Machi-iri Noh

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  • Japanese: 町入り能 (machi-iri nou)

During the Edo period, on certain occasions, commoners were welcomed into the grounds of the shogun's castle to watch Noh performances. This was called machi-iri Noh (lit. "entering the town Noh"), and is perhaps most significant as providing the only opportunity for a commoner (or, indeed, for many daimyô or other retainers) to witness the shogun's person.

The practice began in 1641, as part of celebrations of the birth of Tokugawa Ietsuna, a new shogunal heir. From then on, it was practiced in conjunction with celebrations of events occurring within the Tokugawa household, such as when a new heir was born, when he officially came of age or was married, when a new shogun was invested, and on New Year's.

The stage was set up across from the Ôhiroma (main audience hall), such that the shogun and a number of his retainers seated within the hall, or on its veranda, were afforded an excellent view. Those commoners who were invited were permitted to sit to one side of a section of white gravel strewn in front of the stage. For this most special occasion, many wore their best kamishimo[1], albeit with the pieces of whalebone removed from the shoulders of their kataginu, so that the numerous commoners could fit more easily into the limited space. They were, however, permitted to watch only half of the day's performance. According to Matsura Seizan, on one particular occasion, more than 5000 commoners witnessed the morning performance, and over 2500 the remaining half, that afternoon. Commoners invited and attending the performances were given umbrellas, cakes, and saké, as well as, afterwards, some amount of money.[2]

At times, the shogun would permit the screen screening him from view to be raised briefly; a call of yaa! would be called out, and people would turn to catch a most rare and precious glimpse of the shogun, himself, a sight ordinarily heavily restricted.


  • Anne Walthall, "Hiding the shoguns: Secrecy and the nature of political authority in Tokugawa Japan," in Bernard Scheid and Mark Teeuwen (eds.) The Culture of Secrecy in Japanese Religion, Routledge (2006), 350-351.
  1. lit. "above and below," meaning kimono with hakama and kataginu over-jacket.
  2. Walthall, 354n36.