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Haiku and Noh: Journeys to the Spirit World

Tags: Literature , Music , Traditional Art

Mayuzumi, Madoka

April 23, 2012

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MADOKA MAYUZUMI: Since spring 2010, I’ve been living in Paris, traveling around France and neighboring countries to promote cultural exchange and to introduce the world of haiku to people in Europe. In explaining the distinctive conventions used in haiku,[1] I’ve gained a renewed appreciation for the important role played by “form” [kata] and “omission”—the thoughts and feelings that are left unexpressed—in this very succinct poetic form.

This process of compaction is not unique to haiku; in fact, one can see it in many other aspects of Japan’s traditional culture. I think that the classic stage art of noh, in particular, has many parallels with haiku. Today, we’re fortunate to have two guest speakers who can eloquently describe this rather vague concept.

Mr. Yasuda belongs to a school of waki actors, who perform in supporting roles. When most people think of noh, they assume that actors all wear masks. But masks are worn only by shite actors, who play the lead characters. Waki are also very important, however, as Mr. Yasuda will now explain.

Between Two Worlds

NOBORU YASUDA: Ms. Mayuzumi has just mentioned the two types of actors in noh: shite and waki. One meaning of the term waki is “supporting role,” as was just explained, and people generally assume that’s the only definition. But there’s another, older meaning of the word: It is the seam along the side of the kimono that separates the front of the garment from the back. I’ll come back to this point a little later.

In a typical noh play,[2] a waki actor comes on stage first, often in the role of an itinerant monk and frequently accompanied by other monks. Coming upon an unusual tree, flower, or rock, he recites a poem, which triggers a sudden and strange natural phenomenon, such as a downpour or a darkening of the sky.

The shite then appears, quite often a young woman or old man. As the characters speak, their conversation turns to the past—a story from a literary classic or a local legend. The waki begins to suspect that he is not speaking to an ordinary human being. He asks why the shite is so familiar with this particular episode and calls on the shite to identify him- or herself.

The shite hints that he or she is actually the protagonist of the tale and disappears. As evening falls, the waki spends the night there—or if he is a Buddhist priest recites sutras—and waits to be revisited by the shite, typically in the waki’s dream. The shite reappears, recounts his or her tale, and often performs a dance before disappearing again with the approach of dawn.

I’m sure that all of you have visited places of historical significance—a medieval castle, for example. Each locality has its own “story” that is part of the district’s collective memory. But rarely will you meet a “ghost” who appears to recount the past. That’s because ghosts inhabit a world different from ours.

The waki is someone who stands at the edge of the two worlds, similar to the seams along the sides of a kimono. The front of the kimono can be likened to the world of living humans and the back to the abode of spirits. The two worlds usually don’t mingle, but since the waki has his feet in both, it’s not unusual for him to meet visitors from the beyond. His role is to make the invisible world accessible for the audience.

MAYUZUMI: I recall Mr. Yasuda making a very interesting comment that the key quality enabling waki characters to mingle with spirits is the passive nature of their psychic orientation. They don’t go out to win nature over; in fact, nature reaches out to woo them.

This is quite similar to the experience of writing a haiku, as nature is an integral component of the poetic form. It’s through trees, flowers, and stones that the poet communes with entities that are not visible. A haiku is a kind of greeting, a short note asking if all is well.

And just like the waki, haiku poets don’t go hankering after their subjects; we wait for them to approach us—a state of mind that might be called “waiting proactively.” Verses of five, seven, and five syllables per line are offered as a greeting, and we wait for a “reply” from the subject to complete our poems.

YASUDA: Encounters with trees, flowers, and stones aren’t possible through prose. To communicate with the world of spirits, you have to use verse, which in Japanese has traditionally meant metered lines of five and seven syllables.

Prose is the language of us humans, inhabiting a world that may, quite literally, be described as prosaic. Poetry is what is spoken in the world of spirits. It’s through language we don’t normally use—through verse—that we’re able to commune with those spirits.

MAYUZUMI: To compose their verses, Matsuo Basho[3] and other poets often traveled to famous or ancient sites that are collectively referred to as uta-makura or hai-makura, about which many verses have been written in the past. Often, poets allude not just to the spectacle before their eyes but also to the many earlier poems that have been written about it.

It’s as if you’re picking up a letter that someone has left there and adding one’s own comments, perhaps to be read later by someone else. Through a blooming flower or the moon, trees, and other natural phenomena, you’re paying your respects to the spirits there and the poets who wrote about them long ago.

Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North is a good example. In embarking on a journey to the interior of Japan, Basho was retracing the steps taken in the late Heian period by poet-monks Saigyo and Noin[4] and paying his respects to the spirits they no doubt also encountered. For Basho, the medium of communication with such spirits was the haiku.

YASUDA: Basho also has strong ties to noh. Before I talk about that, though, I’d like to say that the waki does not act alone in beckoning the spirits. An equally important role is played by the musicians—collectively called hayashi[5]—and particularly by the flute. I wonder if Mr. Tsukitaku can speak about that.

Crossing Over

SATOSHI TSUKITAKU: I was fascinated by Mr. Yasuda’s description of the passive nature of the waki’s interaction with the spirit world. Hayashi’s involvement, by contrast, may be described as actively creating a communication channel with this realm.

The waki is on the border between two worlds, and he’s not necessarily keen on moving to the other side. So the role of hayashi is to provide the needed push.

Hayashi music is usually performed at the beginning of a noh play, or when a character enters the stage. As Mr. Yasuda explained, we don’t normally meet ghosts in our daily lives. The flute, in particular, is the vehicle that can temporarily transport us to their world. Let me give you a short example. If you’ve ever seen a noh play, I’m sure you’ll remember hearing this very powerful note. [Performs a high-pitched note]

That piercing shrill is called hishigi, which comes from the verb hishigu meaning “to crush” or “to tear.” The role of hayashi is not to entertain, and so it’s probably quite different from the music you normally enjoy listening. It seeks to break down the barrier separating the world of humans with that of ghosts, spirits of trees and flowers, and divinities and to make them appear before us.

MAYUZUMI: Perhaps it’s better not to regard hayashi as music at all. It’s more momentary and fleeting.

TSUKITAKU: It’s not always fleeting, though. Rather, hayashi creates a perceptible change in the flow of time.

MAYUZUMI: I see. It creates a break with our everyday reality.

TSUKITAKU: That’s right. Performing arts in Japan is said to have begun with the practice of calling on divinities to take possession of spiritual mediums. This can still be seen in Shinto rituals in Japan and in shamanistic rites around the world. Divinities don’t appear without a reason, and the beckoning of spiritual entities usually entails jarring, nonmusical sounds that entreat them to possess the mediums.

Noh and Basho

YASUDA: I’d like to come back to Basho’s ties with noh. Let me show you an illustration. It depicts a traveling monk standing in a winter field. The man is Basho; it was drawn by one of his disciples, and the words—a poem composed by Basho—were written by the poet himself. You can see the poet’s signature and seal. The haiku reads: Tabibito to / waga na yobaren / hatsu shigure (Let my name / be traveler / first rains). He was about to embark on a long journey, and he surmises that people will remember him as a traveler.

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MAYUZUMI: This comes from the opening section of a travel diary, known as Oi no kobumi [The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel].

YASUDA: What’s interesting about this drawing is that to the right of his verse are four lines of text, accompanied by a variety of symbols, which denote melody and rhythm—in other words, how the words should be sung as part of a noh play.[6] This text, again, includes the word “traveler” and is an excerpt from a noh play called Umegae.

In this play, the character portrayed by the waki encounters a sudden downpour on his travels and, finding a house, asks for a night’s lodgings. The traveler then discovers that the mistress of the house is not an ordinary human being but a figure from the past. Basho’s reference to this play suggests that when he set out on his journeys, he, too, was hoping to meet figures who were no longer alive.

There’s one more thing that the drawing implies. Composing a haiku—or any other kind of verse, in fact—is called utau in Japanese, which also means to sing or chant. In that sense, Basho’s haiku were probably meant to be sung, not just read or recited. It might be interesting to see how it might have been performed. Let me give you a demonstration of how the excerpt from Umegae and Basho’s haiku can be sung to a flute accompaniment. [Performance of noh singing]

MAYUZUMI: When Basho wrote Oi no kobumi, I’m sure his verses were sung in this way. In his Narrow Road, he writes that in Nasuno (now in Tochigi Prefecture), the sky suddenly turned dark, followed by a downpour, and he had to ask a local farmer to put him up for the night. He subsequently describes his visits to Sesshoseki and Yugyoyanagi[7] before composing his famous verse: Ta ichimai / uete tachisaru / yanagi kana (A paddy of rice / now planted, so moving on / the willow tree).[8]

This poem has been interpreted in various ways, but there is no questioning the fact that it was written in reference to Saigyo’s own poem about the same willow, on which the noh play Yugyoyanagi is based. Basho is so thrilled to come upon the tree that Saigyo himself had written about that he no longer can tell whether what he’s experiencing is real or just a dream. In a sense, Basho has become a waki and is awaiting the appearance of Saigyo’s spirit, so the Narrow Road can be regarded as having been written in the style of a noh play.

