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Noh-men (能面)

Masks used in Noh plays. Noh masks fall into several categories: okina masks used for “shiki-sanban (Okina)”; masks depicting the facial expressions of the elderly; male ones for noblemen and warriors; plus items for females, demons, fairies, spirits, and so on. There are about 60 primary types, or more than 200 models if classified in a more detailed way. Masks produced from around the Muromachi period and handed down the generations in each of the head shite families are known as honmen (main masks), and mask-makers produce new ones by referring to these. Some okina masks, used for Okina-mai, a performing art established before Noh, were produced from the Kamakura period to the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Noh actors consider masks as the item to rank programs. They respectfully call their masks “omote” (face) and handle them very carefully in the dressing room. For the action of wearing a mask, they use the term “men o kakeru” (putting on a mask). A character played without a mask is called “hitamen” (literally, a direct mask) but performed in the same way as when wearing one. The materials used for masks are mostly wood. Makers in the Muromachi period used a variety of tree species, but since they have mainly employed Japanese cypress (with Kiso hinoki an especially suitable material). When the sculpture is complete, they paint the front with materials used for Japanese paintings and so on, often applying lacquer to the reverse side for protection and aesthetic value.

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