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Glamorous Noh Costumes Timelessly Glitter

Karaori costume from the 17th century

TOKYO – Costumes are an indispensable aspect of Noh performance. As the clothing is made of fabric, they deteriorate much faster than masks, which are made of wood. Some costumes are from the medieval time of the 15th century, when Noh performance is said to have been fully realized. Before that time it seemed that warfare was endless, but with the arrival of the 16th century culture and the arts flourished. Many splendid Noh costumes were produced during this period.

Karaori costume made in 1980, a replica from the early 17th century

New karaori costume from the 1960s

Also, imported fabric from China called “karaori,” shown in the photos above, started to be used to make Noh costumes. By the early 17th century, design had become more sophisticated and the plant dyeing techniques were dramatically developed. Since feudal lords at that time enjoyed performing Noh themselves, they had craftsmen produce luxurious costumes one after another with a lot of colors and patterns, sometimes using gold leaf.

The pure gold used in the 17th-century fabric is still shining today, over 400 years later. Karaori is amongst the most gorgeous of costumes. It is used for popular pieces such as Izutsu and Nonomiya. Only the actors with highly-advanced techniques are allowed to wear such costumes. Actors select their own costumes, as they are deeply connected to the piece they perform.

Early 17th-century choken costume, the pattern of which was handed down from the 14th century.

Another kind showing dragonflies is called “choken,” which is only for male roles. The costume in this photo was made in the 17th century. The dragonfly pattern was favored by warriors as the insect, which goes only forward, signified indomitable spirit. It was a good luck bug. The costume represents a dignified warrior who never loses in a battle. The dragonfly parts are pure gold.

<Costume Titles>

First photo: 赤地櫻紅葉花車模様唐織, meaning “Cherry, autumn leaves and flower vehicle on red background.”

Second photo: 紫紅段金檜垣地花模様唐織, meaning “Flower pattern on purple, crimson and gold Japanese cypress fence background.”

Third photo: 紅浅黄地段草花模様唐織, meaning “Flower pattern on crimson light yellow background.”

Last photo: 萠黄地金蜻蛉模様長絹, meaning “Gold dragonfly pattern on light green background.”

Photo by Kanae Suzuki, text by Motomi Takahashi, all costumes are owned by Hakushokai.