The Noh Mask

The traditional Japanese performance art of Noh is famous for the Japanese cypress wood masks worn by its practitioners. While the masks themselves are fixed in their form and design, performers can create emotions by tilting their heads and allowing more or less shadow to fall on them, a range which can then be expanded through a codified grammar of poses and gestures on stage, thereby enabling more subtle performances to convey the characters' feelings to the audience. Although nearly 60 different Noh mask types exist, representing humans, animals, monsters, supernatural beings and deities young, old, male and female, it is often the standard female mask, lacquered and painted white with red lips and thick brows, which is used universally in media and popular culture as the representative of the art.

Noh Masked High School Girl Hanako

The manga Nohmen no Hanako-san 能面の花子さん (Noh Masked High School Girl Hanako), which has just finished a successful three-year run in the monthly manga magazine Itan, tells the story of Hanako Izumi, a cute and brilliant high school girl at the top of her class who just happens to wear such a Noh mask at all times. According to the quirky premise, Hanako's family has, for generations, made Noh masks and all members of her family are in the habit of wearing them. (For example, her mother sometimes comes to school wearing a Hannya female demon mask).

The story follows Hanako's life as she enters a new high school, parting ways with her elementary and middle school friend Kenji Aikawa. At first, she freaks out everyone in school, but eventually, she makes a good friend in classmate Kaho Eguchi and even finds romance when handsome Noh actor Saburo Matsuda falls for her.

The manga's popularity stems from the contrast between the austere Noh mask and Hanako's personality, and the hilarity that ensures as she tries to live out a normal high school life.

In a 2017 interview with manga blog Kono manga ga Sugoi, author Ryo Oda explains that in the first version of the manga, a standalone story which won him Itan's New Manga Award in 2015, he portrayed Hanako as a normal high school girl. However, when it was time to serialize the manga, he decided that readers would soon lose interest with such a banal character, so he changed Hanako to become a mix between a typical high school girl and the personification of the Ko-omote mask in Noh, used to portray beautiful young ladies of nobility.

Therefore, on the one hand, Hanako often displays her knowledge and appreciation of traditional Japanese culture, and on the other, she is concerned with fashion, loves cute things, has a ravenous appetite (and can even eat through her mask, which is specially carved with no teeth for that purpose), talks frankly with her classmates and even has a mischievous side, all of which creates an even stronger disconnect with her Noh masked facade.

Read Volume One Free Online

The final collected volume, Volume 4, goes on sale today, August 7, 2018. To commemorate the completion of the series, between now and August 21st, 2018, in a special promotion offered by the Japanese e-book site Bookpass, provided by KDDI, you can read the first volume of Noh Masked High School Girl Hanako (in Japanese) at the link below. (You'll need to create a WowID account, which only takes a minute and requires an ID, password and email address).

Bookpass Page: Nohmen no Hanako-San 能面の花子さん (Noh Masked High School Girl Hanako)

If you'd like to buy the remaining volumes, you'll need a Japanese address to fully subscribe to the service. Alternatively, you can purchase Vol. 2 on here and if you're able to purchase from the Japanese store, Vol. 3 and Vol 4.

If you're interested in Noh masks and Noh theater in general, you can experience it first-hand when you visit Japan:

Noh Joke: You Can Get The Full Noh Theater Experience As One Of The Actors

By - Ben K.