Noh Mask

Welcome to the world of Noh.

This image is Zo-onna.
Zo-onna is the noh mask of female role, including the melancholy and feel divinity.
It's used to the role of heavenly nymph and the Goddess.

For a while, please try staring this image.
Do you feel something?
This is Noh Mask that used in Noh.

Noh is a classical musical drama performed with musical accompaniment and chanting.
It was brought to its present form by Kan-ami and his son Zeami in the end of the fourteenth century with the elements of dengaku, which was dance to pray for a good harvest; and sarugaku, which was mining performance.

Though Noh is often regarded as a masque performance, the same as Greek drama, only the shite, whose role is ghosts and gods, wears a mask.

A defining characteristic of the noh mask is the way in which the emotion it expresses is to be ambiguous.
When it is put on, however, the theoretically static mask is able to express a wide range of feelings through various movements and the way its gaze is angled slightly down or up.
Fundamentally, noh masks can be categorized into about sixty types.
Masks depicting young women represent some very popular types.
The "youngest" female mask is the ko-omote; other young-woman masks include the magojir, Zo-onna, and waka-onna.

Carving of Noh masks

Carving of Noh masks 1 Carving of Noh masks 2

Materials are cypress timbers.
Carve Noh mask by the chisel with applying to the
pattern paper taken from the old Noh mask.

Carving of Noh masks 3 Carving of Noh masks 4

Use Gofun(a white pigment finely crushed shells).
Paint noh mask to white,prepare the groundwork.
Then, coloring with a pigment to a Japanese painting.

Carving of Noh masks 5 Carving of Noh masks 6

With the coloring, and also add antiquity colour.
So, issue a dated like an old noh mask.

More Noh...

An invitation to the world of Noh

At lease two Japanese traditional arts can make a deep impression on cultivated people in Europe and America, even when presented without adequate explanation. One of these is haiku and the other is Noh.

There may be as many as one or two hundred different Noh plays that are still performed at Noh theatres throughout Japan. Many, however, share a common structure. As the play begins, a monk enters. He is not wearing a mask and his role is called waki (a supporting character). He tells us he has arrived at such-and-such a place whilst on a pilgrimage to various historical sites all over Japan. This place reminds him of a noble man or woman (or possibly an outcast or a monster) who has some connection with it. After this introduction and when the scene is set, the shite, the main character, makes his appearance; he may or may not be wearing a mask. The term maejite is used for this main character during the first half of the plot. The waki asks the maejite about the history of the place and persons associated with it.
At first the shite claims, or pretends, not to know very much, but gradually a rather detailed story emerges, and finally the shite admits that heis actually the ghost of a person celebrated in the legend of this place, but is wearing a disguise. Then the shite leaves the stage. The name for this exitis nakairi and this marks the end of the first half of the play. This is not an interval for the audience, however.

The waki remains on stage and begins a conversation with the ai (a kygen actor without a mask) who has been waiting at the hashigakari (a bridge that connects stage and dressing room, and also functions as an extension or the stage). This conversation consists of the waki repeating the questions he put to the maejite, and the ai repeating the maejite's answers, but in simpler words. When the waki tells the ai about the person he has just met and parted from, the ai explains that this must have been the ghost who haunts the place, but wearing a disguise. After suggesting that the monk should pray for the ghost, the ai disappears. The waki puts this suggestion into practice, but while he is praying he enters into a dream-like state (mugen).

Before long, the ghost appears again, this time not in the world as such, but as part of the waki's dream. He is now wearing a different costume from the one worn in the first scene. In this new guise he is called the nochijite (or main character of the second half of the plot). The nochijite speaks of his obsession with the past and the agony he endures at present and asks for the monk to pray for his release. The waki continues to pray until the ghost, set free by the prayers, expresses his joy by performing a dance. At the conclusion of the dance the nochijite disappears.

