"Glossary Of Japanese Noh Terms" *

This glossary contains brief descriptions of the Japanese noh terms used regularly in the translations of the plays. For more technical definitions see the glossaries in Bethe and Brazell 1982, vol. 3, or Hare 1986. The former also contains illustrations of the dance patterns referred to in the stage directions. The term "segment" is a translation of shodan and refers to the smallest named unit of performance. Each segment has a characteristic form of poetry, rhythm, melody, instrumentation and movement. Words in boldface type have their own entries.

The designation given to the secondary kyogen actor(s) in either the interludes of noh plays or in kyogen plays. In a few noh-like kyogen, such a Semi, the secondary actor is labelled waki. Compare omo.

A segment of sung, metered poetry beginning in the upper register. One of the most common segments in noh, it may describe travel (michiyuki) or serve as the waki's waiting song (machiutai) in the beginning of act two. Often follows a sageuta.

An abbreviation of aikyogen, the kyogen actor who appears within a noh play or who has a similar function in a noh-like kyogen. In the noh plays in this anthology aikyogen have simply been labelled kyogen. The interludes of noh plays are also called aikyogen. See kyogen.

Simple instrumental music used to accompany some action of the shite or the tsure. It may accompany a quiet entry, movement from the bridge to the stage, or an onstage costume change.

(medium dance). A long instrumental dance performed to moderate tempo, usually in the abbreviated three-section form. It is used in a wide variety of roles in all five categories of plays and is often considered the standard dance.

A dynamically rhythmic segment of song and dance which usually occurs at the end of a warrior play to depict battle.

DAN NO UTA (scene song)
A sung segment sung usually accompanied by dance which includes mimetic action of visual interest.

Rhythmic entrance music usually accompanying the entrance of a non-human character in the second act. It is played by all three drums and the flute.

Sung poetry with a highly inflected melody. See genoei and jonoei.

A sung segment with a highly inflected melody centering on the lower register; characteristically used for the delivery of a poem. Compare jonoei.

A two-section instrumental dance that sometimes follows the quiet dance, usually with some text between the two dances. Despite its quick tempo, the hanomai has a flowing grace characteristic of women plays.

HAYAFUE MUSIC (fast flute music)
Lively entrance music played in the second act of a first- or fifth-category play for the appearance of a vigorous god or dragon Rod.

IROE DANCE (color dance)
A single-sequence, short instrumental dance used in the thud and fourth category plays to add a moment of refined grace.

A song centering on the higher register that may immediately follow issei music or may introduce a dance. Often shared by shite and the tsure or chorus.

Entrance music played by the flute and hand drums which usually announces the main character in either the first or second act.

JONOMAI (quiet dance)
A slow, graceful, long instrumental dance usually done in abbreviated three-section form. It is representative of third category women plays. When the stick drum joins the ensemble, the dance is lighter; when an old woman dances, it is considerably slower.

A sung segment with a highly inflected melody centering on the higher register; characteristically used for the delivery of a poem. Compare genoei.

KAGURA DANCE (Shinto dance)
A long instrumental dance reminiscent of Shinto ceremonies in its melody and some of its dance patterns. It is performed by priestess and goddess characters who dance with a purification wand. The stick drum always plays in the accompaniment.

A dialogue segment sung in recitative style (sashinori). The text is usually in metered poetry. Compare mondo.

KAKERI (anguish dance)
A two sequence action short dance to the hand drums and flute. Used in warrior and mad woman people plays to depict mental suffering.

A relatively long, spoken, narrative segment. It may be delivered by the shite, the waki or, during the interlude, by the kyogen.

KIRI (final)
The concluding segment of a play which combines chant and dance. The dance usually has varied and active movement.

KOGAKI (variant performance)
Variant renditions of noh plays incorporating adjustments in text, actions or costume to heighten a given interpretation. Special, more difficult music and dance forms add interest, and extensive use of the bridge often occurs.

KOKATA (child actor)
Roles played by children. Although they often represent real children, such as the young serving girls in Oeyama, they sometimes represent high ranking nobility, such as the emperor or Yoshitsune, the theory being that these people are so superior that it would be offensive to represent them realistically.

KOKEN (stage attendants)
The shite actors responsible for dressing the main actor and sitting at the rear of the stage to take care of details of performance. In the event that the main actor is incapacitated, the main stage attendant takes his part.

KURI (ornate song)
A short ornate segment of poetry sung in the high register and rising to the highest pitch normally used in noh chanting (called kuri). The segment ends with a long embellished syllable. It is most often sung by the chorus.

A segment central to many presentation scenes in either the first or second act of a play. The song has three sections, is largely sung by the chorus, and has strong rhythmic interest. The shite usually sings one line (ageha) which raises the chant to the higher register. In a double kuse (nidanguse) the song is expanded to five sections, and the shite sing two separated lines. The kuse may be performed with the shite seated at center stage (iguse) or dancing (maiguse).

The scene which centers around the kuse segment and derives from a medieval performing art called kusemai which Kan'ami is said to have incorporated into noh. It most often consists of a shidai, kuri, sash), and kuse, closing with a repetition of the text of the shidai.

