Go To The Sumi (能楽 Nōgaku)

(Or ‘Love affair with Japan part 2’)

Today, I will only cover day 3 of Japan.

On Day 3, I met Chikage-sensei at Shibuya to watch a Noh Theatre performance. I first knew Chikage from my first year at LASALLE, where she introduced me to Noh theatre, and taught us all about it. Now, I would soon discover that doing it and watching the real deal happen are two complete ends of the spectrum.

At that time, I loved Noh for it’s structure and it’s beautiful stories… And of course, the concept of “hana”, a state of presence an actor should strive to achieve. Oh, you know actors, always wanting to be present. 😛

Road Up
Road Up

Kanze Noh School is a walk from Hachiko Exit at Shibuya Station. I met Chikage and she walked there with me, then we walked somewhere to have coffee, and then she went earlier to prepare for the performance. In Japan, she doesn’t perform but is still a stage hand actively helping in the performance.

Since I was at Shibuya, I went to Shibuya 109 (OF COURSE) and to my favourite Japanese brand – EMODA. And bought my favourite pair of shoes yet. Sighhh Japan you’re just giving me more reasons to love you. Shibuya 109 is fantastic for shopping, and all the salespeople are SUPER friendly. I still haven’t figured out how to say “I’ll take this piece.” at that time, so I kept awkwardly saying “I wish to buy this.” to them. /hawkward/

Anyway, I found my way back to Kanze Noh School 15 minutes before the doors were supposed to open. Meaning 30 minutes before the performance.

THERE WAS ALREADY A QUEUE. I wish I had the picture to show you. It was a bunch of old people in their kimono’s all dressed up in an orderly line waiting for the doors to open. >_< So cute. The doors finally opened at 2pm, and Chikage told me to sit in the middle of the main stage. Get ready for my long schpeel about Noh Theatre.

Majesty
Majesty

I CAN DIE IN PEACE.

VIDEOS AND PICTURES DO IT NO JUSTICE.

I ALMOST CRIED. BEFORE IT BEGAN.

It was more than I imagined a Noh stage would be. (Now I’m digging up the programme booklet and trying to read all the Kanji.) The performance was from 2PM-5.45PM. It consisted of two Noh plays with a Kyogen (something like farce) in between. Note: Noh is performed in archaic Japanese.

First was “野宮 (Nonomiya)”, then the kyogen, then a Noh play I am familiar with because she taught it at Lasalle – “紅葉狩 (momijigari / maple viewing)”. Wow all the Kanji I can’t read in the programme.

So… It began. 3 hours and 45 minutes of an excruciatingly slow performance in archaic Japanese.

At first, I thought I was going to die before I got to the end of the performance. It began with an old man suriyashi-ing (sliding) slowly out to set up the stage by putting a little wooden prop-gate on the stage. I think that took about 10 minutes. But then in the waiting, in the quiet, I… discovered what Zeami meant by “hana”.

Context: from The Noh

One cannot speak of Zeami’s Noh without referring the concept of “Hana (flower).”

What is “flower”? By thoroughly following the inevitability of surrounding environment and your own innate nature, you create a new appearance suitable for each moment. This is the meaning of “flower.” To acquire the “genuine flower” is what Zeami aimed for in the art of his performance.

 The performers had “Hana”. I mean, they were just SITTING there. Sometimes they closed their eyes. But my spirit was excited and warm and I KNEW they were present. Wherever they were, they were all there. They didn’t give a shit if you were watching them or not, they just existed. When it came to “Momijigari”, I was completely mesmerized. The vibrations were speaking to me even though I didn’t understand, my body did.

The thing about these Noh plays, they’re really epic. The SLOWING DOWN of it makes it even more so.

Take Momijigari for example. It belongs to the “demon” category of plays, which is about a warrior who is hunting and then sees a lady in a forest, banquetting/having tea. He joins her, and then falls asleep because of the wine he has drunk (or a date-rape drug, who knows). While he is sleeping, the woman has disappeared (gasp) but returns as her true from… A DEMON! It was actually really scary and epic because of the masks, but then the local God of War appears, wakes the warrior up in time and gives him a sword to kill the devil-woman with. The End. Moral of most “Demon” category plays: Everyone is secretly a demon. But you usually can kill them or give them a peace offering. How do you not love something like that?

— End of Noh rant. There will be pictures now.

To reward you with your patience in reading my passage about Noh (if you read it, well done!), here is a picture of the cool toilets. Full of buttons. There is a deodorizer, which is fantastic. And sounds to play so no one will hear you do your business!

Then the problem was : WHICH ONE IS FLUSH? Which was usually followed by me pressing ALL the buttons. Sometimes it was a sensor, so it was  mostly, “Do I wave my hand? Button? MUST I DO A DANCE? Just FLUSH!!”… Sigh.

Apparently this problem isn’t limited to me. Chikage faced it, too, so I feel a lot better.

We went for a shabu-shabu dinner after the performance! IT WAS SO GOOD. Actually, no meal in Japan was bad. I don’t think Japanese food can actually taste bad.

When I saw this, my first thought was, “Lard?”

But Chikage said, “Ko-ra-gen.”

– long silence –

“COLLAGEN!!!!!!”

“YES IT MAKES YOUR FACE SOFT AND SMOOTH!”

So, I had collagen shabu shabu. Yes, my face was bouncy the next day.

I want shabu-shabu now. Once again, yes, there were mushrooms but I ate them all. When I eat steamboat in Singapore, I usually throw in the veggies first, and have the meat later, and eat it with rice at the same time. But they do it in a “meat-veggie-rice” order. The meat goes in, followed by the veggies so that it soaks up all the flavor of the meat, and you have the rice last so that the soup is the most flavorful.

Just take me back!!!

The dishes are fished out into a dressing of your choice and then eaten. I chose sesame and shoyu dressing. WHATEVER IT WAS IT WAS SO GOOD. Despite us sharing, we were both really full after the veggies, so we asked for a small portion of rice so that we could finish the meal (remember, finish everything!).

Sweetest Noh practitioner you will ever meet.
Sweetest Noh practitioner you will ever meet.

THIS, MY FRIENDS, IS CHIKAGE.

Do not be fooled by her sweet and adorable 超可愛い demeanor. She is one badass Noh performer. She can be soft-spoken and gentle when you meet her, but HER VOICE WILL SHAKE YOUR SOUL. I still don’t know her secret. Her family practices Noh, and she first performed when she was 4. In the blood.

Other than that, I’m very grateful to have met her! She comes every year to Singapore to teach the Level 1s about Noh, so I look forward to meeting her every time!

Okay, that’s enough Japan obsession for today (NO NEVER IT WILL NEVER END)! Hope this post was enjoyable and somewhat educational! ❤

Until next time xx S

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