There are those who see similarities between Noh drama and Greek tragedy. Both have fictional characters based on historical or legendary figures as their heroes and heroines. Both are masked dramas that include dancing. Apart from these similarities, there are also differences. The most conspicuous difference may be the presence of the waki who does not wear a mask. There is no equivalent in Greek tragedy, no one who acts, as the wakimonk does, as an intermediary between the shite and the audience, or rather, as a surrogate for the audience. Seen in this way, a Noh play is a drama in which the shite's ghost, by entering the dream world of the waki, is also able to enter the subconscious of each member of the audience. They share his confessions, of his obsession with mortal life and his agony in the after-life, and his plea for prayers for his salvation are addressed to them too. His release is symbolized by his exit from the stage.

The ghost represents the dead. When we witness his obsession with mortal life and the agonies of the after life on the Noh stage, we experience a feeling of guilt that the living commonly have when they think of the dead.

This is a fundamental feeling of guilt, arising from a recognition that our lives owe something to the sacrifices of those who have gone before. Perhaps we might regard this as a sin to which we are fated, from which there is no escape. If so, such a sin can only be expiated if our prayers enable the dead to find peace. By reaching as deep as this into the relationship between the living and the dead, Noh has become a drama with a fundamental and universal appeal and relevance, regardless of the peculiar circumstances that led to its development, and thus remains to this day one of the most representative of Japanese arts. It might be for this reason that the essence of Japanese arts (whether the tea ceremony, flower arranging, incense matching, or haiku), wherever they are performed (on stage, at one's gate,in a Japanese-style room), and whether performed before humans or the gods, is called Noh.

The man credited with founding Noh, Zeami Motokiyo, lived in the early Muromachi Period. He was born in the mid fourteenth century and died in the mid fifteenth century. More than five hundred years after his death, Zeami's Noh plays are still being performed before audiences throughout the year all over Japan.

In these plays, the audience, who are living their own lives at the present time, encounter beings on the stage who are dead but talk about their deaths in present tense, thus Noh plays always remain in the present tense. At the door of the Noh theatre we who are living are invited in to experience a stirring encounter with elemental life.

A way into another world: the significance of Noh masks

Noh is a form of masked drama, but the function of the masks is different from that in Greek tragedy, where masks are also used. In Greek tragedy, masks function so that the audience can recognize the part the actor is playing; in other words, the masks are an aid to the audience. But the main purpose of a Noh mask is to enable the actor to identify with the character he is playing, not to assist the audience in identifying it.
In many cases, in Greek tragedy, the hero and/or heroine are mythical figures, who speak in present tense as if the action were happening now. From this point of view we might say that, though they are dramatic characters, they occupy the same physical space as the people watching them. And thus, what is required of the actors is the best possible simulation and acting of the characters.

By contrast, the hero or heroine in many Noh plays is an historical or legendary figure. We cannot say that he or she is present in the same visual space as the audience. He or she does not belong in our real world, but exists only in the world of dream-a dream shared by the traveling monk and the audience. To play such a part, it may not be enough just to wear a costume and act. The actor must enter the character's spirit before he applies makeup and starts performing. Probably putting on the mask (called Omote in Noh) helps to achieve that depth of identification.
One shite actor of our times tells us that he, and other Noh actors like him, are very indebted to the Omote, because it helps them to concentrate when performing Noh; the effect on an audience he likens to shooting an arrow after drawing back the bow to its fullest extent. Getting back to my point, we might say that the other world exists inside the Omote or at least it is the gateway leading to such a world, so that by donning the mask the actor becomes someone who belongs in that other world.

It is significant that the mask is called Omote, which means the front surface facing the audience. But there is a reverse side, too, called Ura, behind which the actor conceals himself. Unlike the smooth finished outer surface of a Noh mask, the Ura is a roughly finished indented shell with just two tiny holes, tax more rudimentary than what we might call eyes. By including himself in this primitive space, the Noh actor transforms himself into a person of another world and attempts to draw the audience after him, by radiating a sense of the existence and non existence of an inhabitant of that other world.
Generally, a Noh mask is said to show no particular expression, but this is true only of its outer side. In the darkness of the interior an intensive interaction is raking place between the person of the other world and the Noh actor, and this colours the performance that radiates from the expressionless mask. Perhaps we might call this super-expression rather than the absence of expression. There is a variety of masks, but some types are in common use. By altering them in slight, or maybe even exaggerated ways, they become a man, a woman, a boy, an old man, a god, or a monster.

