Okina Mask, Noh Theatre Performance, 19th century

Mask O

Title: Okina - Noh Mask of an Old Man
Date: 19th century 
Size: 19 x 15 cm

Carved and painted hinoki (cypress). Polychrome pigments and gesso over wood. Well-worn with external areas showing aged wood patina. Dust, cracks and scratches throughout the surface. Chipped pigment in some areas. Eyebrows and beard from natural fibres and horse hair. Seal on the back. With fabric pouch.

Original Japanese antique.

Okina Mask, Noh Theatre Performance, 19th century
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Evolving under shogunate patronage from the 14th century, Noh theatre became an exclusive samurai pastime. In the Tokugawa period (1603 – 1868), commoners were forbidden to see it. Performed by male actors wearing masks, Noh dramas fall into five categories, plays about gods, women, insanity, revenge and demons.

Performed against a painted backdrop of a pine tree and with minimal props, Noh features lavish silk brocade costumes and exquisitely fashioned wooden masks. The masks are designed and crafted with great subtlety. They can appear to dramatically transform simply from the alterations of light and shadow as the actors move their heads. The pace is hypnotically slow, but the movement delivers great dramatic power.

Noh masks are carved from a single piece of wood painted with natural pigments. The mask represents age, gender and social ranking of human or nonhuman beings like animals, demons or divine creatures. The Noh mask is used to emphasize and stylize the facial expressions which are accompanied with adequate body language and movement in order to stimulate the imagination of Noh play audiences.


Among all Noh masks, the Okina (old man) mask is considered particularly sacred and has been at times treated as the embodiment of god, bringing longevity and prosperity to families. The mask is the oldest of the Noh repertoire and represents an older male with long white beard expressing wisdom. The rounded eyebrows and the separated chin makes it different from the others. The lower jaw is attached from the main mask with a cord. The formation of the eyes is in open slits, rather than sculpted eyeballs and boring a hole for the pupil. The abstract pattern of the deeply carved wrinkles around the forehead and cheeks on okina masks contrasts sharply with the realistic portrayal typical of other Noh masks of old men.

Noh masks have long been an integral part of Japan's religious rituals, festivals and theatre. They represent historical figures and spirits referred to as kami, which have their origins in Japan's indigenous beliefs. Traditionally, the mask symbolised 'possession', transforming the wearer into the kami or its human incarnation.

More Information
Dimensions19 x 15 cm
SubjectGhosts & Religion
Product Date19th century
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