Cherry Blossom Report Current information

Spring Special Exhibition :

March 9 - June 3

Sarugaku Masks
Shaping the Culture of Noh

Sarugaku (also sarugō) is the archaic term for what is now known as nōgaku—classical drama composed of noh and kyōgen plays. Conventional theory on the origins of sarugaku points to sangaku (“miscellaneous arts”) introduced from the continent that are said to have merged with indigenous performing arts and gradually evolved into the highly perfected singing and dance drama that is passed down today.

Sarugaku was composed of a multitude of arts—juggling, acrobatics, singing and dancing, puppetry, comic miming, and so on, as described in the Shinsarugakuki, a work written by Fujiwara no Akihira (989–1066) in the late Heian period, that attests to its great popularity in those days. Folk performing arts like dengaku (ritual shrine dancing), kugutsu puppetry, and sarugaku arts in due course became specialized professions, and the most popular sarugaku performers formed troupes (za) affiliated with major shrines or temples that sponsored their performances for important religious rituals or celebrations.

The various troupes, which included performers of dengaku, competed with each other and also influenced on each other, and by the early Muromachi period—the fourteenth century—had entered their heyday with the support of the Ashikaga shogunate or of a major local shrine or temple. Kan’ami (1333–1384) gained tremendous popularity for his performances of mimes (imitating people’s emotional expressions or behavior) that were a tradition of Yamato (Nara) sarugaku, incorporating elements of then-popular dengaku and kusemai dances. His son, Zeami (1363–1443) brought the singing and dancing arts of the noh to their pinnacle by creating plays for upper-class audiences, modeling them after classical works and war tales and establishing the genres of mugen noh (in which the protagonist is a deity, ghost, or spirit of the supernatural world) and genzai noh (in which the protagonist is a historical figure).

This exhibition explores the world of sarugaku by presenting a wide variety of masks worn in performances held in three principal areas of the Honshu heartland. Yamato (present-day Nara prefecture) was the home ground of the four leading Yamato troupes of sarugaku supported by the Kōfukuji temple, Kasuga Taisha shrine, and other powerful centers of belief. Ōmi (present-day Shiga prefecture) was the home of the sarugaku troupes supported by large temples and shrines of the Tendai tradition including Enryakuji and Hie Taisha shrine that appear as major rivals to Yamato sarugaku in Zeami’s writings on noh, Fūshi kaden and Sarugaku dangi. The third area where sarugaku flourished was at the three gateways to the much-revered sacred peak Mt. Haku, Kaga Banba (present-day Ishikawa prefecture), Echizen Banba (present-day Fukui prefecture), and Mino Banba (present-day Gifu prefecture).

The exhibit displays 350 masks made as early as the Nara through late Heian and Kamakura periods, and down to the Nanbokuchō, Muromachi, and Azuchi Momoyama periods when the noh was perfected. Seen mainly from the viewpoint of the history of sculpture but also in the contexts of the history of culture, performing arts, and literature, they shed light on their times.


Exhibition Term
March 9, 2018 - June 3, 2018
Closed Days
Admission Fees
1100 JPY
North Wing

※Objects are subject to change during exhibition period.

展示品リスト / 展示替スケジュール


Sarugaku Masks; Shaping the Culture of Noh


Exhibition Highlights

Fukudayu (Muromachi period) 3/10~4/8
Aburahi Shrine, Shiga

Okina (Kamakura period) 3/10~4/8
Private Collection

Okina (Muromachi period) 4/10~5/6
Mitsui Memorial Museum, Tokyo (Important Cultural Property)

Tsuina Mask (Momoyam Period 1581) 5/8~6/3
Ishiyama Temple, Shiga

Jo (Muromachi period 1430) 5/8~6/3
Tenkawa Shrine, Nara (Important Cultural Property)

Sanbaso (Muromachi-Momoyama period) 4/10~5/6
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Shiga

Noh Robe with Flower and Plant Scroll Design (Momoyama period) 4/10~5/6
Mandokoro Hachiman Shrine (Important Cultural Property)

Beshimi (Muromachi period 15th century) 3/10~4/8
Kumano Shrine, Nanjo, Fukui

Jo(Muromachi period 1371) 3/10~4/8
Nagataki Hakusan Shrine, Gifu (Important Cultural Property)

Han’nya (Muromachi period 1558) 4/10~5/6
Museum of Noh Artifacts, Hyogo

Kasshiki (Momoyama period 1616) 5/8~6/3
Nagaraki Hakusan Shrine (Important Cultural Property)

Oji (Muromachi period) 3/10~4/8
Tenkawa Shrine (Important Cultural Property)

Oto (Momoyama period) 5/8~6/3
Kasuga Shrine, Seki, Gifu (Important Cultural Property)

Chichinojo (Muromachi period 15th century) 5/8~6/3
Fukui Fine Arts Museum

Omi-onna (Edo Period 1646) 4/10~5/6
Fukuoka City Museum

Monkey (Muromachi period) 3/10~4/8
Mibu Temple, Kyoto

Exhibition Galleries

Entrance Information The Origins of Sarugaku Sarugaku and Masks: Yamato Sarugaku and Masks: Ōmi Sarugaku and Masks: Mt. Haku Area Mask Makers of Ōmi: Izeki Family Kyōgen
South Wing
North Wing

Spring Special Exhibition

Sarugaku Masks

Shaping the Culture of Noh


North Wing

Spring Special Exhibition

Sarugaku Masks- Shaping the Culture of Noh
On view from Apr10 - Apr22

Please click here for the list of works.

The Origins of Sarugaku
Sarugaku and Masks: Yamato
Sarugaku and Masks: Ōmi
Sarugaku and Masks: Mt. Haku Area
Mask Makers of Ōmi: Izeki Family