Plays and CharactersThere are over 200 plays in the modern repertory of Noh and Kyogen, respectively. The unique pieces are categorized by various aspects. The characters that appear in the plays are also classified into several types.

Format and Plays

Generally a Noh play lasts for around 60-90 minutes and a Kyogen play lasts for around 15-30 minutes. Sometimes plays which are divided into two acts are referred to as “nibamono,” while all other plays are referred to as “ichibamono.” In Noh, there are many plays in which the entire story is treated as a dream or illusion of the waki (supporting actor; character playing opposite the main character) and the shite (main actor) reminisces about the past. This type of Noh is known as “mugen Noh,” meaning fantasy or dream Noh. Another type of Noh is “genzai Noh,” meaning realistic or present time Noh, in which the story unfolds along with the passage of time.

Main actor in nibamono. The shite changes appearances in the first half (mae-shite) and second half (nochi-shite).

“Okina”: A Special Play

“Okina” is a special play that offers a glimpse into a performing art style that predates Nohgaku. It is also known as “Shikisanban” or “Shikisanba.” It is centered around dances of gods who appear as old people, and is jointly performed by Noh and Kyogen actors. “Okina” is like a sacred ritual that prays for peace in the world and an abundant harvest. Considered a sacred piece, it is performed prior to all other plays by performers who have purified themselves, and on special days such as New Year’s Day and festivals.