The female masks are classified by age groups.
For young women, Ko-omote, Zo-onna, Magojiro, Waka-onna.
For middle-aged women, Shakumi, Fukai.
For old women, Rojo, Uba.
A group of vengeful female ghosts wear Deigan, Yase-onna, Hannya, Hashihime.

The male masks are as follows.
For boys, Doji, Kasshiki.
For warriors, Chujo, Heita.
For an old man, Waraijo, sankojo, and Asakurajo.
Vengeful male ghostswear Ayakashi, Yase-otoko.
In addition to these, and peculiar to dramas whose titles are the same, are the masks of Yoroboshi, Semimaru, Kagekiyo, Yorimasa, Shunkan, and Shojo.
When the shite is playing a male and does not wear a mask at all, his bare face is called hitamen.

For gods there are masks called Hakushikijo and Kokushikijo, and for demons Tobide and Beshimi.

The KO-OMOTE mask called Snow (yuki) is worn by the sprit of Snow in "Yuki."
The JUROKU mask is worn by young Heike warriors who were killed battle in the title roles of "Atsumori"and "Tsunemasa."

The Nonomiya Shrine

A traveling monk (the waki) arrives at the Nonomiya Shrine in Sagano, on the outskirts of Kyoto. A woman (the maejite) appears, bearing a leafy branch of sakaki in her hand. She explains that every year she visits Nonomiya on the seventh clay of the Ninth Month. When rhe monk asks her why she does so, she says that it was on this day that Hikaru Genji once paid a visit to Rokuj? no Miyasundokoro, who was living in seclusion there. She then confesses that she herself is Miyasundokoro and disappears, (nakairi, the exit of the maejite)

A villager (the ai) appears and repeats the tale of Hikaru Genji and Miyasundokoro, then urges the monk to do something in their memory. When the monk is about to start praying, the ghost of Miyasundokoro (the nohijite) appears in a cart pulled by a cow. She gives an account of the strife between her and Hikaru Genji's wife and begs the monk to relieve her of her obsession with it; then she dances and vanishes through the gate of the shrine (the torii). This Noh drama is based on che ill-faced love affair between Hikaru Genji, the hero of The Tale of Genji, and Rokujo no Miyastindoroko, a noble lady of somewhat advanced years.

Nonomiya Nonomiya Nonomiya
izutsu - japanese

IZUTSU - The well head


A travelling monk (the waki) arrives at the ruined Ariwara Temple in the province of Yamato.

In olden times this was the place where Ariwara no Narihira, a renowned tanka love poet, resided with the daughter of Ki no Aritsune.
A local woman (the maejite) appears and offers flowers and water at the grave of Narihira.

Questioned by the monk, the woman tells him the story of the love affair between Narihira and Aritsune's daughter, which began when they met at the well in their childhood days. The woman confesses that she is in fact the daughter and disappears, (nakairi, the exit of the maejite)

While he is dozing, the monk dreams about the ghost of the daughter (the woman at the izutsu or structure that houses the actual well); she wears a costume that is a memento of Narihira, and the longing she still feels to be with him is expressed in a dance. Looking into the well of memories, she sees her own reflection overlapped by that of Narihira, and as day breaks she disappears.

This drama, based on The Tale of he, is a representative masterpiece that demonstrates the role of mugen (dream) in Noh.

