(Mathias Cena’s article appeared on Yahoo News, 3/6; via Drudge Report; Photo: Mayuko Kashiwazaki (2nd R) gets into costume before a dress rehearsal for ‘Dojoji’, a drama about the revenge of a betrayed woman (Credit: Richard A. Brooks)

Kimono-clad Mayuko Kashiwazaki delivers her lines in guttural tones and transforms into an evil snake in the lead role of a Japanese Noh play where, unusually, most of the cast are women.

Noh, with its elaborate layered costumes and hand-crafted masks, is one of the most ancient surviving forms of theatre, with origins dating back to the eighth century.

Unlike kabuki, another type of classical Japanese theatre, or sumo wrestling — both steadfastly male — Noh has been open to performers of both genders for over a century.

But women are still a rarity in the traditional Noh world, where fathers often pass the vocation to their sons.

Women represent just 15 percent of the 1,039 actors and musicians registered with the professional Nohgaku Performers’ Association.

And their opportunities to appear on stage are “relatively limited”, 43-year-old Kashiwazaki told AFP.

“One reason is that Noh audiences are generally older, and often see Noh as a masculine art form,” she said.

But now it’s time “for women to reflect on their future in Noh, and to play a role in building that future”.

Kashiwazaki acted the principal part in “Dojoji”, a famous drama about the revenge of a betrayed woman, at Tokyo’s National Noh Theatre last weekend.

Twirling a fan, and wearing a heavy kimono embroidered with a crane motif, the masked actor belted out her lines in an archaic, warbling style as the story slowly unfolded.

After hiding under a prop representing the bell of a Buddhist temple, she emerged transformed as a demonic serpent character with wild, fiery tufts of red hair.

– ‘Beauty and power’ –

Kashiwazaki, encouraged by her Noh mentor, tried to find as many women as possible to participate in the production.

“‘Dojoji’ is an extremely important piece for Noh actors,” Kashiwazaki said, and “you have to be very lucky to get a chance to perform it, even once in your life”.

“Because I was lucky enough to have this opportunity, I thought it would be great to stage it with other female Noh actors.”

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