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Do You Know Why Pine Trees Are Depicted on Noh Stages? The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater


Do You Know Why Pine Trees Are Depicted on Noh Stages? The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater


The Symbolism of Pine Trees on Noh Stages


Pine trees are always prominently depicted on Noh stages. When you enter a Noh theater, the first thing that catches your eye is the large pine tree painted at the back of the stage. Have you ever wondered what this pine tree means? In fact, the pine tree has a deep historical and cultural significance.


Whether it’s Noh or Kyogen, a graceful or tragic play, the audience always watches the performers against the backdrop of the pine tree. The board with the painted pine tree is called the "Kagami-ita" (mirror board), and it is one of the stage props. At the Yarai Noh Theater in Kagurazaka, Shinjuku, a magnificent pine tree is also depicted on the Kagami-ita.


Performing for the Gods: The Role of the Kagami-ita with the Pine Tree


The name "Kagami-ita" is generally explained in connection with the "Yogo Pine" of Kasuga Taisha in Nara. "Yogo" refers to the descent of deities to the earthly realm. The pine tree, which is considered the incarnation of Kasuga Myojin, exists beside the audience, and the Kagami-ita mirrors this, implying that the actors on stage are performing not for the audience but for the gods.


The Pine Trees: The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater


Additionally, Noh plays are performed in various seasons. Regardless of the season, the pine tree, which does not wither throughout the year, is said to harmonize well with all performances. Pine trees are also frequently used in bonsai, which is popular among many foreigners. This is because using evergreen pine trees in bonsai allows people to enjoy greenery all year round. Pine trees are favored both on Noh theaters and in bonsai because they are evergreen trees.


Do You Know Why Pine Trees Are Depicted on Noh Stages? The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater

Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Edo Shogunate, was also an enthusiastic bonsai lover. Iemitsu particularly favored the five-needle pine bonsai. Among his collection, the estimated 600-year-old five-needle pine bonsai "Sandaishogun" is considered a masterpiece among masterpieces and is carefully managed in the bonsai garden called the "Omichi Garden" at the Imperial Palace.


Moreover, there is a theory that the pine depicted on the Kagami-ita during the Edo period is related to the Tokugawa clan's original family name, Matsudaira. The name "Matsudaira" includes the character for "pine" (松).


Do You Know Why Pine Trees Are Depicted on Noh Stages? The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater


The Unique Case of Yarai Noh Theater


Bamboo is also depicted alongside the pine on the Kagami-ita. Bamboo, being an evergreen plant, was favored for its sense of vitality and growth. Most Noh theaters only depict pine and bamboo, but at the Yarai Noh Theater, plum blossoms are also depicted.


Do You Know Why Pine Trees Are Depicted on Noh Stages? The Connection Between Bonsai and Noh Theater

In Japan, since the Edo period, pine, bamboo, and plum have been regarded as auspicious plants. The evergreen pine, the rapidly growing bamboo, and the flowering plum have been cherished as plants that can be enjoyed even in the harsh winter.


However, the reason plum blossoms are rarely depicted on Noh stages is that if they were painted, only winter plays could be performed. The fact that plum blossoms are depicted at Yarai Noh Theater is extremely rare. The reason why plum blossoms were painted at Yarai Noh Theater remains a mystery, even to Noh performers.

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