East Asia

Japanese Noh demon

damaged goods
damaged goods

Q:  A friend of mine found and purchased this mask at a yard sale but asked if i wanted it rather than her trying to donate it to a second hand store where it would likely have been discarded for being too “evil” for the local central NY population  Is it Japanese or something else? It appears to be wood with a thin veneer of plaster, one eye is intact but the second was damaged before my friend purchased it.  I have no idea how old it really is. There are worn leather straps inside for wearing it, and only one mark that appears to be a stamp on the inside.  Can you tell me anything about it’s history and where it’s from?   Damon, 776

A: My books don’t show this particular Noh character. I looked at more than 70 different demons and monsters, including the popular Hannya. More research would reveal the character’s name and the particular Noh play. The fact that it is well carved wood with a fine glass eye and a used leather bite bar may indicate it was professionally made and used. Unfortunately it is in bad condition. I would suggest you hang on to it until more can be learned. It could have some value despite its condition. Though the Japanese don’t like damaged artifacts, American and European collectors often do. Or you could have it restored.  A


  • Damon

    I made some rough measurements and the mask is approximately 19.5″ tall overall (from chin to the tips of his horns), 11.5″ ear to ear, and 8.5″ from the back of the ear to the tip of his nose. The color is dark brown, but there are traces of red paint in a few places and on the wood inside (maybe red lacquer?). I’m not sure if he ever had teeth but it looks like there may have been a separate piece that was attached on the inside of the mouth. If anyone has seen or has a mask similar to this, I’d really like to learn anything about what this mask represents. Thanks so much!!

  • Aaron

    It’s not a Noh mask, it’s a Bugaku mask. Noh masks would not have a bite bar, because they are mostly speaking parts. Bugaku is a Shinto dance drama with no speaking, so a bite bar is common.

  • Bob Ibold

    Thanks, Aaron. I looked up Bugaku on Wikipedia and found that bugaku is the oldest known surviving court dance and music in the world. Others have long since died out. Japanese culture is ever accommodating and expanding. So while accepting new culture, Japanese people feel a sense of duty to keep such traditions alive. So Damon’s Bugaku mask could have been used in performances before it ceased to be cared for.

  • Damon

    Thanks!! I looked at some Bugaku performances on youtube – really beautiful! I’m not sure this mask had a real bite bar though – the leather looks more like just a strap to go around the back of the head, and it’s hooked to heavy gauge wire attachments in the ears (in the ear canals) and a third attachment on the edge of the mask at the top of the head between the horns. I’m still searching online, but still haven’t found a mask that’s quite like this one with glass eyes. Is there a lot of variation in designs for Bugaku demon characters?

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