Osaka noh theater tapping a traditional art to gain new followers



The overseers of Yamamoto NohGakudo, a theater built in the center of Osaka more than 90 years ago, are tapping into the interest of new followers of the traditional theatrical art to fill morning classes that were launched last November.

On a Sunday morning in January, 25 men and women of various ages and vocations attended a noh session held at the theater.

Dai Hayashimoto, a 39-year-old noh performer of the kanze style, slowly appeared on the stage set up inside the wooden building and began to utter lines from a dramatic scene featuring an encounter between Benkei, a legendary warrier monk, and young swordsman Ushiwakamaru on a bridge in Kyoto.

Hayashimoto told participants to follow him in inhaling deeply and then speaking as they exhaled. “Some of you have intonations of the Kansai dialect,” he said. “Noh uses flat, standard intonations.”

The session, held one or two times per month, is intended to help participants learn various aspects of the art, including dancing and playing musical instruments, from young noh performers and experts.

Emiko Hirono, 53, a jazz vocalist from Kobe said, “While jazz puts weight on phrases, utai (noh song) stresses each word uttered while exhaling.” The practice was “difficult but exciting.”

When he was a college student, Hayashimoto was fascinated by noh. He says that in noh, the atmosphere of a dramatic scene can be changed only by changes in the tone of utai. Noh “can produce maximum effects with minimum staging arrangements.”

While practising noh as a disciple of the kanze style, Hayashimoto has been engaged in activities to popularize the art, hoping that many people can imagine and recognize its greatness.