Nogaku…subtitles would have been nice.


So, today my wife, our two and a quarter kids, and I spent the afternoon watching a traditional Japanese musical theater performance called Nogaku.  My daughter has been taking Japanese language classes during the summer break and her teacher tossed some free “concert” tickets our way and invited us on an enlightening journey through four hours of theatrical performance conducted in a language that none of us understand.  The Japanese teacher pitched the event as a “concert”.  Looking back, I believe that there must have been some confusion on his end as to what a concert actually is.  All in all, we had a good time and were privy to some cultural learnin’.

Nogaku is a traditional performing art that developed in Japan over 700 years ago.  It is really two types of performances melded into one.  It combines the arts of Noh and Kyogen.  Noh is a sort of musical drama that reenacts events in history and Japanese folklore.  It consists of characters (or actors) wearing colorful clothing and, often times, a mask.  The type of mask that is worn normally depicts a different type of character.  Our masked character today was a “spider monster” from what I could tell.  He wore a large red mask with intricate detail and long, black, bushy hair.  He seemed to be fighting with this old guy who, from my wife and my perspective, seemed to be bedridden.  In the end, the old man triumphed over the “spider monster” through  some tricky swordplay and with the help of three younger gentlemen.  The “spider monster” was pretty bad-A.  He shot spools of “webbing” from his hands onto the other actors and occasionally into the audience.  It was actually very cool how the web seemed to come from nowhere.  I watched his hands the entire time and I couldn’t figure out how he came up with all that webbing.  Full disclosure; our seats were WAY up in the “cheap seats” section, so I could have easily been bamboozled by this magical arachnid.  In the end, I’m glad that the old man won because I really don’t like spiders.

I mentioned that this was a musical sort of performance.  That is true, but I must take a few moments to describe the “music” that accompanied the play.  In each act, there sat four men (all sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce), each with a different instrument.  Three of the men played different types of drums and one of them played a flute.  The cool part was the grunting that each man did along with the playing of their instrument.  It seemed like the grunts accented the ups and downs of the performance.  When I say grunting, read Jackie Chan type of “hoooowwwhhhaaa” kung fu type grunting.  It was pretty gnarly.  Very Japanese.  Very authentic.

At the end of the day, even though we didn’t understand a word of this ancient art, we did manage to have a good time.  One of the best things about living in the land of the rising sun is the opportunity to experience another culture that is so much older than ours.  Speaking of our culture, on our walk back to our car from the theater, we stopped at Lucky’s diner.  It is an “American” hamburger joint.  My son and I ordered a cheese burger and my wife and daughter got teriyaki burgers…SAYONARA!

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