The Kanjin Noh Performances of 1816

An assembled scroll of three printed sheets laid-down on fine paper, all concerned with the Noh subscription performance of 1816 by the Kanze ryu (school) of Noh.

Scroll (292 x 1890 mm.), with silver endpapers & borders, beginning of scroll backed in brocade silk with a gold label, roller with gold caps. Edo: 1816.

A remarkable survival and important documentation for Noh theater. Our luxury scroll is concerned with the Kanjin Noh performances of 1816, which took place at Saiwaibashi and were organized by the Kanze ryu (school) of Noh. This school was founded in the 14th century and was known for its emphasis on beauty and elegance. Kanjin Noh (“benefit Noh”) were originally subscription Noh performances held to raise money for worthy causes, such as construction or repair of temples and shrines. The tradition began in the 14th century. However, by the Edo period, the Kanjin Noh performances had turned into commercial ventures, bringing profits chiefly to the producers and performers. In the Edo period, there were eight such events: 1607, 1624, 1656, 1687, 1750, 1816, 1831, and 1848.

These commercial Kanjin Noh were elaborate productions that took place at open areas within major urban centers. The performances were authorized by the bakufu as a form of support for the official Noh troupes; the head of each company was allowed one major public event in a lifetime. Through the Edo period, Kanjin Noh grew in complexity and length (one lasted 15 days). A vast performance area of about three to four acres, large enough for several thousand daily spectators, was constructed, with boxes and spaces reserved for special guests. A drum tower (yagura, erected to literally drum-up business) was built to attract the public. The entire large area was enclosed by a wooden board fence. Announcements advertising the event were posted in the busiest parts of Edo, and drummers were sent throughout the city to notify the population. The major Kanjin Noh productions were financed by mandatory contributions from the samurai and local citizenry.

This luxury scroll, with silver endpapers and borders and caps of gold on the roller, contains three extremely rare ephemeral wood-block printed items, each carefully laid down on the scroll’s paper:

1. The first sheet of paper (152 x 237 mm.) is the covering “envelope” for the other two items and serves as a sort of announcement of the performances. The printed text comprises the location of the production, the label “Kanjin Noh kogyo basho zenzu” [“Kanjin Noh performances illustrated”], a note stating that the program (item 3) is also included, and a statement that “Kanze” owns the wood blocks and has exclusive rights to print from them. Kanze has placed his seal on this sheet.

2. This important large sheet (270 x 827 mm.) is a highly detailed woodcut of the grounds of the 1816 Kanjin Noh performances, with captions describing each of the many buildings of the complex: the drum tower; the traditional small stage; the long hashigakari (“bridgeway” for entrances and exits and additional scenes); kagami-no-ma (“mirror room” where the actors prepare themselves before going onstage and the hayashi musicians play oshirabe or warm-up music); the many backstage buildings for the actors, props, and theater workers; the floor layout of the many sections of audience seating (prestigious and elaborately decorated boxes for the shogun, daimyo, special guests, and lesser samurai officials in the two-tiered buildings; tatami mat areas for merchants and general public); the five entrances (two for the general public, another for VIPs, the fourth for daimyo and the shogun, and the fifth entrance for supplies and staff); the considerable walls that would prevent the various classes of the audience from mingling; the buildings for police and security; concession stands serving extremely expensive sake, bento, and sweets (a major source of revenue), etc.

This woodcut, printed in pale yellow and black, provides wonderful detail of all components of a Noh theater. We believe that such images are most uncommon survivals. There is a copy at Hosei University, but it suffers greatly from worming.

3. The third wood-block printed sheet (177 x 617 mm.) is a list of the plays performed on the first day and all the performers.

It should be noted that the Kanjin Noh performances of 1816, due to bad weather and fire, were delayed by months.

In fine condition. There is some minor worming, carefully repaired.

❧ Almost all of this description is based on Gerald Groemer’s wonderful and detailed “Elite Culture for Common Audiences: Machiiri No and Kanjin No in the City of Edo” in Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn 1998), pp. 230-52.

Price: $8,500.00

Item ID: 6939

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