Broadcast on May 21, 2015
Available until March 31, 2029
Gigaku, the oldest recorded performing art in Japan, is thought to have been transmitted from south-eastern China in the seventh century. The wooden Gigaku masks were used in the performances. Among the various characters portrayed, we feature the one known as Konron. The Konron mask in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum looks like a fearsome demon with wide-open eyes and fangs in the edges of its mouth. In the play, however, the role was performed in a comic fashion to make people laugh. The use of masks is found in cultures all over the world and remains particularly familiar in Asia. But few old masks remain. These Gigaku masks were used in the 7th century ceremonies for the completion of reconstruction of the Horyuji temple after a fire and are thought to be the oldest surviving wooden masks in the world. The origins of Gigaku remain shrouded in mystery but we can sense the link they provide to distant lands across the sea.