Capturing the hidden emotions of Japanese Noh masks – article on CNN

Udaka Michishige was recently featured, along with noh photographer Morita Toshiro, in an article on the CNN website, part of a series called Artisans: Japan. See the full article here.

Udaka Michishige in the play Nonomiya. The Magojiro mask he is wearing is carved by Michishige himself. Photo by Fabio Massimo Fioravanti



Noh photography exhibition in Osaka

locandina.jpgItalian photographer Fabio Massimo Fioravanti is exhibiting his works at the Italian Culture Institute – Osaka (see map below). The exhibition, entitled like his 2014 book, La Via del Noh (The Way of Noh) displays a variety of photographs, providing rare insights into the onstage and off-stage life of noh actors. On this occasion, Fioravanti, who has been photographing noh since the 1980s,  and has a close connection with the Kongo school and with actor Udaka Michishige, has printed his works on Japanese awagami paper, produced exclusively with natural fibers, hence providing a more ‘natural’ look to the photographs.


Fabio Massimo Fioravanti – La via del Noh 能への道

October 27th – November 9th 2017

Italian Culture Institute – Nakanoshima Festival Tower. 〒530-0005 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Kita Ward, Nakanoshima, 2 Chome−3−18

INI Trainees: Tina Dermois

The INI Summer Intensive Program 2017 is now over. Here in Kyoto, a cool breeze is blowing and the hills that surround the city are getting ready to turn into their gorgeous autumn color. As always after one of our intensive workshop, we publish comments from the participants on our blog. Here we introduce trainee Tina Dermois. Tina is a masters student from Leiden University, currently enrolled in the Study in Kyoto Program at Ritsumeikan University. She is interested in Japanese arts and crafts and is currently working on a thesis on Noh prints. This summer she took the INI Summer Intensive Program in order to deepen her knowledge of Noh through practice.

Diego Pellecchia, course coordinator.

My experience with the INI

by Tina Dermois

Before one of my fellow students at Leiden University told me about this program, I had never heard about it before. I knew that there are lessons provided for amateurs, but it had never occurred to me that it would be possible to participate in this kind of intensive program. However, when I found out about this opportunity, I was immediately hyped up. Of course, I was still not sure if I would be able to attend this summer, but it would be a good chance to come in contact with Noh other than books and videos and a valuable addition to my practical knowledge for my final MA Thesis on Noh in woodblock prints. There is no better way to understand an art form than by practicing itself.

To be honest, when I was invited to participate I was not sure what I was supposed to expect of the okeiko and the teacher(s). I read through the schedule, but I was still not sure if the lessons were going to be strict or the opposite, or if I would be able to remember a whole piece. So, I was quite nervous the first day at practice. We started the day with some general explanation about noh, their masks and costumes by Toshishige Udaka, the oldest son of Michishige Udaka, and Diego Pellecchia. After that, we had to walk or rather glide across the floor. It was really complicated because you were supposed to keep your posture straight and relaxed while moving to the other side of the stage and keep your body at height. Throughout the lessons, it was quite hard thinking about all the tips that the teachers gave us, but in the end, everyone was able to remember the whole routine. Moreover, these past ten days of practice were also interesting because we were able to follow classes from three different teachers and observe how they all performed the same piece in a slightly different way up close which was a rare opportunity. This made it also a little more confusing to remember the movements sometimes when we were to imitate them.


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What was also really nice about the program was that it was quite diverse. We did not only practice dancing but also chanting and meditating. Throughout the ten days, there was a comfortable atmosphere where we could ask many questions to the actors while having tea and a snack.

However, what I liked the most was the opportunity to visit Noh performances not only indoors, but also outdoors. The first performance that we were lucky to see the final rehearsals for one of the pieces we visited. The other one was performed at Fushimi Inari, a famous shrine in Kyoto which became one of the most memorable Noh performances I have ever seen thanks to the setting. The performance began just when the sun was setting and enveloped the stage, shining on the mask and the hair decorations of the main actor mystifying the whole scene while the wind was blowing causing the leaves to softly rustle. Lastly, we were able to attend a performance inside the temple Hōrinji, where we were sitting on the same “stage” as the rite was acted out. The actor was so close to us that it was almost impossible not to feel the power and spirituality of the role and the performer.

Thanks to the classes and the performances provided by INI, I will never be able to look at Noh in the same way. It was an unforgettable experience and if I have the chance I would definitely want to participate once more.

