Costume Workshop (Day One)

After a fine meal at a local restaurant last evening, today was the start of the workshop.

The main lecture component is being held in Kyoto at Chusei Nihon Kenkyujo (the Japanese Medieval Research Center.)

Author and notable noh scholar Monica Bethe led the discussion, with lots of hand’s on component. The discussion began with explanations of different weave types (plain, cross-weave, twill, satin.) Ms. Bethe had kindly constructed looms for each participant and helped everyone practice each of the weaves.

Monica Bethe demonstrating the different weave types.

Having the opportunity to look at things directly and even try them a bit certainly puts the discussion into context. The different types of costumes were reviewed

  • kosode: they have small arm holes and were initially undergarments, and are still worn under the main robes – they’re defined by either the type of weave or the surface pattern.
  • osode: the outer garments which have large double paneled sleeves and large arm openings.
  • oguchi: pants or divided skirts.

Monica brought in a small portable loom that she’d constructed (that was really very cool.) She showed us how surface patterns were added to a weave. We talked about the Jacquard loom (invented in France in 1801). It was introduced to Japan in the early Meiji era, and its still used as the primary tool for the construction of the fabric used in noh costumes. The Jacquard replaced the draw loom, since it was easier to more precisely replicate the complex patterns desired for costumes.

Monica helping Rick Emmert and Gary Mathews with their weaving.

The highlight of the day was a visit to Sasaki Noh Costume workshop. Sasaki is the last strictly noh costume maker in the world, and the experience was inspiring. Everything from the spooling and dying of thread, to the weaving and final contraction of costumes happens there. Mr. Sasaki was quite congenial, and the workers were very kind as we clumped around their workspace gawking and taking photos. The eaves and rafters were stuffed full of the punch cards used in the looms.

One of the looms in Sasaki’s noh costume workshop. An amazing apparatus.


About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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