Freedom through Form

MAYUZUMI: I’d like to move on to the concept of kata, or conventionalized form. Just the other day, a French haiku poet asked me whether I didn’t find the formal conventions of haiku too restricting, as poetry is supposed to encourage free expression. My response was that it was precisely form that frees you. I’m sure that form plays an important role in noh as well. Can you elucidate on this point?

YASUDA: In one sense, kata is a restriction. But I think that in many traditional Japanese arts, form is seen as less of a hindrance than an aid to freedom.

There are many different kata in noh, but I’d like to speak about just two today. The first is the fixed nature of the stage. The main performing area is a square measuring less than six meters a side.[9] In the finale of the play Hagoromo, for instance, the angelic lead character returns to her home in the heavens with her hagoromo (feather mantle). If the stage weren’t fixed, her flight into the sky would probably be expressed by pulling her off the floor with a rope. This, in fact, is what is done in the kabuki adaptation of the play. Because of the noh stage’s physical limitations, though, her upward spiral is expressed by the shite circling the stage several times. This requires the audience to imagine her ascent.

The restrictions compel people to use their imagination; many arts in Japan, in fact, rely on the audience’s imagination to bring a work to life. I’m sure the same is true for haiku.

MAYUZUMI: Absolutely. And form plays a big part in drawing out people’s imagination. Because haiku are so short, it’s impossible to express everything through words. Terms aren’t “added” together in a haiku; they’re “multiplied” to create a much bigger effect.

At the same time, the brevity creates “margins” or “blank spaces,” giving readers room to imagine the sentiments behind each phrase. Basho describes this as iiosete nanika aru (say little, imply much). If you express everything, nothing will be left to say. It is by being selective that a process of distillation and purification takes place, transforming the haiku into a experience that can lift the spirits of both the poet and reader. This, I think, is the power of kata.

YASUDA: Limitations posed by the human body, too, can be turned into an advantage. This is the second of the two kata I want to mention. In the world of noh, I’m still considered a junior performer, although I’m already 55. My teacher is 80, and when he talked about retiring due to an illness, he was admonished for thinking about such things while he was still so young!

It is when you can no longer freely use your body to express something that you begin to exude an aura that comes from having devoted yourself to years of discipline and training. That’s the reason that performances by actors who are really advanced in age can be very moving. Perhaps the instrument that best embodies this concept is the flute.

TSUKITAKU: Yes, I’d agree. The modern Western concert flute, as you know, is made of metal and has many keys. This was developed in the nineteenth century to overcome the restrictions of earlier models to enable the instrument to play a fuller range of notes. With the new innovations, flutists were free to play any note they wished.

The noh flute, by contrast, is an instrument with many physical limitations that in themselves can be thought of as constituting a type of kata. It appears to be a single piece of wood, but actually there’s a narrow piece of bamboo embedded into a wider one, and the bore is rather irregular. This prevents the instrument from producing regular intervals in pitch but gives it a highly distinctive tone. Ms. Mayuzumi was right when she surmised that hayashi isn’t really music. The noh flute is made in a way that it can’t produce the kind of melodies that people can readily sing. This is an intentional limitation.

YASUDA: I understand that playing the noh flute is quite difficult.

TSUKITAKU: If you can play the Western flute, you’ll probably get a sound out of the noh flute without much effort. But the chances are, it won’t be the sound required in a noh performance. Let me show you what a noh flute needs to sound like. [Performance]

Someone learning to play the noh flute would begin not by actually playing on the instrument but singing the names of those notes, such as o-hya-ra. This is designed to familiarize the student with the use of the body before he or she learns the use of the instrument. This song, called shoga, can also be described as a type of kata.

I play the noh flute exactly as I was told to by my teacher. That’s all I’m capable of doing, but this “limitation,” in fact, gives me the freedom to perform any type of noh play, in any language.

MAYUZUMI: I think that the importance of kata is much clearer now. Rather than hindering free expression, kata gives us the tools to enable us to express ourselves freely.

