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Kyogen Dancers

We open this third set in my ongoing series of 'Hanga Treasure Chests' with an image that I have enjoyed ever since I first saw it in a research volume many years ago. And given that our theme is 'The Arts of Japan' this one could be included in the set a number of times over - for dance, kimono design ... perhaps even umbrella making! But I think we'll look at it as being most representative of Kyōgen, the form of comic theatre most traditionally associated with the more serious Nōh.

In its most basic form, Kyōgen consists of brief skits performed during intervals of a Nōh play. They are not serious at all, and consist of set stories, presented in an exaggerated style, in both dance and dialogue. Unlike the Nōh itself, the audience can generally understand what is happening in a Kyōgen performance.

This image is one leaf from an album of kyōka poetry entitled 'Tarōzuki' (The Moon of Tarō), and was designed by the man we know as Hokusai, in the 1790s, relatively near the beginning of his career, while still using the name Sōri. It almost certainly depicts two of the main stock characters of the Kyōgen stage, the 'Master' and the servant known as Tarō. Exactly what they are up to in this scene is lost to history ...

So there we have the start of our series, at a place roughly 250 years ago in the middle Edo period. During the course of our journey, we will be moving both back and forward in time from that point; the very long history of Japanese culture gives us plenty of scope to visit many eras indeed. Please sit back and enjoy the ride!


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