The Hannya Mask in Noh Theater


The Hannya mask carries a profound significance in Noh theater and Japanese culture, history, and lore. Originally carved from wood, more recent masks are made from paper and ground seashells. While many depictions portray the mask as a dark symbol, the actual word translates to wisdom and has been perceived as good luck. Some use masks in their homes' entrances to ward off evil spirits. In Noh performances, mainly, the Hannya mask is utilized as a tool for storytelling and carries heavier emotions like vengeance, for example.

What is Noh theater?

Noh performances are ancient stories told through dance, drama, and symbolism. With origins dating back as early as the 14th century, Noh theater is one of the oldest forms of storytelling to live on in the modern world. 


The Hannya Mask's Role in Japanese Performances

In Noh theater, the Hannya mask specifically represents emotions of jealousy and vengeance in female characters. For example, in two famous plays, Aoi no Ue and Dojoji, the Hannya mask portrayed the souls of women who became demons due to their lower emotions. The mask is also a unique tool in depicting various characters, up to 80, in multiple tales that would otherwise require copious costumes and makeup. 


Various Mask Appearances

Since the Hannya mask is a representation of emotion, there are different colors to portray other states of feeling:

  • White: Indicates a woman of aristocratic status as portrayed by Lady Rokujo in Aoi no Ue as her second-half appearance as a demon.

  • Red: Represents a low-class woman seen in Dodoji dancing in the second-half appearance as a snake. 

  • Dark red: Depicts the truest of women, as in Momijigari and Kurozuka where she is revealed to be a demon. 

Other details can give clues to the emotional layers and depths of remaining humanity. Some masks have pointed horns and fang-like teeth oozing resentment and hate, while others show dishevelment in disarrayed strands of hair. 

Hannya Art Lives On Today

In modern society, most people are inspired by the intricacies of Hannya masks as an exciting choice for a tattoo. For some, it can represent the darker sides of a person's psyche while highlighting more positive attributes like passion, courage, and strength. Since art and tattoos are highly subjective, the meaning of the Hannya mask can take the appeal of different faces. Explore our broad range of Hannya masks and carry the tradition of ancient Japanese lore to ward off evil spirits or merely set as home decor.