Zizek and the Noh Mask

by Leanne Ogasawara


Noh 能

The masked actor walks slowly forward. Pausing, he ever so slightly tilts his head upward. The audience is astonished; for with that tiniest upward tilt of his head, the facial expression of the mask is transformed –and he now appears smiling. How had these mask carvers, now long dead, managed to create these works of art that appear so different depending on the angle they are viewed?

The Noh theater is often cited as being the longest continuously-performed theater tradition in the world—with masks considered to be amongst the finest ever created.

Attending a performance, the first thing you might notice is the way time itself immediately slows down and takes on a stretched-out quality.

You suddenly have time to notice all kinds of things.

Like how long it takes the actor to walk toward center butai stage from the curtain. Several years ago, I worked on a translation on the traditional Japanese walking style, Nanba aruki. Commonly associated with Edo period samurai dramas, the style is to walk with knees slightly more bent and to move the arms as little as possible—But if moved the right arm moves in tandem with the right leg, the opposite of modern styles of walking.

At first, it was surprising to realize that people might not have always have walked like we do now. But some people think this nanba aruki style is healthier since hips and shoulders move together, rather than opposed. Also, I learned that because the center of gravity is lower due to slightly bent knees with feet gliding on the surface, it is an effective way of moving through marshes or other tough terrain. Read more »

The Time of White Dew (白露): 

by Leanne Ogasawara

Photographs by Tracey Parmley Nuki


Back from three weeks on the road, I immediately consult my Japanese almanac. To my delight, I see we are now in the Time of White Dew (白露):

Falling just prior to the Autumnal Equinox, the sun is said to have passed the 165th solar degree on its journey south. Although the afternoons are still dominated by the lingering heat of August and September, Autumn-like weather can increasingly be felt, deepening with each passing rain shower, especially noticeable in the mornings and evenings as the equinox approaches.

It’s like clockwork. Every year, by mid-September, the dew point is reached and suddenly there are glistening dewdrops –like diamonds– scattered in the morning grass.

This was true in Tokyo and it’s true in Los Angeles.

In Japan, these pearly gems are not only treasured for their gem-like beauty, but they are also appreciated  for their fleetingness; which, like scattering cherry blossoms, are likened to the transience of our human existence. For life, like the disappearing dewdrops in the morning sunlight, is too often cut short. In this way, dewdrops have been considered, since ancient times, along with “scattering flowers and fallen leaves” (飛花落葉) as a poetic metaphor for impermanence, or mujo (無常).

Have you heard of the dewdrop world? Read more »