1) The independent, humorous plays performed between noh plays. 2) The interludes within noh plays are technically called aikyogen or simply ai. 3) The actors who perform both 1 and 2 (kyogen kata). There are currently two schools of kyogen actors: Izumi and Okura. The Sagi school no longer performs.

MAIBATARAKI (danced action)
A two-sequence dance of vigorous tempo performed by gods, demons, beasts and ghosts in first and fifth category plays. All three drums and the flute accompany the dance. One variant version is a choreographed fight.

MICHIYUKI (travel song)
Sung descriptions of travel by either the waki at the beginning of a play or by a shite or tsure (who might also dance). Usually comprise of an ageuta with or without a preceding sageuta.

A spoken segment in the form of a dialogue. Often a question and answer segment between the shite and the waki.

NANORI (name announcement)
A spoken segment in which a character introduces himself. Most often it is performed by the waki upon entering. It may follow a shidai or begin the text of the play.

NANORI MUSIC (name announcing flute)
A flute solo played for the entrance of the waki in some plays in which the first sung segment is a nanori.

A recitative (sashi) style name announcing segment. See nanori.

See kuse.

Sung segments with a distinctive rhythmic pulse often accompanied by the stick drum. Often performed by a non-human character or used to express strong emotional states.

The designation given to the main kyogen actor when more than one appear in the interludes of noh plays. In kyogen play the main actor is usually called shite. Compare ado.

A song segment usually shared by the shite and the chorus. It has a strong rhythm and may occur at the end of the first act where the shite's identity is revealed.

A segment of metered poetry sung in the lower register. It often precedes an ageuta or a rongi and is quite short.

SASHI (recitative)
A recitative segment of unmetered poetry. Sashi segments often precede song-type (uta) segments and the kuse. Often used for Iyrical monologues.

1) The first song after the shidai music. It is song by the actor(s) who enter and is usually repeated in a low voice by the chorus, though this is seldom noted in the text. 2) A shidai may be sung by the chorus as an introduction to a kuse scene (jishidai).

Quiet entrance music played by the hand drums and flute to accompany the entrance of the waki or the shite.

Majestic entrance music for disguised deities, performed by the flute and hand drums. See issei music.

SHITE (main role)
1) The main role in a noh play. In two act plays the main characters in the different acts may be unrelated, but they are usually both played by the same actor. Shite actors (shite kata) also play tsure roles, sing in the chorus and serve as stage attendants. There are five schools of shite actors: Hsho, Kanze, Kita, Konparu and Kongo. 2) The main character in a kyogen is also labelled shite. Compare omo.

The upstage right area of the stage (called joza or nanoriza). See stage diagram at beginning of book. The pillar in that corner of the stage, where the bridge joins the stage, is call the shite pillar (shite bashira).

SHODAN (segment)
The primary units performance. Each shodan has a characteristic form of poetry, rhythm, melody, instrumentation, and kinetics.

TSUKIZERIFU (arrival announcement)
A short, spoken segment announcing arrival at a particular place. Most often used by waki and wakizure.

TSURE (companion actor)
Supporting role accompanying the shite. In many plays the tsure has little action and sits for the most part in the waki seat, but in some plays the tsure role is almost equal to that of the shite. All secondary female roles are played by tsure, as waki actors never wear masks. Compare wakizure.

UTA (song)
A segment of sung metered poetry not distinctive enough to be labelled an ageuta or a sageuta.

WAKA (poem)
A sung segment the text of which is usually a classical Japanese poem (waka) or part of one. Sometimes a wake segment is divided into two parts to frame an instrumental dance.

A segment which serves as a transition between a wake and a noriji segment.

WAKI (secondary role)
1) Usually the first actor to enter the stage in noh plays, the waki sets the scene and draws out the tale of the shite by posing questions. Many waki portray travelling priests, others are courtiers, emissaries, or other male characters. The waki never wears a mask and hence plays only living, male characters. After his entrance scene, the waki is seated at upstage left beside the waki spot. Waki actors, who play only waki and wakizure roles, belong to three schools: Fukuo, Hosho and Takayasu. 2) The similar role in noh-like kyogen. Compare ado.

We have labelled the downstage left area of the stage the waki spot (usually called wakiza mae). See stage diagram at beginning of book. The downstage left pillar is called the waki pillar (waki bashira), and the waki sits for most of the play between that pillar and the chorus in a position called the waki za.

WAKIZURE (waki companion)
Companions to the waki. Compare tsure.

YOBIKAKE (calling out)
A spoken segment in which the shite calls out from beyond the curtain before entering the bridge.

Reproduced with permission from:

Twelve Plays Of The Noh And Kyogen Theaters

Edited by Karen Brazell
Editorial Assistance by
J. Philip Gabriel

Translators: Monica Bethe
J. Philip Gabriel
Janet Goff
Carolyn Haynes
H. Mack Horton
Earl Jackson, Jr.
Eileen Kato
Jeanne Paik Kaufman
Susan Blakeley Klein
Etsuko Terasaki

East Asia Program
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

To the Noh Plays contents

Last revised May 21, 1999