Atsumori Essay Outline

On By In 1

EA 120 (23085)

Japanese Theater Syllabus
UC Irvine, Winter 2013

Susan B. Klein

Teaching Assistant: Matthew Chudnow


TJT = Traditional Japanese Theater

JND = Japanese Nô Dramas

Unit 1: Medieval Noh and Kyogen Theater

Week 1 (January 8, 10): Images and Reading/Discussion Questions

Week 1a outline(1/8) Introduction to Japanese theater and Religion in Noh

Week 1b outline (1/10): Religion in Noh (2)

a. Karen Brazell, "Japanese Theater: A Living Tradition" [TJT 3-24]


Video Clip from This is Noh: Intro to stage including Izutsu; Izutsu 2, Izutsu 3

For more on Buddhism, see link to "Buddhism" on WWW Links page.

For more on medieval Japan, see link to "Medieval  Period" on WWW Links page.

Week 2a-2b Outline (1/15): Elements of Performance (masks, costumes, props, movement, chanting)

a. Brazell, "Japanese Theater: A Living Tradition" and “Elements of Performance” [TJT, 24-43,    115-25]
a. Yamamba [TJT 207-225],photo story, images, Japanese
b. Atsumori [JND 37-48 or TJT 126-142], photo story, images(ALSO: click here for an interactive text in English with images and Japanese)
c. Sumidagawa [JND 251-263], photo story
d. Review Izutsu (The Well Cradle)[TJT 143-157 and JND 120-132]photo story, images, Japanese


Week 2b Outline (same as above) (1/17): Costume and Performance Continued

a. Dôjôji [TJT 193-206]photo story, Japanese
b. Kamo [TJT 44-60], photo story, link to video


Videos: excerpts from Yamamba, Dôjôji, Atsumori, Izutsu, Sumidagawa, Kamo

Link to mask-making video

Link to Kamo

Video: Komachi and the Hundred Nights

Week 4a-4b (January 29, 31) Kyogen Theater: Images and Reading/Discussion Questions

Week 4a Outline (1/29) Kyôgen Elements of Performance (costumes, props, movement, voice)

a. Review Brazell, “Elements of Performance” [TJT, 115-25]
b.The Delicious Poison (Busu) [TJT, 235-44] Japanese
c. The Snail (Kagyu) [TJT, 256-66]
d. Synopsis of Narihira and the Rice Cakes (Narihira mochi)
e. Two Daimyo (Futari Daimyo) [TJT 226-234]

Videos: This is Kyogen; The Delicious Poison (Busu)

Week 4b Outline (1/31): Kyôgen as Parody

Week 5a (February 5) MIDTERM 1


Weeks 5b, 6, 7 (February 7, 12, 14, 19, 21): Images and Reading/Discussion Questions

Week 5b Outline (2/7): Introduction to Bunraku

a. Review Brazell,"Japanese Theater: A Living Tradition" [TJT 13-24]
b. Brazell , “Elements of Performance” [TJT 303-313]
c. Love Suicides at Amijima [TJT 333-63, Japanese]

d.Optional (we'll be watching the video): The Miracle of the Tsubosaka Kannon [TJT 408-417]

e. Optional background article: Donald H. Shively, "The Social Environment of Tokugawa Kabuki," in Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context (University Press of Hawaii, 1978), 1-61.

Videos:Tradition of Performing Arts in Japan: Bunraku, excerpts from Love Suicides at Amijima, Love Suicides at Sonezaki

For more on the Edo/Tokugawa period, see link to "Edo/Tokugawa" on WWW Links page

Week 6a Outline (2/12): Costumes, Make-up and Form in Kabuki acting I: aragotomale roles

a. Review Brazell, “Elements of Performance” [TJT, 308-313]; see also “Four Figures of the Thundergod” [TJT, 39-43]
b. Saint Narukami [TJT 68-94, Japanese]
c. Shibaraku synopsis from Wikipedia, images (includes summary of play)

d. Optional reading for more indepth on Kabuki acting: James R. Brandon, "Form in Kabuki Acting," in Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context (University Press of Hawaii, 1978), 63-132.

