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Mr. Yasuhiko Ishii

Mr. Yasuhiko Ishii

Mr. Yasuhiko Ishii

Taiko-kata Nohgakushi
Drummer of Noh play


Born in 1964.  Studied under his father, the late Ishii Nihei-Kageyoshi the 12th, the head of Ishii school.  The Ishii family has been the Noh musicians for the domain of Kaga (the Maeda family) and the domain of Owari (the Tokugawa family) for generations, and Yasuhiko inherited the 13th generation upon the death of his father in 2016.


“Let us discover the significance of birth and the joy of living,” and “Now, Life is living you,” (themes of Higashi Honganji Temple in Kyoto) are his mottoes.



How did you first appear on the stage?

Since I was born in the Noh musician family, I have been listening to Noh music from my childhood.  My father was a drummer and my grandmother was a flutist of Noh play.  I started practicing when I was in junior high, and I was a university student when I decided to succeed my father.  My twin brother quitted in an early stage because he decided that Noh was not for him.  It took me a while to think about my career while in the university, and through my unofficial appearances on the stage, I decided to become a professional Noh musician.  I thought it wouldn’t be bad to be surrounded by beautiful things all my life.  I was interested in diplomacy and foreign trade business when I was young since my mother’s family ran an old textile trading company, but once I’ve made up my mind, I had no second thoughts about my decision.


I made my first official appearance on the stage when I was 23.  The title was was “Kochou” at Ooe Nougakudou Theatre in Kyoto.  I was happy yet nervous for finally being able to make my debut, and I was also excited for my upcoming long journey as a professional Noh musician.



Now you are 56 years old with your 33-year career.  How do you feel about it?


It’s still hard for me to relax, that’s my honest feeling.  I think the position of the drums is a leading part of hayashi (the music).  It also requires a mental strength.  I still have a long way to go before I can lead the whole play.  If you ask me what the drum is, I would say it is the essence of Noh.  That’s something I have to take my time to acquire from now on.  ”White plum flower in the dark night” is our family’s motto.  The scent of a flower from nowhere at night, the commanding atmosphere and the dignity; these are my goals in life.


When I perform 100 and more stages a year, I play the same title over and over.  There is some risk that I tend to just “do my job mindlessly” on the stage even if I try not to.  For some audiences, it could be their first and the only visit to the Noh theatre.  It would be the shame if they think, “Oh, Noh is boring.”  That’s why I want to treasure every encounter on my stage.


Zeami, who has formalized and popularized Noh during Muromachi period, teaches, “Wherever you are, whoever you are with, perform your best to receive a round of applause.”  By cherishing the audience and flourishing with them, our troupe (our school and Noh itself) will be established.  I think it is also necessary to find new fans throughout my career.


Traditional art is profound indeed.  What do you think is necessary to improve your techniques?


Overall, I think it is important to have a resourcefulness.  On the stage, my personality appears naturally through my performance, so it would be better to have a broader knowledge and experience in life in addition to the techniques.  It is also important to stay in good health.  The state of mind must always be peaceful and calm.  I should cultivate my spirit before improving my skills.  The older I grow, the more skills I would acquire through everyday practices, understanding the songs and inspecting the whole play thoroughly.


As a Noh musician, I will take a whole life to create an artwork called myself.  To accomplish this, now I think I need to;

  1. be pure
  2. be straight forward
  3. enjoy

Of course, my physical and mental health is a top priority.


What was your father like, as your teacher?


He loved Noh, and he was a good drummer.  He was a hard worker with an artisan spirit.  He was mild-tempered and cared nothing for fighting with people.  He was a man with a generous heart and everybody loved him and his performance.  There were times when I couldn’t find anything good about him when I was young, but now he is my role model and a mile stone which I someday want to climb over.  When I die and see my father again and meet all my ancestors, I hope they will say, “Well, you did great.”  It would be nice to tell them with confidence, “Yes, I did my best.”


 “Let us discover the significance of birth and the joy of living”, the theme of Higashi Honganji temple, is my lifetime motto.  It took me a long time to integrate both the significance and the joy, but finally at the age of 50, I feel that the paths are crossing little by little.  I wish to show the world what Noh can do, and expand Noh and the school.


How do you see yourself in ten, twenty years from now as a Noh musician?

There are two aspects.  The inheritance and the development of the school.  Since I don’t have a son or a successor yet, I’m trying to find someone to inherit from inside or outside.  It is my duty to establish my skill to pass on as the 13th, which includes self-improvement and the development of environment.  I would like to take my time to establish my style and create a necessary system.


In addition, showing Noh widely to the world is my lifework.  Noh is an art for the dead.  It transmits prayer, forgiveness and harmony.  The time is changing drastically from Showa, Heisei to Reiwa.  The speed is tremendously fast.  But the potential which Noh embraces is universal, and I have a feeling that we will need that power from now on.


Noh, the traditional performing art, is sometimes said to be like an endangered species.  I want to maintain the basics, change some parts if needed, believe in Noh and transmit it patiently and carefully.  My family have lived in Noh world for a very long time.  We owe so much to Noh.  With responsibility and a gratitude for my position as the head of the school, I hope to keep working with my colleagues who share the same purpose.  The time is changing so fast that I have to think on my feet and meet new people along the way.




Lastly, could I have a quick word from you about WABUNBO?

This is Japan!  That’s what I thought.  I love Japan and the beauty of Japan.  I could see exactly the same thing in WABUNBO.  Maybe foreign people can capture the Japanese features better than us.  Speaking of harmony, Japanese have adopted the foreign cultures to create their own tradition.  We adopted the Buddhism from India and created our own Buddhism culture and spirit.  In Japan, Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam harmonize perfectly without any conflicts.  I see such harmony in WABUNBO which is a mixture of foreign sense and Japanese traditional technology.


I am grateful for our meeting.  We can do a lot together to convey and pass on Japanese traditions.  I look forward to seeing more of your work, and I will strive to do my best with that.  Thank you for having me today.