Halloween & Masks Around the World pt. 1

Written by: Micaela Knox, public relations intern

To read the second part of this two part series, please click here.

Happy Halloween!

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Are you getting into the spooky spirit? Dressing up the kids as their favorite characters? Putting together your best costume for a night out with friends?

As you don your masks, have you thought about how other cultures might wear theirs?

Halloween is not celebrated by everyone around the world, but many cultures have used disguises in other ways to honor spirits and the supernatural world around them. Tonight, while preparing for your annual tricks and treats, think about how similar your costumes might be to these masks from Japan and Northern Native America.

 

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Unidentified Japanese Artist, Japan, Edo Period, Hannya: Demon Mask for the Noh Theatre, 1700-1800s, wood, paint and brass, David T. Owsley Collection, L2007.015.000.

Hannya and the Legend of the Dōjō-ji

In the David Owsley Gallery of Asian Art, a terrifying face stares out from a display case. It is demonic looking, with a grimacing, opened mouth, corners pulled away to bear its teeth and piercing, furrowed eyes. From one angle, it looks angry, but somehow insanely pleased. From another, it looks sad and distraught.

This mask represents the Japanese demon Hannya, specifically the Shiro Hannya, or white Hannya. The demon is shown devolving into madness, its face with still a pale, girly shade, but its hair becoming wild and horns erupting from its forehead.

Other Hannya masks can be seen here.

This mask was constructed for use during a performance of the Noh play “Musume Dōjō-ji” or “The Legend of the Dōjō-ji.”

The story of the Dōjō-ji strings together two tales of jealousy and envy. The first tale describes a young girl, Kiyohime, who falls in love with a young Buddhist priest named Anchin. Anchin visits Kiyohime’s family often and gives Kiyohime gifts. She asks if he will marry her, despite his religious vows of celibacy, but he leads her on with flirty banter and the comment, “Maybe when you’re older.”

When Kiyohime realizes the emptiness in Anchin’s words, she is overcome with anger and jealousy. She chases after him and he flees towards the temple Dōjō-ji, crossing a raging river to lose her. As he enters the temple, he hides underneath its bell; in the distance, Kiyohime’s jealousy transforms her into a demon serpent. She crosses the river and climbs towards the Dōjō-ji. She encircles the bell, using her fire to melt the metal and kill Anchin.

Years later, the Dōjō-ji still has no bell. The leader of the temple acquires a new bell, despite the omens of the previous incident. The bell hanging ceremony dictates that women cannot be in attendance; nevertheless, the dancer Hanako approaches the temple after having traveled a long distance. When she is told that she cannot see the bell, she performs a “dance of anger and hatred” due to the sexism she experiences and makes her way into the temple.

As she pauses under the bell, she accidentally strikes it, making it fall and trap her. Inside, she is transformed into a serpent. A Yamabushi holy man–a leader in Buddhist ritual–is called to perform a series of prayers. The bell is lifted and the demon is repelled from the temple.

“The Legend of the Dōjō-ji” is considered to be one of the most popular Noh plays. Traditionally performed by an all-male cast, masks and costume are essential for the actors to fully take over their roles. Woman roles would boast a soft floral kimono and a white-skinned mask. The Hannya masks would match with an equally fiery outfit and a raging mane of hair. To see a performance of “The Legend of the Dōjō-ji,” click here.

 

Do you see any similarities between the “The Legend of the Dōjō-ji” and our Halloween traditions? Comment what you think below! And remember to have a safe Halloween!

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One thought on “Halloween & Masks Around the World pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Halloween & Masks Around the World pt. 2 – DOMA Insider

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