Women are breaking barriers in Japan’s male-dominated Noh theater
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Women are breaking barriers in Japan’s male-dominated Noh theater

Noh theater, a traditional Japanese art form with a deeply rooted male-dominated history, has seen a notable rise in female participation in recent years. 

About the art form: Noh, an intricate theatrical art originating in 8th-century Japan, features elaborate costumes, handcrafted masks and mythical narratives. While contemporary Noh has gradually opened its doors to female performers, they still comprise a small minority of professional practitioners, according to Agence France-Presse.

Breaking barriers: Actor Mayuko Kashiwazaki is one of the few actively working to increase the visibility of female Noh performers.  This is evident in her recent staging of classic Noh play “Dojoji” with a primarily female cast. However, a lack of female specialists has resulted in certain roles, such as the “waki” (often a priest or monk), still being exclusively played by men.

Why it matters: Although women represent only 15% of registered Noh actors and musicians, their presence signifies a shift towards inclusivity. Kashiwazaki emphasizes the limited opportunities for female performers, attributing it to Noh’s predominantly older audience perceiving it as a masculine art form.

“‘Dojoji’ is an extremely important piece for Noh actors,” Kashiwazaki told the AFP. She added that one would, “have to be very lucky to get a chance to perform it, even once in your life. Because I was lucky enough to have this opportunity, I thought it would be great to stage it with other female Noh actors.”

Other facets of the art form: Women are also making strides in the traditionally male-dominated craft of Noh mask carving, according to the New York Times. Mitsue Nakamura, a celebrated mask carver, breaks barriers by mentoring a new generation of female apprentices. While Nakamura still adheres closely to centuries-old standards, artisans Keiko Udaka and Shuko Nakamura have been creating innovative masks outside the traditional designs.

In Japanese comic theater: The Kyogen theater, which is historically intertwined with Noh performances, also grapples with gender disparities. While no formal bans exist, a legacy of male exclusivity also endures in this traditional Japanese comic theater. The duo of Junko Izumi and Tokuro Miyake, descendants of a kyogen lineage spanning 19 generations, are now challenging male dominance in this comedic art form.

Source: Next Shark