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Putting International Japanese Studies into Academic Practice in Los Angeles, USA: Bringing Traditional Japanese Performing Arts to the People-Study Report-

Waseda University and UCLA: Mansaku Nomura and Mansaku-no-Kai Present

“An Evening of Kyogen Performances in Los Angeles”

Putting International Japanese Studies into Academic Practice in Los Angeles, USA:

Bringing Traditional Japanese Performing Arts to the People


Day 1: May 5 (Fri.)

Morning (10:30 am to 12:30 pm) 

“Living Kyogen,” a Lecture by Mansaku Nomura

Hermosa Room, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)


On the morning of the first day, a lecture intended for a general audience was held in anticipation of the kyogen performances that would take place the following day. Professor Carolyn Morley (Wellesley College) introduced Mansaku Nomura to the audience and explained the art of kyogen. Afterward, Mr. Nomura gave his lecture. Finally, Professor Mikio Takemoto (Waseda University) discussed the three kyogen works to be performed (The Owl, The Kawakami Headwaters, and Tied to a Stick).

There is a saying about kyogen: “It starts with a monkey and ends with a fox.” What the saying refers to is that performers in the Izumi school first appear on the stage playing the monkey role in the work Utsubo-zaru and conclude their basic training in the art by playing the fox role in the work Tsuri-gitsune, thus being recognized as fully fledged kyogen performers. Mansaku Nomura first appeared on the stage in a performance of Utsubo-zaru in 1934, when he was three years old. Based on the way he discusses how he lives every day, it would, indeed, seem that he has up to this day led a life at least half devoted to kyogen. Kyogen is a traditional performance art that is now recognized by the Japanese government as intangible cultural heritage. It has been performed throughout Japan and around the world, and one can see on any day the activities of kyogen performers discussed in various media outlets. Nevertheless, the prosperousness and continuation of the art form by new generations of performers has never been guaranteed, regardless of the times. Even for Mansaku, living a life of kyogen was never the obvious choice. He described how, after daily training in the art from when he was a toddler, he became interested in kabuki in his mid-teens and came to bristle at kyogen. However, at the age of 18, he obtained a sense of reward from the art when he discovered the possibilities of creativity within the simplified expressions of kyogen performances. That was when he made the determination to live in this world. Subsequently, he was engaged in a wide variety of kyogen endeavors. Two in particular, which both left quite an impression on the audience during the lecture, will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

First, Mansaku reconsidered what makes kyogen distinct. Kyogen is typically considered a comedic art. However, Mansaku demonstrated that it is a form of theater that includes a wide range of expression beyond merely the comedic. Among the works that are essential to discussions of Mansaku’s career as a performer, the paucity of comedic elements stand out. Some of these works include The Kawakami Headwaters, which was performed during this program, the newer kyogen work The Ballad of Narayama, and the three works of Yuzuru, an interpretation of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and Shigosen no Matsuri—these three having been performed in collaboration with performers such as Hisao Kanze, Tetsuji Takechi, and Junji Kinoshita. According to Mansaku, the key to performing in these works that do not rely on comedy—whether they be kyogen or modern dramas—is the power of words that exists within kyogen, as well as the way in which those words are spoken. Words and movements are more crucial in kyogen, in contrast to noh and kabuki, which contain stronger elements of singing and dancing. Mansaku argues that Japanese theater has deemphasized words. At the root of Mansaku’s activities as a performer are demonstrating new value to be gained from kyogen performances by drawing attention to aspects of the art other than the comedic, challenging himself to perform modern dramas using the words and way of speaking that come from kyogen to reconsider the very form of the art, and attempting to turn kyogen into a model for thinking about the beauty of the Japanese language.

