Learning from the Masters: Kyogen’s Timeless Appeal

Tuesday, March 10 was ASIJ’s 37th annual Kyogen performance. Kyogen, with its nagabakama (extra-long pants), archaic language and smooth movements, has a 650-year history of relatable comedy. This year, 3 middle school students entertained the audience with Futari Daimyo (The Two Feudal Lords) while 4 high school students performed Niwatori Muko (The Rooster Son-in-Law). 

Three of our own Kyogen performers offered to share their experiences and reflections on this year’s acts.

Performing Kyogen

It took me a while to learn that Kyogen is more than staring at a five-page long script and deciphering 16th century kanji. While it was cool to learn how to walk on stage, gliding over it while being careful not to raise your heels too much, interesting to learn old songs and what in the world they meant, and definitely way cool to wave a sword around multiple times at two sixth grade boys, in the beginning Kyogen was simply practice, practice, repetition and more practice.

As the real performance drew closer, however, practicing became more like we were actually doing Kyogen, not just walking around the stage and stumbling through our lines. The more we did it right, the more fun it was. On Tuesday, even though we had only put on our costumes the night before and we had made a few mistakes, we all nodded at each other beforehand, because we were ready for the real thing—the final performance in front of a real-live audience with people we didn’t know.

For the last performance of the night, our Kyogen teachers, the Yamamotos, performed The Owl. It was not the funniest play ever; however, it still made me laugh, and it was a professional performance. Unlike the other two acts that night, we had never seen the teachers’ performance before, which made it a hundred times better and easier to watch than the others.

If I said that our act went off without a hitch, I would be lying. There were a few missed lines, a few mistakes. But we made the audience laugh and when we came off stage we were all grinning, excited and happy, and there was lots of high-fiving involved. Our performance wasn’t perfect, but I think all of us are proud of it and I know that, in the end, I had lots of fun doing it. (Samantha Walker, Grade 8)


Learning from Kyogen Masters

The coaches of Kyogen club are professional Kyogen masters. This is what amazed me when I entered this club. Usually, you would have to become apprenticed to a Kyogen master in order to receive proper training. Becoming their pupil means you have to be determined to make living as a Kyogen performer. Therefore, with just an ordinary interest, you would most likely not be able to receive proper training in Kyogen.

So I had an extraordinary opportunity with the Kyogen club. With that being said, I would like to state that this club is not only about tradition, strict training, etc. Our coaches, Yasutaro Yamamoto sensei and Noritaka Yamamoto sensei are very friendly and I enjoyed learning about Japan’s traditional art and culture from them. Yes, the coaches are professional performers, so they can be strict at times. However, their advice was always helpful for me in improving the quality of my performance.

Four years have already passed since I entered this club. The stage I was on earlier in this month became my last performance as a member of Kyogen. I am already starting to feel nostalgic but, at this moment, my heart is still full of accomplishment and fulfillment. I will never forget my peers, senseis and all the wonderful experiences I had in this club. The experience of mastering a form of art and performing it together with my peers on stage became my lifetime treasure. (Yuri Goto, Grade 12)

Appreciating the Art-form

Our performance on last Tuesday marked the end to my HS Kyogen career. Every year, students in the HS Kyogen club have had the unparalleled opportunity to work with renowned professional Kyogen actors.

I will admit, starting off Kyogen in freshman year was a struggle: the club was unpopular, the form of theater was rather archaic and difficult to comprehend and the specific forms of Kyogen—the unique, bellowing “stomach voice,” heavy costumes and ancient dialogue were hard to become accustomed to, much less create a comedy out of. However, working each year with the Kyogen masters and several student actors, and watching professional performances out of school, I began to love being part of Kyogen, the activity which taught me more about a unique form of acting, collaboration and the depth of Japanese culture. I hope to continue seeing amazing Kyogen performances at ASIJ, even after I graduate, and hope that more students will participate in this incomparable opportunity. (Astrid Evenson, Grade 12)