mythology and folklore contains an innumerable amount of deities and creatures that
are based in Shinto, Buddhist, and other religious traditions. These deities may
be incarnations of supernatural beings or creatures that serve as a protector against
certain powers or entities. There are
also evil demons and spirits that seek to devour humans. These deities are
often shapeshifters who can change their appearance to adapt to their surroundings
or to deceive others for their own personal gain. All it all, many playwrights and
authors will incorporate these deities into their story to help produce
conflict for their characters to overcome. Yamanokami,
or mountain god(s), predate these deities and served as ancestral spirits in
animal form. Hundreds or years prior to having yamanokami as representation, a deer was commonly depicted which
was believed to be a Buddhist spiritual symbol. Scholars believe that the
Chinese lion, its likeness in the form of a mask, its symbolism, and even its
terminology, were adopted and assimilated into Japanese worship and belief
The Shakkyo? (Stone Bridge) is part of
the fifth group of Noh, kiri
no. In the concluding scene the play, the shishi (lion) makes its appearance to the patient monk and performs
the advanced shishimai (lion dance). The
performer demonstrates special forms and movements that has been learned
throughout his or her Noh training which also classifies it into hiraki-mono, an initiation ceremony in
the Noh world. Shishimai was introduced from China to Japan in the seventh century
as a part of gigaku, a masked
drama-dance performance that is now extinct (Thompson 130).
Shishimai is performed while wearing a
cape-like headdress with a large mask, generally depicting that of a lion. The mask takes on many forms, some with horns,
others looking like a dog, a deer, or a lion. These different variations vary depending on the
place of entertainment and the artist’s
depiction of the lion. These dances became widespread within the
Japanese culture that is performed at festivals, known as matsuri, as a form of entertainment and as a means to ward off evil
spirits, to pray for peace, bountiful harvests, and good health. Similar to that of the dragon costumes in
festivals in East Asia, the lion costume would cover one or more dancers inside
the lion’s body and has a carved wooden head with
jaws that could clack together ferociously (Alve 311). Many performers and
musician would gather on the stage and some dances would vary depending the
different regions. The dance is primarily performed
during the New Year to bring good luck for harvest and drive away evil spirits.
translates to the ritual of the heads, is a lion dance tradition performed in
the central district of Ise City and Watari County (Sarkuri 140). This head, which was part of the sacred
costume, would be transported between shrines and temples for exhibits and performances.
Its extraordinary features; larger eyes, a moveable jaw, dark colors. Children
were especially frightened because of its devilish visage. However, parents
seek to have their child’s head bitten by the Okashira to rid them of sickness
for a year. Performances had many roles; the priest role is given to the head
of house and dancers and musician are played by young people ranging from
fourteen to twenty-five. This event takes place over the course of one full day
with a multitude of strict preparations, special meal breaks, and pre/post show
rituals (Sarkuri 144-7).
In Shakkyo?, the lion takes the role of Nochi-shite (shite) while
the woodcutter boy takes the Mae-shite
(tsure) giving them the second and first lead part respectively. The shite
would wear a lion-like mask and a long red wig to better distinguish himself as
a different character, or creature in this case. As the kimono costume was very
voluminous in size, the wig also had to be large to the same degree. The option
to go with red symbolizes strength and power to which the lion rightfully has
as the guardian of the bridge. A Japanese
flute, small and large hand drums, and a
drum accompany this dance. Concluding the dance, it plays with peony flowers and
sometimes the waki will ride away with the lion. The flowers symbolize
prosperity and compassion and with the waki on the lion, he has been granted
passage and acceptance of the lion and Manjushri.
In Buddhist practices, Manjushri is a Bodhisattva
that many associate with wisdom and is considered a meditation deity in
Esoteric Buddhism. He is often depicted riding on the back of a lion with his
legs crossed while holding the Sutra of Wisdom in his left hand and flaming
sword of wisdom in his right hand. The lion is standing on lotus flowers that
represent purity and compassion. This lion form is known as Kishi Monju Bosatsu symbolizing that a
wild mind can only be transformed by meditation.
The shite included deities,
ghosts, or living humans, as well as a plethora of supernatural beings. The fifth-group Noh with such shite are
all supernatural or visional. None of them is totally realistic. These ghosts,
deities, and monsters sometimes appear to attack men, sometimes to help them,
and sometimes just to tell their stories.
Shishi serve as guardians to both Shinto shrines
and Buddhist temples,
traditionally shown as a pair depicted with tama,
a sacred Buddhist jewel that brings light to darkness. One shishi will be with it’s mouth open and the
other with it’s mouth closed. The open mouth relates to “Ah”
and the closed mouth relates to “N.” The
letters represent the first and last letter of the Japanese alphabet respectively.
Together they symbolize birth and death, beginning and end, and all possible
outcomes in existence. It is also said the open mouth is to scare off demons
while the closed is to shelter and keep in the good spirits. (Schumacher, 2013)
Colors have many symbolic meanings and some may
conflict and overlap with different beliefs. The color red is vastly seen in
architectural sculptures and decorations as well as sacred clothing and artist
illustrations. Many, in folk beliefs, associate red as
the color for expelling demons and illness. The shishi in Shakkyo? wears a long red wig because he serves as the gate guardian against
the demons. The shishi in sculpture
form, and many other deity sculptures, can sometime be seen wearing red scarves.
Manjushri can usually be seen riding a
blue or lion symbolizing a wild mind that was tamed by wisdom. The Okashira
use of black shrouds itself in mystery and could also be why
children try to stray away from it.
Shishi-guchi is the name of the mask used in Scene II of Shakkyo?. The
appearance is that of a roaring lion with fangs with a red and gold color
scheme. There were also a number of other lion masks used if the play called
for it. A Ko-jishi mask is for a
child lion or an elfin-like being. A O-jishi
is for the parent of the Ko-jishi
and used if there are two or more lion present in the play.
Although the shishi and shishimai
derived from Chinese culture, the Japanese assimilated them to work with their
traditions. The shishi is depicted in
forms of color to representation that make their beliefs what they are today.
Dances in rituals and festivals still convey the same message compared to the
theatrical performances. Performers were brought up in the shishimai art form from a very young age to craft and master into
adulthood. These actions were all efforts to remove misfortune and seek
protection from a deity that was sent to help those who are worthy.