"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
- 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.
- ASHIRAI MUSIC
- 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.
- DEHA MUSIC
- 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
- A sung segment with a highly inflected melody centering on
the lower register; characteristically used for the delivery of a poem. Compare
- 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
- 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
- ISSEI MUSIC
- 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.
- 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
- 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).
- KUSE SCENE
- 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
- 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
- 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).
- SHIDAI MUSIC
- Quiet entrance music played by the hand drums and
flute to accompany the entrance of the waki or the shite.
- SHIN NO ISSEI MUSIC
- 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.
- SHITE SPOT
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- WAKI SPOT
- 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
- 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
H. Mack Horton
Earl Jackson, Jr.
Jeanne Paik Kaufman
Susan Blakeley Klein
East Asia Program
Ithaca, New York 14853
To the Noh Plays contents
Last revised May 21, 1999