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The Nō and Zeami

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

Richard N. McKinnon
University of Washington
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The Nō, Japan's first great dramatic form, was fully developed by two great performers, Kannami (1333–1384) and his son Zeami (1363–1443), in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the heart of the Muromachi period. The Nō remained one of Japan's primary dramatic forms, strongly influencing all later forms of Japanese drama. The texts of the Nō plays, as a new genre of literature, deeply influenced Japan's subsequent literature.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1952

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1 In his Fushizuke shidai, Zeami writes, “The secret of composing [a Nō piece] for the chant lies in the linking of phrases from poems. First of all, this is because in poetry is found the basic pattern of the 5 – 7 – 5. In addition, since the tonality of the words constitutes the basis for the recitation of poetry, poetry conforms properly to the five musical modes and is correct in terms of ‘accents’…. When poems are linked together and chanted, they will always be in keeping with the mode of the chant.” Asaji, Nose, Zeami fūrokubusbū hyōshaku, 2.86, 2 vols., Tokyo, 1940Google Scholar, 1944 (hereafter referred to as JH.).

2 Nose, “Rengaron to Nōgakuron ni arawaretaru jidai geijutsu ishiki,” Kokubungcku kaishaku to kanshō. 9 (1944) 9, 37Google Scholar.

3 Kadensho, JH, 1.196–197.

4 Yoshie, Okazaki, “Yōkyoku ni okeru shōchō,” Bungaku, 11 (1943) 9, 5Google Scholar.

5 Kabu zuinōki, Nōgaku koten Zenchikushū, 42–43 (Tokyo, 1915)Google Scholar. The Zenchikushū contains the theoretical essays on the Nō of Komparu Zenchiku, who is also known as Zenchiku Ujinobu. Born in 1405, Zenchiku became Zeami's protegé and son-in-law, distinguishing himself both as performer and playwright. He died sometime between 1469 and 1471.

6 Serious modern research on the Nō can be said to begin with the discovery and subsequent publication of a sizable portion of Zeami's writings. In 1909 Yoshida Tōgo published this under the title of Zeami jūrokubushū. The discovery opened new avenues of research in the artistic theories of the Nō. It brought to light many significant facts, both historical and biographical, which necessitated a basic revision of previous ideas about the Nō. Since that time, the discovery of additional works of Zeami and of additional copies of existing works has given further impetus to studies on the Nō, particularly those centering around Zeami.

The most detailed commentary on sixteen of Zeami's works is Nose Asaji's Zeami jūrokubushū hyōshaku, which includes a wealth of notes, critical comments and collations. Kazuma, Kawase's Tōchū Zeami nijūsambushū (Tokyo, 1945)Google Scholar is the most inclusive printing of Zeami's works and includes marginal notes and a valuable introduction regarding the different works. The periodical, Bungaku, also includes a series of extremely valuable symposia on Zeami's essays. For further details, see the exhaustive bibliography prepared by Yasuraoka Kōsaku and Nishio Kōichi in Bungaku, 10.11 (1942) 130–138. This bibliography includes the material in another bibliography prepared by Kanichi, Jōkō which appeared in Bungaku, 4.4 (1936), 102105Google Scholar.

7 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.424.

8 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.423.

9 Kadensho, JH, 1.157.

10 Kadensho, JH, 1.91.

11 Kadensho, JH, 1.120.

12 Kadensho, JH, 1.213.

13 Kadensho, JH, 1.233.

14 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.403.

15 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.291, 298; Sarugaku dangi, JH, 2.347–348.

16 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.362.

17 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.289.

18 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.389.

19 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.393.

20 Hana no kagami, JH, 1.396.

21 Kadensho, JH, 1.264.