In the ritual performance called “Okina”, a deity appears in the form of an old man and prays for peace and prosperity. Rather than a play with a plot, “Okina” features auspicious chants and dances by three characters: Senzai, Okina, and Sanbasō. “Okina” differs in many ways from other plays in the noh repertoire, to the extent that it is called “the nō which is not nō”.
“Okina” is considered a sacred performance and retains vestiges of the ancient, ritual ways nō was performed. An altar is prepared in the small room behind the five-colored curtain. On it is a box containing the white mask of Okina and the black mask of Sanbasō. Just before the beginning of a performance, actors and musicians taking part in the event drink a sip of sacred rice wine, and symbolically purify their bodies with salt. As the curtain is lifted, all performers enter the stage from the bridgeway. The actor taking the role of Okina faces the audience and bows deeply. Later, the same actor sits and utters sacred words, as the character of Senzai, unmasked, sings and dances. In the meantime, the actor taking the role of Okina dons the mask, and later performs a solemn dance. Afterwards the character of Sanbasō appears and dances vigorously while shouting. Finally, the same character dons a black mask and performs a dance shaking hand-bells.
“Okina” pre-dates the formation of nō as we know it today. As a consequence, it differs from other plays in many ways. In “regular” performances, the chorus sits stage left, while in “Okina” it sits behind the musicians. Also, while usually only one shoulder drum plays in the noh orchestra, “Okina” features three. The sacred masks of Okina and Sanbasō are donned on stage, in full view of the audience, while in other performances they are worn backstage. Finally, musicians, chorus and stage assistants appearing in “Okina” wear special garments with trailing trousers and hats, emphasizing the solemnity of the event.
The text spoken by the actor is a sequence of prayers for peace and prosperity, enriched by poetic passages featuring auspicious images such as the crane and the tortoise. The fast-paced dance of Senzai, the dignified dance of Okina, the vigorous dance of Sanbasō, followed by the bell dance, imitating the sowing of a field, evoke a great variety of moods. Since ‘Okina’ is an auspicious play, it is often performed in the occasion of the New Year festivities, or in other celebrations.
The Okina mask differs from other noh masks. Its distinctive features are the round eyebrows, crescent-shaped eyes, and detached chin. The black mask used for Sanbasō also has a detached chin.