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  • Thumbnail for Noh play, performance on outdoor stage, Chusonji, Hiraizumi
    Noh play, performance on outdoor stage, Chusonji, Hiraizumi

    Each November there is a performance of a Noh play on an outdoor stage that is on the grounds of Chusonji, at Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture. This image is of the performance in the fall, 2000. -- The two stage props seen here are unusual in their elaborateness; noh stages are usually totally bare of props or, if there is a prop, it usually is simpler than is the case here. The several musicians used in noh , e.g., stick drummer, hand drummers, traverse flute player, are along the rear wall of the stage. Out of the photo, on the right, along the edge of the stage, are the members of the chorus who narrate the play. Noh drama, itself, in its form, in its lack of scenery, use of masks for the main actor in most plays, etc., reflects the austere suggestion, the minimalism of Ashikaga aesthetics. The brilliant robe of the shite , the main actor, reflects the addition of a decorative element, probably from the Momoyama period. The painting of the pine on the rear wall of the stage (and bamboo above the musicians' "coming in door" on the right) is a convention found on every noh stage -- it is said that the pine derives from the great pine tree at the Kasuga Shrine, Nara.

  • Thumbnail for Kurishima Sumiko
    Kurishima Sumiko

    A top-ranking Japanese actress of the 1920s.

  • Thumbnail for Kotsuzumi Drum and Storage Box
    Kotsuzumi Drum and Storage Box

    The kotsuzumi is a percussion instrument shaped much like an hourglass, with a thin middle and two flaring ends. Drumheads of leather mounted on iron rings are fitted on either end with the two drumheads connected by hemp cords. It is held with the left hand, placed on the right shoulder, and struck with the fingers of the right hand. This set is decorated with a spring design of rafts with cherry blossoms in gold maki-e on a black lacquered ground. This kotsuzumi is accompanied by a storage box decorated witha design in maki-e on black lacquer of running water and maple leaves. The design allude to many poems from the Heian period regarding the Tatsuta Riber, famous for the autumn foliage along its banks." - Kawakami Shigeki

  • Thumbnail for Noh Mask: Usobuki
    Noh Mask: Usobuki

    Kyogen, the comic drama in which such subjects as old tales and the problems of real peopple are treated with humorous actions and witty dialogue, uses some masks, though the number of mask types is much mor limited than for Noh. In contrast to the serious quality of Noh masks, those for Kyogen are characterized by their humorous nature, with amused expressions, or by deliberate exaggeration and distortion. Usobuki represents the latter type. The name implies several possible meanings, including to feign innocence, to whistle, or to shape the mouth as though blowing a fire. The mask is worn by both human characters and the spirits of fragile creatures such as the moth, mosquito, or cicada. - Matshushima Ken

  • Thumbnail for Kariginu or Noh "Hunting Robe"
    Kariginu or Noh "Hunting Robe"

    The kariginu, literally hunting robe," was originally an informal jacket worn by men of the court class in the Heian period. In the medieval era it was adapted by elite samurai as their most formal garment. It is thought that the kariginu first used in Noh performances were those actually worn by samurai aristocrats. In the Edo period the kariginu was established as a Noh costume, and these kariginu for the stage were made larger than the kariginu for daily wear from which they had originated. in Noh, the kariginu is regarded as the most imortant outer garment for male roles." - Kawakami Shigeki.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 3)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 3)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Kabuki fight scene with pyrotechnics
    Kabuki fight scene with pyrotechnics by Ginko Adachi (1874-1895)

    Actors ascending through stage trap door amid fireworks. Color woodblock print;9" x 14".

