Art & Design

Noh Masks: Behind the Scenes at the Pitt Rivers Museum

12 December 2016, Oxford

The Japan Society is organising a special visit to Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, home to one of the finest collections of noh masks outside of Japan, for a private view at a time when the museum is closed to the general public. Members will make their own way to and from Oxford, allowing them to explore the town at their leisure following the museum visit. (Anyone attending from London who would like to travel with Japan Society staff from Paddington should notify the office when booking.)


The Pitt Rivers Museum’s stunning collection of 54 noh masks is notable for the fact that it came from an acting family rather than from a dealer and is believed to have been used by a noh theatre in the mid 19th century. Several were crafted by renowned mask-maker Deme Zekan in the early 17th century. In 2015 the Museum commissioned a new set of masks to show the various stages of fabrication of these ornate and striking objects.


The morning will be divided into two sessions. In one, Dr Rachel Payne, who spent two years studying the collection from 2001-2003, will introduce the 54 original masks, giving an insight into their carving, carvers, features, characters and the context of their use. In the second session, Julia Nicholson, Curator and Joint Head of Collections at the Museum, will discuss how noh masks are made, using the new masks to give members a new appreciation of this living tradition.


The event will finish at 12 noon, following which attendees will have the chance to explore the Japanese collection at their leisure.


Rachel Payne is Senior Lecturer and Japanese Programme Director at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She studied Japanese and Japanese theatre history at the University of Oxford and Waseda University, and received her doctorate, focusing on Meiji era kabuki reform, from Oxford’s Oriental Institute in 2001. She then spent two very happy years studying the noh mask collection at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum as a Laming Junior Research Fellow at Queen’s College. Since moving to New Zealand in 2003 to take up a lectureship at the University of Canterbury, she has continued her research into Japanese theatre, most recently working as editorial assistant on the international project that produced A History of Japanese Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2016).


The Japan collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum includes more than 7,500 items, ranging from an ornate suit of armour dating to around 1750, to 19th-century children’s toys, more than 800 netsuke, the remarkable collection of noh masks and collections from Ainu indigenous peoples. Of particular note is the large assemblage of paper shrine amulets collected by the British Japanologist, B.H. Chamberlain, in the late 19th century. The Museum also has a significant collection of historical and contemporary photographs from Japan including the series on the fabrication of the noh masks commissioned in 2015.


To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email or submit the online booking form.


(Meet in front of the main entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum)

Admission: £20 per head (Places are limited and priority will be given to Japan Society members)
Book online here (deadline – Monday 5 December)

12 December 2016. 10.30am to 12 noon

Pitt Rivers Museum, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PP

Tel: 01865 270927

Japan Society, Pitt Rivers Museum