Noh Masks

A major componont of theatre is the ability of the actor or actress to connect to the audience, through actions, facial expressions, and voice.  However, in Japanese Noh theatre, a form of Japanese drama, the actors faces are covered up by a mask.  These masks are called Noh masks and have been a part of the Japanese culture since the 14th century.  The plays are performed by an all male cast, as women were not allowed to act. The stage is composed of a single square stage that is in the form of traditional Shinto shrines.  There is also a long narrow bridge at the back of the stage where the actors enter.  The only backdrop that the Noh theatre has is a picture of an old pine trees. Pine trees were used to represent that the play would be set in the world of spirits, or a sacred place.

A major component of Noh plays were the masks that the actors used.  Because the masks were a fixed emotion the actors had to rely on their skills to accurately portray the emotions of their character.  The traditional masks were constructed from Cypress wood and had very few holes, two for the eyes, one for the nose and one for the mouth for breathing.  Because these holes were so small the actor had to rely on the four posts in the stage for direction.

There were five major types of masks, men, women, the elderly, Gods,and demons.

This is an old man mask. It’s name is Sankoujyo. Old men masks are some of my facovorite because i think they are all very unique when compared to the men and women, i found all these masks from this website “” They have many interesting masks and styles.  Here on this mask you can see the small holes that the actor would look out of. You can imagine how hard it would be to see out of it.

This is a mask of a male, this masks name is Jyuroku. I like this mask because it has a very simple expression, yet however if the direction of the mask is changed slightly, it can look mad.  Go here to see what i mean .

This is a female mask and its name is Manbi.  I am not too fond of the female masks.  I do not seem to find them very diverse, and all of their general characteristics seem to be the same to me.  I might be missing some cultural influences on why they are made this way though.

ZaouThis is a God mask. God masks were used to celebrate the conversion of a heart of malice, to warmth and kindness. They also served to represent a departed spirit and also how a the power of a spirit excells beyond that of a normal humans.  This mask is called Zaoh, and is modeled after the face of the statue Zaoh.  I like God masks because they still look human, but are also fierce and powerful compared to the human masks.

This is a Devil mask.  It wold seem logical that devil masks are used to represent demons and such.  However devil masks are used for two purposes.  The first is to portray a devil and create disasters such as the plague or an earthquake.  Devil masks were also used to ward off evil spirits.  Unlike the god mask they bare very little resemblance to the man mask and are much fiercer than the god masks. This mask is called  ” Daikijin”, Dai means great or big, Ki means devil, and Jin means god,  Daikijin literally means ” The Great Devil God”.  I like devil masks the most because of their many forms.  They have the most unique features out of all the types of masks and i find them truly amazing.

This is a humorous video about “Noh Theatre”



5 Responses to “Noh Masks”

  1. These kinds of Japaneese masks have always been a bit off putting to me. Notice how the Devil has facial hair and white skin? There were native inhabitants of Japan called the Aido, and they too had those features. As I recall, much of the acting in these sorts of plays is done with overly grand body language. I have never sat and watched a performance of this type but am aware that it is thought of very highly. Thanks!

  2. Noh masks make a great Non-Western art form. The links you posted on this blog to all the Noh masks were great and I love the variety and descriptions of each one. Like you, I would have to say that the old man and devil masks were my favorite and showed the most individuality. The man and woman masks seemed to lack something, perhaps just true character?

  3. This is a great post on the different types of masks that were represented within the Japenesse Noh theatre. The devil mask is probably something i wouldn’t have hung up at my house, but the meaning of what it represents and beliefs are wonderful. I like how they believe that this devil mask is used to fight off evil spirits and your right about the different chararteristics it has. Masks have always been one of my favorite artworks to look at. This is what is great about Alaska art as well with the representation.
    Do you happen to own a Japenesse or Alaskan mask?

  4. It’s amazing for me to have a site, which is helpful designed for my experience.
    thanks admin

  5. Dale, I am currently writing a 4,000 word research essay comparing Commedia dell’arte masks with Noh theatre masks and would love an interview with you for my essay. Please contact me if you’re interested.

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