Master Mansaku

Master Mansaku

Second, Mansaku described his activities outside Japan. Nowadays, kyogen performances are relatively common even outside Japan. However, based on Mansaku’s experience participating in the first international theater festival to include the form, which took place in Paris in 1957, this spread overseas was clearly a later development, compared to what happened with noh and kabuki. (The first real noh performance in the West occurred at a 1955 international theater festival in Venice. However, there are thought to be records of performances before World War II, though the details are hazy. Overseas performances of kabuki date back to a 1928 performance in the Soviet Union.) In 1963, after performing throughout the US, Mansaku stayed in Seattle for about a year and strove to popularize kyogen. He instructed students in the art at the University of Washington, and these students went on to perform in various locations. Mansaku worked vigorously to relay these developments back to Japan. This was the first time that Mansaku instructed prospective kyogen performers. Subsequently, he traveled to various countries to perform and instruct. According to Mansaku, the purpose of these activities was to raise the profile of kyogen within Japan. As the example of ukiyo-e clearly demonstrates, the Japanese often become proud of their country’s culture once it is well received overseas, and it would appear that Mansaku’s goal was achieved to great success. At the same time, working overseas provided Mansaku with a valuable opportunity to rediscover kyogen for himself by coming into contact with the candid reactions of people entirely removed from the conventions that prevailed in the world of performing arts in Japan and from the fixed ideas about kyogen that such an environment engendered. On this topic, the author would like to discuss a trip by Mansaku to the US in the summer of 1981. This trip was made to participate in large-scale traditional performing arts events, at which various other Japanese artists plied their trade, including Nagayo Kita, a noh performer; Chiyo Hanayagi, a Nihon buyo dancer; Hirokazu Sugiura, a nagauta singer; and Kisaku Katada, a performer of the hayashi music that amplifies the action in traditional Japanese performing arts. A variety of events took place during this tour, including performances in New York and Washington, DC, practical instruction in kyogen at UCLA, an international symposium, and an exhibition of posters for traditional performing arts. For Mansaku, the recent visit to UCLA was his first since this tour 36 years ago. Yuriko Walker (née Doi; founder of the troupe “Theater of Yugen,” which is based in San Francisco and stages kyogen and fusion works incorporating elements from the art form; graduate of Waseda University), whom Mansaku instructed all those years ago, attended the lecture. It was a reunion that underscored how Mansaku’s activities are strongly rooted overseas.

At the end of the lecture, Mansaku summed up his view of kyogen in three ways: “May it be beautiful. May it be interesting. May it be funny.” The order of these statements is crucial. According to Mansaku, beauty is essential in all elements, including how performers carry themselves and make up their figures, as well as in the all-important aspect of the words they speak; without beauty, there is a risk of kyogen becoming nothing more than a vulgar comedy or farce. What drives Mansaku—who has struggled in various endeavors balancing the two aspects of tradition and innovation—are increasing the prestige of kyogen and an insatiable motivation to explore the performing art. It would appear that the very path that led to today’s ascendancy of kyogen ran parallel to Mansaku’s own journeys. Mansaku’s continued pursuit of beautiful art even now that the form is at its height was impressive, and the lecture concluded with a great ovation.


Afternoon (1:30 pm to 6:00 pm)

International Symposium: Traditional Japanese Theater and Theater Studies in a Global Age

Venue: Hermosa Room, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)



Amparo Adelina Umali (University of the Philippines Diliman)

Kevin Wetmore (Loyola Marymount University)

05 May Symposium

05 May Symposium

Misa Umetada (Waseda University)

Michael Emmerich (UCLA)

Thomas O’Conner (UCLA)

Kirk Kanesaka (UCLA)

Susan Klein (University of California, Riverside)

Ryuichi Kodama (Waseda University)

Laurence Kominz (Portland State University)

Jonah Salz (Ryukoku University)

Satoko Shimazaki (University of Southern California)

Katherine Saltzman-Li (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Haruo Shirane (Columbia University)

Sirimonporn Suriyawongpaisal (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)

Carol Sorgenfrei (UCLA)

Carolyn Morley (Wellesly College)

Mikio Takemoto (Waseda University)

