Omi sarugaku

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  • Japanese: 近江猿楽 (Oumi sarugaku)

Ômi sarugaku was a form of medieval dance-drama performance, based in Ômi province, and rivalling in the late 14th to early 15th centuries the Yamato sarugaku of Kan'ami and Zeami. In contrast to Yamato sarugaku, which specialized in the art of monomane (imitation of characters), Ômi sarugaku, led by Inuô Dôami at that time, placed primary focus on the cultivation of an aesthetic mood of mysterious beauty known as yûgen, and on creating artistic effect (kakari).

Zeami describes Ômi sarugaku extensively in his writings, describing his adoption and adaptation of various aspects of the Ômi style in order to better attune his own Yamato sarugaku to the more cultivated tastes of elite Kyoto audiences. These adaptations mark the transformation of Yamato sarugaku into the Noh theatre.

The privileging of yûgen is perhaps the most significant of the elements adopted by Zeami from the Ômi style at that time. Zeami also incorporated specific dances from the Ômi repertoire into his own, including that of the heavenly maiden (tennyo no mai, such as in the Noh play Hagoromo), setting the stage for Noh to incorporate lengthier dramatic dance sections, something Yamato sarugaku had never done previously. These relatively lengthy dance sections are now a rather standard fixture in Noh, forming the second act of many two-act plays.


  • Shelley Fenno Quinn, Developing Zeami, University of Hawaii Press (2005), 49-54.