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National Noh Theatre

Watch historic Japanese plays with subtitles in a dedicated venue

By George Underwood

Noh is considered one of the oldest theatrical traditions in the world. Developed in the 14th century, these plays quickly became a favorite pastime of Japan’s ruling samurai class, who regulated and standardized the art—meaning that modern Noh performances are a little different from Edo period shows.

The National Noh Theatre in Tokyo is a venue dedicated to this historic art form, and it frequently runs performances designed for people who have never experienced Noh before.

Comedy and Mythology

Noh Theatre

Photo by: PIXTA/ jun Be immersed in ancient stories performed by artisans.

Noh performances typically contain two types of play: Noh proper, which often centers around mythological stories, musical performances and dance, with elaborate costumes and distinctive masks; and kyogen, comedy plays focused on lower-class characters. Together these two forms are called nogaku. The kyogen play is usually performed first or as an interlude, providing a humorous contrast to the more somber headline stories.

Inside the Theater

National Noh Theatre

Photo by: National Noh Theatre Photo by AOKI Shinji Watch an ancient art form come to life on the big stage.

The National Noh Theatre contains a stage built in the traditional style—open on three sides to the audience with a bridge leading backstage. As such, most seats will have a good view of the actors, although the best angle still comes from the seats directly facing the front of the stage.

The most appealing aspect of the theater is its subtitling—usually in Japanese and English and delivered through a tablet screen in front of each seat. This, and the synopses given out at the entrance, greatly enhance the experience for foreign viewers.

The theatre also contains a small museum room that displays masks, costumes and props of Noh and Kyogen.

Shows and Performances

Photo by: PIXTA/ picmin Learn more about Japanese culture by watching a performance or two.

Performances run throughout the year—with occasional programs of ‘beginner’ performances, with the main differences being a shorter length, an introduction from an actor on the history of Noh (in Japanese) and subtitling in Chinese, Korean, Spanish and French in addition to Japanese and English.

That said, Noh’s slow pace, monotonous speaking tones and reliance on references to Japanese religion mean it isn’t necessarily conventionally entertaining for foreign viewers—in contrast to the bombastic dances and fight scenes of Kabuki theater. As such, Noh is likely to be more enjoyable for people seeking a cultural and historic experience rather than a typical theater night. Go in with that attitude, and it will deliver in spades.

Things To Know

Hours and performances

The theater’s ticket office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As for performances, there are typically five to ten per month, with the majority falling on Saturdays and Sundays–although since there is no fixed pattern it’s always best to check the official website.

Most performances start in the afternoon, from around 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., although there are also evening shows. Show length varies on the number of plays being performed, but total runtimes are typically two to three hours.

How To Get There


By train

The theater is located a five-minute walk from Sendagaya station on the JR Chuo-Sobu line.

Where To Stay

Mitsui Garden Hotel Jingugaien Tokyo Premier
  • 11-3 Kasumigaokamachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0013 Japan
  • ¥32,300 - ¥73,560
  • 4.68/5 (689 reviews)
  • 0.7 km
APA Hotel Shinjuku-Gyoemmae
  • 2-2-8 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0022 Japan
  • ¥15,400 - ¥28,200
  • 4.11/5 (1,957 reviews)
  • 0.9 km
Hotel Century Southern Tower
  • 2-2-1 Odakiyusazantawa-, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-8583 Japan
  • ¥38,295 - ¥51,363
  • 4.22/5 (4,407 reviews)
  • 0.9 km
Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku
  • 2-3-1 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151-0053 Japan
  • ¥28,400 - ¥114,800
  • 4.38/5 (3,225 reviews)
  • 1.1 km
Pod Select Hotel Shinjuku
  • 2-12-12 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0022 Japan
  • ¥14,630 - ¥38,665
  • 4.67/5 (33 reviews)
  • 1.1 km

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