By Michelle Harris
One of my favorite pieces of architecture, non-western or western is the Great Bamboo Wall by Kengo Kuma. As I’ve perused other Kuma projects, I was reminded of him talking as a guest lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Noh Stage in Forest. This project, as I learned from the presentation, may have looked simple but was layered with complexities. Kengo Kuma’s website is a refreshing reminder of the subtlety of Japanese architecture.
Jun’ichiro Tanizaki addresses in “In Praise of Shadows’ the use of darkness in Noh Theater. He says, ‘The stage is left in darkness, in which it has stood since antiquity. A stage has a natural gloss, whose beams and backdrop glow with a dark light, where the darkness beneath the rafters and eaves hangs above the actor’s heads. Tanizaki understands the ‘sheen of antiquity’ to be appealing to the eastern eye. The Noh Stage in Forest is not an exception. The ‘key of mystery’ is in the shadows of the forest. Tanizaki elaborates eloquently on the darkness of the Noh Theater and the ideal world it creates.
The 18th century in Japan signified a time of change. There was trade between the East and West and with it the beginning of an exchange of culture. Shakespeare in London was reinterpreted to represent significant Japanese cultural figures at the turn of the 19th century. Noh Theater performed the Japanese interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. Noh Stage was developed from Kubaki, where faces are painted white. In Noh Theater the performers wear no makeup. They instead wear masks. This began in Toyoma city of Miyagi Province. The very origin of Noh Theater, as Kuma explains, is purely inside nature, where wind travels along with the performance.
In the Noh Stage in Forest there are a few major components. Significant components are the stage and the seating area. Each Portion of the stage has a symbolism in the design. The seating area is a metaphor for life and the stage is a reflection of the past or death. In the darkness of the forest each component takes on its own poetry.
The poetry of Noh Theater as Tanizaki describes, ‘The darkness in which the Noh is shrouded and the beauty that emerges from it make a distinct world of shadows which today can be seen only on the stage. These shadows Tanizaki craves in retreat from the gleaming modern world. The theater represents a step back into traditional Japanese architecture in its design and construction. The patina of age is welcome to the building’s components by exposure to the elements. This exposure is much like the unpainted face of a Noh actor. Taniazki explains his passion for the historical structure as well as the actor in the glowing light of lanterns.
It is interesting as a ‘westerner’ to see the Noh Stage in Forest as sacred to a Japanese man. Western Theater though it has its glimmer of fame is irreverent. The beautiful images evoked by Tanizaki are one of valuing the total experience from all sensory aspects. The sights, smell, touch, sound and even taste of darkness in the Japanese culture is elevated to irrepressible idealism. Of course there is the umami, the sixth sense in experiencing life. Umami is the life force of the Noh Stage in Forest. In the presence of the unknown, the sense of spiritual awakening is tangible. The actuality of the Noh Theater is encountering the forest. The perception of Noh Stage in Forest is tinted with the dulled hue of brilliance.
‘In Praise of Shadows’. Tanizaki, Ju’ichiro. 1977. St. Edmundsbury Press. Great Britian.
Kengo Kuma. Noh Stage in Forest. Accessed January 29.2014. http://kkaa.co.jp/works/noh-stage-in-the-forest/
‘Shakespeare in Japan’. Kishi, Tetsuo. 2005. New York, New York.