Text Korean and Japanese Theatre-Dance Mask
In communities across Korea and Japan performers wearing masks present a series of dramatic plays and ceremonies. The masks are used to tell stories many based on Buddhist tales. In addition to the Buddhist tales, other masks reflect the local spirits, places and folklore.
Polychrome, carved, and painted wooden masks with hoods depict satirical themes involving the upper class of society and the clergy. The masks exhibited here were made at the Andong Folk Village.
The Yangju Pyeolsandae Nori is a very popular folk dance in Korean history. There are over 20 characters in the dance drama where the “old man” character becomes infatuated with the pretty girl and tries to seduce her. He is an ugly, old man: the dots on the mask faces are supposed to be pox marks or some sort of skin disease.
Red, black, white, and other bright colours help to identify the character, many appear to have deformed features. Beautifully carved and painted, there is the traditional cloth hood that pulls over the dancer’s head and helps to secure the mask.
The origins of the Japanese Noh theatre are traced to Jomon Period circa AD 250. Earthenware masks and figurines handcrafted in clay were probably used in magic rites of fertility, exorcism, and cures of illness.
There are over 250 kinds of Noh masks, with six basic groups that include (1) tokushu (unique) masks used only for special plays; (2) demons and gods masks, both male and female; (3) old man masks for both living and dead roles; (4) otaka (man) and onna (woman) masks expressing both young and old; (5) rhy (spirit) masks of divine beings and ghosts, both male and female; and (6) kyogen mask designs of okina (older man), shimbusu (deities), ningen (human), borei (ghosts), omi (demons), and dobutsu (animals). Kyogen has developed in close relationship with Noh and provides comic relief to the always serious, often tragic Noh plays.
Festival participants in folk masks lead processions of dancers from the shrine through the cities or villages of Japan. Two masks often used in festivals have two names: otafuku and okame. Otafuku literally means much good fortune, and okame means tortoise, also a lucky symbol for long life. Otafuku represents a lovely, always smiling Japanese woman who brings happiness and good fortune to any man she marries. She is also known as the Goddess of Mirth. Youth disguised in masks representing a grotesque deity called namahage go around visiting houses at night, dancing along as they shout out “any children crying?”