Izutsu Izutsu
Dojoji - japanese

Dojoji - The Dojo Temple


At the Dojoji Temple in Kii province, the chief priest (the waki) appears, accompanied by other high-ranking priests (the wakitsure). The temple bell is being rededicated and he orders the attendants (the ai) to announce that women are not permitted to be present. The attendants proclaim this. Despite this, a shirabyoshi, a dancing girl (the maejite), appears and pleads that she be let into attend the ceremony. At first the attendants refuse her request, but finally they allow her into the precincts of the temple on condition that she will dance the shirabyoshi-mai. She starts dancing under cherry trees in full bloom, and her dance becomes more and more agitated, until she finally admits she has a grudge against the bell, jumps onto it, and knocks it down, (nakairi, the exit of the maejite)


When the attendants tell the chief priest what has happened, he tells an ancient tale. Once, when the temple authorities were asked to give refuge to a young itinerant priest, they hid him in a bell. Then a girl who was chasing him arrived and turned herself into a serpent, which coiled around the bell and melted it down so that the young priest was killed. After hearing the story the priests start to pray together, as a result of which the bell is restored to its original hanging position.

When the bell is lifted a woman (the nochijite) with the body of a serpent is found hiding under the bell. The priests pray harder and harder until the woman can bear it no longer and jumps into the River Hidaka and so disappears.

Any young shitekata actor who can perform this drama properly is considered to have perfected his art.

izutsu izutsu

Hagoromo - The celestial robe

Hakuryo (the waki) is a fisherman. When he comes to the shore at Mihonoura in the province of Suruga, he finds a beautiful feathery robe, hanging on a pine branch.
He wishes to take it home, but a celestial maiden (the maejite) appears and pleads with him to return her celestial garment.

At first Hakuryo refuses, but seeing her grief-because she cannot return to the celestial sphere without it he is moved and says he will return the robe if she will dance a heavenly dance for him.

She dons the robe and dances a joyful dance, flying over the pine trees of Miho, above the sea of floating islands, up to the peak of Mount Fuji, and then disappears into the vastness of a hazy spring sky.

This drama is completely different from Dojoji, as its sole purpose is to provide a beautiful and joyful spectacle.

hagoromo - japanese hagoromo
Tomoe - japanese



A traveling monk (the waki) accompanied by another monk (the wakitsure) is on his way from the mountainous area of Kiso to Miyako, the capital, when he passes Awazugahara, a place on the shores of Lake Biwa. A village woman (the maejite) appears and when she comes to a shrine that lies in front of them, she turns and begins to weep.
She asks the surprised monks where they have come from. When she learns that it is from Kiso, she informs them that it is Kiso Yoshinaka who is enshrined there, and asks the monks to do something for the peace of his spirit by chanting sutras. Then she disappears, (nakairi, the exit of the maejite)

While the monks are chanting, the ghost of the female warrior Tomoe (the nochijite) appears, wearing armour. She describes Yoshinaka's death and her own distress at not having died with him. She wears his kosode (kimono) and explains how she escaped to Kiso. Then, after asking the monks to pray for her too, she disappears once more.

This is the only Shuramono Noh with a female shite.

Tomoe Tomoe
Tomoe Tomoe
Okina - japanese

Okina - The old man


This drama is said to be the epitome of Noh; however, it could also be considered tobe a prototype.

Purification takes place by striking sparks from a flint inside the kagaminoma near the curtain where the actors make their exits and entrances, then the actors enter and line up on the hashigakari (bridge). These comprise Menhakomochi (bearer of a box of masks), Okina (the name means 'old man' and he is in hitamen-that is, he is not wearing a mask), Senzai (the name means 'one thousand years'), Sanbaso, hayashikata,  shitekatakouken, jiutai, and kyogenkata.

The actor playing Okina (the shite ) bows once and takes up the prescribed position where he removes the lid of the box in front of him. While Senzai (the shitetsure) is dancing a youthful dance to expel bad spirits, Okina puts on a Hakushikijo mask and dances in solemn fashion after Senzai, then takes off the mask and places it on the lid, and exits with Senzai.

After that, Sanbaso (the ai) dances the Mominodan and, when he finishes, dons a Kokushikijo mask, takes a bell handed to him by Menhakomochi and dances the Suzunodan. After this dance he removes the mask and makes his exit.

When gods other than Okina appears in a Noh, it is called waki-Noh. Waki means 'minor' here, thus meaning a Noh that is subsidiary to Okina. That is to say, Okina is the god of the gods, and the ritual of blessing human beings by the god of the gods is expressed by Okina, which suggests that the drama was born from a ritual.

