The Fan of Noh Theatre

Diego Pellecchia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Japanese Noh theatre is characterized by the minimalism of its scenography, since the pine tree and bamboo painted on the back and side walls are the only most prominent fixed set-design. The spare properties, usually reduced in size, have a synecdochal function more than a realistic one. The fan (ōgi) carried by the actors is the most important property: painted with motives that allude to the status of the character, the fan is a multipurpose object, focus of the dance and catalyst of the attention of the audience. Through the fan, the character expresses actions, thoughts, feelings with movements that have different degrees of realism; at the same time the fan is the medium through which the character conveys and materializes his inner feelings, or the magic stick that blurs the edges of the bodily presence of the actor and the extra- ordinary universe of the character. The actor manipulates the fan through patterns of set movements called kata, which are usually multipurpose: the same kata can achieve different meanings depending on the context in which it is used and on the gaze that the spectator casts on it. Not having a fixed vocabulary through which the audience can read and translate the actor’s symbolic system, the reading and interpretation of the kata is left to the audience. The undefined and the blanks of the text are regarded as opportunities for the spectator to encounter the character on stage. Being a Noh student and practitioner, I have the opportunity to closely study the use of the fan with Master-Actor Udaka Michishige of the Kongoh School and the International Noh Institute. The paper draws from this experience to explore how the fan of Noh theatre can engage a communication between the character, the performer and the audience. Taking on Wolfgang Iser’s reader-response theories, this paper aims at highlighting the ‘structures of indeterminacy’ which make possible the encounter of audience and actors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-46
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • fan
  • noh
  • theatre
  • japan
  • tradition

Cite this