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The typical noh mask is smaller than the face. They are usually shallow in construction and carved from hinoki wood. The masks are carved in such a manner that the expression of the face changes as the shadow and light change with the slightest movement of the head.
The Masks of Japan
Masks beneath masks until suddenly the bare bloodless skull.
We wear the mask that grins and lies
Paul Laurence Dunbar
There has been a strange thing happening in Japan in the last few weeks. It started on Christmas Day when ten new school backpacks were left at a children's home with a message that they were from Naoto Date. Naoto Date was a character in a popular manga called Tiger Mask. It was about a boy who becomes a professional wrestler who wears a tiger mask. He helps the children's home where he was brought up with anonymous presents from his fight prize money.
The anonymity of giving without wanting to be recognized or thanked struck a chord in Japan. Soon there were gifts being left all over the country with a message that they were from Tiger Mask or inspired by him. One man who was seen leaving a gift was even wearing a wrestler's tiger mask. People want to make a difference. Sometimes they just have to be given a hint.
In Japan it's the season for colds and flu and many people wear paper masks on the trains. There is even a new phenomenon of young people wearing masks all the time to help them feel more secure. A mask can hide identity or even give identity. There is a cool novel by John Collee called Paper Mask about a hospital porter who assumes the identity of a doctor. It was made into a great movie too starring Paul McGann.
Masks are used in Japanese drama in noh. Noh really deserves a separate article, but there is one clear parallel with martial arts. The body movement in noh all comes from the hips - koshi. The feet slide on the ground - suri ashi - in small precise steps. The energy is very concentrated and the movements are like the foot movements in the Japanese sword - kenjutsu.
Humans have always been fascinated by masks: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Phantom of the Opera, Zorro, Batman... Masks can hide. They can protect. They can suggest something new. Sincere training in budo will help you to see through all the masks. But don't forget about seeing through the last one. Your own.