Torquil Duthie (UCLA)

Lim Beng Choo (National University of Singapore)

Thomas Hare (Princeton University)

Leonard Pronko (Pamona College)

Junko Yamazaki (UCLA)

Ashton Lazaras (University of Chicago)



First Session: Mapping Theater Studies

Moderator: Michael Emmerich

  • Situating Japanese Theater Studies in the U.S. and Southeast Asia: Area Studies, Performance Studies, Theater Studies
  • Japanese Theater Studies in the Context of World Theater Studies
  • The Position of Traditional Japanese Theater and Theater Studies in Japan
  • Theater Studies and Literary Studies, Film Studies, Media Studies
Associate Prof. Michael Emmerich

Associate Prof. Michael Emmerich



Associate Prof. Satoko Shimazaki

Associate Prof. Satoko Shimazaki

Second Session: Japanese Theater Studies Now: Opportunities and Possibilities

Moderators: Satoko Shimazaki and Misa Umetada

  • Teaching Traditional Japanese Theater Outside Japan
  • Performing and Teaching Traditional Japanese Theatrical Genres Outside Japan
  • Teaching Traditional Japanese Theater in Japan
  • Academic Involvement in the Theater and Theater Criticism in Japan
  • Annotated Editions, Translations, and Beyond

Third Session: The Future of Japanese Theater Studies

Moderators: Michael Emmerich and Torquil Duthie

  • The Future of Japanese Theater Studies as a Global Field
  • Raising the Next Generation of Scholars
  • Methodology, Pedagogy, Discipline, Critical Approaches


On the afternoon of the first day, an international symposium was held, primarily for the benefit of researchers and students. The aim of this interdisciplinary event, held in conjunction with the kyogen performances, was to allow the international Japanese studies conducted jointly by Waseda University and UCLA to become even more fruitful. The panelists consisted of 22 researchers from 15 universities—including Waseda University and UCLA—in Japan, the US, and Southeast Asia. In addition to Japanese performing arts such as noh, kyogen, joruri, and kabuki, the panelists’ specialties included modern theater, photographic arts, and film rooted in traditional performing arts—among a wide range of other fields. Many were also engaged in stage performances themselves. The motivation behind the event was to provide a venue for people of diverse backgrounds to engage in dialogs to discuss the place that Japanese traditional performing arts and theater studies occupy among academic pursuits—perhaps as literature, cultural studies, performing arts, or intangible culture—within the context of their respective national and linguistic cultures; to discuss areas of research for further study; and to search for a future that transcends boundaries of national borders and languages. At the start of the symposium, Associate Professor Satoko Shimazaki, who organized the program, related this motive. In a similar vein, Assistant Professor Misa Umetada explained how theater studies in Japan are now excessively specialized in Japan, rendering dynamic research difficult to conduct, and that another aim of the symposium was to help overcome this issue.

During the First Session, an “intellectual mapping” was created and shared among the attendees, depicting the position of theater studies in each country and of the direction and significance of research and education relating to the field that was possible based on that position. Concerning conditions in the US, Shimazaki noted that there was a division among those who engage in theater studies as part of Japanese studies after first acquiring the language in regional studies departments—such as the “East Asia Department”—those who specialize in Japanese theater without using the Japanese language as an area within world theater studies, as taught in “Theater Departments”; and those who come into contact with Japanese theater as part of performance studies. Shimazaki argued that this was both an organizational problem for universities and profoundly related to methodological approaches to Japanese theater. Professor Kevin Wetmore, who specializes in Japanese theater as part of global theater studies, offered concrete examples to illustrate the conditions he had encountered, such as by noting that, within courses offered in the theater department, Japanese theater was positioned such that it was dealt with in only around 10 minutes, amid discussions ranging from ancient Greece to the musical Hamilton. Similarly, Professor Emerita Carol Sorgenfrei argued that there is a need to normalize non-western theater—including Japanese theater—to overcome the western-centrism that is even today firmly entrenched in theater departments. Concerning conditions in Southeast Asia, Associate Professor Lim Beng Choo argued that areas of theater studies are currently siloed from one another and a logical mapping of their relations has yet to be formed. She noted, among other points, that, of the forms of Japanese theater, research concerning noh is active in Singapore and that this was in part because of performances of noh works within the country. Concerning conditions in Japan, Professor Ryuichi Kodama described how theater studies in each area began as part of literary studies and then further developed and scattered into fields such as historical studies, folklore studies, music studies, education studies, art studies, and aesthetic studies. He also raised the issue of how there is no national government organization devoted to the field.

