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Noh in the 20th Century

After the Meiji emperor abolished the rigid social categories enforced by the Tokugawa shoguns, Noh lost its patronage among the samurai elite. This ancient form then reinvented itself as a classic Japanese art form with new partisans, including rich Japanese merchants. Noh, lacking the historical connection to popular culture and mass-produced prints, finally became the focus of woodblock printmakers in the 20th century.

Tsukioka Kogyo claimed Noh as his subject, beginning in the late 1890s. This artist produced nearly 600 prints on Noh themes, plus three dozen paintings and small postcard-sized prints sold by the Noh publishing house Wanya. Taking his initial cues from his stepfather, Yoshitoshi, Kogyo extended the legacy of woodblock printmaking long associated with Kabuki theater, to Noh. His daughter, Gyokusei, and other disciples enriched the repertoire with new prints at least to the 1960s.

Noh masks, which embody an ancient craft and stage traditions, continue to be produced today under the auspices of regional schools. Bidou Yamaguchi is a young artist (b. 1970) who launched his career as a Noh carver. However, despite his consummate grasp of traditional skills, Bidou eventually left the world of Noh to seek greater artistic freedom. He uses his skills as a mask maker to create three-dimensional portraits of famous females borrowed from Western art history.