Congratulations! INI summer intensive 2017

The INI summer intensive program 2017 is now over and we would like to take the chance to thank all participants and instructors! This year for the first time Udaka Michishige was joined by his sons Tatsushige and Norishige as main instructors. It has been a wonderful edition of our summer program, with many highlights, such as observing the rehearsals for two full noh plays and attending many performances both open-air (Hagoromo and Kokaji at Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Makura-jido at Horinji in Arashiyama) and indoors (Nonomiya and Nue at the Kongo Noh Theatre). While the main target of the workshop is to introduce participants to the basics of noh theatre chant and dance, it is very important that they can get as much exposure to performance as possible. This is often difficult to achieve during short training periods because noh typically is performed in one-off events, without repetitions. We are glad that our participants could enjoy such a variety of performances this year.

As for the workshop, this year we decided to start with a difficult piece for an absolute beginner: the shimai dance excerpt from the Noh Shojo (‘The Wine Elf’). This dance involves complex fan routines and combines mimetic and abstract movements. Despite the difficulty, all participants worked hard and could successfully memorize the dance in addition to the chant. Finally, a selected few had the privilege to perform the dance wearing the shojo mask, normally only used in the full performance with costumes and mask.

We hope that participants will keep up their interest in noh and that they will visit us again in Kyoto!

— Diego Pellecchia, Program Manager

INI – Summer Intensive Program 2017

The INI – International Noh Institute is now accepting applications for its 2017 Summer Intensive Program. Participants will take part in an intensive training period, during which they will study Noh chant and dance at the INI headquarters in Kyoto with Kongō school Noh actors Udaka Michishige, Udaka Tatsushige and Udaka Norishige. In addition, they will be able to observe the rehearsal and to attend the Udaka Seiran Noh performance. During the program, participants will learn about various aspects of noh, including masks and costumes. The program is coordinated by Dr Diego Pellecchia (Kyoto Sangyo University). Application deadline: May, 1st 2017.

Program highlights:

  • Train intensively in noh chant and dance, following the traditional methods of the Kongō school.
  • Practice in a small group at the okeikoba, private training space of a noh master, for an immersive experience.
  • Observe the rehearsals of a professional noh performance.
  • Watch two noh performances: at a Buddhist temple (free of charge) and at the Kongo Noh theatre (included in the participation fee)
  • Experience living in Kyoto, the heart of Japanese traditional culture.


Requirements: Anyone is welcome to join – no previous knowledge of Noh is required. Lessons are given in English and/or Japanese. Past year program attendees are entitled to the repeater discount of 10,000JPY, as shown below.

Capacity: 3-5 participants

Place: INI Training Space, Kyoto

Period: September 4 – 14 2017, every day

Fees (in Japanese yen)

Regular 60,000
Repeater 50,000

Fees include:

  • Regular: chant/dance lessons, basic materials (according to their level), Udaka Seiran Noh ticket, INI certification of completion of the introductory course.
  • Repeater: chant/dance lessons, basic materials (according to their level), Udaka Seiran Noh ticket, INI certification of completion of the intermediate course. Audiovisual materials to continue dance and chant practice from home.

Fees do not include:

  • Tabi white split-toe socks (around 700JPY)
  • Kongō-style Noh dance fan (5000JPY).
  • Transportation, accommodation, and any other personal expenses.

Activities calendar: September 2017

Lessons will take place 10:00-15:00 at the INI training space in Iwakura, Kyoto.


How to apply: send us an email at[at] Please attach your C.V. and a brief statement of interest.

Application deadline: May, 1st 2017

*Late applications will be considered only if places are still available. The program will be cancelled if it does not reach the minimum number of participants


Happy New Year! 2017

Dear INI members and supporters, Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございます!

2016 has been a pretty intense year for all of us. Many more challenges are awaiting in 2017 and we are ready to meet them with enthusiasm and determination!

Here is a photo of Udaka-sensei’s Okina-kazari: ritual decorations and offerings, displayed along with objects related to Okina. Hanging above the altar you see Udaka-sensei’s latest Hakushiki-jo, the mask used for the role of Okina. (There will be a free performance of Okina at Yasaka Shrine on January 3 from 09:00am, followed by Utai-zome – chant and dance performance at the Kongo Noh Theatre from 12:00)

We hope to see you all soon – we will post information on the 2017 Summer Intensive Training in the next few days, so keep an eye on that. How exciting!

Again Happy New Year – all best wishes for a great 2017!


On the performance of Sagi at the Seiran Noh 2016

We publish here some thoughts on Udaka Michishige’s performance of Sagi (The Heron), by Rebecca Teele Ogamo.

