My home made Japanese Noh-mask

I know I have brought this up in countless projects with multiple different classes, but I have a huge passion for theater and performance. From the costumes to the performances and the plays themselves, being on stage has always been a great pleasure of mine. However I will admit, my knowledge of performance and performance art is mainly western based. Meaning that most of my knowledge for performing and theater is from my own personal experience, that being western american theater. However, with the material we have been studying in class recently, I have made an attempt to understand how classic Japanese theater plays out. More specifically, the masks that people in Japanese theaters wear, which are called “Noh masks.” A Noh mask is used by Japanese performers to act out scenes and stories (most notably, Japanese literature and plays from as early as the fourteenth century.) No one knows exactly what time these masks were created or who the original creator was. However, it can be widely agreed that the origin of Noh masks can be traced all the way back to the late thirteenth hundreds (The These masks could be used to represent age, character, sex, and even demons and the devil. Mostly in plays and performances where these masks are used, the main characters of the play use these masks more than the side characters. Using these masks can hold an advantage for the performer. For example, holding the mask more closely to a light source on stage can symbolize the character being in a happier mood, and moving the mask towards the shadows while on stage can represent a darker mood and a more serious tone. It all depends on how the actor uses the masks while they are wearing it. There are over 60 names for different masks and as far as Noh masks themselves go, there are over four hundred different types of noh masks! These masks are used in performances known as “Noh plays.” As I said before, there are a multitude of Noh masks used for these types of performances, some of my personal favorite examples include: An Otoko mask (man mask), a Kumasaka mask (A leader of thieves), a Zo mask (can represent a god or goddess) and a Yase-onna (a woman with a grudge and cannot reach nirvana.)

However, for my final project, I decided to make one of the most common of Noh mask, which is that of a human woman mask called an Onna mask. I found an amazing article at Pitt Rivers Museum that shows the creation of a traditional Noh mask using wood (Which is what I based my own off of). I will leave the link in my citations if anyone is interested. Noh masks are traditionally carved from wood, but due to my lack of resources and skill, I decided to try and make my own out of the following materials.

  • White, grey, black, and red paint
  • Aluminum foil
  • Newspaper 
  • Paper mache

My Step by step process of how to make a homemade Japanese theater Noh-mask goes as follows:

  1. Create a mold of your face using as much aluminum foil as it takes.
  2. Cut two eye holes and a mouth hole in the aluminum face mold.
  3. Cut strips of newspaper no bigger than two inches wide. 
  4. Create a mixture of both warm water and flower in order to do paper mache.
  5. Paper mache the face with newspaper until it is covered completely.
  6. cut two holes where the eyes should be and one hole where the mouth should be.
  7. Place the aluminum paper mache mask in the oven for 15 mins at 200 degrees. 
  8. Take the mask out and let it cool off for about ten minutes or until the mold has hardened. 
  9. Once the mold is hard, paint one coat of metallic paint over the paper mache (this is so the newspaper won’t be seen through the white paint.) 
  10. After one layer of silver paint is applied, paint over it with white paint (about six or seven layers should do the trick.) 
  11. Once the paint dries, you can detail your mask however you would like. (I painted mine like the mask shown in the museum article.)
The beginning of the face mold.
The face mold, covered in paper mache.
Open photo
The finished product.

And there you have it, one home made do it yourself Noh- mask! I loved how the final product came out. I tried to get the details as close to an actual Noh mask as possible. Making this was so much fun and I hope I get another opportunity to work with crafts again for future school projects!

Works Cited

“Carving a Noh Mask.” Pitt Rivers Museum Photograph and Manuscript Collections,

“Masks.” Introducing the World of Noh : Masks,

“Noh Mask – Types of Noh Masks and Noh.” Noh Mask – Meaning and Types of Noh Masks,“Noh Mask – Types of Noh Masks and Noh.” Noh Mask – Meaning and Types of Noh Masks,’s origins date back to,Japanese actor, playwriter and aesthetician.

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