Many people, when they begin writing haiku, feel that there are too many restrictions. The haiku is so short, the lines must follow the five-seven-five metric pattern, and a seasonal kigo must be included. But if you keep working at it, after ten or twenty years, you suddenly realize how liberating such rules can be.

YASUDA: A span of ten to twenty years may seem long, but that’s not necessarily the case in Japanese traditional arts.

Kokoro versus Omoi

MAYUZUMI: Rather than being an unnatural imposition, form can be one of the most natural of human desires.

YASUDA: For me, kata is the channel I use to go beyond surface appearances to arrive at the core, inner aspects of human nature.

Usually, a noh actor doesn’t think about the feelings of the characters he portrays. Rather, we faithfully perform the kata as we’ve been taught by our teachers.

This is related to the difference in meaning of two Japanese words: kokoro and omoi. The former refers to feeling or emotion, and is also the word for “heart.” This is very fickle, changing from one moment to the next. The person we were in love with last year, for example, might no longer be the one we’re fond of now.

MAYUZUMI: That’s very straightforward. I think we’re now very clear on what kokoro means.

YASUDA: The word for something deeper and unchanging, on the other hand, is omoi. The object of our amorous desires might change, but there’s an urge in us that compels us to always be in love with someone! Omoi lies behind our fleeting emotions. In noh we don’t deal with kokoro; we’re concerned with omoi. If kokoro had been our chief interest, I don’t think noh would have survived for 650 years. An art form dedicated to something that is always changing would surely have become outdated by now.

The actors expressing this omoi on stage, though, are living humans, so we’re full of capricious kokoro. In a role requiring the expression of love, for instance, it’s easy to fall into the trap of drawing on our shallow experiences.

There are moments in our lives, though, when we tap into something bigger, particularly after a traumatic or shocking event, such as when you lose all your possessions, your social status, or your lover.

Around 650 years ago, when the noh theater was founded, the playwrights and actors no doubt created the kata to express such omoi, enabling it to be preserved and handed down from generation to generation—as if in a deep freeze. It’s the job of living noh actors to “thaw” or “extract” the omoi and bring it back to life with each performance. Once it manifests itself on stage, the omoi might then resonate with members of the audience, who, together with the actors onstage, awaken to something that ordinarily goes unnoticed.

So kata is not just outward form. It has its roots in emotions so deep that we don’t even realize they’re there.

MAYUZUMI: Since I teach haiku writing, I frequently come across instances of people attempting to compose their very first verse. The motive for such an attempt is not infrequently a death of a family member or a broken heart. It’s at such moments—when something one has taken for granted is suddenly lost—that people are suddenly confronted with their deepest and most personal emotions. And to come to grips with such omoi, there seems to be an innate longing for form, for kata that they know won’t betray them.

One might say that the changing and enduring aspects of our affective lives, as represented by kokoro and omoi, have a parallel existence. Omoi lies deeper, while kokoro is on the surface. Haiku, too, is a tool for connecting with our deepest nature, rather than a depiction of our fleeting whims.

Omoi often can’t be put into words, so we use metaphors like scenes of nature. The real message is to be found not in the words but in the omissions, the blank margins in between. Nature is the medium we used to arrive at our omoi.

YASUDA: Omoi isn’t a personal matter, so it doesn’t take a subject—there’s no first person. If I say, “I’m in love with Ms. Mayuzumi,” for instance, the “I” is there. Someone else might say they dislike Ms. Mayuzumi. That would be a rude thing to say [laughs], but the “self” would still be there.

In noh, however, our love for our spouses, children, lovers, or even food is all transformed into omoi. While we’re portraying a specific character, at the same time we’re also expressing everyone’s omoi, including those of people in the audience. And so the “I” naturally disappears.

MAYUZUMI: And of course, haiku have no first person either.

TSUKITAKU: The discussion about omoi is very interesting. My personal take on this is that it represents the moment when we transcend the self and reach a new level of consciousness. Physically speaking, it’s the moment when our energy becomes focused here, in the lower abdominal area.

MAYUZUMI: Hmm, then maybe kokoro is something we feel in our chest. Omoi is a little lower, an area called tanden in Japanese, below the navel. That’s the place where we focus our breaths when doing yoga or zazen. Is that also the case when you’re playing the flute?

TSUKITAKU: Yes, exactly. This area becomes very active. And we practice moving the energy around when singing shoga, the names of the notes, as I mentioned earlier.

MAYUZUMI: In haiku, too, we’re often taught not to compose poems with our heads. The inspiration has to come from deeper down, I suppose, from around our tanden area.

