Exhibition Notice: Mirror & Mirage: Japanese Noh and Kyogen Theatre
Jan. 18-March 22, 2009

East-West Center Gallery, Honolulu

Opening reception: Sunday, Jan. 18, 2 p.m .

Featured artist: Hideta Kitazawa, noh mask carver

Depicting such characters as heroines, ghosts, demons and deities, the vivid masks, elaborate costumes and other intricate accoutrements of Japan’s classical noh musical drama and kyogen comedies are among the most prized of Japanese cultural treasures.  Known collectively as nohgaku , the two dramatic forms share a nearly 700-year-long history that has been essential in the development of theater and the visual arts of Japan. Usually included on the same program, the refined poetry and music of noh is contrasted by the farce of kyogen , with its exaggerated portrayals of everyday human foibles.

The “Mirror & Mirage” exhibition features noh and kyogen masks by guest mask carver Hideta Kitazawa; costumes and fans from the collection of the University of Hawai‘i Department of Theatre and Dance; rare noh and kyogen scrolls; a corner highlighting 21 st century experiments in noh and kyogen ; and lecture-demonstrations on nohgaku music and dance, mask carving and costuming.

The exhibition is being held in conjunction with an English-language premier of the noh play Sumida River (Sumidagawa) at the John F. Kennedy Theatre from March 6 through 15, probably best known in the West as the play that inspired Benjamin Britton’s Curlew River. For more information, visit .

Assembled by guest curators Richard Emmert and Julie A. Iezzi, the costumes, masks, scrolls, photos, accessories, and “pop-culture” noh and kyogen items featured in the exhibition are on loan from the UH Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance, and from noh masters training UH students for the Sumida River production.

“In this exhibition, you see the continuity and unity in visual and performing arts that is so distinctive in Asia, and so different from the West,” said East-West Center Gallery Curator Michael Schuster. “They are so integrated – when you watch a performance, you’re also seeing the expression of visual art, and when you view a piece of visual art, it often relates back to a dramatic performance.”

Guest curator Iezzi, an Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at UH Manoa, said that the sentiments expressed in noh and kyogen are timeless. “The emotional journeys that the characters in noh go through are something that all people can relate to, and the archetypes of human behavior in kyogen still exist,” she said. “The two forms definitely complement each other.”

Special Events :

All in the EWC Gallery; admission free

Sunday January 18, 2:00-3:30 p.m.
Opening festivities, including reception and demonstration of noh performance techniques by co-curator and noh scholar/performer Richard Emmert

Sunday January 25, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Demonstration of noh and kyogen mask making by master carver Hideta Kitazawa, whose works are featured in the exhibit.

Sunday February 1, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Demonstration of kyogen costuming by co-curator and UH Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Julie A. Iezzi.

Sunday February 8, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Arts forum: Life Changes and the Female Noh Mask,” by Chizuko Endo, mask maker, musician and Japanese arts specialist.

Sunday February 15, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Lecture/demonstration: “ Noh in Performance” by visiting Kita School noh master Akira Matsui and co-curator Richard Emmert

Sunday February 22, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Demonstration of noh costuming by co-curator Richard Emmert

Sunday March 1, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Lecture: “Capital Birds, Crazy Chicks: Literary and Dramatic Convention in Sumidagawa ,” by Arthur Thornhill III, Assoc. Prof. of Japanese, UH Dept. of East Asian Languages and Literature.

Saturdays March 7 & 14, 7:00-7:30 p.m.
“Sumida River” pre-show chat: “In the Know About Noh ” presented by UH Mānoa Dept. of Theatre and Dance.

Sunday March 22, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Demonstration of noh and kyogen mask making by master carver Hideta Kitazawa, whose works are featured in the exhibit. 

About Noh and Kyogen

Collectively known as nohgaku , noh and kyogen share a nearly 700-year-long history. The refined poetry and music of noh portray the psychological journey of the main character, often a ghost in need of release from earthly ties or fulfillment of karmic destiny. Usually included on the same program is kyogen , with its exaggerated portrayals of everyday human foibles.

These art forms have grown from simple shrine and temple entertainment for the commoner in the 14th century, to the highly polished official ceremonial art form of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) and the samurai class; from near extinction in the late 19th century following the loss of samurai patronage, to a post-World War II “golden era”; from relatively isolated art form, to international respect and a source of inspiration beyond the borders of Japan.

The history of noh and kyogen is one of continued development and adjustment. In meeting the challenges of the 21 st century, they continue to maintain a direct artistic link to their respective performance, literary and historical traditions, while simultaneously remaining vital, living, and changing.

Through works of art and artistic oddities, the “Mirror & Mirage” exhibit acquaints the viewer with the shared and individual elements of the “artistic team” of noh and kyogen , as well as providing a view of their respective paths into the 21st century.

Though noh is said to be a mask stage art, in fact most characters in noh do not wear masks, and some plays have no masked characters at all. As noh was traditionally performed by men, ordinary men living in the present time of the play are not masked. Women characters, whether spirits or living in the present, always wear masks, as do gods, demons, old men, young boys, animals and spirits.

Noh masks are considered by many to have the greatest artistic value of any stage masks in the world. Centuries-old masks are still used in performances today, as are the works of many contemporary mask makers. Today’s mask makers have developed complex techniques to give even new masks an aged flavor, a desirable characteristic in today’s traditional noh world.

Masks are less frequently worn by kyogen actors, and since kyogen plays deal more with characters living in the real world, there are fewer types of masks than in noh . Kyogen masks representing gods, demons and plant or animal spirits tend to have a whimsical, humorous nature in line with the nature of kyogen itself. Unlike noh , masks in kyogen are also often worn as a disguise.

and kyogen costumes developed from samurai dress of the 15 th to 17 th centuries, reflecting the custom of performers wearing gifts of clothing from their samurai patrons. Improved weaving techniques in the mid-16 th century transformed the earlier costumes to the sumptuous silk and satin brocades and embroideries still used today. Often used for generations on stage, costumes are generally owned and maintained by individual actors or acting families.

Gallery info :

East-West Center Gallery
John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road
(corner Dole St. & East-West Rd.)
Gallery hours: Weekdays: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sundays Noon-4:00 p.m.
Closed Saturdays and holidays

For further information: 944-7584


The East-West Center  is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education, and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations, and the governments of the region.

For 25 years the EWC Arts Program has enriched the community through concerts, lectures, symposia, and exhibitions focusing on traditional arts of the region, and by arranged cultural and educational tours by artists who are skilled in bridging cultures.