Okina, Senzai are the shitekata. Sanbaso is acted by the kyogenkata. Menhakomochi is acted either by hitekata or kyogenkata depending on which school it is played.

Okina Okina
Atsumori - japanese


A traveling monk (the waki) comes to the valley of Ichinotani in the province of Settsu. Before he became a monk his name had been Kumagai-No-Jiro-Naozane and he had been a warrior fighting with the Genji clan.

After killing Taira-No-Atsumori, a youth who failed to escape from Naozane in the Battle of Ichinotani, he was overcome with a feeling of impermanence and became a priest, calling himself Rensho.

Nearing the end of his pilgrimage around the oun try, he has come to pray for Atsumori's spirit.

A reaper (the maejite) and his gang (the shitetsure) appear and the reaper plays a flute. While Rensho is asking the reaper about his flute, the rest of the gang go offstage, leaving him alone.

The reaper asks Rensho to pray to Amitabho so that he may be released, and then disappears, (nakairi, the exit of the maejite)

Rensho thinks the reaper must have been an parsonification of Atsumori and prays for him far into the night. As he is doing so, the ghost of Atsumori (the nochijite) appears wearing armour.
He recreates the combat he had with Naozane, asks again for prayers that will release him, and disappears.
This important play exemplifies the need for the waki to be a traveling monk.

Atsumori Atsumori Atsumori

Most familiar of the onna-men (female masks) Ko-omote represents a young girl in her teens. Words such as pure and innocent do not adequately describe her: still blissfully ignorant of the eternal love/hate dynamics of relations between the sexes, that very naivete can occasionally make her seem a little un forgiving.

Young and attractive she undoubtedly is; a mature, complete woman she is not.

The graceful curves that characterize her overall visage are key to expressing this. Thesection from the eyelids to the bridge of the nose must be especially plain and devoid of affectation, requiring the mask maker to rid his mind of worldly thoughts. While the mouth has a charming fullness with a hint of a smile, the corners of the eyes-arguably the feature that best characterizes Ko-omote betray a sharpness of character perhaps in keeping with her maidenly status.


Reognized as an onna-men unique to the Kongo school of Noh, MAGOJIRO takes its name from the sixteenth-century oiemoto (head) of the school, Kongo Magojiro Hisatsugu, and is reputedly modeled on his wife, who died of a young age. Kongo is said to have worn the mask on stage.

The original is known as "Omokage" (face, visage), while all utsushi (copies) are called Magojiro.
If one were to rank the attractiveness of female characters in Noh, this would be the pinnacle of noble feminine beauty.
To perfect it thus demands more than simply superficial, symmetrical features.

Magojiro has a longer, broader face than Ko-omote, and a trace of a smile playing about her lips.
This poses the greatest technical challenge for the mask maker.
Young, gentle features, a face pure yet of womanly charm; a mask that speaks not so much of youthful naivete as of someone's wife, just that fraction older. It is the smooth, rounded curves that express this.
Of paramount importance is the smile.
Forming an open mouth, the corners slightly upturned, is the greatest challenge in Magojiro-a subtle alteration to any angle of the mouth will affect for beautiful women of charming disposition in plays such as Yuya and Matsukaze.


Zo-onna takes her name from her creator, the Noh actor Zoami, a contemporary of Noh pioneer Zeami.
She is distinguished by her faintly melancholic gaze and taut, restrained features.

That gaze focused far in the distance is difficult to achieve; its mood is manifested in the subtle curve of the lower eyelids.
Overemphasize her solemnity and she can seem cold; it is the soft contours from cheeks to mouth, and her plump, soft lower lip, that rescue her from this.

Zo-onna represents a slightly older woman of composed demeanor.
Her features are neat, without a hair out of place, and those at the hairline are rendered with great precision.
The edges of her mouth are slightly downturned, giving her a sorrowful mien.

A mask of sublime and sacred aura, Zo-onna appears often in roles such as godcdesses, odhisattvas and celestial maidens.
This is an onna-men whose divinity demands a certain nobility of character in the maker.