The Seiran Noh performance of Sagi on September 11th, 2016 celebrating Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday was one of the plays featured in the Kansai area Noh reviews in the Nohgaku Times. As the critic points out, the story is a demonstration of how a bird, without spirit or mind, shows its gratitude towards the emperor and has no real emotional expression. This being the case, the success or failure of a performance rests on the actor’s skills, refined over time, to portray the sense of purity and innocence of the heron through making the face a vehicle of abstract expression, as a mask is not used, but is performed hitamen, or with the face as a mask, or instead of a mask. The critic was especially impressed by the way that Michishige was able to do this, keeping his face completely devoid of expression. His portrayal of the utter stillness of the bird when it stopped, as though perching without moving had a majestic grace, and the seemingly effortless performance of the unique and extremely difficult dance of the heron, meticulously and without any wasted movement, seemed to reveal to the audience the actual heron on the shore of the pond.



Udaka Michishige as ‘the heron’ in Sagi. Udaka Seiran Noh. Kongō Nōgakudō, 11 September 2016. (Photo: Oka Tetsuya)


I have seen Udaka-sensei in other hitamen roles, but always as in the role of a living person, as in Hachinoki or Mochizuki, or of a ghost manifesting as a living person as in the first half of Atsumori. This was the first time to see him in the role of a non-human creature, relying on completely on focused movement, rather than a mask, to portray the essence of the heron. I was startled when I realized that I was no longer aware of an actor or his face, but felt I was watching a heron as it danced. The critic seemed to confirm this experience. “I wonder what kind of Sagi I will be?” Michishige mused one day after a mask carving class. I think it was the natural result of years of dedicated uncompromising practice.

Whatever our path, challenges are limitless, and the base and foundation on which we pursue them must always be a constant refining of basic skills.

For INI, too, this means a continuing renewal of our commitment to sharing and exploring the traditions of Noh. We grow and gain energy through shared experiences of how we test our limits. Please let us know about your path and progress, and know we support you in your challenges.”

Rebecca Teele Ogamo


Photos from the 2016 Kei’un-kai INI Taikai Gala Recital

Fabio Massimo Fioravanti, who has already collaborated with Udaka Michishige on various projects, including the book La Via del Noh – The way of Noh captured these beautiful moment from our last Taikai Gala Recital at the Kongo Noh Theatre on August 21st.

We would like to congratulate all participants – in particular Monica Alcantar, Lisa Swinbanks and Regina Toon, our INI Summer Program graduates! Well done! See you again soon!

Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital 2016

Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital 2016 Celebrating Udaka Michishige’s 70th birthday

Place: Kongō Noh Theatre

Date: 21 August 2016 Time: from 09:00 until 17:00

Entrance Free of Charge

This year’s Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital (21 August 2016 from 09:00) celebrates the 70th birthday of our teacher and leader, Kongō School Master-Actor Udaka Michishige. In the Sino-Japanese tradition, the 70th birthday is considered a special event, to be celebrated in style. Its name (古稀 koki), derives from a poem by Chinese literate Tufu (Toho, 杜甫, in Japanese): jinsei nanaju korai mare nari (人生七十古来稀なり), meaning that in those days it was rare to reach the age of seventy.

The event features various performances, including two full playsHagoromo and Sesshōsekinyotai variant; two maibayashi dance and chant excerpts with musical accompaniment,  Tomoe and Yamanba; as well as numerous chant and solo dance pieces. See the program below.

This year the INI will be represented by Senior Director Rebecca Teele Ogamo, singing in a rengin excerpt from the noh Hanjo, and Junior Director Diego Pellecchia, performing the shimai solo dance excerpt from the play Kurama Tengu. Pellecchia will also sing in various choruses for other performances. INI Summer Intensive Program 2016 participants Monica Alcantar, Regina Toon, and Lisa Swinbanks will also perform shimai dances.

Kei’un-kai INI Gala Recital 21st August 2016
Kongo Noh Theatre, Kyoto

Kami-uta (recitation of the ritual performance Okina)
Su-utai (solo chant of a full play): Shunkan
Rengin (chant excerpt): Hashi-Benkei
Shimai (dance excerpt with chant): Oimatsu; Yuya; Shōjō (performed by the INI 2016 Summer Program Participants)
Shimai: Atsumori (kuse); Kokaji (kiri); Tsurukame; Tsunemasa; Chikubushima; Yuki; Ashikari; Koma no Dan; Makura-jidō.
Maibayashi (dance excerpt with chant and music): Tomoe (Itō Yūki)
Bangai shimai (performed by professional actors): Tama no dan (Udaka Norishige); Tanikō (Udaka Tatsushige)
Noh: Hagoromo (Hirasawa Yumiko)
Maibayashi: Yamamba (Chiba Mariko)
Rengin: Hanjō

Bangai shimai: Kumasaka (Udaka Michishige)
Noh: Sesshōseki – Nyotai (Kurochiku Tokindo)
Shimai: Kurama Tengu; Izutsu; Yorobōshi; Uta-ura (kuse); Himuro; Hanagatami; Kayoi Komachi; Uta-ura (kiri); Aoinoue; Shokun.

Ending time: 17:00