What Is a Hannya Mask?

In Noh theater, a hannya mask is a type of Japanese mask. The mask’s twin-horned and enraged face distinguishes it. Contrary to popular belief, it is used to represent the tortured spirits of women who have been wronged their husbands, not demons. Aoi no Ue, Dojoji, and Momijigari are among the plays that feature the masks. They’ve also inspired a type of tattoo known as a hannya tattoo.

Traditional plays, music, and lavish costumes are all part of Noh, a type of classical Japanese theatre. The Iemoto code governs this art form, which dates back to the Muromachi Period of Japanese history. This means that most Noh plays are drawn from a list of standard works and performed in accordance with the code’s guidelines. In a typical Noh performance, two to five Noh plays are performed. A short comical performance known as a Kyogen is used to separate each play from the next.

In a Noh play, all of the actors are male and each character is represented a mask. There were about 80 masks during the Muromachi period, but there were over 200 the end of the twentieth century. Elders, old men, males, females, demons (kishin), and ghosts/spirits are the six broad categories of masks (onryo).

A type of onryo mask is the hannya mask. Onryo masks come in a variety of styles, including ayakeshi, yamamba, and yase-otoko. While onryo masks can be used to represent both men and women, the hannya mask is only for female characters who have been wronged a partner or husband. Many people believe Hannya masks are the most recognizable of all Noh masks.

Each hannya mask is carved from a block of wood or handcrafted from lacquer, cloth, clay, or paper. For events such as teaching activities or costume parties, papier-mâché is a less expensive alternative to traditional masks. The majority of masks used in Noh plays are made artisans who have been making them for generations. This means that many hannya masks are passed down through the generations, much like actors inherit their predecessors’ or mentors’ stage names.

A rough form of a wooden hannya mask is first carved out of a block of wood, and then it is carved more precisely. Because it is considered good in Japan for the actor’s chin to be visible, the mask is designed to be smaller than the actor’s face. Once the artist is satisfied with the shape, the inside of the mask is prepared first burning it and then plastering it. The artist then paints, polishes, and adds extras like gold dust to the face side of the mask.

The act of hanging a hannya mask, like any other Noh mask, is a significant ritual. The last part of the costume to be put on is the mask. After getting dressed, the actor enters a mirror room to face the mask. The actor is then required to wear the mask. In Japanese, this entails using the verb kakeru, which means “to hang,” implying that the mask’s placement transforms the actor into the character he is portraying.