Spring Special Exhibition :
Sarugaku (also sarugō) is the archaic term for what is now known as nōgaku—classical drama composed of noh and kyōgen plays. Conventional theory on the origins of sarugaku points to sangaku (“miscellaneous arts”) introduced from the continent that are said to have merged with indigenous performing arts and gradually evolved into the highly perfected singing and dance drama that is passed down today.
Sarugaku was composed of a multitude of arts—juggling, acrobatics, singing and dancing, puppetry, comic miming, and so on, as described in the Shinsarugakuki, a work written by Fujiwara no Akihira (989–1066) in the late Heian period, that attests to its great popularity in those days. Folk performing arts like dengaku (ritual shrine dancing), kugutsu puppetry, and sarugaku arts in due course became specialized professions, and the most popular sarugaku performers formed troupes (za) affiliated with major shrines or temples that sponsored their performances for important religious rituals or celebrations.
The various troupes, which included performers of dengaku, competed with each other and also influenced on each other, and by the early Muromachi period—the fourteenth century—had entered their heyday with the support of the Ashikaga shogunate or of a major local shrine or temple. Kan’ami (1333–1384) gained tremendous popularity for his performances of mimes (imitating people’s emotional expressions or behavior) that were a tradition of Yamato (Nara) sarugaku, incorporating elements of then-popular dengaku and kusemai dances. His son, Zeami (1363–1443) brought the singing and dancing arts of the noh to their pinnacle by creating plays for upper-class audiences, modeling them after classical works and war tales and establishing the genres of mugen noh (in which the protagonist is a deity, ghost, or spirit of the supernatural world) and genzai noh (in which the protagonist is a historical figure).
This exhibition explores the world of sarugaku by presenting a wide variety of masks worn in performances held in three principal areas of the Honshu heartland. Yamato (present-day Nara prefecture) was the home ground of the four leading Yamato troupes of sarugaku supported by the Kōfukuji temple, Kasuga Taisha shrine, and other powerful centers of belief. Ōmi (present-day Shiga prefecture) was the home of the sarugaku troupes supported by large temples and shrines of the Tendai tradition including Enryakuji and Hie Taisha shrine that appear as major rivals to Yamato sarugaku in Zeami’s writings on noh, Fūshi kaden and Sarugaku dangi. The third area where sarugaku flourished was at the three gateways to the much-revered sacred peak Mt. Haku, Kaga Banba (present-day Ishikawa prefecture), Echizen Banba (present-day Fukui prefecture), and Mino Banba (present-day Gifu prefecture).
The exhibit displays 350 masks made as early as the Nara through late Heian and Kamakura periods, and down to the Nanbokuchō, Muromachi, and Azuchi Momoyama periods when the noh was perfected. Seen mainly from the viewpoint of the history of sculpture but also in the contexts of the history of culture, performing arts, and literature, they shed light on their times.