Noh vs rugby

Kikkawa Eishi 吉川英史's Nihon ongaku no seikaku 日本音楽の性格 ("The character of Japanese music") is an interesting book. For a book published in 1979, it spends a puzzling amount of time defending Japanese music against European classical tradition-centricism — that battle had already been won by then, surely — and is oddly vigorous, even anti-Western, in its working out of a Japanese musical aesthetic. This all makes more sense, though, when you read the afterword and learn that it was first published in an early form in 1948 — and had originally been scheduled for publication in 1943. Context is everything when it comes to sweeping cultural arguments.

Anyway, here's Kikkawa quoting Kanetsune Kiyosuke 兼常清佐 on Noh:

... It takes quite some time before the heavenly maiden dances her dance and Hagoromo comes to an end. Most people have begun to find it tedious by then. Indeed this tedium is something that, it seems, few people today can avoid feeling when watching Noh.

This is the complaint, and indeed the pace of Noh is leisurely in the extreme. For example, when the heavenly maiden I mentioned earlier makes her appearance, it can take three whole minutes to walk across the little bridge and reach the stage. When I timed a performance I attended the other day, I found that it took two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. When the dance began, I found that it took the actor ten seconds to move a fan from front to back, five or six seconds to make a ninety-degree turn, and fourteen seconds to go from one on-stage pillar to another. Think, dear reader, on how precious this two minutes and twenty-eight seconds would be in other contexts. In a moving picture, that much time could see a significant advancement of events. In rugby, the ball's location within the ground will have changed any number of times. [...] To we who are accustomed to movies, to rugby, to riding trains, Noh cannot be but unbearably boring. What is more, it can be of little emotional interest to us even if we endure this boredom.

"This is not a record of a Noh performance seen by Marco Polo or Columbus," notes Kikkawa. "Nor is it the yammering of an oaf..." He then talks about folk (minzoku) and culture and the maintenance thereof before arriving at his thundering conclusion:

I will add just one comment. If it is true that watching rugby and riding trains renders one unable to find Noh anything but tedious, then there are surely many people today who would cheerfully stop attending rugby matches, and walk instead of catching the train.

Eerily, I have recently expanded my daily walking routine one train journey's worth. Can it be coincidence that I also find myself growing more able to appreciate and parse traditional Japanese music?

Popularity factor: 6


Ah, but what of your rugby viewing?

And is there a difference in the degree of Noh-tedium induced by rugby league and rugby union? Inquiring minds etc etc.

Leonardo Boiko:

I see your noh vs rugby, and raise you a chanoyu cricket:

> An institution that made simplicity and restraint fashionable and at the same time kept itself accessible to all classes, providing a ground on which all could meet on terms of equality, thus combining the advantages of a Mohammedan Mosque and a cricket-field, and some may add, also, those of a Freemasons’ Lodge and a Quaker meeting-house, was well qualified to temper the disruptive forces of society. And how much it came to represent the standard of the ordinary man is suggested by the common expression “Mucha” or “It isn’t Tea”, used in Japan in almost the same way as we are accustomed to declare, “It isn’t cricket”.

—A.L. Sadler, The Japanese Tea Ceremony.

(For those who can’t read the link, this etymology is very, er, folky.)


As a South African living in Japan, I never thought I'd ever see a post linking rugby and Noh. Though, mind you, there's something Noh-ish about the haka? No? I enjoy all your posts. This one provided an extra wide grin.


(Pedantry alert)

" To we who are accustomed to movies, to rugby, to riding trains"

Shouldn't that be "To us who are accustomed..."


Good point, Bathrobe. My idiolect is clearly unreliable on this issue. (Pondering the issue, I would never say "He gave it to we", but I used "To we who" because the combination "us who" is unpalatable to me. Even having decided that "To us who" is right as you say, I still don't like it.)


Also, I have never viewed much rugby, or indeed any organized sports. I was keeping myself fresh for old men singing very slowly to a four-piece drum-and-flute band, apparently.

As for the haka as Noh -- if it were like 1/4 the speed and the players revealed at the end that they're actually the ghosts of the team that lost the World Cup last year, I think a case could be made.

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