Videos:Leonard Pronko, "Form in Kabuki Acting,"Narukami, Shibaraku, Tradition of Performing Arts in Japan (Kabuki) with excerpt from Yoshitsune Senbonzakura (Yoshitsune and the 1000 Cherry Trees)

For more on Kabuki, see links on WWW Links page, especially Kabuki21.

Week 6b Outline (2/14): Costumes, Make-up and Form in Kabuki acting II: wagoto male rolesandonnagata female rolesplus shosagoto dance pieces

a. review Love Suicides at Amijima [TJT 333-63, Japanese]
b. Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon Chûshingura) Act 6 "At the Farmhouse" (TJT 375-392, Japanese) and Act 7 "Ichiriki Brothel House" (Gion Ichiriki no ba), Japanese
See also English synopsis of the Treasury of Royal Retainers (Chushingura) story.
c. review noh Dôjôji [TJT 193-206, Japanese]
d. The Maiden at Dôjôji (Musume Dôjôji) [TJT 506-24, Japanese]

Video: excerpts from Form in Kabuki Acting, The Maiden at Dôjôji, Ichiriki Brothel Scene, Love Suicides at Amijima

Week 7a Outline (2/19): Atsumori in Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki

a.The Kabuki/Bunraku version:

1. Synopsis of Ichi no Tani Futabagunki (Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani)

2. The Chronicle of the Battle of Ichinotani Acts 1 and 2

[Act 1 Scene 2 Suma Bay (TJT 442-455) is the most important to the comparison, but I'll be showing scenes from Kumagai's Camp (Kumagai jinya) in class as well]

b.The original story from Tale of the Heike (Heike monogatari):

1. "The Death of Atsumori":English,Japanese

2. "The First Attackers": English, Japanese

c. Review the Noh Atsumori: Atsumori [JND 37-48 or TJT 126-142]
(click here for an interactive text in English with images and Japanese)

Videos: excerpts fromKabuki: Traditional Theater of Japan, excerpts from Suma Bay and Kumagai's Camp (Kumagai no jinya)

Week 7b Outline (2/21): YotsuyaGhost Stories as Kizewamono

a. Yotsuya Ghost Stories [TJT 456-483]

b. synopsis of entire play of Yotsuya Ghost Stories (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) [scroll down to "summary"--see also reading questions for week 7]

c. Review English synopsis of the Chushingura story and the introduction to "At the Farmhouse" [TJT starting p. 375]

Video: excerpts from Yotsuya Ghost Stories


UNIT THREE: 20th Century Theater

Week 8 (2/26, 2/28): Shimpa Images and Reading/Discussion Questions

Week 8a-b Outline: Shimpa (the transition from Kabuki to Modern Theater)

a) Susan Klein, Ankoku Butô: The Premodern and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness, Ch. 1 (1-23), Ch. 2 (24-54).

Video:Body at the Edge of Crisis, Piercing the Mask

See also: various links to Butoh on the links page, particularly the poster from a 1974 performance by Dairakudakan, "The Mikado's Enormous Balls" and The Drama Review (TDR) which includes a number of translated essays by Hijikata Tatsumi.

Week 9b (3/7): Butoh and Post-shingeki Theater: Ota Shogo's The Water Station

a. Mari Boyd'sOta's Theatrical Vision, Introductory Material on The Water Station

b. Ota Shogo, The Water Station, trans. by Mari Boyd
Asian Theatre Journal, vol 7 no. 2 (1990) pp. 150-183.

c. Interactive Script of Scene 1 of The Water Station (Mizu no Eki)

d. Scene 1 image slide show

Video:Theater in Japan: Yesterday and Today (see clip from Tenkei gekijo Mizu no Eki)

Week 10 (3/12, 3/14): Post-Shingeki Theater Images and Reading/Discussion Questions

a. Yukihiro Goto, "The Theatrical Fusion of Suzuki Tadashi,"Asian Theatre JournalVol. 6, No. 2 (Autumn, 1989), 103-123.

