Spirit of Place: Zeami’s Tōru and the Poetic Manifestation of Mugen

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Zeami Motokiyo was one of nō’s most important theorists and practitioners, and mugen nō one of his most sophisticated innovations. Using the play Tōru as a model, this article explores how Zeami’s nō utilised waka theory and Buddhist aesthetics that were current in his time. I will particularly focus on his use of utamakura, a poetic device of intertextual allusion via place names. In the second part of the article I will analyse Tōru’s text and music through the lens of Kyoto School philosopher Ueda Shizuteru’s theory of language. In positioning poetic spirits of place on stage, Zeami shows the power of language to manifest something like conventional reality. When watching mugen nō, the music and poetry combine to create a place wherein the audience shares the aesthetic-spiritual experience of the spirit of place manifesting in our communal mind. His staging of the opening up of the hollow expanse is the beauty of Zeami’s art.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-153
Number of pages17
JournalJapanese Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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