Sound of Silence

MAYUZUMI: There’s an indescribable richness to the empty intervals, called ma, between the notes performed by a flute or the words spoken or sung by an actor. I was speaking recently with an ikebana [flower arrangement] artist who explained that her art, too, places great importance on ma—in her case, the empty spaces between the flowers. In fact, she claimed that she doesn’t look at the flowers at all; she’s not arranging the flowers so much as using them to design the spaces in between. The aesthetic underpinnings of the spatial and temporal “margins” in ikebana and noh, respectively, seem to have much in common.

YASUDA: Let me take this notion of ma one step further. In noh, there are intervals that everyone perceives. You can hear the pauses between the notes. But there is another type of ma that isn’t so obvious. I wonder if Mr. Tsukitaku would first explain the more easily perceived type of ma.

TSUKITAKU: I talked earlier about the flute’s role in calling spirits onto the stage. The noh stage is fitted with a long corridor called the hashigakari;[10] this is a passageway linking the world of living humans—that is, the main performing area—with the spirit realm, on the other side of the curtain.

In a special rendition of the play Kiyotsune, the lead character enters the stage along the hashigakari to the accompaniment only of the flute, pausing every time the flute stops. There is a rather long silence—ma that everyone in the audience perceives—broken when the actor starts moving again and the flute resumes its refrain. This is repeated several times before the actor reaches the stage. No sound is produced during the pauses, but in many ways, the silences speak louder than the notes. They’re very rich and condensed moments.

YASUDA: You’re not actually looking at the actor as you play, are you?

TSUKITAKU: No, I’m not. The length of the ma is measured by the number of breaths. This enables the actor and the flutist to break the silence at more or less the same time, without having to look at each other. The shite and flutist are positioned far apart from one another, but we know what the other is doing because we share our ma. [Performance]

MAYUZUMI: How should such long pauses be interpreted? Or rather, how can they be fully appreciated by the audience?

TSUKITAKU: The ideal situation would be for members of the audience to breathe along with us.

MAYUZUMI: The audience, in effect, also becomes the shite.

YASUDA: Synchronizing our breaths means that everyone in the theater is inhaling and exhaling as one. When our breathing slows down, we tend to get drowsy, and you often find people in the audience nodding off . . .

TSUKITAKU: But that’s not the same as going into a deep slumber. People become half-asleep.

MAYUZUMI: I suppose that in this state, the audience can also enter into that realm where the boundary between the physical and nonphysical worlds becomes blurred.

Simplicity as the Ultimate Goal

MAYUZUMI: We talked earlier about there being no “self” in an omoi and that this is also a feature of haiku. Writing a haiku is like depicting a scene without injecting our subjective feelings.

YASUDA: An interesting example of how the self is discarded in noh is the flutist’s relationship with his instrument. The flute used by Mr. Tsukitaku is about 300 years old, but he claims it’s relatively new.

TSUKITAKU: Other flutists use much older instruments, so the one I’m using now wouldn’t be regarded as being very old.

YASUDA: It’s been passed down from generation to generation. But just because it’s been used so long doesn’t mean that it’s easy to play.

TSUKITAKU: This flute used to belong to my teacher, and the first time I played on it, I couldn’t get it to sound right. Only gradually, over more than 10 years, have I been able to get it to play the way I want. But people have told me that I now sound more like my teacher. So perhaps the flute hasn’t adjusted to me; I’ve adjusted to the flute.

For three centuries, then, there’s been a generation after generation of flutists who’ve worked to keep the sound alive. For me, this was a very liberating thought. I no longer felt separate from the flute. I melted into it. In effect, the “I” disappeared.

YASUDA: When Mr. Tsukitaku first received this flute, it still carried the breath of his teacher, who had used it for years. But after a while, it adapted to Mr. Tsukitaku’s breath, and at the same time, he conformed to the “breath” of the flute as well. This is a process that’s been ongoing for three centuries, and the chances are it will continue for another 300 years. The flute adjusts to each new musician, and vice versa, so the sound continues to evolve. Performing on such a flute precludes any notion of self.

TSUKITAKU: Said another way, it’s gone through so many “selves” that it’s impossible to make it your own. [laughs]

MAYUZUMI: Mr. Yasuda also has an interesting interpretation of Basho’s famous haiku: Furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto (A still, quiet pond / a frog leaps in / the sound of the water). It’s a very novel interpretation that surprised me. He claims that Basho is not watching a frog jumping into a pond from its banks; rather, he is the pond. There is no “I” that is witnessing this event.

