Noh and Kyogen are Japanese traditional performing arts that have a long history. They are performed on the same stage and are collectively referred to as “Nohgaku.” The two are staged frequently even now and continue to awe and inspire us. Noh and Kyogen have had various influences on Bunraku and Kabuki as well as opera and contemporary theatre.

Noh: Song and dance performed wearing masks

Noh is a form of theatre based on song and dance performed by actors wearing masks and beautiful costumes. The story unfolds through spoken word and dance arranged to musical elements. The elements include instrumental music featuring a flute and percussion instruments, as well as vocal music called utai (chanting) in which words are set to a tune. The acting and staging are one of the most refined, and profound meaning is embodied in the slight movements of the actors. Another distinct element of Noh is that the main character is often not a real person, playing roles such as ghosts and spirits.

Kyogen: Spoken comedy revolving around conversations

Kyogen is a theatrical performance in which the story unfolds through human conversations. It draws on the daily events of the period in which the plays are set, with many of the characters being archetypal characters one would find anywhere. Based on satire and comedy, Kyogen amusingly depicts strong-willed ordinary people by typifying characters and exaggerating their gestures. Its repertoire is diverse, and may include music and dance.

This surviving art continues to awe and inspire viewers

Over 600 years have passed since Kan’ami and his son Zeami perfected Noh into the form as we know it today in the 14th to 16th centuries. Noh and Kyogen have been passed down to the present all the while influencing each other.