Matsukaze: A Japanese No Play

Cover of the RBR's copy of Matsukaze: A Japanese No Play

Cover of the RBR’s copy of
Matsukaze: A Japanese No Play

So, just what is a Japanese No (or Noh) play?  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Noh comes from a Japanese word meaning “talent” or “skill.”  It refers to a traditional Japanese theatrical form, one of the oldest exant theatrical forms in the world.  It involves music, dance and drama, and has been around since the 14th century.  Plots are drawn from legend, history, literature and contemporary events, with themes often involving dreams, the supernatural world, and ghosts.  All the performers in a No play are men, in rich and heavy costume.  The main character, the shite, often takes several roles, each represented by a mask so that the audience knows which character is on stage at the time.  There is actually little action, with the performers acting more as story-tellers than actors.

One of the most famous of the No plays is Matsukaze, translated as “Breeze through the Pines,” or “Wind in the Pines.”  It is a “wig play” or “woman play” in which the characters are women, although played by men.  In Matsukaze, the two main characters are the spirits of Matsukaze (the wind) and her sister Murasame (the Autumn rain).  They lived in Settsu Province, and when the news of the death of their lover came, they both died of grief.  However, their sprits lingered on.  As the play opens, a traveling priest asks about a local memorial, finding out that it was built as a tribute to the two dead sisters.  The priest meets them in a dream, they explain their past and are overcome with madness.  Their souls are released and they pass from the mortal world, leaving only the sounds of the wind and the rain behind.

Matsukaze title page

Matsukaze title page

Dr. Harold Marvin (Davidson, Class of 1934) donated a copy of Matsukaze to the library’s Rare Book Room from his private collection.   Our copy, Matsukaze a Japanese No Play by Kwanami, was translated by Dan Frank Waugh, was privately printed in New York City in 1933, and is number 15 of only 75 copies.  It was bound by hand at the Stratford Press in imitation vellum and textured gray and black paper boards.  It was printed on hand-made Japanese silk paper.

Hand-made silk paper with deckled edges

Hand-made silk paper with deckled edges

The delicate paper is uncut (folded at the top) and has deckled edges. The decoration on the title page is from an ancient Japanese sword guard and symbolizes the play Matsukaze.

Thanks to Dr. Marvin for deciding to give us this beautiful book.

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