YASUDA: The poem has three basic components, namely, the pond, the frog jumping into it, and the sound of water. I think that anybody who writes haiku or poems of any kind would immediately identify the sound of water as being the crux of Basho’s experience.

He might have composed this verse as he was walking, having heard something fall into a roadside pond. But after hearing a plop, the frog was nowhere to be seen. So as far as he was concerned, it could have been a rock or a carp, rather than a frog. The only way he could be certain that it was a frog is if he was the pond itself.

Zeami, who along with his father Kan’ami in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century elevated noh into a highly refined dramatic art form, said something very similar. There is a much larger universe beyond the visible world. Even something as simple as extending my right hand is a very complex process involving the coordination of muscles and neurons. Since I’m Japanese, the raising of my right hand might have particular cultural implications. A very simple physical act isn’t so simple when you consider all the factors that are associated with it.

Before the hand actually moves, moreover, there is a trigger that sets the process in motion. Zeami notes that three factors are involved behind each movement: the broad invisible world, the trigger, and the actual motion. The audience sees only the last of the three, but the actor needs to be aware of the other two as well. They must be attuned to the invisible world and recognize the subtle changes that launch the movement. From this viewpoint, Basho’s haiku is not just about the sound of water but the events preceding it, namely, the motion of the frog, and the setting of the pond.

The unperceived elements can also be thought of as ma. Such an “interval” is neither spatial nor temporal but comprises the vast “emptiness” from which everything is born.

MAYUZUMI: Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi was an admirer of Auguste Rodin and initially created very realistic works. But over time his sculptures grew simpler. He said that as one approaches the “truth” or “essence” of objects, one ultimately arrives at simplicity.

Haiku, as a poetic form, is simplicity itself. It’s been pared to its essence, and the kata, the structure, couldn’t be simpler. And by using this form over the years, it’s possible to reach the core. The approach is perhaps the reverse of Brâncuşi, since you’re already starting with simplicity, but the final result is the same.

In Japan, the kata comes first. The kata is the result of a long evolutionary process, of course, but once created, they can lead you, through years of practice, to the essence. I think this is a characteristic seen in many Japanese arts.

YASUDA: That’s certainly true with noh. You have to work with kata for years with faith in your teacher and unwavering devotion to the art. Mastery is a long and arduous process that doesn’t come until you perhaps reach the age of 80, 90, or even 100.

MAYUZUMI: Thank you for your fascinating comments. I’m afraid our time is up today. Thank you very much for attending this forum.

 

Translated from “‘Haiku to no,’ sono utsukushiki sekai,” Haikukai, September 2011 (No. 182), pp. 205–213 (article based on the February 14 symposium at the Association Culturelle Franco-Japonaise de Tenri: appended here with comments at the February 12 symposium at the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris).

 

[1] Haiku follow a 5-7-5 metric pattern and must contain a kigo, a word or phrase denoting a particular season. A list of kigo is contained in compilations called saijiki, which also includes many samples by poets of the past.

[2] Most noh plays are categorized as mugenno, in which the leading character is not a living human being but an otherworldly figure who recounts a tale from the past. It is the mugenno form that gives noh its distinctive quality. Plays featuring living humans are called genzaimono.

[3] Basho (1644–1694) created a new poetic form called haiku by taking the first three lines of a much longer collaborative poetry genre called haikai no renga and turning it into a stand-alone work.

[4] Saigyo (1118–1190) and Noin (998–?) are poet-monks who were constantly on the road. Their lifestyle had great appeal for Basho, and he frequently refers to the two in his Narrow Road.

[5] Hayashi music is performed by three percussion instruments (otsuzumi, kotsuzumi, and taiko) and a flute, the flute being the only instrument that can perform a melody.

[6] Major constituent elements of a noh play include dance, hayashi, and utai, the last making up the text, both those that are spoken and sung.

[7] Both Sesshoseki and Yugyoyanagi are also names of noh plays.

[8] Different interpretations have been posited for who actually “emerged” from the shade: local farm girls, the poet himself, or the spirit of the willow tree.

[9] Pillars stand at the four corners, which support a roof—a remnant of the days when noh was performed outdoors.

[10] The bridge-like corridor has railings on both sides and extends from the left rear side of the main stage at an angle to the kagami-no-ma, from when actors enter and exit, separated by a curtain. The hashigakari is not just a passageway but also an important part of the performing area.

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