It is said that “Okina is a Noh play yet it isn’t.” This is rather a sacred rite, in which the actors perform divine figures who dance for peace, prosperity, and safety across the land, as opposed to having a fixed storyline.
The performance of Okina starts even before it begins on stage. The performer of Okina must purify himself for a certain period of time before he performs the play, preparing his body and mind for the performance. On the day of the performance a shimenawa (a sacred rope made of rice straws) is placed above across the stage to purify the place. The altar is established in the kagami-no-ma (“mirror room” or anteroom). Some of the offerings include a men-bako (the mask box), which contains the masks used for the performance, and sake (Japanese rice wine) which is offered at the altar and used for a ritual. At the opening of the performance, shite (Okina), Senzai, Sanba-sō, music players and other performers enter the stage in this order via the gangway bridge, led by the men-bako bearer. On the stage, the shite takes a seat after bowing deeply. Following the music of three small hand drums and a Japanese flute, the shite begins to sing with group reciters in relays. Then, Senzai dances. Senzai plays the role of an usher in this dance. While Senzai is dancing, the shite dons the mask of Okina, which transforms him to a deity. Okina steps forward and dances, and after the dance, he takes off his mask. Bowing deeply again on the stage, the Okina and Senzai leave the stage via the gangway bridge. This scene is called okina-gaeri (Departure of Okina). After Sanba-sō appears and dances “momi-no-dan” without mask, he dons the mask of kokushiki-jō and has a dialogue with the men-bako bearer. He is then given a bell tree to perform the dance of “suzu-no-dan”.
Noh plays are always performed with serene dignity and some tension, but unlike other pieces, Okina has a unique atmosphere of sacred rites. Once the performance starts, you are prohibited to enter or exit the auditorium. As participants and witnesses of the rite, the audience also enters the mystical realm.
Noh (能, Nō, derived from the Sino-Japanese word for “skill” or “talent”) is a major form of classical Japanese dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. Noh integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly. Written in late middle Japanese, the text “vividly describes the ordinary people of the twelfth to sixteenth centuries”. Having a strong emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, Noh is extremely codified and regulated by the iemoto system. Noh was seen as an upper-class/nobility version of Kabuki Theatre, but in the later part of the 20th century has developed a new-found audience in Japan and abroad.
The Woodblock Print
This woodblock is in very good condition, with strong colors, great register on the printing, and intact margins. A remnant of tape on the verso, and some minor discoloration in the margins of the print.
About the Artist
Tsukioka Kōgyo (月岡 耕漁, Tsukioka Kōgyo), sometimes called Kōgyo Sakamaki (坂巻 耕漁, Sakamaki Kōgyo), was a Japanese artist of the Meiji period (April 18, 1869 – February 25, 1927). He was a student and adopted son of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, and also studied with Ogata Gekkō. Although Kōgyo sometimes painted other subjects, most of his career centered around pictures of Japanese noh theatre, either as large-scale paintings or colored woodblock prints. Many of the latter were published in series and sold as multi-volume sets. Some sets, such as Nōgaku zue, have been preserved as albums in their original bindings, including accordion-style bindings known as orihon, while other sets such as Nōga taikan, were issued in sewn bindings known as yamato toji.
Unlike most ukiyo-e prints, his works have an almost painterly quality and use gold and silver for the Noh costume embellishments. Kogyo’s woodblock prints required very skilled engravers and printers to produce. Kogyo died in Tokyo at the age of 58.