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Treading in the Formaldehyde of Tradition: Kata as Somatic Text in the Japanese Nō and Kyōgen Theatres Open Access


Other title
Japanese Theatre
Japanese Premodern Literature
Somatic Text

Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Traynor, Jane K
Supervisor and department
Commons, Anne (East Asian Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Defraeye, Piet (Drama)
Davis, Walter (East Asian Studies)
Department of East Asian Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-06:Spring 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
One of the misconceptions of Western audiences of traditional Japanese theatre, particularly the medieval dramatic theatre nō and its comic counterpart kyōgen, is that they are “museum arts.” That is, that they are now only being performed in an attempt to preserve them as intangible cultural commodities, rather than as living, evolving theatrical forms. This may be the result of orientalist assumptions made of the theatre by Western audiences. The purpose of this research is to investigate the truth of this claim through an investigation of kata (forms). In order to discuss kata, which are fixed movement patterns that make up the choreography on the nō and kyōgen stage, it is first and foremost important to define what kata are and to establish how they function within the art. This is done in Chapter One through a survey of kata definitions, an exploration of excerpts of Zeami’s Fūshikaden (Teachings on Style and the Flower, 1402), and a case study of the play Aoi no ue (Lady Aoi, late 14th/early 15th Century). Then, with the goal of demystifying the notion that kata are an impermeable, timeless tradition, Chapter Two lays out the canonization process of what I refer to as somatic text. Somatic text is the term I developed in order to describe the fixed movement patterns of kata as physical texts written through the body. Just as the lexical texts became canonized throughout the six hundred years of nō and kyōgen history, so too did the somatic texts. Finally, in Chapter Three I investigate the artistic and pedagogical theories surrounding the practice of kata today. By doing so, I hope to make kata accessible to English-speaking audiences in a way in which they might better understand Japanese theatres, as well as integrate this theatrical device into their own practices. This research draws on a variety of sources including medieval theoretical treatises, early modern katazuke (form-added) manuscripts, contemporary performances, and personal interviews with current nō and kyōgen practitioners.
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