Noh Stage Performers

Noh performers consist of three types of actors and four types of instrumentalists. A production does not require any producers, directors, or designers, as the main outlines of the performance and production are set by tradition and training.

Mouse over image to see names of performers; click on performers to get definition of that role.

noh stage photo
Akogi, August 1985. GloPAD #1001247 shitekotsuzumifuewakiotsuzumijiutaikōkentaiko


Shite kata シテ方: Actors who play the main role (shite). Shite actors also play companions to the main role (tsure ツレ) and young shite actors take child roles (kokata 子方). In addition, shite make up the chorus members (ji or jiutai 地謡) and function as stage attendants (kōken 後見), sitting at the back during the performance so they can adjust costumes, carry on props, and prompt or take over the shite role in case of an emmergency. The stage attendants also build the set pieces (tsukurimono作り物)、prepare the costumes and masks, and dress the actors playing shite, tsure, and kokata roles. The shite and tsure roles often require a mask.

Waki kata ワキ方: Actors who play the "side" role (waki) and his companions (wakizure). Waki kata often represent priests or ministers. They never wear masks.

Kyōgen kata 狂言方: Actors who perform lighthearted plays that are often staged between the more serious noh pieces, but can make up a whole program. In addition the kyōgen kata preform the interludes (ai kyōgen) between the two acts of a noh performance. Sometimes their role is also integrated into the action of the noh play.



The kozutsumi 小鼓 drummer plays the smaller of the hourglass-shaped hand drums. It is held in the left hand near the right shoulder (hence the name "shoulder drum") and beat from below with the right hand.

The ōtsuzumi 大鼓 drummer plays the larger hourglass-shaped hand drum, also called an ōkawa. This is rested on the left thigh and beat from the side with the right hand. Also called the "hip drum."

The fue kata (flutist) plays a bamboo transverse flute called the nōkan 能笛 or simply flute, fue 笛, .

The taiko 太鼓 drummer strikes a barrel-shaped drum that is suspended horizontally from a frame and played with two sticks; hence the alternative name "stick drum." The taiko plays for only a portion of a piece and only in a limited number of noh.

Other roles performed by shite actors.

Chorus 地謡, which is usually composed of 8 to 10 shite actors.

Stage attendants 後見. Usually two actors who sit at backstage right and serve as prompters, prop retrievers, costume adjusters, and understudies.

Child actors 子方. Usually the children of shite actors, who play the roles of children and, less often, of extremely high ranking characters.


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