The Heisei Gigaku Troupe

YABUUCHI Satoshi/Sculptor

The Mysterious Masked Dance?Gigaku

In ancient times, the peoples of India and the Middle East traveled along the Silk Road to East Asia, bringing with them numerous writings, exotic music and arts, giving rise to a new culture.  Among these was Gigaku, a colorful, light-hearted form of masked dance portraying a variety of subjects, ranging from a humorous impersonation of a drunken man of western China to dramatic sketches of the teachings of Buddha.  Gigaku traveled from China, down the Korean peninsular to Japan where it was generally performed for entertainment at temples or festivals.  Some Gigaku masks and costumes dating from the eighth century still remain in the collections of Horyuji Temple, Todaidji Temple and the Shosoin Imperial Repository, but unfortunately, the spread of esoteric Buddhism during the Heian period (794-1185) resulted in the sudden demise of the actual performances.  Today, it is difficult to learn any more about Gigaku even in China or Korea.  Gigaku disappeared from peoplefs memories over one thousand years ago and all that remains are the masks and costumes that were used in Japan. 

This being said, the Gigaku had a profound influence on Japanese drama and I also believe that many of the characters that appear Japanese nursery tales were based on Gigaku masks.  The red-nosed goblin, eTenguf, is identical to Gigakufs eChidof, while eTengu'sf follower, eKarasu Tenguf, is the image of eKaruraf.  There are also masks that resemble eKappaf, the water sprite, or the demons that often appear in stories and the mask that is used in the new yearfs lion dance also has its counterpart in Gigaku.  I think that it is likely that after Gigaku ceased to be performed in temples, mountain ascetics and traveling actors took the masks and began to use them in their own ways.  Today, Gigaku has been recreated and is now performed by the members of the Gigaku club of Tenri University in Nara. 

Heisei Gigaku Troupe

If I were to make a list of the works of sculpture that had the greatest influence on my work, I would have to include the Gigaku masks that remain in the Gallery of Horyuji Templefs Treasures at the Tokyo National Museum.  I had long harbored a desire to create a masked theatre myself and this has finally been realized.  Through the commemorative character, eSentokunf, that I created to celebrate the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Nara Heijokyo, I met the dancer MINAMI Sasuga and she, together with the Sasuga Company, has breathed life into my masks to produce the Heisei Gigaku Troupe.

MINAMI Sasuga is currently one of the countryfs top dancers and choreographers.  Many of the dancers who accompany Japanfs top pop singers or the dances in TV commercials have been choreographed by her and she also presides over the Sasuga Company.  The Heisei Gigaku Troupe was born from the dust of the cultures that have bloomed and died during Eurasiafs long history, and it represents an old yet new form of entertainment.

When eSentokunf was created in 2008, he caused quite a stir with the result that the celebrations of the founding of Nara Heijokyo became well known throughout the country.  Unfortunately, it would appear that many people still do not understand him and so I would now like to offer a brief description.

The J?taka is a book that describes the previous lives of the Buddha, stating that he was reincarnated a total of 500 times.  It is a moving tale of repeated lives in the form of various animals and humans until he was able to achieve enlightenment and become a Bodhisattva.  In one of life he was born as a deer king who sacrificed his own life to save that of a pregnant doe. 

During the 1,500 years that have passed since Buddhism was transmitted to Japan, many of the native Gods have become incorporated into the Buddhist pantheon to create a uniquely Japanese form of Buddhism that underlies every aspect of Japanese culture.  This background is quite different to that of China or Korea where the popularity of Confucianism and Taoism led to repeated attempts to discredit Buddhism.   Therefore, eSentokunf can be said to be a symbol of peace, of Buddhismfs versatility and the philosophy of reincarnation, while simultaneously acting as the catalyst that gave rise to the Heisei Gigaku Troupe


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