DEME Hidemitsu (attributed to)
Noh mask, Ōbeshimi (17th century)

Noh masks originated in ancient Buddhist and Shinto rituals of the Nara and Heian periods, but it was during the Muromachi period (1333–1573), under the patronage of the Ashikaga Shōgun Yoshimitsu, that they were formalised by actor Kan’ami (1333–1384) and his son Zeami. Noh masks can be categorised into three groups: male and female humans; ghosts and spirits; and supernatural demons. Kishin masks are used for portraying two main kinds of otherworldly creatures: tobide (fierce gods or demonic spirits) and beshimi (goblins and other creatures). Obishimi is used in plays featuring tengu, mythical demons or goblins that defy Buddhist law. Tengu live deep in the mountains and have red faces, large noses, wings and supernatural powers. The best-known tengu play in the Noh repertoire is Kurama Tengu, the tale of a tengu living on Kyoto’s Mt Kurama who trains the young Minamoto Yoshitsune and imparts secrets of military strategy to him.

This work is on display in Bushido: Way of the Samurai, until 4 November 2014, NGV International.