Videos: One Step on a Journey, Theater in Japan: Yesterday and Today


c. optional background reading: Notes from Brian Powell's Japan's Modern Theater on Suzuki Tadashi and Ota Shogo

d. Review: Klein, Ankoku Butô: The Premodern and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness, 10-20.


Week 10ab outline (3/14): Post-Shingeki Movement Continued PLUS REVIEW FOR EXAM


FINAL EXAM: Thursday March 21 8-10 am

Two major forms of drama arose from the 14th to the18th centuries in Japan. These two theaters of drama are the Nō (Noh) and Kabuki forms. Both are still existent to this date, as it continues to convey many aspects of the Japanese culture during its feudal era to its golden age. Compared to the Eurocentric Western theaters, the Noh and Kabuki could be considered as too simple at first glance. However, it is more of an interpretative form of play that unlocks the imagination of the audience completely, training their skill to imagine. In the following paper, the two famous forms of Japanese drama would be discussed (starting with the Noh), highlighting certain aspects that could be similar or different between the two.

Two stylistic plays dominated Japan, one originating from the 14th century, and both are widely existent in Japan, and in some parts of the world to this date. The Nō (Noh) and Kabuki plays were one of many highlights of the Japanese culture. Both forms of drama tend to express elaborate costumes and stylistic movements. Well, movement seems to be the key for plays. However, the Nō and Kabuki plays used movement as a form to express the emotional theme of the play, not just the emotion that the character exudes. The main actor for each Nō and Kabuki play would generate the play’s emotions. In other words, he or she is the vessel of the play’s emotional theme, upon which the actor would portray in very exaggerated and elaborated movements that could possibly interpret the whole play itself. This could be one of the major differences that it possesses in comparison to the Western dramas, besides the fact that the play’s set in Nō and Kabuki plays are quite simple compared to that of Western plays. Even though the similarities of Nō and Kabuki plays could be identified easily because of their origination under one culture, time seemed to have made a difference as their categories and their major themes greatly differed from each other since some aspects of the Japanese culture that were present during their respective times, could be absent in the other form’s time.

The Nō Drama

The Nō drama form made its mark in medieval Japan during the 14th century, significantly during the age of Zen practice and the world of the Samurai. It was believed that the Samurai themselves started this theatrical form, which seems to be based on their cultural principles of the Secular arts: discipline and dedication (Nō Drama 1395). The themes and principles behind the structure of the Nō drama form could be equated with the current Zen principles during that time (Nō Drama 1395). Hence, it would explain the existence of the principle related to simplicity, upon which all Nō dramas could easily portray through the use of a simple theatrical stage for their performance, a simple recurring backdrop which is unvarying (Nō Drama 1396), and with a lead actor to produce the necessary moods of the play’s story. However, the aim of the lack or absence of the Nō drama form’s of stage design could be for the purpose of completely unlocking the audience’s imagination, which in turn would help them understand the play. In other words, the play interacts with the audience and also provides an opportunity for the audience to interact with the pay. Another chief Zen principle followed by the Nō drama is enlightenment which is also entailed in the practices of other Secular arts like archery and calligraphy (Nō Drama 1395).

In the Nō drama, the Shite is the main actor and protagonists; although in Noh dramas, it was mentioned that there is an absence of a distinct antagonist (Nō Drama 1396). It could take up the form of a metaphor within the play’s story, or it could be something abstract like the Shite’s conflicts. He often enters the stage followed by the Tsure or the companion, much like a supporting actor (Nō Drama 1397). However, they often enter in the second phase, after the introductory phase which is led by the Waki which was often the play’s priest, also followed by the Chorus (around six to eight men) and the Musicians, usually a flute player and two drummers (Nō Drama 1396). Noh plays often need only few musicians to intensify the monologues and dialogues of the actor(s).

