The traditional Japanese performing arts of Noh and Kyogen are registered as intangible cultural heritage elements by UNESCO. Noh theatre has a long history, and it is believed to have originated from folk arts introduced from the continent around the 8th century. In the latter half of the 14th century, Kan’ami and Zeami, a father-and-son duo who compiled Noh plays, emerged and established the form of Noh as we know it today. Since that time, Noh has been handed down for more than 600 years, and many of the turns of phrase and melodies from that time remain in the current performances.
Noh plays are performed on a Noh stage or in a Noh theater, but these are extremely simplified spaces with no curtains or rugs between the audience and the stage. The performance space consists of a hashi-gakari, the passageway the performers use to enter and leave the stage, and the main stage, which has a pine tree in the background. Originally, Noh stages were built outdoors, and even though they have since been moved indoors, they still have a roof, railings, pine trees and shirasu, a pebble-filled space that separates the stage from the audience.
There are several Noh stages in Fukuoka, but the most well-known one is the Ohori Park Noh Theater, which opened on the edge of Ohori Park in 1986. The building was designed by Hiroshi Oe, an architect who also worked on the National Noh Theatre, and it hosts a variety of performances in addition to Noh and Kyogen. In 2021, the theater was closed for renovations, but in 2022 it will celebrate its 35th anniversary, and many Noh performances will be held starting from the beginning of the year.
Because of Noh’s close connection to rituals, Noh stages are often set up in shrines. The Noh Theater at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Hakata Ward is a historic building that was built in 1938 with donations, and it is still in use today. It has been designated as a tangible cultural property of Fukuoka City. There are also several Noh stages that have been erected by private-sector Noh performers for performances and rehearsals, including the Morimoto Nohbutai and the Shirogane Nohgakudo (both in Chuo-ku).