In the Second Session, there were discussions of possibilities for, and the meaning of, teaching Japanese theater that transcended regional and linguistic boundaries. While playing videos, Professor Laurence Kominz described the student-led kabuki program that has continued at Portland State University since 2003. Professor Leonard Pronko, part of the first generation of kabuki researchers in the US, presented the many years of kabuki productions, performed by students and professional actors, that he had directed over many decades. The two discussed their endeavors and educational activities, as well as the roles they had fulfilled in their respective areas of activity. Associate Professor Thomas O’Connor discussed, among other matters, how noh was his gateway to Japanese performing arts when he visited Japan and attempted to train in its theatrical traditions, his resultant involvement in “Theatre Nohgaku” (a theater troupe in which non-Japanese perform noh and create and perform English-language works in the tradition), and the influence this had on his current instruction in the performing arts in UCLA. Concerning kyogen, Dr. Jonah Salz described the history behind the 1981 launching of Noho Gekidan (a theater troupe that aims to combine the techniques of noh with western theories of theater) and the details of Mansaku Nomura’s US performances during that year. This theme continued in the Third Session, in which Kirk Kanesaka, who has experienced performing kabuki under the tutelage of Tojuro Sakata, and Associate Professor Amparo Adelina Umali, who has also engaged in noh performances at the University of the Philippines, reported on their undertakings in relation to their studies. There were various cases of panelists performing at universities, but their methods of performing varied with their research backgrounds. For example, Kominz translated scripts into English but faithfully performed kabuki in a classical style; by contrast, Pronko, who graduated from a theater studies department and started out researching French theater, created new kabuki works and strove to perform in a more freewheeling fashion while still making use of the kabuki performance style. What was common among the panelists was that they strove to gain understanding through direct participation in performances; they noted that experience in actual performances is especially important in the case of traditional performing arts, which possess unique styles of expression in terms of music and bodily movements. Meanwhile, it was clear from these discussions that the panelists’ activities performing at universities had played roles introducing these forms of theater to regions where professionals have not traveled abroad to stage productions. In the case of Japan, however, there has long been some distance between academic research and actual performances, as symbolized by the lack of a nationally established theater school. Regarding noh, Takemoto described how noh studies have long been conducted by literary researchers, but recognition of the necessity of structurally analyzing the music and dramaturgy of noh has made it clear that it is essential for literary scholars, themselves, to master singing and dancing; nevertheless, it is difficult for individuals to strike a balance between research and performance skills, resulting in a lack of actual performances at universities. Continuing along these lines, Kodama noted that there is a greater distance between research on, and performances of, kabuki, compared to other genres, and that one factor behind this is that there is no culture of amateurs training in kabuki. It thus became manifest that various conventions surrounding traditional performing arts in Japanese universities are connected to the gap between academic study and actual performances. The Second Session went beyond its originally scheduled allotment of time and was dominated by the topic of actual performances staged at universities. The case in the US was the same: research and performance are not necessarily connected, and area studies departments fundamentally approach these arts as part of literary studies. Regarding the import of theater studies for literary studies, Professor Haruo Shirane of Columbia University—whose East Asian Studies Department is the most prominent in the US—noted that knowledge of medieval and early modern literature is deepened through rituals, performances, and other intangible sources, providing specific examples. In the US, it was evident that the tendency to emphasize the fundamentals of literary studies and theater studies and to separate such research from actual performances grew stronger the younger the generation of researcher. However, it could also be noted that the role of researchers is transforming as international performances by professional players become more common and Japanese theater becomes more global in nature through the spread of videos (such as on DVD or YouTube).

