Tsukioka Kogyo (1869-1927)

Kogyo's widowed mother married Yoshitoshi when the boy was fifteen. Kogyo acquired both the elements of print design and an interest in Noh from his stepfather. (Yoshitoshi studied Noh chanting.) Kogyo is best known for his prints of Noh actors.

The essence of Noh is that it redefines reality-of time, space, life and death. The stage is nearly bare and the movements are dictated down to the placement of an actor's fingers. The principal actor displays his character's emotions with a fixed, stylized mask. The back wall is adorned with a huge pine tree. Along the rear wall sit the musicians playing a flute and three drums and to the right are the two rows of singers comprising the Noh chorus. Props are rare and abbreviated, mere hints of the existence of the objects they represent. The masks are painted in the subtlest of expressions, representing men, women and children, young and old as well as demons and other figures. Elaborate robes and under-robes are the Noh's most visual spectacle.

Noh plays come in five categories concerned with gods, warriors, women, contemporary themes and supernatural beings. They are presented in cycles, each play having its place in the developing rhythm of a performance that might have taken eight hours. Although Noh originated in the countryside, by the early 1600's it became the official music of the ruling Tokugawa regime and unavailable to common people. The Meiji Restoration might have removed the barriers to access but Noh was so closely associated with the overthrown shogunate that it was almost lost. A few determined actors kept it alive until it found public favor again.

Abstracted from Kogyo and Noh, Shogun Gallery, 1981


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