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Masks

Masks / Honkan Room T1   September 17, 2008 (Wed) - October 26, 2008 (Sun)

  
Gyodo Mask "Tamonten", Kamakura period, 13th - 14th century

Masks are worn at festivals and in the performing arts all over the world, and with masks we can experience the distinctive characteristics of each region, observe the interchange between different cultures and feel the breath of the festival participants. In Japan's case, by the time of the Jomon period, mask-wearing clay figurines had already made an appearance. Some clay models of masks also remain, but as for masks actually worn by humans, the oldest extant examples are gigaku masks, brought over from China during the Asuka period (522-645). Gigaku seems to have been a popular form of masque play whose expressive masks were large enough to totally cover the face. However, in the middle ages the performance of gigaku was stopped after the contents were deemed a little too vulgar.

Bugaku, arriving from China and Korea during the Heian period (794-1192), was a more refined art form and was widely performed in ceremonies and festivals at places such as the imperial court, temples and shrines. Bugaku masks were more stylized and were more rigid in their expressions. They were also smaller, just covering the front of the face.

Masks are also worn during gyodo (parades held during various Buddhist rituals and ceremonies). One such gyodo is mukaeko, during which the performers don bodhisattva masks to enact the descent of Amida (Amitabha) to meet the soul of a recently departed person. This ceremony can still be seen today in such places as Nara's Taimadera temple or Kuhonbutsu temple in Tokyo's Setagaya-ku. Furthermore, this museum has several nijuhachibu-shu (the 28 followers of Sahasrabhuja) masks from Amanosha shrine, part of the Koyasan temple complex. These masks were used in a different kind of gyodo, being worn by those carrying the portable shrine containing the Issai sutra.

Noh is a uniquely Japanese performing art perfected by Zeami during the Muromachi period. In Noh, an ethereal atmosphere and a solemn, austere acting style are deemed important, so apart from the okina (smiling old man) masks, human Noh masks express no emotion.

Kyogen, on the other hand, is a performing art filled with humor and kyogen masks have warm and friendly expressions. It seems that Kyogen can trace its genealogy back to dengaku - traditional harvest celebrations involving music and dancing. When watching kyogen, it almost feels like we can hear the laughter of the peasants, echoing down from the middle and pre-modern ages.

 Major works in this exhibition

* Works listed below are in the TNM Collection unless otherwise indicated.
Bugaku Mask "Korobase", Heian period, dated 1042 (Important Cultural Property, Lent by Tamukeyama Hachimangu, Nara)
Gyodo Mask "Bosatsu", , By Kaikei, Kamakura period dated 1201 (Important Cultural Property, Lent by Jyodoji, Hyogo)