.

Noh and Kyogen have, from the very beginning, been performed upon the same stage. Both Noh, through its pursuit of a symbolic ideal beauty, and Kyogen, through its realistic expression of humor, portray the true essence of human nature, and have been passed down to us today in these mutually complementary roles.

In modern times, Noh and Kyogen have both been highly acclaimed around the world for their great artistic value, and in 2001, UNESCO added the dual art of Nogaku to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

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Copyright 2004, by the Japan Arts Council. All rights reserved.