Noh drama is a classical form of Japanese theatre that is marked by heavily stylized performances, hypnotic music, and richly ornamented costumes. This drama has a long history in Kanazawa where it received much patronage from the ruling Maeda family and has historically been popular with all classes of people, whether aristocrats, merchants, or the common working people. Kanazawa even developed its own school of Noh called “Kaga-Hosho” which still flourishes today.
For beginners the Kanazawa Noh Museum provides an excellent introduction to this fascinating theatrical form. However, there really is nothing better than going to see a performance for yourself. Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theatre is located in the center of Kanazawa and has regularly scheduled weekend performances throughout the year.
How to Enjoy Noh
Usually when you go to a Noh theatre you will be treated to a program of two or three Noh plays interspersed with one or two Kyogen style comedies and maybe some Noh dance performances too. The Kyogen comedies are usually a lot easier to follow than the Noh performances. Because the intention of Kyogen comedies is to make the audience laugh, the actors’ speech is clearer, and the actions and situations more exaggerated. Noh plays however, can be overwhelming for a beginner as they are so very unlike Western style dramas. A typical Noh play features lengthy poetic monologues in old fashioned language which are chanted by masked characters in heavy costumes. These monologues will be interspersed with elegant dances to haunting but repetitive music. For all these reasons it is not unusual for even regular Noh theatre goers to fall asleep. To avoid falling into a slumber it is a good idea to prepare yourself by reading the story of the play in advance. If you are familiar with the story then you will be enthralled by the expressive nature of the masks and dances, the spectacle created by the beautiful costumes, and the mysterious atmosphere created by the music.
The excellent website The Noh has an extensive (and free) stock of both full plays and play synopses in both English and Japanese, as well as full theatre schedules for all the Noh performances in Japan. For the current schedule of Noh performances in Kanazawa ask at the Tourist Information Center or ask your hotel concierge.
Noh Theatre Tours
When the Noh Theatre isn’t busy with performances or rehearsals it is possible to visit for a free tour of the stage and see some exhibited costumes and masks. However, as most of the staff at the theatre do not speak English, it is a good idea to bring a Japanese speaker with you.
Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theatre is located to the south of Kenrokuen Garden and is very close to both Ishikawa Prefectural History Museum and Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art. To get there from Kanazawa Station take the Kenrokuen Shuttle bus from bus stop #6 at the east exit bus terminal and get off at the Prefectural Museum of Art / Seisonkaku bus stop. The journey takes 14 minutes for a flat fare of 200 yen. From the bus stop it is a 2 minute walk to the theatre. Here is a map of the its location.
Open: 9.00 – 22.00
Open for tours: 9.00 – 17.00 (Last entry at 16.30)
Closed: Mondays, national holidays, and from December 29th – January 3rd.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.