Nu`uanu Shinto temple first to recreate elements of traditional Japanese stage

Nu`uanu Shinto temple Daijingyu Temple of Hawaii recently hired a local artist to add a mural to its theater stage. Why is this so significant? It’s the first stage of its kind on Oahu, coming closest to a traditional Japanese noh stage due to its pine tree painting.

Daijingyu Temple of Hawaii noh stage painting. Kalani Holland, Akihiro Ikada, Devin Oishi. Courtesy: Devin Oishi

Artist Devin Oishi and assistant Kalani Holland painted the scene over the course of a few days. The pine tree, or oi-matsu, is always the backdrop of the noh stage. Daijingyu Temple of Hawaii’s stage is used for cultural performances during festivals.

The temple’s Reverend Akihiro Okada not only commissioned the work, he even did some of the painting: “the gold acrylic prep work and some foliage,” says Oishi.

University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance professor Julie A. Iezzi specializes in Japanese theater. She believes this may be the first on Oahu, and possibly in the state, to resemble a noh stage, simply because of the pine painting.

“To my knowledge there are no proper noh stages in Hawaii. There are open spaces- platform stages perhaps- but nothing built as a noh stage to my knowledge,” she says.

She details Hawaii’s history of noh stages. “Mostly there were popular stages built by the immigrants. And the temples, shrines would have open platform suitable for gagaku, bugaku, or noh (with addition of hashigakari), should there be an occasion. But noh was not, to my knowledge, part of the theatrical touring until post war, and no dedicated stage has been erected here.”

Noh is an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage. It has roots in the Heian period (794-1185), during which time it was performed in open fields. It became, on its own, a major form of classical Japanese musical drama, performed since the 14th century.

Noh stages are traditionally open stages with a handrail and a pine tree painted on the back wall. It is the oldest major theatre art still regularly performed today. It’s so important to Japan’s history, there is a National Noh Theatre in Tokyo.

The public is invited to see this new mural and partake in Daijingyu’s annual fall festival on September 10 at 2 p.m. at 61 Puiwa Road in Nuuanu. There will be a variety of performances along with a Shinto service and a mikoshi parade. More at www.daijingutemple.org.

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