AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 573

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Session 573: Towards Transparent Translation: Modern Mediations of Noh

Organizer: Jonah Salz, Ryukoku University, Japan

Discussant: James R. Brandon, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Noh, the classical Japanese dance-theatre, has been transmitted (texts, costumes, masks, and acting styles) for over six hundred years via physical transmission and secret treatises, through shifts of patronage and audiences from temples and townsman to daimyo and samurai. Beginning with the Meiji Restoration (1867-1911), Japanese amateurs, as well as foreign tourists, scholars, and artists became interested in noh as spectators and amateur practitioners. The desire for potential new patrons meant new efforts by noh actors to transmit and perform, taking advantage of contemporary media technologies. In the modern era, these new patrons include foreign students and overseas venues, relying on translation, interpretation, and projected subtitles to communicate noh’s essence. Yet when introducing noh-kyogen to outsiders, problems of authenticity and authority arise: who has the authority to make changes or approve publication, how to mediate through interpretation or subtitles without destroying the very intense beauty itself, and how to maintain essential potency and beauty in international tours and translations to other languages. These papers by five scholar-practitioners examine ways in which noh has been translated and adapted for outsiders. These include experiments domestically and abroad, as modern playwrights, directors, and actors stretch the boundaries of the genre through linguistic and technological innovation—published notations, projected subtitles, non-traditional training workshops, English translations and creation of new works. Demonstrations, dvd clips, and discussion among scholar-practioners will provide a rich, insider perspective from the forefront of the vanguard of this ancient tradition.

Kanze Motoki’s Kanze-ryu Taiko Tetsuke (Kanze School Taiko Notation) Publication: Its Role in the Transmission of Noh Taiko Music
Hiroku Miura, Independent Scholar, Japan

In the field of traditional Japanese music, often notations are not made public. There are various reasons for this. For example, particularly during the training in noh hayashi music ensemble performance, the general practice was that while disciples received lessons from the master to learn how to play, they could see the master’s secret tetsuke (musical notation for hayashi) only by permission. Thus, the transmission was received only by means of the direct, unmediated authority of one's own master, and his personal notations." In Meiji 43 (1910), the Kanze-ryu taiko tetsuke (the Kanze school taiko music notation) was published. Including numerous plays, it is a detailed notation of Kanze school taiko performance that had been until then closely guarded by professionals. This was the first such publication, which served as a template for later published scores of other instruments and other schools. The author, Kanze Motoki (1845-1924), was the fourteenth head of Kanze school taiko performers. It is considered that its publication at that specific time was due in part to his intention to accommodate an increase in amateur disciples. This paper examines and details this turning point: how this text contributed to the transmission of taiko performance to amateur practitioners, and by codification of previously personal interpretations, altered the professional practice.

English Noh: Performance Challenges and Opportunities
Thomas O'Connor, Independent Scholar, USA

Western performers have been interested in noh for as long they have had access to it, and noh-inspired works, particularly in theatre and opera, abound. Attempts at rendering traditional Japanese noh texts into English while retaining something of their essential character are ubiquitous. But original English-language plays written as noh — to be performed by actors trained in noh with hayashi instrumental accompaniment — were until recently comparatively rare. Since 2003, Richard Emmert (Kita-ryuu) and David Crandall (Hôshô-ryuu) have led workshops for English-speaking writers who want to learn about structural and musical considerations of noh. Original full-length plays conceived in these workshops, such as the internationally acclaimed Pagoda. The challenges performing these plays present, even for native English speakers trained in the traditional Japanese repertoire, are also gateways of opportunity. And while grammatical structural and pronunciation differences between English and Japanese make it difficult to fully claim features of Japanese song and chant in translation, the reverse also holds: noh written to be performed in English acquires its own resonant performative ethos. As a western-trained actor, a student of noh in Japan, and a veteran of regional and international tours of English noh, I will use demonstration and video to discuss production practices specific to English-language new noh summarize challenges that have arisen, and reveal/ how these challenges are being addressed in performance.

Against Invisible Interpreting: Challenges of Translating Noh Workshops
Jonah Salz, Ryukoku University, Japan

Japanese traditional theatre training based on one-on-one master/disciple practice uses modeling and molding techniques and verbal instruction developed over centuries. Masters encourage disciples to absorb kata forms through “minarai” (learning through observation) “mi ni tsukeru” (sticking in your body), ”shugyou” (training). Such “legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave) through “situated learning” (Singleton) is of interest to anthropologists and performance theorists. Here I will attempt to open the topic to sociolinguistics. When a non-Japanese student of traditional arts learns today, the normal in-body methods require adaptation and interpretation to temporal, physical, and linguistic limitations. An interpreter is continuously challenged to be both accurate and quick, within earshot but not distracting. However while traditional translation theories suggest that the ideal translator should be an invisible conduit between the Source and Target languages, Lawrence Venuti recently disputes the myth of transparency. Translation is necessarily subjective, imperfect, transgressive, so he promotes a new translucent translation ethos that accepts the new text’s essential “foreignness.” Likewise, the mediating interpreter for physical workshops such as noh is never invisible. Adapting to both the Master’s teaching style and Disciple’s learning style, negotiating space and time, the ideal Interpreter reflects the total sensory experience of practice with “total interpretation” of gesture, voice, and spirit. This paper seeks the shifts of authority and practice when foreign practitioners seek “authentic” lessons. I employ information gained from participant-observation of traditional noh practices for three decades, especially with the Traditional Theatre Training program in Kyoto, as well as on tour with noh-kyogen actors abroad.

“Something’s Changed”: Subtitling Efficacy at the National Noh Theatre”
Shinko Kagaya, Williams College, USA

Under the catch phrase, “Something’s Changed…” the National Noh Theatre instituted Japan’s first personalized subtitling system in November, 2007 in response to what the theatre administration understood to be the prevailing view of the uninitiated: that the language of noh plays is too remote, especially for the young and foreign, to understand. Though the theatre already offered scripts for sale and detailed synopses and explanatory articles in programs, with this project they extended their efforts to assist spectators in the comprehension of the play-texts. Its advertising poster proclaiming, “Making viewing easier by providing dialogue and explanations,” the interpretation aid system offers multiple channels — utai text in classical Japanese, contemporary Japanese and English. Use of the system is also optional (the personalized electronic panel may be turned off). Even so, some performers have voiced a strong objection, on the grounds that it fixes a performance in a way that is confining, and that the art ought to speak to spectators without the interference of mediation. How and under what circumstances is using such a system worthwhile? What exactly does it mean to make the viewing ‘easier’, and how does this work in practice? Does it indeed become easier? And if so, is that desirable? Moreover, in such a setting, what qualities make for a good translation? This paper explores such issues surrounding the subtitling of noh, drawing upon both the presenter’s direct experience and theories of translation.