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RAMAYANA MASKS & Mask of Asia : Japan


Japan is a nation that has a well noted and preserved history including arts and culture, which are also systematically maintained. Thus, it is possible to track the chronology of most Japanese masks. The Japanese masks on display at MOCA BANGKOK are from the Edo period (around 1600 – 1868 CE.) and the Meiji period (around 1868 – 1912 CE.). The Japanese theater that has integrated masks came in three primary forms. First is a performance at festivals or religious ceremonies. One of them is the local folk performance Namahage, the demonic being that plays a role in New Year festivals to scare and encourage bad-behaving children to improve themselves. Another is Bugaku; a delicate Japanese traditional court dance still played in the Japanese imperial court. The characters’ masks tell the story of a brave price or a capable king like the Shikami and Kitoku masks; the dance is called Ranryo.

The second form is called Gigaku. It is the first recorded Japanese masked drama-dance performance. The drama came to Japan from the southeastern part of China in the 7th-century CE. and originated in India. It traveled through the silk road to China, Japan, and Korea; it emits the relationship between the ancient kingdom across the continents linked through these wooden masks. The Gigaku performance, an ancient performing art, was inherited and performed until 1192 CE. Majority of the masks are currently kept in museums and temples.

Lastly, Noh, a form of Japanese dance-drama that integrated the choreography of the upper-class and folk performance to create a musical drama that mostly features tragedy or a story of a guardian deity vanishing evils. Such as the Hannya mask, a female demon, or the Hanakobu Akujo, an older man. Noh is a masked dance-drama that has its start in the 14th-century CE.

The Noh is a long-running Japanese folk performing arts in drama, which originated from hymns and ceremonial ritual dance used to entertain the gods in the Muromachi period. Also known as Nogaku, it is an art form from the Japanese upper-class and can be traced as far as the 14th century. The drama is another ancient cultural heritage that has been preserved for a long time, which became a significant symbol of the well-preserved Japanese art and culture until today.

The protagonists always wear a mask and never show the real face, while the supporting characters do not wear a mask. Wearing a mask with small eye holes obscures the actors’ vision, making it more challenging to balance themselves. Actors would look at one of the theater’s many pillars to calculate the distance and the balance to achieve the correct and elegant maneuvers. The actors can not also glance down to see their feet while performing; they need utmost concentration and mastery in the craft to achieve success. These challenges lead to the slow measures which become the identity of Noh. This play deeply linked the Zen teaching and emphasized peacefulness in one’s mind, realizing, and liberation from the worldly passions.


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A masked shite actor in the role of a heavenly maiden in the play Hagoromo