Day 25 – 葵上 Lady Aoi (from the Tale of Genji)

I forgot to mention, that yesterday while I was on the shinkansen I went to look for a garbage bin where the icons said there shoudl be one, but it was missing.  I asked the snack-lady as she went by…

“Gomi ga nai, anooo APEC furetto”  “No rubbish, it’s an APEC threat!”

Indeed, even though APEC is in Yokohama, there is an obvious increase in security throughout Tokyo at the moment

Well, my body must be trying to tell me something…I slept in till about 9am this morning…well the play I am going to is not until 1 so plenty of time…

I thought I might visit a museum in the morning, I check online to see what exhibits are on, and choose one in Shibuya (because it is close to Sentagaya where the Noh theatre is located)…well I get there alright but dioscover the exhibit does not start till saturday morning…that will teach me not the read the website properly…  I recall there is a reasonably large Kinokuniya store in Shibuya (not as big as the one in Shinjuku I think)…so I ask the girl at the information counter where it is…she takes out a map, carefully marks my current location and where the store is directly across from the station, but she says there is a very large bookstore on the 7th floor of the building I am I go there first…yes, it is huge and it even contains an entire row of the “yellow cover series” Mathematics mongraphs in English!

Anyway, teh carefully drawn map leads exactly to the building indicated by there is no Kinokuniya sign anywhere on the building…I ask a policeman…he takes out what looks like a Gregory’s street directory and makes a phone call..then shows me a street on the map….he claims the store is several blocks away….hmmm…this is why I prefer not to ask for directions (Always safer to work it out youself before hand!)…anyway, I decide I’ll go and have a bite to eat at the theatre before the play starts…but turns out play is only 1:30 long…so I’ll eat afterwards…not really hungry.

This is the theatre

and this is the garden INSIDE the theatrethere is also a restaurant and an exhibit of Noh masks.

Now Noh is one of the most traditional, highbrow types of theatre…so I am quite surprised to find how hi-tech the theatre is …. in front of every seat is an LCD screen that plays Japanese or English subtitles and if you’re in the front row, the display folds out of your armrest (just like on a plane)

The above photo is taken from my seat…so I’m going to get a really good view and since I know the story by heart…don’t need to look at the LCD screen at all (no photos allowed during performance of course: but there are some photos of another performance of this play at

Noh used to be held outdoors, and the white pebbles around the stage is a reminder of that…it was moved indoors during the Meiji era. To the left of the stage proper is a long catwalk…the hashikakari…where EVERY character makes their entrance from behind this 5 colour curtainThe 5 colours green, yellow, orange, white and purple represent water, earth, fire, wind and sky…but I like to think of them as zuchini, squash, carrot, onion and eggplant! Guess what I’m cooking when I get home?

All roles are played by men. Male characters do not wear masks, but female characters and demons have special masks.

The performance I see starts with a 15 min warm-up comedy called a Kyogen. This one is called Sako no Samuro and is about a hunter and a zen priest who try to outwit each other with words. It culiminates in a pun based on “hana” in japanese meaning both flower and nose…the woman two rows in front of me thinks this joke is hilarious…I guess reading the English translation ahead of time spoils the fun.  There is a 20 min break, what! We’ve only just started…why a break, the next bit is only an hour?

The main story is a segment from a chapter of the Tale of Genji and by some bizarre coincidence it is EXACTLY the segment we studied in Japanese 9  (thank you, Cockerill-sensei for choosing this scene…how did you know?)

…so I basically know this section down to the detail of every character in every sentence…naturally, it was even in our exam!

The title character Lady Aoi is pregnant (she has got pregnant in the normal way from Prince Genji) and possessed by an evil spirit…she is portrayed by a kimono that is laid down at the front of the stage and remains there for the entire play. Reminds me of a seminar given by a colleague of Rebecca Suter, who studied why descriptions of clothing are far more common than descriptions of people in Tale of Genji!  The prince, Genji, also does not make an appearance.

The main character is the Lady Rokujo, a former lover of Genji, who resents Genji’s current wife  and is unknowingly haunting her.  The play is about the exorcism, which involves a priestess who summons the spirit and determines its identity…and a priest who casts the demon out!

At one point Lady Rokujo, goes to the back of the stage and raises the kimono over her head…obviously “her” mask is being replaced…when the actor eventually turns around again , “she” is now wearing a demon mask with horns….

The passion of the play is mostly in the accompanying music as the movements themselves are quite slow and precise, and the masks mean there are no facial expressions…the Bunraku puppets showed more emotions on their faces!

As each actor leaves the stage, there is a round of applause at the moment they pass back though the 5-colour curtain. Now, I’m in a slightly mischievous mood, so when the inanimate kimono representing the title character is picked up and carefully carried back through the curtain, I also applaud…but it turns out 2 or 3 others in the audience have had the same idea.  Well, after all the kimono gave a flawless performance as Lady Aoi and did not get a single line wrong  😉

Only a few days left…I found a huge toy store next to the station…on a whim I ask about Karakuri Ningyo dolls,  the shop clerk knows exactly what I am talking about and says they are no longer made and offers me a choice of various crappy modern counterparts…he is not all that surprised that I am less than impressed…I think I may have found the last one in that dusty Hiroshima store!

People have also stopped being surprised at my Japanese…maybe my accent has stabilised to a local one???

Tomorrow Rakugo Leon gets to go and listen to some Rakugo…this time there will be no English translations, not even in advance…how will he cope…tune in next time and find out

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