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Artist unknown, compendium of nō pictures, mid Edo period, 18th century, National Noh Theatre

Dōjōji is one of the best-known nō plays. It is named after the Dōjō temple in present day Wakayama Prefecture. Attributed to the dramatist Kanze Kojirō Nobumitsu (c1435 – c1516), the play tells the story of a maiden whose unrequited love for a Buddhist priest turned her into a ferocious serpent. The priest escaped from her and hid under a bell at Dōjōji, but the serpent coiled around the bell and spit fire on it until he was burnt alive.

The play begins many years later at the dedication ceremony for a new bell. Women are forbidden from entering the temple grounds during the service, but a vengeful demon masquerading as a young female dancer sneaks in and leaps on the bell to bring it down. The event is relayed to the chief priest, who together with other priests subdues the woman with prayers.

Questions and activities

  • Research this play and find images. Analyse the masks and robes and discuss how effective they are at telling the story. Consider how expression and movement can contribute.
  • Do you think images can have as much power as words? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each medium as a tool for communication?