The Nō drama can also be categorized into five: The Kami mono or “god plays” which the Shite would first appear in human form and would later assume the deity he truly is; the Shura mono which entailed a troubled warrior’s spirit who has not passed on towards the next life until a priest would release him from his suffering through prayer, like in the play Atsumori; the Katsura mono or “wig plays” which the Shite would portray the spirit of an angry woman who was often obsessed with unhappy love; Mundane plays which make up almost half the repertoire and tend to focus on derangement; and Oni mono or demon plays which depicts supernatural creatures, devils in particular, who threaten to overwhelm the forces of good (Nō Drama 1398). Given the following categories, it seems that many of these tend to stray away from a historical and, probably, realistic themes and plots.

The Kabuki Theater

Kabuki is a familiar word that could reverberate through the minds of people. As opposed to the Nō Drama form, Kabuki plays often depict something “out of the ordinary”, which Kabuki actors would also try to achieve, unlike in Nō drama wherein the actor would tend to achieve simplicity and other Zen principles. Hence, it may be known as something bizarre or avant-garde in the Japanese theatrical scene. There can be more singing and dancing in such plays, as opposed to Nō plays. It can also be assumed that there would be more props in these plays than that of Nō plays.

The Kabuki Theater is meant for the commoners during its prominent rise in Japanese civilization. Hence, it would explain why there seem to be many attendees from the lower classes. According to Richard Hooker, it was originally meant to divulge forbidden topics within Japanese society (, 1999). The lower classes seem to get their daily entertainment from such hot topics during this period. To discuss such topics that the audiences could easily relate to since it was their society, the playwrights would write history places as a guise for such an act (Hooker 1999); it is also one of three categories of the Kabuki drama. There are three categories of the Kabuki drama form: Jidai mono or historical plays wherein the play is set on a major event in Japanese history; Sewa mono or domestic plays wherein it is mainly focused on the townspeople or commoners which is often about family dramas and romances within the community; and Shosagoto or dance pieces wherein one could take it literally in order to understand its context. The most dominant may have been the Jidai mono as it shared historical events, many of which may have been forbidden topics, which the commoners enjoyed, as they can easily relate to these hot topics (Hooker 1999). The main actor of the Kabuki play often enters appreciated by the people, as he or she walks along the hanamichi, a walkway wherein entrances and exits are performed. This is where they make their first long speech wherein the actor would introduce his or her character, as well as the character’s genealogy (Hooker 1999); as opposed to the Nō play wherein the Waki introduces the play.

Watching vs. Reading a Nō play

A live performance is definitely more visual and can easily be comprehended by the audience, than its literature counterpart. The elements of drama can actually be seen, as opposed to the literature version wherein only words seem to appear (Nō drama 1399). However, it seems that the simplicity of the Nō drama form enables its audience to unlock his or her imagination. With this being mentioned, it is possible to visualize the play in the literature version through the use of imagination; all literature pieces would pose this challenge. Even in live performances wherein the stage entailed the principle of simplicity, the audience is challenged to use their imagination as the characters would give out their respective pieces that seem to narrate the plot’s setting. However, it may seem more applicable to the literature version of Nō dramas. In Atsumori, the performance may be more visual in terms of seeing the actor portray the emotions entailed on the play. However, when one reads through it, imagination would start to take its course as the reader could visualize scenes and things that may not appear to the audience of a live performance.


The Nō and Kabuki plays rose in Japan during the 14th to 18th centuries, which would later define the Japanese theatrical scene. One followed a Zen principle whilst the other took the path of portraying forbidden topics in society. The difference between watching a live performance and reading its literature version can be discerned through the exercise of human imagination, wherein it permits readers to see things that live audiences cannot without using their imagination.


Name of Author. Year Published. Nō Drama. Book Title. pp. 1393-1399. Location: Publisher

Hooker, R. (1999, June 6). What is Kabuki?. Retrieved May 11, 2009 from <>


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