Tokugawa Art Museum- Nōh Stage

Almost all of the objects within the rather small museum really did strike my interest.  They consisted of the sort of high class refined Japanese objet d’art mainly from the Edo era from weaponry, to screens, to make-up boxes, all covered in generous amounts of gold leaf.  Out of all the beautiful feudal works of art, the giant installation of a Nōh stage above all stood out.  Even compared to the humble peasant inspired aesthetics of the neighboring tea house, I found the stage to have a certain simplistic look at first due to the monotonous  employment of unfinished (in the original version at least, the reconstruction had a layer of finish most likely for longevity) but intensely smoothened Kiso-Hinoki cypress from Nagano.  Then a gently sloped gabled roof of thickly laid Hinoki bark slid out over stage right and stage left.  The open area of the gable roof that faces the front of stage featured a relief carving of sorts.  It was a relief in that a design of old twisted pine and bamboo leaves were carved into the wood.  Then from the relief a protruding carving of presumably a phoenix taking flight from the natural scenery beyond it.  Its tail wings looked similar to flames, but since it hung high above even my direct sight, I could not discern the entire relief properly.

Backing the stage, a wall of Hinoki has a painting of a lightly fronded pine tree spanning mainly horizontally most of its expanse with various twisting and turning branches stemming off from the hunched trunk.  The trunk of the tree had various mixed tones of brown to define its shape and convey some of the irregularity and age of such an old tree.  To convey the thickness of pine needles, a dark green cloud shape would then be painted over with a repetitious collection of separate single pine fronds to still provide some texture and identity to the tree.  The unfinished Hinoki wood’s smell could permeate for years after construction so that presence of pine is not only visual on a singular plane, but has olfactory reinforcement of a natural setting.

On stage right like most Nōh stages, a gable roofed corridor extends diagonally behind the stage to separate preparatory chambers not depicted in the reconstruction.  On stage left, another wall extended from the background up to the actual stage, to demarcate a space for the musicians and chorus would not necessarily be needed to be been during a performance.  That hall had a single branch of a blooming plum blossom and then three stalks of bamboo.

The pine, plum blossom and bamboo form a traditional artistic motif of a Chinese Confucian: the three friends of winter – three different plants noted among Chinese philosophers to still maintain rigor and color during the coldest and bleakest months of the year.  Now whatever that means all together I do not know.  I find it ironic even that three plants that symbolize perseverance and resilience, a sort of permanence, are displayed on the stage of an art form that bases itself around the Buddhist evanescent nature of existence.

The roof also mimicked some elements of buddhist temple/ shinto shrine construction.  While the roofs thick dark bark surface and gentle curve do give some weight and prominence to the stage that counters the lighter tones of the Hinoki, it is a considerably small roof.  Despite this, the corners of the stage where the beams intersect, the roof is held up using a simple system of supporting blocks of Chinese origin coincidently called Tokyō.  While it is still not as complex and expansive as larger examples that bloom upwards like massive rose buds to support the massive roofs of the likes of Todaiji, only religious architecture usually employs this method.  It could work to further convey the Buddhist nature of the plays perhaps.   While I do not know the traditions of Nōh stages in detail, I can all least express an individual intrigue to nuances that form this unique performance venue.

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