  • Thumbnail for Noh Mask: Yamanba
    Noh Mask: Yamanba

    Yamanba describes an otherworldly being who lives deep in the mountains. As the goddess of the mountains, Yamanba lives far outside the human community and is both respected and feared. The Yamanba mask is used in only one Noh play, Yamanba, written by Zeami in his later years, after he had experienced disfavor, exile, and personal diappointment, and it reflects a deeply Buddhist vision. In the play a young dancer, known as Yamanba because of her powerfully evocative performance impersonating the mountain goddess, travels on a pilgrimage through the mountains and meets the real Yamanba, who is portrayed in the first half of the play with a mask used to represent middle-aged women. After revealing her true identity to the girl, she returns in the second half of the play, wearing the Yamanba mask, and through dance and poetic song reveals the depth of her feeling. She describes herself as suspended between two world, the human world and the supernatural world, the world of attachment and the world beyond all emotion. - Andrew Pekarik

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 2)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 2)

    1 1/2" h x 1 3/4" l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 1)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 1)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 2)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (2 view 2)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Nuts with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)
    Chinese Carved Nuts with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)

    1 1/2" h x 1 3/4" l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)
    Chinese Carved Gourd with Literary Scenes (1 view 3)

    1 1/2"h x 1 3/4"l (including base). Side view of finely carved gourd showing scenes from literature and opera.

  • Thumbnail for Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase)
    Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1789-1861)

    Showing the 34th or Wakana (Young Greens) Chapter of the Tale of Genji with the Actors Juro Sukenari and Kobayashi Asahira. Woodcut on paper, 14 x 10 inches (oban size). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is one of the classics of court literature and was often the subject of hand-scrolls (Yamato-e). An example of such a Yamato-e hand-scroll appears in the upper part of the print. The cover of the hand-scroll is folded over, so that its back faces us. A vertical title bar normally decorates the back of a hand-scroll. In this case, the title reads Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase.) The text that follows the title starts with the word 'wakana', identifying the section of the Tale of Genji in question as Chapters 35 and 36, that is New Herbs, Parts 1 and 2. Below the hand-scroll, there is a diagonal wall covered by branches. Beneath it, a censor's seal appears and then the signature of the artist Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi with his seal. Another long inscription follows to the right, and then the figures of two actors, identified by vertical cartouches as Kobayashi Asahira to the left and Juro Sukenari to the right. To the bottom left is the publisher's seal: hangen Ise-ichi. Prints such as this one are excellent evidence of how ukiyo-e relates to Yamato-e. They also show how ukiyo-e used the 'double-edged' line. For instance, consider the vertical contours of the two folds in the part of the blue belt on the left that hangs down beneath the tie. Note that the lines begin thick and quickly grow thinner. Focus on the thicker areas at the tops of the line. The right and left sides of these lines differ slightly. The right side creates a flat, square area at the top that shows how the cloth changes direction as it bends downward, whereas the left side is curved to reveal the way in which the material is continuous across the fold.

  • Thumbnail for Kabuki Scene
  • Thumbnail for Kabuki Scene
  • Thumbnail for Kabuki Actor
  • Thumbnail for Ichimura Uzaemon
    Ichimura Uzaemon by Kunisada, Utagawa (1786-1864)

    14 x 10 inches. Woodblock print depicting actor, Ichimura Uzaemon in Kabuki drama of the Satomi clan. Shino fights off henchmen of Inukai Kempachi on roof of Horyukaku Pavilion of Kaga Castle.

  • Thumbnail for Charumera
    Charumera

    A double-reed wooden flute used to create a Chinese mood in Kabuki plays.

  • Thumbnail for Chujo mask
    Chujo mask

    The Chujo mask represents a young aristocrat of early times, with light complexion, high painted eyebrows, and teeth blackened (ohaguro). Traditionally, this mask type is said to have been modeled after Ariwa no Narihira, the famous poet of the Heian period whose court rank was chujo, middle captain, in the headquarters of the Inner Palace Guards. The Chujo mask is used for the role of Prince Genji in the Tale of Genji, and for other courtiers. While Chujo is typically carved with a melancholic exprssion and knitted brows, these ualities are especially formalized and given emphasis in this mask. It was owned by the Konparu family, one of the four main groups of Noh actors. - Matsushima Ken