In the Third Session, the discussion concerned the type of value that Japanese theater holds and what meaning can be acquired from research in the area and was rooted in the discussions of the parts of the symposium that came before. Many panelists provided their views, and their understandings of their research were as varied as the backgrounds that informed those understandings. What was clearly common among the comments made by researchers from outside Japan was that every era gives rise to its own style of Japanese theater and that these styles do not displace one another but coexist; thus, a characteristic of Japanese theater is that it possesses various forms of value that transcend national borders, languages, and research methods. The panelists noted that various benefits can be obtained through research on Japanese theater, which retains a variety of traditional performing arts. In the US, for example, it can foster the ability to come up with insights that help to understand different eras within the field of area studies (Associate Professor Torquil Duthie). Similarly, in the field of world theater studies, it can serve as a case example to counter western-centrism (Sorgenfrei). In Southeast Asia, it can serve as a foothold for searching for one’s country’s unique culture, which may still be deeply rooted in western culture because of the influence of colonial rule (Umali). Turning to Japan, there seemed to be fewer opportunities to consider the type of value that Japanese theater possesses and what meaning research on the topic could bring about. However, as this symposium demonstrated, performances by non-Japanese, more common performances outside Japan by professionals, and advancements in video-based media have resulted in diverse audiences in locations far from Japan viewing traditional performing arts and interpreting them in diverse ways—and sometimes creating new meaning through translation and the composition of new works. Furthermore, as the trend toward greater internationalization of universities continues, the environment surrounding humanities research is changing, and there are increasing numbers of departments that teach Japanese literature and culture in English within Japan. Nowadays, it would appear that the value of these areas is being questioned in the global field, going beyond the meaning gained from thinking in terms of “because it is this country’s culture” or “because it is our traditional performing arts.” It is probably safe to say that where to find the fruitfulness of this symposium differed with the backgrounds of each of the panelists. Nevertheless, one significant result was that everyone involved was able to share their backgrounds to, and methods for, research and education regarding Japanese theater as situated within the world—as well as to share what makes this meaningful—in this transition period during which Japanese theater and humanities studies are becoming globalized.


Days 2 and 3: May 6 (Sat.) and 7 (Sun.) 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm

“An Evening of Kyogen in Los Angeles”

Venue: Aratani Theatre (Japanese American Cultural & Community Center) (“JACCC”)

Master Mansai  at "Discovering Kyogen"

Master Mansai at “Discovering Kyogen”


Demonstration: “Discovering Kyogen” by Mansai Nomura

The Owl

Shite [main role] (The Mountain Hermit):  Yukio Ishida; Ado [secondary role] (The Older Brother): Ren Naito; Ko-ado [tertiary role] (The Younger Brother): Go Iida;

Koken [stage assistant]: Shuichi Nakamura

The Kawakami Headwaters

Shite (The Man): Mansaku Nomura; Ado (The Wife): Kazunori Takano; Koken: Go Iida

Tied to a Stick

Shite (The First Servant): Mansai Nomura; Ado (The Master): Shuichi Nakamura;

Mansai & Fukata plays "Tied to a Stick"

Mansai & Fukata play “Tied to a Stick”

