Towards a New Era

Nohgaku elevated to a new level while inheriting tradition

Renamed Sarugaku to Nohgaku

“Koyokan butaibiraki no zu”

The Shiba Noh Theatre constructed within the grounds of Tokyo’s Shiba Park in the Meiji Period.
“Koyokan butaibiraki no zu”
Yoshu Chikanobu
(National Noh Theatre collection)

The Meiji Restoration (mid-19th century) brought about the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate, and Noh and Kyogen once again suffered major setbacks. Some performers lost their stable status and revenues, and were forced to give up their art. Valuable masks and costumes were sold and transported to other countries. However, with the assistance provided by the new government’s influential people, nobility, and financial groups, Noh and Kyogen were revived and new initiatives were undertaken. In order to enable indoor performances of Noh and Kyogen that were performed outdoors, indoor Noh stages with a roof came into existence, which in turn led to the current setup of Noh theatres. “Sarugaku” was also renamed “Nohgaku,” a term combining Noh and Kyogen.

New Efforts

In the first half of the 20th century, Nohgaku produced great actors and its scholarly research advanced. Due to proactive efforts made to popularize Nohgaku among students and the general public, Nohgaku gained a wider audience and even a Nohgaku faculty was established at a national music university in Japan. Amid a repressive mood that pervaded, comedy-based Kyogen did not necessarily receive legitimate acclaim. Japan entered a long period of war, and Nohgaku once again confronted difficult times. In the postwar turmoil, however, momentum was regained for Nohgaku’s revival. When comedy was permitted, Kyogen went onto receive high acclaim with the rise of many great actors.

Opening of National Noh Theatre

National Noh Theatre

National Noh Theatre

With life reinjected, the Nohgaku community has embarked on new efforts, including collaborating with contemporary theatres and staging revival and new plays, and has continued to hold overseas performances. In 1983, the National Noh Theatre opened in Sendagaya, Tokyo for the preservation and promotion of Nohgaku. In 2001, Nohgaku was proclaimed a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO, and in 2008, was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is a testament that Nohgaku is internationally recognized for its value as a stage art which has lasted for more than 600 years.