  • Thumbnail for Sumo match
    Sumo match

    After the establishment of the first Shogunate in Kamakura from 1185 to 1392, Sumo came to be practiced by the warrior class. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the most famous Shogun of the era, was a huge Sumo fan. Oda Nobunga (1534-82) was particularly fond of Sumo. In February of 1578, he assembled 1,500 wrestlers from across Japan for a tournament held at his castle. Until then, there were no boundaries to the area in which Sumo matches were held. The space was previously designated by the people waiting for their turn to compete. Nobunga was the first person to draw circular boundaries on the ground for the first time. In the Edo period (1603-1867) several Daimyo (Feudal Lords) began sponsoring the strongest wrestlers. Those sponsored by the Daimyo got a big paycheck and Samurai status.

  • Thumbnail for Noh
    Noh

    The actor Umewaka Rokuro leads a busy life, reviving ancient Noh plays, presenting new Noh productions and performing overseas.

  • Thumbnail for The actor Ichimura Uzaemon XIII as the scoundrel Benten-Kozo Kikunosuke
    The actor Ichimura Uzaemon XIII as the scoundrel Benten-Kozo Kikunosuke by Utagawa Yoshiiku

    A pupil of Kuniyoshi, who despite the innovations and new subject matters and styles brought on by the Meiji period continued to practice a fairly traditional style of ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e artists were often commissioned to execute portraits of kabuki actors in some of their most famous and popular roles. These portraits served as advertisements of an upcoming performance and as souvenirs for fans of kabuki, who would often loudly shout and cheer when one of their favorite actors struck a particularly dramatic and expressive pose (mie). Like many professions in Japan, acting was often a family tradition, thus like some ukiyo-e artists, actors would take the name of their predecessor and simply add a number to mark their position in the line of succession. The scoundrel in this case is the lead in a popular Kabuki play of the Edo period written by Kawatake Mokuami (1816– 1893). The role demands a wide range for an actor who must transform from a young maiden into a rough criminal.

  • Thumbnail for Uki-e: The interior of the Ichimura-za Theater, Edo
    Uki-e: The interior of the Ichimura-za Theater, Edo by Utagawa Toyoharu

    Utagawa Toyharu was the founder of the Utagawa school of ukiyo-e painting and printmaking. He was born in Kyoto and studied Kano school painting under Tsuruzawa Tangei. Upon moving to Edo in the 1760s he studied with Shigenaga and Sekien and began releasing his own work shortly thereafter. In 1763 he became a printmaker in the ukiyo-e tradition. After establishing himself as a foremost master of printmaking, Toyoharu began to take pupils, among them Toyohiro and Toyokuni, who assumed Toyoharu’s title after his death. Toyoharu’s output was diverse. He is probably best-known for creating the innovative uki-e or perspective print, which was a melding of Japanese and Western art tastes for composition and design. He created several landscape print series in the uki-e manner but he also worked within traditional subject matters and designs. The perspective print illustrates the influence of western images as they made there way into Japan. While contrary to traditional Japanese depictions of space, perspective was particularly appropriate to depictions of the floating world. Attending the Japanese theater, particularly Kabuki, was a popular pastime in the theater quarters of Edo and other large cities. Many plays depicted well-known historical and literary events from Japan’s past, while others featured narratives of a particularly modern bent. The uki-e print was able to capture the bustle and din of the Kabuki theater and the pleasure quarters in which they were located.

  • Thumbnail for Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura
    Kana-dehon Chushingura Act III: Scene at the palace in Kamakura by Utagawa Kuniteru

    Studied first under Kunisada and later with Toyokuni, took the name Kuniteru around 1844. Kana-dehon Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers) was a popular and frequently performed Kabuki play in the late 18th and early 19th century in Edo. Based on actual historical events from 1701 – 1703, the play tells of forty-seven ronin (samurai without a lord) who seek revenge for the unjust death of their leader Enya-Hangan. Included here are printed depictions of some of the particularly dramatic acts of the play. Act III: Enya-hangan draws his sword in reaction to the insults of Moronao, a capital offence resulting in a death sentence.