Ko-ado (The Second Servant): Hiroharu Fukata; Koken: Ren Naito


On the second and third days, kyogen performances took place at the Aratani Theatre in the JACCC in Little Tokyo under the series title of a “An Evening of Kyogen in Los Angeles.” Both nights attracted enthusiastic, sold-out crowds. Each night started with Mansai Nomura performing a demonstration of kyogen in a segment titled “Discovering Kyogen.” Nomura presented the art form—kyogen’s characteristic simplified staging and realistic expressions—while demonstrating through an actual performance replete with the form’s humorous speaking style, to great reaction from the crowd. Each night then moved on to the main event, consisting of performances of three works acted out by five members of the Mansaku-no-Kai troupe, including Mansaku Nomura, Mansai Nomura, and Yukio Ishida. First, Ishida performed the darkly humorous The Owl, which was followed by Mansaku’s masterful performance in The Kawakami Headwaters, which can be interpreted variously as either a tragedy or a comedy. Finally, Mansai performed Tied to a Stick with much wit, and the curtain closed to great applause.

End of performance with big applause

End of performance with big applause

The  Kyogen poster designed by Mr. Fukuda

The Kyogen poster designed by Mr. Fukuda



As part of the performance event, 23 posters were exhibited in the theater’s lobby. These posters were envisioned by eminent Japanese designers to provide impressionistic interpretations of traditional performing arts, including kyogen, as well as bugaku, Nihon buyo, and the tsugaru-shamisen. Half the posters were reproductions of works created to accompany the traditional performing arts event held in 1981, commemorating Mansaku’s first visit to UCLA in 36 years. One of these posters, a kyogen poster designed by Shigeo Fukuda, adorned the cover of the performance program, visually underscoring Mansaku’s visit.



Day 4: May 8 (Mon.)

Morning  Workshop  Venue: El Marino Language School (Culver City)

Afternoon  Kyogen Masterclass Part 1 Venue: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 

Kaufman Hall Theater

A workshop at El Marino Elementary School

A workshop at El Marino Elementary School

Learning "Mashrooms"

Learning “Mashrooms”



Day 5: May 9 (Tue.)

Morning  Kyogen Masterclass Part 2 Venue: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 

Kaufman Hall Theater

  On the morning of the fourth day, Hiroharu Fukata, Kazunori Takano, Ren Naito, Shuichi Nakamura, and Go Iida of “Mansaku-no-Kai” held a workshop for fifth graders at El Marino Language School, an elementary school in Culver City. El Marino Language School is a highly international elementary school attended by Japanese residing in LA, Americans, and children of various other nationalities. It provides bilingual instruction in English and Japanese. The school was decorated with carp streamers, in keeping with the season. The children had been educated in Japanese daily and were thus adept linguistically, but it was the first chance for any of them to learn kyogen. After greeting the visitors while kneeling in the traditional Japanese manner and listening to explanations, the children studied kyogen’s characteristic movements and vocalizations performed in sync with representational sounds. There was particular excitement when the children practiced the art in a game-like manner using the motions of the mushrooms from the kyogen piece Kusabira. The children struggled with the unfamiliar motions but enjoyed themselves and learned earnestly, guided by careful teaching by the instructors. On the afternoon of the fourth day and the morning of the fifth day, there were two sessions of kyogen lessons targeting students and the general public on the UCLA campus. Yukio Ishida served as the instructor for the first session, and Mansai Nomura took over for the second session. About 30 people participated in the lessons on both days, and the age range of the attendees was wide. Some of those who showed up trained habitually in theater or dance. Each lesson started with everyone wiping the venue’s floors down with rags. After listening to an explanation of kyogen and learning such aspects of the art form as the basic posture, manner of walking, and vocalizations of the performers, the attendees practiced selected scenes from actual kyogen pieces. The attendees had difficulty controlling their leg movements down to every fine muscle fiber and appeared to experience directly how the highly refined style of kyogen is underpinned by intense physical training. Although the lessons were short, they still ended up being extremely meaningful opportunities to study the essentials of kyogen, thanks to the careful instruction of Master Nomura and Master Ishida.


Masterclass begins with polishing the floor

Masterclass begins with polishing the floor

Learning Kyogen with passion

Learning Kyogen with passion

Opening the door

Opening the door

After the class with performers

After the class with performers

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